Hull of a House

Mapping the Community

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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

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