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Timeline :: Chicago - Hull House opens

Hull House

The first settlement in the US, Hull House in Chicago, was opened by Jane Addams (1860-1935) and her partner Ellen Gates Starr in 1889. Addams and Starr proposed three 'ethical principles' for social settlements: 'to teach by example, to practice cooperation, and to practice social democracy, that is, egalitarian, or democratic, social relations across class lines.'

Hull House had been in the suburbs of Chicago, but with the growth of the city, it was now in an area that was highly populated with Italians, Germans, Polish & Russian Jews. The settlement ran reading groups, kindergarten, youth clubs for boys and girls, sewing classes, coffee house and lunch clubs, gym, women’s and men’s clubs, a working people’s social science club, a public library branch, a post office branch, art classes, music lessons. Addams also gave lectures outside Hull House too – to others and to the University of Chicago, founded in 1892, with ‘extension education’ as part of its mission. Hull House was a focus for neighbourhood research and research into social conidtions. For example, Hull House Maps and Papers (1893) (available online) was highly influential in what became the Chicago School of Sociology. 

The settlement also carried out investigations of plumbing & sanitation (following a typhoid fever in 1902, during which 1/6th of those who died came from the Hull House ward); a study of truancy (study of 300 families, carried out by person who ran the children’s club); a study of factory girls’ fatigue; an investigation of child labour of 1000 newsboys (interviewed on the streets over a period of 24 hours). In all this, it was building from experience and contacts in the community – research FROM practice and also contributing TO practice and to a wider social change agenda.

Jane Addams was head resident until her death in 1935. Other key residents who played an important part in the development of social work training included Sophonisba Breckenridge and the Abbott sisters, Grace and Ellen (see Chicago School of Civics).

Hull House was not, of course, the only university settlement in Chicago. Two years after Hull House opened, following consultation with Jane Addams, Northwestern University opened its own settlement; its history, described in The Worn Doorstep, suggests that it was the first settlement that had university affiliation; Emma Rogers, the wife of the University's Methodist President, was a key champion, assisted by Charles Zueblin, a sociology lecturer who had spent time visiting Toynbee Hall in London.

Hull House continued to serve its community until it was displaced by the University of Illinois in the 1960s, and many of its satellite buildings were knocked down to make way for new roads and buildings. At its height, it had over 50 programmes over 40 sites throughout Chicago, and served 60,000 people every year.

In January 2012, the closure of Hull House was announced due to financial difficulties. The University of illinois has kept the Jane Addams Hull-House museum open (unaffiliated with the agency).


Addams, M. (1910) Twenty Years at Hull House, New York: The Macmillan Co.

Bulmer, M. (1984) The Chicago School of Sociology, Chicago: University of Chicago.

Carson, M. (2001) ‘American Settlement Houses. The first half century’, in Gilchrist, R. and Jeffs, T. (eds) Settlements, Social Change and Community Action. Good Neighbours, London: Jessica Kingsley, Chapter 2: pp. 34-53.

Franklin, D.L. (1986) ‘Mary Richmond and Jane Addams: From Moral Certainty to Rational Inquiry’, Social Service Review, Vol. 60, No. 4: pp. 504-525.

Lundblad, K.S. (1995) ‘Jane Addams and Social Reform: A Role Model for the 1990s’, Social Work Vol. 40 Issue 5, p661-669.

MacLean, V.M. and Williams, J.E. (2012) ‘”Ghosts of sociologies past”: Settlement sociology in the progressive era at the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy, American Sociology 43: 235-263.

Wukas, M. (1991) The Worn Doorstep 1891-1991, Chicago: Northwestern University Settlement Association.