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To preserve, for posterity, the names and memories of those immigrants who found their way, from their Italian origins, to the legendary Taylor Street’s Little Italy, the port-of-call for Chicago’s Italian Americans…the inner core of what Jane Addams had labeled “The Hull House Neighborhood.”
To capture, through stories and pictures, how it was, for those emigrants and their offspring, growing up through a time and in a place unmatched by any other. History should include the stories of those who lived it. The Taylor Street Archives affords us the opportunity to preserve our history in the words of those who lived it.
To capture, through stories and pictures, how those Taylor Street children–nurtured through the Great Depression, the Great War and other not so visible obstacles of similar magnitude by their immigrant parents and the visionary Hull House–reshaped and redefined that subculture, which had been imposed upon them by the dominant society.
If we do not act now, the following will be our epitaph:
“…and it came to pass that, for those who follow us, it will be as if we never were.”
The primary purpose of the Taylor Street Archives (TSA) is to preserve that place in history that recognizes and confirms the existence of the Legendary Taylor Street’s Little Italy–the port-of-call for Chicago’s Italian American immigrants–as the inner core of what Jane Addams had labeled “The Hull House Neighborhood.” Jane Addams herself described the inner core of that neighborhood as being Italians from the river on the east—Roosevelt Road on the south and Harrison Street on the north—on out to the western boundaries of Chicago’s near-west side. The very first invitation sent to the residents of the Hull House Neighborhood (1890) was written in Italian “Mio Carissimo Amico” and signed “Le signore Jane Addams and Ellen Starr.”
Our neighborhood, with its enclave of 10,000 Italian-American immigrants (1895 census), became the laboratory upon which the Hull House elitists tested their theories. Their protests to the establishment were based upon the living conditions of the near-west side slum’s immigrant population. The Hull House rolls (including their Bowen Country Club summer camp) confirm that, for most, if not all of the history of Hull House, Italian Americans were the primary component of the Hull House Neighborhood. Therefore the history of the Jane Addams’ Hull House, America’s first settlement house, is not complete without acknowledging the synergy that resulted from the symbiotic relationship that existed with the Legendary Taylor Street’s Little Italy. Neither is the history of Taylor Street complete without acknowledging the Hull House imprint.
Fact: The very first invitation (1890) sent to the residents of the Hull House Neighborhood was written in Italian. It begins with, “Mio Carissimo Amico,” and is signed, “Le signore Jane Addams and Ellen Starr.” (Chicago Tribune, May 19, 1890)
Fact: The Bethlehem-Howard Neighborhood Center Records further substantiates that, as early as the 1890s, the inner core of “The Hull House Neighborhood” was overwhelmingly Italians. “Germans and Jews resided south of that inner core (south of twelfth street)…The Greek delta formed by Harrison, Halsted and Blue Island Streets served as a buffer to the Irish residing to the north and the Canadian –French to the northwest.”
Fact: Of the 3 dominant immigrant groups, Jews and Greeks began their exodus of the neighborhood during the early part of the 20th century. Only the business sections of Greek town and Jew town (Maxwell Street) remained. The Italians were the only ethnic group that remained as a vibrant community through the roaring twenties, the prohibition era, the Great Depression, WWII, and the physical destruction of the neighborhood by the UIC in 1963. Mrs. Hull’s original house was spared as a museum and is now under the guardianship of the UIC.
Fact: The “Hull House Kids,” a historic picture taken by Wallace K. Kirkland Sr., Hull House Director, on a summer day in 1924, circulated the globe as a poster child for the Jane Addams’ Hull House. All twenty boys, posing in the Dante school yard on Forquer Street (now Arthington Street), were first generation Italian Americans. All with vowels at the ends of their names. “They grew up to be lawyers and mechanics, sewer workers and dump truck drivers, a candy shop owner, a boxer and a mob boss.”
Fact: Jane Addams herself, in the First 20 Years of Hull House, attests to all of the above mentioned demographics: Italians occupied the area from the river on the east on out to the western end of… from Harrison Street on the north and Roosevelt Road on the south.
Fact: During the greater part its 74 year history on the near-west side (1989-1963), Hull House and its summer camp, the Bowen Country Club (BCC), served a community that was almost entirely Italian Americans. The Hull House and BCC records substantiate as much. As an example, from the list of the 257 BCC alumni serving in WWII, all were Italians except for a handful of non-Italian names.
The Hull House Museum is the primary outlet for the dissemination of information to the public about the history of Hull House and Jane Addams’ “Hull House Neighborhood.” Recently, in response to why the Museum rejected works that included stories written by Neighborhood writers, Lisa Lee, director of the Hull House Museum, stated, for the consumption of historians, scholars and the public alike:–“In addition to the Italian community, Hull House also served 24 other ethnic neighborhoods.” Medill School of Journalism, December 3, 2008. The entire UIC structure appears to be oblivious of the fact that it was only with dismantling of the neighborhood by the expressways in the 1950s and the physical demise of Hull House and the neighborhood in 1963, that the Hull House Association, beginning as a shell organization operating out of store fronts throughout the city, came to the forefront in dispensing social services beyond the original Hull house Neighborhood. Editor’s note: The Hull House Association has closed its doors and no longer exists.
The mission, therefore, of the Italian American community, is two-fold:
1) to create and maintain the Taylor Street Archives as an alternative medium to offset historical distortions (by both omission and commission) being disseminated by the guardians of the Hull House Museum to both scholars and the public alike…thus thwarting the ethnic cleansing policy currently in place by Museum’s leadership;
2) to encourage the UIC power structure to implement its own self-professed philosophy: “History should include the story of those who lived it,” Lisa lee, Director of the Hull House Museum UIC College of Architecture, Spring 2007. The Hull House Museum does not have, in the multitude of references in their bibliographies and links to their web sites, the work of a single Italian American writer who lived the experience of growing up in the Hull House Neighborhood. To date, the Taylor Street Archives is the only medium containing stories of those who had lived the experience of growing up in the legendary Taylor Street’s Little Italy.
We must ensure that our place in the history of the Jane Addams’ Hull House, as the laboratory upon which the Hull House elitists tested their theories and based their protests to the establishment, is neither usurped nor redefined by a power structure that chooses to ignore our place in the history of that phenomenon known as Jane Addams’ Hull House, to be arbitrarily and capriciously eliminated.
Hull House’s constituents reflected the demographics of the neighborhood. Primary among them were the Italians from Taylor Street’s Little Italy who constituted the overwhelming majority of those who attended the Hull House complex of 13 buildings and its summer camp, the Bowen Country Club, during its Camelot days. Upon the exodus of the Greeks and Jews, during the first part of the twentieth century, the Hull House neighborhood was virtually wall-to-wall Italians.
We must ensure that our place in the history of the Jane Addams’ Hull House, as the laboratory upon which the Hull House structure tested their theories and based their protests to the establishment, is neither usurped nor redefined by those who were not part of that Taylor Street experience. These indisputable facts, confirming our legacy, must find a way to penetrate the agenda of the UIC trustees and the Hull House Museum. .