Archive for the ‘Behind the Scenes’ Category

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

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Lucy here. I’m the Hull-House Museum’s summer intern, here through funding from Smith College. Lisa Junkin gave me the special task of creating an entry for the famous Hull-House blog on whatever my heart desires! I figured I would report on developments in the room I’ve spent the most time in–the new library area.

The museum is looking so incredible these days, it makes me wish I weren’t going home before the September opening. Although I never saw the old exhibit in place, on my first day Lisa Lee took me on a quick tour of the mansion. This was after only one of the rooms had been painted and absolutely nothing of the new exhibition was in place.

At the end, we stopped by a room on the first floor, once a dining room for residents. When I think about that room I saw on my first day, I think ugly curtains hiding otherwise beautiful bottle-glass windows, I think peeling wall paper, I think, ugh!

But nowadays, our library area couldn’t be more incredible.

Glorious, historically accurate terracotta paint! Exquisite furnishings! Spectacular artwork! A couple of exhibits completed by a certain lucky intern!

It’s no surprise that I chose this room in particular to write about. For one thing, a lot of essential elements of the exhibit are in place, so it’s easy to imagine how it will look. But also, this is where two of my main projects of the summer will live. One is a globe that demonstrates Jane Addams’ world travels. Did you know that Addams went to Europe nine times throughout her life in addition to traveling to Egypt, India, The Philippines, Mexico, China, and Japan?

The other exhibit I’ve been working on is called the bookshelf project. It’s pretty neat—one shelf will display books from Addams’ personal collection (those will be behind glass). The other shelves will be filled with about 45 books that are written by reformers, residents, and other figures with a connection to Hull-House. I loved researching for this exhibit. I learned about John Dewey and pragmatism, the Pullman Strike, WILPF, suffrage, and much, much more.

Jane Addams' signature from a book she owned

For each book, I composed a bookmark that points out interesting pages or passages, gives background information, and explains the book’s connection to Hull-House.Visitors will be able to pick these books off the shelves, (hopefully read the informative bookmark!) and flip through the pages to get an idea of the wide array of subjects connected to Hull-House and Addams.

Reading was central to Addams. Not only was she the author of many books and speeches, she knew that books had the power to inspire and change. In my research for the exhibit I came across an anecdote from Louise deKoven Bowen about Jane Addams’ dedication to reading. When Addams was notified that the ambulance was late to take her to the last operation she had before she died she replied, “That’s all right, for that will give me time to finish the book I am reading.”

All of the formatting is done and now we just need to print them out and put them in their books. Many of the furnishings are in place, and the art work (all completed by artists connected to Hull-House) is up on the walls. Very exciting stuff!

As today is my last day, I know I’ll be spending more time in this room figuring out finishing touches for the bookshelf. I hope I’ll have a chance to sit in the rocking chair and take in the space one more time. More importantly, I hope that in a few weeks visitors will stop by this room to reflect and discuss, examine and read.

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