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Jane Addams and Frances Willard

Two Gals with Big Shoulders

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Believe it or not, the City of Big Shoulders once harbored two women of national and international clout. Not forgetting Bertha Palmer or the Everleigh Sisters, two distinctively different 19th- century women stand out, Frances Willard of Evanston and Jane Addams of Chicago.willard1



Born near Rochester, NY in 1839 and raised in Janesville, WI, Frances Willard (right) entered Evanston College for Ladies in 1857, an institution she became President of in 1871. In 1873 Evanston College for Ladies merged with Northwestern University where she was appointed its first Dean of Women. In a disagreement over the role of women in what had been an all male institution, she resigned in 1874. The next 24 years of her life were dedicated to female rights, first through her Presidency of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and later through women’s right to vote efforts.willard2

JANE ADDAMS 1860-1935

Jane Addams (left) was born in Cedarville, IL in 1860 and attended Rockford Female Seminary between 1879 and 1881. With her father’s death in 1881 she inherited a considerable amount of money and was able to explore career opportunities for a woman of her privileged class, albeit limited. During a trip to England (1887-88) she visited Toynbee Hall, London’s first settlement experiment and a place where lower class women could find assistance and shelter. In 1889, Addams and Helen Gates Starr founded Hull House on Chicago’s South Halstead Street, a cauldron of immigrant habitation.


With its distinctive Carpenter Gothic treatments, the Willard House at 1730 Chicago Avenue (right) in downtown Evanston, Illinois occupies a distinctive niche in Evanston’s architectural past. Hemmed in by contemporary buildings of no particular distinction, this historic house and museum is easily missed while keeping up with traffic on busy Chicago Avenue, regrettable because its former occupant was an important activist for women’s rights. Today Miss Willard is associated with the Women’s Christian Temperance willard5Union (WTCU) and its role in getting the 18th Amendment to the Constitution passed in 1920. But, Frances Willard was also about a woman’s right to vote (19th Amendment to the Constitution). Built in 1865 and based on an Andrew J. Downing design, the house is now quite different because of additions and alterations. Vestiges of Downing’s patented ideals were sublimated by necessity and changing fashion before the 20th century. Later, serving as the unofficial headquarters of the WTCU and a boarding house for its workers, the Willard House underwent additional alterations.

Neil, Alan and Holly Clayson visited the Willard House on December 10, 2010. Neil had been there before as an art packer and shipper, but for Alan and Holly it was new experience. Alan was particularly interested in its architecture, Holly (as Director of the Alice Kaplan Humanities Institute at Northwestern University) was keen on Willard the feminist and intellectual and Neil was into the history of Willard’s Prohibition involvement.willard6willard7 Not unlike many historic houses and/or house museums visited by the Getaway Guys, the Willard House is packed with artifacts and ephemera related to its owner and place in history. But, because of its multiple uses (over the years) not all the furnishings are just as Miss Willard left them. Enough remains, however, to give a visitor a good idea of Frances Willard’s 19th- century domestic life and her commendable missions. Despite downtown Evanston’s rush to reinvent itself during the past 20 years, the Willard House is distinctively well-preserved externally and internally. In addition to a comprehensive chronological display tracing the ascent of the W.C.T.U. and its current activities, this house/ museum also contains a riotous collection of furniture and whatnots identified with upper middle class propriety in the late 19th- century, including two stunning marble portraits, one of Frances Willard by Anna Whitney and the other of Diocletian Lewis (above, center), a temperance leader (sculptor unknown). There is also a small copy of Helen Farnsworth Mear’s statue of Miss Willard now residing in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

The Willard House is only open by appointment or on Sundays between 1:00 and 4:00pm, an unfortunate state of affairs due to a lack of funding. The house also needs funds for repairs and further restoration. Admission is $10.00.


The Hull Mansion (below, architect unknown) was built in 1856 for Charles Hull (a land speculator) on a forty acre parcel of land about a mile from downtown Chicago. How long members of the Hull family lived in this restored Italianate mansion located at 800 South Halstead Street is a bit of a mystery. willard8Although it survived the great Chicago fire of 1871(other vicinity dwellings did not) maybe the Hull family thought it prudent to move elsewhere. If so, they were not alone: many prominent Chicago residents did likewise. Whatever the reason for their departure, the mansion remained in the Hull family and served a variety of commercial interests until rented to Jane Addams and Helen Gates Starr in 1889 for $60.00 a month by Helen Culver, a niece of Mr. Hull. By this time the neighborhood had become a tenement district of lower class workers, many recent immigrants.

Although admirably restored to its pre-Civil War appearance (in the 1960’s), architecturally the Hull mansion isn’t particularly outstanding (except for it location on very busy South Halsted Street and the somewhat strident architecture of the UIC campus surrounding it). In size and appointments it is similar to many historic houses seen by the Getaway Guys. Typical of its period, the stately first floor has willard9willard10high ceilings embellished with elaborate cornices and intricate medallions containing what appears to be authentic period lighting fixtures (converted to electricity). Additionally, there are numerous fireplaces with ornate mantles in large rooms originally intended for receiving and entertaining guests. The second floor living quarters are (typically) far more Spartan. But Hull House isn’t a typical house museum. It does contain furniture and artifacts presumably owned by Addams and Starr and a number of very fine portraits of Miss Addams, but a good portion is dedicated to permanent displays explaining the Hull House mission with additional space set aside for temporary exhibitions. It is also a research center and archive.

When Addams and Starr set up shop in 1889 they called their experiment “Hull House” in honor of Toynbee Hall in London, England. They had visited Toynbee Hall during their trip to England in 1887-’88. Toynbee Hall was London’s first settlement house, a place where women in need could find shelter or assistance. For Addams and Starr, their introduction to the settlement house movement in London was a Eureka moment. Well bred, educated and financially comfortable in a world where few “career” opportunities beckoned, Addams and Starr found their calling (not in London) but in Chicago. Today “Hull House” is a convenient label affixed to the dedication of Addams and Starr on behalf of social welfare. But “Hull House” is singular and doesn’t begin to explain or identify what “Hull House” reallywillard11 was before its demolition for the UIC campus. Despite Alan’s penchant for knowing almost everything about Chicago history (he was a librarian after all), both he and his side kick, Neil, were reduced to blithering jerks to learn about the “Hull House” complex of buildings once occupying almost two square blocks around the original Hull mansion. Precise construction dates for the 14 buildings (archival photo, left) that made up the Hull House “campus” are elusive. Built after 1889 and demolished in the 1960’s, the Hull “campus” is now gone. The Addams-Starr complex was big’ and the restored Hull mansion represents only a fraction of what once was.

Admission to Hull House is free, but donations are graciously accepted. Hull House is open to the public Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday noon to 4 p.m. Closed Mondays and Saturdays.


The Willard residence in Evanston and the Addams-Starr residence in Chicago are monuments to the power of women with big ideas. One sought to change behavior through the prohibition of alcohol, the other sought to help the needy. Both sought to help women gain a voice through the ballot box, thinking women would be the key to reform in both spheres. However, to say Addams in Chicago and Willard in Evanston were single minded ideologues focused on singular causes, would be an over simplification. Both were strong-willed and had broader interests that evolved over time. Yet, despite their broader concerns, each in the public imagination is identified with a single issue, Willard with the prohibition of alcohol and Addams with welfare work.

willard14willard16In 1879 at age 40 Frances Willard (statue in U.S. Rotunda, left, and bust by Anna Whitney, right) became the second president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and although the next 19 years of her life were devoted to its fundamental cause (the prohibition of alcohol), Willard wasn’t a fire breathing confrontationist like Carrie Nation. She didn’t believe busting up bars or smashing saloons would get the WCTU anywhere. Wielding a hatchet (rumored to have used it) Carrie Nation (1846-1911) got the prohibition movement a lot of press, most of it bad. Lampooned from coast to coast for her headline grabbing exploits Nation was the antithesis of what Willard was about. Nation made a public spectacle of herself (guaranteed to offend ladies and gentlemen) and furthermore proper ladies did not enter bars and saloons, much less hack them to pieces. Willard focused on the vote for women, believing that once enacted women could reform many aspects of American society, the prohibition of alcohol included. (Ironically, Prohibition came first and a woman’s right to vote second.) The 18th Amendment to the Constitution (The Volstead Act) went into effect in January 1920 and the 19th Amendment (universal suffrage) became law in August 1920. Unfortunately, Frances Willard (in her study, below) didn’t live to witness either (nor did she witness the wave of lawlessness that engulfed the U.S.). willard15She died 22 years before the enactment of both. So, without the right to vote how did approximately 345,000 members of the WCTU and their allies pull off two stunning victories that changed the social fabric of the United States forever? The answer may be somewhere between “the tail wagging the dog” and the legend of the Sabine women. Quite possibly the WCTU may have been America’s first PAC (Political Action Committee) and/or because men have been known to follow the dictates of women (if they value their favors), they’ll go along to get along. Or as Neil’s father used to say: “you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them”.

Not unlike Willard, Addams needed a calling beyond marriage too. In late 19th and early 20th century America a miniscule number of educated women supported themselves. willard12Teaching was a genteel possibility along with nursing. (Prostitution [heavens to betsy] a possibility too.) For young women of means and education, the settlement movement (i.e., welfare work) provided an alternative (as an unmarried young woman of means, Eleanor Roosevelt did settlement work in New York City). Whatever Addams and Starr thought they were getting into when they rented the Hull mansion for in 1889 isn’t easily answered, because what they idealistically started grew in complexity and services rendered to the needs of the less fortunate prior to Addams’s death in 1935, including exercise classes for children (right) and a marching band (below) where Benny Goodman got his start. Like Willard, Addams thought a woman’s right to vote was willard13imperative if social reform and America’s potential were to be realized. Seeing progress on the home front, Jane Addams turned her attention to world peace, believing it too was within the power of enfranchised women to make a difference. Justifiably alarmed by the late 19th and early 20th century arms race (culminating in World War I), in 1915 Addams (with assistance from Henry Ford and before U.S. involvement) joined with other prominent and influential women in trying to bring about an end to World War I through negotiation. Unfortunately she failed, but in 1931 she was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts, the second woman to be so honored and the first and only American woman (Baroness Bertha Von Suttner (1843-1914) was the first in 1905). Paradoxically Addams lived long enough to witness the rise of Hitler and the strong likelihood of another World War.

willard17willard18The Getaway Guys typically disagree about many things and they enjoy the give and take in their often disparaging comments about one another’s taste in things cultural, but Willard (with her mother, left) and Addams (right) afforded them a chance to agree (well, almost). Neil and Alan have been known to lift a few, but they understand and appreciate the efforts of Willard and the WCTU with regard to alcohol and its debilitating affects on society. About a women’s right to vote, it is a no brainer; about disarmament, another no brainer. The amount of resources spent on armaments today is nothing less than obscene just as it was in Von Suttner’s and Addams’s day. Frances Willard and Jane Addams were two gals with big shoulders. March 2011

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