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Feature Stories

Jane Addams' social work legacy lives on

Hull House

Jane Addams set the standard for social work, establishing Hull-House in Chicago in 1889 as a settlement house where impoverished immigrants could acquire skills needed to better themselves in America. In succeeding years, Addams and Ellen Gates Starr, her partner in the project, would oversee a host of volunteers who worked to feed the hungry, promote cultural activities, campaign for social justice and more.

Hull House Association, the social services agency Addams founded, shut down in January due to lack of funding. But Addams' legacy lives on at Hull-House Museum (www.hullhousemuseum.org ), which remains open to visitors and continues as a teaching center at 800 S. Halsted St.

The museum is housed in the Victorian home once occupied by Addams, who in 1931 became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Next door is the Arts and Crafts dining hall, where resident volunteers - mostly college-educated women - once dined.

You can tour the buildings to learn about the history of the settlement house and its current social engagement. In summer, you can visit the Hull-House Urban Farm, less than a block away. The farm is a learning center for organic gardening in Chicago, says chief farmer Ryan Beck. Heirloom vegetables and fruits are its specialties.

"Each heirloom contains a rich past and story of the people that passed them from generation to generation, and carried them from their homeland to the U.S.," Beck says. Varieties of tomatoes found here have colorful names, including Orange Hog Heart, Green Zebra, and Black Russian.

Crops and culture

"Just as a quality organic garden hosts a range of heirloom crops for soil health and biodiversity, so does a healthy nation need the diversity and input of all its citizens for a truly democratic society," Beck adds. "We use this intersection of food and culture to promote healthier lives and continue the legacy of Jane Addams and Hull-House."

In addition, Hull-House Farm grows vegetables for a project Addams would have cherished. Called "Re-thinking Soup," Tuesday lunches feature a discussion along with homemade soup. One lunch featured lentil soup with mushrooms; the discussion was on the Federal Farm Bill. The dining hall is also used for conferences—just as it was when Addams served meals to both VIPs such as Eleanor Roosevelt and neighborhood residents.

Other activities include a canning project, outdoor exhibition, and school programs. Manuals are available on making soups, canning, and preserving produce.

Self-guided tours are offered Tuesdays through Fridays and on Sundays; guided tours are offered Wednesdays and Sundays. The museum is closed Saturdays and major holidays. Farm tours are offered seasonally Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Volunteers are welcome at the farm and museum. Call 312-413-5353 for more information.

Wonder why it's sometimes written as Hull House and sometimes called Hull-House (with a hyphen)? Rachel Glass, education coordinator, says the answer is lost in the mists of time. "In archives, it goes back and forth," she says. The museum currently uses the hyphen.