The Closing of Hull House: Sad Commentary on Our Times

28 Jan

Goodbye Hull House

Yesterday was a very sad day indeed. Hull House, founded by Social Work Pioneer Jane Addams, closed it’s doors.  In 1931, Addams was the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Addams may well be best known for starting Hull House in Chicago.  Here is the mission statement of Hull House:

Jane Addams Hull House Association improves social conditions for underserved people and communities by providing creative, innovative programs and advocating for related public policy reforms.

Jane Addams Hull House Association provides child care, domestic violence counseling and prevention, economic development, family services, job training, literacy training, senior services, foster care, independent living, and housing assistance for 60,000 children, families and community members each year in communities in and around Chicago.

Hull House also advocates for social and public policy reforms and initiatives that impact the lives of the men, women, and children in the communities we serve.

Now after 120 years, Hull House is closed.  It would be delightful to say that Hull House closed because services were no longer needed–that poverty and discrimination had ended.  Alas, that is so far from the truth.  The truth is that the need for services continued to increase exponentially, but sadly funding for Hull House decreased at an even faster rate.

What doses this say about American Culture?  We are witnessing multi-millionaires spending millions and millions of dollars to run for President of the United States, but we as a culture put up no resistance to social services for the poor and disenfranchised being cut by 1% Republicans like John Boehner.  As someone who is currently getting his MSW, I am horrified that Americans no longer seem engaged in the battle against the inequitable  distribution of power and wealth.  We seem to have grown either amazingly stupid or apathetic  as our silence and non-action, or voting against our best interests supports an all white, heterosexual, Christian, male power structure.

I leave you with the words of Jane Addams:

The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.

10 Responses to “The Closing of Hull House: Sad Commentary on Our Times”

  1. Didion January 28, 2012 at 10:05 am #

    So sad. It’s so hard to maintain support for the labor movement and social services for the poor without institutions like Hull House disappearing. I can only hope other institutions in Chicago can fill in the gap. But it’s such a large gap — 60,000 people served every year. Tragedy.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt January 28, 2012 at 10:08 am #

      The news truly broke my heart! I worry so for the over 60,000 people in need. Where will they go? Who will help them navigate services and who will advocate for them? As always, I thank you and love your comments here!

  2. Kim Robert English January 28, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    Wow. I had not heard about this and all I can say is that I am shocked…shocked but not surprised. I first read about Hull House, how it was founded, its mission, the services it provided and the vision its founders held when I was kid. It seemed like the epitome of someone looking around, taking stock of conditions and taking action to help people in need… genuine altruism in practical form. I’ve always thought of it as a symbol of hope and somewhere in the back of my mind held Jane Addams in the highest regard. Now it’s closing can be viewed as a symbol of how fragile that hope was… It speaks volumes of what this society values now. The need for Hull House’s assistance has never been greater but the deniers of the very social fabric and interconnectedness of all people has been sacrificed by the 1% who have pillaged the social contract that once made America great. This is a sad day indeed.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt January 28, 2012 at 12:48 pm #

      Wow! Kim, your comments here are spot on! I could not say it any better, so I will just say a huge thank you as I share your sadness.

  3. nevercontrary January 28, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

    What kind of children are we raising that they think this is acceptable? Or even worse that it is what should be happening? Who will be there for them in their time of need?

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt January 28, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

      Exactly! All I can think about is how the GOP wants to cut even more social services at a time when they are so desperately needed.

  4. Jay January 29, 2012 at 10:42 am #

    There’s something about this story that tickles my contrarian instinct to play devil’s advocate, so please bear with me: the end of a specific organization should not be confused with the end of an organization’s mission.

    The Hull House museum remains open, and 120 years is quite an impressive lifespan for any active philanthropy or business.

    Some charities are created with the intent of existing in perpetuity, like the Rockefeller Foundation, but others, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are not. The Gates’ designed their foundation with the intent of having all monies spent and closing the foundation down within 20 years of the death of the last surviving founder (be that Bill or Melinda). The notion isn’t that the missions of their foundation will be complete in that time frame–rather, they want their foundation to avoid the bureaucratic tendency to focus on self-perpetuation, which diminishes the attention given to the core missions of the foundation. They also believe that the problems of the future, far beyond their lifespans, will be better addressed by philanthropists of the future.

    I once believed the Gates’ were crazy to not want their charity to be continuing to do good work centuries into the future–it seemed like they were throwing away a chance at a kind of semi-immortality. I’m now much more sympathetic to their reasons for designing their foundation to wind down operations and shut down completely within a couple decades of their deaths.

    I’m sad that Hull House has closed down, but I’m sympathetic to the notion that creative destruction is not entirely a right-wing talking point–sometimes it is best for a specific organization (be it for-profit or not-for-profit) to die. It can be a mistake to cling to a structure for the sake of a structure–the mission of Hull House is far more important than Hull House as a specific organization.

    Feel free to disagree–I’m not sure that I agree with I’ve just written–but the devil inside me wanted to throw these notions into the conversation.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt January 29, 2012 at 3:20 pm #


      Social Workers actually love contrarians–they provide an impetus for change and the deconstruction of systems. I do agree that service agencies can have a shelf life; in fact, good social workers strive (should strive) to put themselves out of a job. Going back to the mission of Hull House though is where I find the strength of my argument. The mission (regrettably) is just as applicable now as it was at the turn of the 20th Century. Our marginalization of groups experiencing homelessness and intersections of oppression has increased exponentially.

      I’m not sure what to say about the Gates’ Foundation. I’m glad some of their enormous fortune is doing something for the greater good, but Bill leaves me nonplussed at best.

      I suspect I also take it quite personally about the Hull House. Jane Addams is credited as one of the very first social workers in the United States and seeing the ever increasing needs of those victims of domestic violence, racism, economic disparities and the intersections of oppression leaves me feeling overwhelmed.

      Continue to be a contrarian, or what I like to refer to (with great admiration) agitate, agitate, agitate!

      • Jay January 29, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

        I appreciate your response, and strongly agree that the ongoing relevance of Hull House’s mission is the best practical reason to rue its passing (and also agree that its sentimental value and historical importance are also valid reasons to be dismayed by its closure).

        I’m also gratified that you embrace the notion that the finest agents of societal change and improvement want nothing more than to put themselves out of a job. It is useful to remind an often cynical public that many if not most public servants are more devoted to their mission than to their own careers.

        And I know that Bill Gates presents a complicated picture, but compare his approach to philanthropy to a sampling of other super-wealthy people (look into Mitt Romney’s giving, or Sheldon Adelson’s, or Paul Allen’s) and I feel confident in asserting that he’s doing philanthropy far better than most of his peers. It is so common for giving to focus on one’s co-religionists (as with Romney and Adelson) or on quirks of taste and association (as with Allen), that Gates’ rational focus on public health for the poorest people on the planet looks better and better to me.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt January 29, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

        Beautifully said, Jay. Thank you also for exposing the hypocrisy and hate of Romney et al., in contrast to Gates.

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