Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr’s work of architecture spree, beautifully designed and of scholarly taste, artistic designs and with the flavor of social touch and as said by Regina Buccola “the vanguard of the world wide settlement House movement”, was dawned in 1889 as Hull House. It was first among the few settlement houses with uniqueness lying in its spearheading a national movement making the path for the establishment of five hundred more settlements by 1920. Addam’s efforts earned it as one of the most reputed settlement houses in the United States.
Hull House became a landmark piece more as a political and social intrigue instead of architectural. The complex was a dream of Addams to make it a place for the social and economic emancipation of women. She was from the prosperous family and was very well conscious of her position as among the few of the first generation of women getting opportunity for education. Hull House was part of her passionate appeal to bring the women at the front, and give them liberty to assert their thought process. Hull House was primarily run by women, although men were also involved in it as well.
In its vicinity, women found liberated from subjugation while giving them lots of opportunities in the public sphere. Many of the buildings of Hull House were designed by architect Allen Pond taking the inspiration and idea from the Gothic architecture of Toynbee. While looking at the interior design of the Hall House, one can see the structure itself embodying philosophies of social reformer John Ruskin and the arts and crafts movement of the time. The main mission behind the settlement was opening of avenues for spreading education and giving women opportunities for participating in social activities.
Besides providing needed help to the people, ladies residing in the Hull House were actively participating in social reforms on the local, state and national levels. Hull House was thus the home not just for individual advancement but also for changes that impacted society as a whole. In many decades that followed Hull House became the avenue for the several female figures including Florence Kelley, Alice Hamilton and many more who were instrumental in initiating many of the reforms. Florence and Alice were the ones who validated the social problems of Chicago such as child exploitation, unhealthy and dangerous living and working conditions.
It was on account of their efforts that led to the passing of the legislation for meeting educational needs of students, for providing compensation to workers, making it mandatory for the companies to provide occupational safety and fulfilling several of the social issues. Hull House was also the avenue for the building of first public playground and bathhouse, and created awareness on cleanliness and sanitation issues and their initiation towards formulation of the legal reforms, which led to the setting of the first juvenile court in the United States.
Members of the Hull House had an incredible influence on the setting of urban planning and directing the nationwide transition toward setting of branch library systems. They also initiated upon making proposals for setting up public dispensary to provide nutritious food for the sick, a child day care center and public baths for the underprivileged sections of the population. It also became a rejuvenating force behind the changed social and political order. To add to it Hull House also saw the establishment of ‘Chicago Arts and Crafts Society’.
Journalist Paul Kellogg also termed the group of Hull House residents as the “Great Ladies of Halsted Street” as to their altruistic efforts. The Hull House complex was fully accomplished seemingly forming into full circle by the end of twentieth century. Now the University of Illinois spread on to the city block with the original one mansion and one adjoining structure all that remains on the site. These two buildings now support the ‘Jane Addams Hull-House Museum’.
Though now it does not have any centralized location still it is rendering its base for the various social service activities and programs through out the city. Hull House was no doubt an avenue of great historical importance, for the initiation of many of the reforms to its credit but it cannot be deemed as a great endowment for architectural delight. Thomas Wolfe was highly critical of the buildings and the mansions influenced by Modern Architecture and International Style in his book From Bauhaus to Our House.
He criticized the architectural works for their adhering and laying base to their thoughts process to theory and placing the architecture on the political philosophy. He said that like in the literature or the works of art, if the scrutinized eyes of creators frame the architecture world, no one would appreciate it. According to Wolfe, many of the architects had no prior goals but to be always thinking like futuristic. All in all, Hull House will always remain as an emblem of social grace and reformation.