"20 Years at Hull House" by Jane Addams is a surprisingly compelling book, free of the ethnic racism and stereotyping that blight many similar works of her era. Addams' account of her groundbreaking community center in one of the worst parts of late 19th-century Chicago fairly overflows with compassion and almost unbelievable fairness. Jane Addams came from a conventional Middle American milieu, but was radicalized by seeing the ravages of the Industrial Revolution both in Britain and Chicago. This timeless memoir of the years 1889-1909 documents her wide-ranging concerns, embracing public health, pacifism and feminism as well as philanthropy, working-class education and poverty alleviation. Many of the ideas implemented by Addams in her "20 Years at Hull House" decades ahead of their time. While not light reading, this classic contains many gripping portraits of the desperation of immigrant life and the simple power of human decency. More than that, "20 Years at Hull-House" has inspired generations of US social and political activists. For decades a Hull House sojourn, or at least a visit, was virtually a pilgrimage for all kinds of progressive reformers. While Addams's reputation was damaged by her antiwar stance during World War I, it recovered enough for her to win the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize.
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In 1889 Jane Addams and friend, Ellen Gates Starr, co-founded Hull House in Chicago, Illinois, the first settlement house in the United States. The house was named after Charles Hull, who built the building in 1856. When starting out, all of the funding for the Hull House came from the $50,000 estate she inherited after her father died. Later, the Hull House was sponsored by Helen Culver, the wealthy real estate agent who had initially leased the house to the women. Jane and Ellen were the first two occupants of the house, which would later be the residence of about 25 women. At its height, Hull House was visited each week by around 2000 people. Its facilities included a night school for adults, kindergarten classes, clubs for older children, a public kitchen, an art gallery, a coffeehouse, a gymnasium, a girls club, bathhouse, a book bindery, a music school, a drama group, a library, and labor-related divisions. Her adult night school was a forerunner of the continuing education classes offered by many universities today. In addition to making available services and cultural opportunities for the largely immigrant population of the neighborhood, Hull House afforded an opportunity for young social workers to acquire training. Eventually, the Hull House became a 13-building settlement, which included a playground and a summer camp.
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