Jane Addams was so cool. Really she was more than cool- Jane Addams was FRESH. When I look around the museum, give tours, or just observe visitors reactions to her legacy- I’m truly amazed at how fitting Hull-House history is for our contemporary lives. So it is not surprising that the museum focuses a lot on making those connections for the public.

Hull-House was an interdisciplinary space. The residents who lived here approached their work with the methodology of intersectionality. Today, we continue this framework of intersectionality with public programming, exhibits, and our choice to be in solidarity with many sites and organizations around Chicago and the world.

In the Residents Dining Hall we are currently displaying an exhibition piece from The National Museum of Mexican Art titled A Declaration of Immigration. This piece was first displayed at the NMoM and is now displayed in the Hull-House Residents Dining Hall. The Hull-House Museum wants our visitors to know that we stand in solidarity with the Pilsen community and Latino communities around the country. As a part of the network of the International Coalition of a Sites of Conscience it is our responsibility to make Hull-House a safe space where visitors can engage in dialogues about immigration. As a museum educator, and as someone in solidarity with The Dream Act and other progressive youth movements, it is galvanizing to watch Hull-House Museum visitors read the words “We are a nation of immigrants. No human being is illegal. We mutually pledge to uphold the fight for equality and defend the unalienable rights of all.”

Surprisingly, or not surprisingly, many people who visit the Hull-House Museum are not previously aware of the Mexican migrant stories at Hull-House. Most visitors are only familiar with the eastern European immigrant story. Unfortunately, many visitors arrive well versed in the dominate narrative used to contextualize a negative vs. positive juxtaposition of Mexican and European (im)migration. The homogenized European immigrant story is understood as “the good immigrants” who arrived to America, worked very hard, and ultimately did immigration the “right way”- (or as I sometimes say the white way)- opposed to Mexicans who are almost always contextualized as illegals, bad, undesirable and unreliable. There is a lot that can be said here. I think that is why having the Declaration of Immigration on display is so appropriate. It would be impossible for the Hull-House staff to have a dialogue about immigration with every visitor who walks through our doors. So, giving the public an alternative to our collective historical narrative of immigration by utilizing a borrowed exhibition piece from The National Museum of Mexican Art is quite powerful. We have a tool that allows us to challenge our present narratives of immigration. Telling and retelling the stories of Mexican migrants at Hull-House alongside eastern European immigrants stories makes the commonalities clear- we aren’t as different as the media, politicians, and institutions tell us we are. Putting these histories alongside our current immigration moment gives us a chance to address what is obscure, neglected, or simply erased from both the past and the present narratives of immigration.

-Mekaila, museum educator

Impending Spring

The sun rays calmed our shivers from the crisp wintery winds. Now we can even see what Chicago’s landscape looked like before the 20 inches of snow.

There is nothing like glimpses of Spring to make you start thinking about green. Thinking about seeds, vegetables, and the whole gardening experience that is. As you may have read in a previous post, my partner Franziska gave you a preview of the upcoming Hull-House Seed Library. The introduction of this Seed Library in Chicago will bring topics of heirloom seeds, the issues of food access and sustainability.

In order to start the conversation on these topics, we need some background in the area of heirloom seeds and sustainability. Heirloom seeds are like family heirlooms, and have been passed down from generation to generation, acquiring inherited traits in the process. These seeds are planted, picked, seed saved, stored and then the process is restarted. The whole idea behind planting heirloom varieties is that it offers genetic variation and a sense of sustainability. Monocultures (single strain crops grown over a wide area) are bred to resist certain common diseases. If a disease were to strike that the crop was susceptible to, the entire crop would be wiped out. That means if we only had one type of soybean and a new type of disease strikes it, we would have no more soybeans. So while it may seem reasonable to mass produce crops, we are essentially eliminating genetic variation that protects mass eliminations of plants and edging our way into unsustainable agriculture.

Now what is sustainability? Wikipedia says, “… sustainability is the potential for long-term maintenance of well being, which has environmental, economic, and social dimensions.” Jane Addams actively supported the food and nutrition security of the diverse communities in Chicago. She did not farm, but she advocated nutrition and offered classes and programs that catered to food justice. The Seed Library will provide free and regionally adapted seeds to any seed library card holder. This opportunity allows people to grow their own heirloom varieties in a community plot, in a private garden or in their own home. When people grow their own food, they are able to secure and create a sustainable food system.

As we impatiently wait for spring to arrive, we are also preparing for the launch of the Seed Library. Let’s hope it arrives soon with a great planting season. More updates on the launch will be coming your way soon!


By Lok, museum educator

In a previous post, we explored the history and process for the making of Hull-House Maps and Papers, by Florence Kelley and others from the Hull-House community. Here we will look closer into the significance and at how the maps connect to the contemporary world.  Undoubtedly, Florence Kelley’s maps provided explicit information about the wages and living conditions of the neighbors around the Nineteenth Ward area in the late 19th century. But the significance of this study might go beyond what you think. One reason why the study remains important is because Florence Kelley was one of the first people who was able to visualize a sea of information in an easily understandable manner. The techniques she used were well beyond her time. More importantly, she was able to use her maps as evidence to inform the public about what was going on in areas then known as “slums.” With the maps, she raised a great deal of awareness by the public about the living conditions of the working poor, which lead to reforms from the government to improve the quality of life for the working poor.

One page from Hull-House Maps and Papers

Because Florence Kelley’s maps were so successful, the public begun to see more and more data visualizations in public meetings, conferences, and under a variety of different settings.  Even now, we often see Florence Kelley’s legacy on many occasions. Thanks to improvements in everyday computer technology, computer software now enables its users to create maps without having earned a PhD in a particular field. Among the map-making software, the most popular is called the Geographic Information System (GIS). Under proper training, even a high school freshman can easily create maps that capture, analyze, or present data to the public in a stunning fashion. Figure 2 is a typical example of a GIS map, created by the author. Notice that the map could speak for itself, audiences could immediately interpret information about the immigrants in the city of Chicago. Most obvious of all, we can see the immigrant population tend to concentrate more on the north side and the west side of Chicago. Policy implications about this map could go from creating more multi-language community centers on the west side to putting more bilingual schools on the north side. Really, sky is the limit, and it all depends on where the presenter is taking his or her arguments.

A GIF map of Chicago's Immigrant Population

Nowadays technology has improved so much and critics have pointed out some design flaws in Florence Kelley’s maps. For instance, Florence Kelley used different colors to represent different wages earned by the residents around the 19th Ward. Due to the fact that wage is ordinal data, however, it would be much better to present the level of wages using one color, from light to heavy. This way audience would have no need to look back and forth to interpret which part of the neighborhood earned the highest or lowest wage. Regardless of this shortcoming, many researchers have openly acknowledged that Florence Kelley’s work was revolutionary.  You would be surprised to know how many public investments were made based on the findings from these GIS maps. Perhaps one GIS map helped your local officials to draw state funds to build a new hospital in your community. In any case, Florence Kelley’s legacy might have changed your life dramatically, but you will have no idea where it all came from if you have not visited the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum.

From this example, we get a taste of how reformers from the settlement houses changed the world, or precisely, U.S. society and our everyday surroundings. I hope that you will be able to come visit us someday, and that our artifacts might open a new page for you to understand our history and society from a completely different perspective.

Mapping the Community

In a world where online maps and satellite images can be downloaded onto our computers and cell phones to help us get from “Point A” to “Point B”, it is hard to imagine a time when these seemingly simple diagrams of our environments were out of reach.

But what if a map was more than just a directional device? What if it could be used to tell the story of a community and the people who lived there?

For those of you who have visited the museum since we re-opened with the new permanent exhibition in September, you may have been wondering what was happening beyond the velvet rope in the southeastern corner of our second floor. Recently unveiled for our December 10, 2010 celebration of Jane Addams Day, our new exhibit on the Hull-House Maps and Papers project tells the story of this groundbreaking sociological study and shares what Florence Kelley and other Hull-House reformers discovered.

To provide you with some history, the work that was published in Hull-House Maps and Papers was originally commissioned by the United States Department of Labor in 1892 as part of a national study, The Slums of Baltimore, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, to explore urban life in America’s industrial centers. Florence Kelley, an attorney and consumer advocate living and working at Hull-House, was tapped to direct Chicago’s portion of the study. During the summer of 1893, Kelley and her four-member team visited the tenement houses, sweatshops, and factories of the then-19th Ward and inquired about residents’ ethnic background, living and working conditions, family structures, and weekly wages. The information they collected was then compiled into two sets of maps to show the Nationalities and Wages represented in the neighborhoods surrounding Hull-House.

At first glance, these maps provide a general overview of who was living in Chicago’s Near West Side neighborhood at the time when Hull-House and the surrounding communities were still discovering each other. Through exploring our exhibit, however, you can discover the stories that exist at the intersections of the cultural, social, financial, and physical worlds that Hull-House neighbors inhabited.

A display provides visitors with insight into the dynamics of gender, work, and society.

Interactive panels give additional historical background and context to help visitors learn more about the living and working conditions of the neighborhood in the late-1890s. Thought-provoking questions about the language used to label differences in ethnicity, the businesses and families that inhabited a now-obsolete address, and the areas with the poorest living conditions encourage exploration beyond what is found in the maps’ colorful pictorial representations.

I hope that you will visit the museum to see the Maps and Papers exhibit for yourself, to discover the impact of these maps and all the work done here at Hull-House, and to reflect on the stories that our neighborhoods keep telling about ourselves and our lives.  -Joy, museum educator

Greetings from Hull-House! Franziska here. I am an intern at the museum, through a UIC-sponsored program called the Chicago Civic Leadership Certificate Program. My task at the museum is to create a seed library, which will soon be open to the public through Hull-House. What exactly is a seed library? It’s much like a regular library, but instead of books, you can check out seeds, which you can grow, and then return. Our mission is to promote food security—a major problem our city is facing. Currently, there are three major food deserts in Chicago, meaning that many people do not have access to fresh produce and good, healthy food. Jane Addams fought many of these issues in her day, and they are still, unfortunately, plaguing our city. We want to address these problems with an interactive project to get people involved in the conversation of sustainability, food access, and urban agriculture.

Right now, we are getting ready to interview Michael Thompson of The Chicago Honey Co-op. Christian (my partner intern and co-creator of the project) and I are crafting questions to help our future gardeners learn about urban farming and sustainable agriculture from a true expert on the subject. We will create a short film and fill you in on everything you need to know about urban agriculture—from container gardening to composting to water conservation. Michael is the director of the Co-op that manages hundreds of bees and produces delicious honey and vegetables at their North Lawndale bee farm. They are a vital part of their community, as they also offer job training and classes to amateur bee-keepers. The Co-op has been an excellent source of support and donations of seeds to the Seed Library. Michael is truly invested and passionate about sustainable agriculture!

Stay tuned for more updates on the Seed Library!


Image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Hello. Teresa here. I’m the curatorial assistant at Hull-House and I want to give an update on an exciting interactive exhibit that we inaugurated in September.

If you’ve visited the Museum lately, you’ll know that the new exhibition has rooms organized thematically, but with multiple voices telling a story. The story of juvenile justice is what the “Unfinished Business” exhibit space tells through wall-based illustrations, linking the history and current state from the point of view of reformers, legislators, youth, and abolitionists.

Images tell the history of the first juvenile court. Illustrations by Josh Peter. Photo by Adam Mark.

More illustrations about the history of juvenile justice. Photo by Lauren Meranda.

More than storytelling, the space is also a “call to action,” asking visitors to engage with the various stations set up in the room. The stations represent different grassroots, local and national groups dedicated to some facet of reforming the juvenile justice system or abolishing the prison-industrial complex.

Tamms Year Ten action station. Photo by Adam Mark.

For example, the “Tamm Year Ten” station tells the story of Tamms super-maximum prison in southern Illinois that houses inmates under permanent isolation. The Tamms Year Ten group—an eclectic coalition of activists, artists, lawyers, prisoners, and ex-prisoners—is dedicated to ending the psychological torture of total confinement, which is counter-productive to rehabilitating inmates. As one Tamms prisoner stated: “I will ask you, ‘Lock yourself in your bathroom for the next 10 years and tell me how it will affect your mind.” Tamms Year Ten’s moniker reflects the prison’s tenth anniversary (currently in its eleventh year). Founded on the notion of short-term punishment, many prisoners at Tamms supermax have been there for a decade.

The Tamms Year Ten station is interactive, engaging visitors with a project to send poems to prisoners. (Why? Because prisoners asked for them.) Here is what a postcard looks like:

Postcard for Tamms prisoners

What makes this so very exciting is that the public response has been tremendous. Since its inception, we’ve collected around 250 postcards for the prisoners. The station provides numerous poetry books and asks visitors to read and transcribe a poem that resonates with them on a postcard. Not only are the selection of poems beautiful but the postcards are lovingly rendered. To see them will tell of the love:


Usually in a museum setting, visitors spend a few minutes with an exhibit and mere seconds with an object. The carefully crafted Tamms postcards show that our visitors have been spending substantial time in “Unfinished Business.” These acts demonstrate that our museum visitors are not just consumers of history but also agents of change. The act of writing a postcard is our museum public’s way of contributing to the ongoing fight to wage reform, and the remarkable response shows that the spirit of the Hull-House Settlement is ever-present.

And we’re open!

Happy Birthday Miss Addams!

Well we’ve had an incredible month of September:

  • We celebrated Jane Addams’ 150th birthday and the reopening of  our museum with a civic ceremony in Daley Plaza and a People’s Block Party next to the museum. Over 450 people came through the museum in just a few hours!
  • We welcomed Louise Knight and Lisa Dodson to the museum to discuss their fantastic new books.
  • We trained six museum educators to give tours.
  • We offered 25 guided tours to student and professional groups.
  • We opened a brand new gift shop.
  • We harvested 30 pumpkins and squash from the Heirloom Farm.
  • We had almost 2000 visitors come through the museum this month.

We are exhausted! Truly though, this has been an exciting time for the museum. Here are a few reactions to the new exhibits:

Did you visit the museum this month? Give us your review!

Addams adorns Daley Plaza

Upcoming Events

Ongoing Programs:

Re-thinking Soup (weekly)

SEX+++ Documentary Film Series (2nd Tuesdays)

Farmer’s Market (through October)