The Hull House Association closed in January, and Chicago lost one of its last links to an extraordinary legacy. When Jane Addams opened the Hull House Settlement in 1889, the Near West Side boasted over 24 different ethnic and racial groups. Addams believed that the residents, who themselves saw little in common but their poverty, should share in the promissory note of democracy—with its attendant economic, social and cultural rights.  She set to work with a handful of wealthy female philanthropists, dozens of upper-middle class reformers, and a strong sense of solidarity. Through the Hull House Settlement, 9,000 neighbors per week were invited to share a cup of coffee, act in a Greek play, take a bath, sing together, play basketball, learn jazz, protest, recite poetry, discover birth control, make pottery, eat soup, date interracially, gain citizenship, unionize, grow a garden, learn English, dance, and be their best versions of themselves. But the shuttered Hull House Association contained only a fraction of the original Settlement vision: How could it have been more? For better and for worse, times change. Immigrants now make their homes in all corners of the city. Social work has been codified into advanced methodologies. The nonprofit industrial complex stringently limits the structure of organizations. And social welfare has ostensibly been assigned to the federal government, though it repeatedly abdicates its responsibility. While I regret the recent passing of the Hull House Association in Chicago, I also mourn a greater loss: that there is no longer a central location for the radically democratic dreams of a city on the make.


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