March 19, 1859 — Born today in Illinois is American social reformer and activist Ellen Gates Starr, a woman who would grow up to became close friends with women’s rights activist Jane Addams and go on to co-founded Hull House in Chicago.
Starr’s father encouraged her in thinking about democracy and social responsibility, and her aunt, Eliza Starr, encouraged her to pursue a higher education. There were few women’s colleges, especially in the Midwest; in 1877, so Starr began her studies at Rockford Female Seminary with a curriculum equivalent to that of many men’s colleges.
In her first year of study she met Addams. But when Starr’s family could no longer afford to pay tuition a year later, she became a teacher in Mount Morris, Illinois, in 1878, and the following year at a girls’ school in Chicago.
Meanwhile, Addams graduated from the Seminary and in 1888, decided to travel to Europe and invited her friend Starr to go with her. While in London, the pair were inspired by the success of the English Settlement movement and became determined to establish a similar social settlement in Chicago.
When they returned to Chicago in 1889, they co-founded Hull House as a kindergarten and then a day nursery, an infancy care centre, and a center for continuing education for adults. In 1891, Starr created the Butler Art Gallery as the first addition to the Hull mansion. She travelled to England to study with the famed bookbinder, T. J. Cobden-Sanderson and on her return she established a bookbindery class at the settlement house in 1898 and established an arts and crafts business school.
Words of Wisdom
Old-fashioned ways which no longer apply to changed conditions are a snare in which the feet of women have always become readily entangled.