Interview: The Hull House Museum

TO: ______________

FROM: Vincent Romano

RE: Interview

Following is my reaction to a reporter who had recently interviewed me regarding the current issue between the HH Museum and the Taylor Street Archives.(pages 1-3)

For the benefit of that reporter, I also included a simple (3rd grade style) clarification of the issue. An issue in which every attempt was being made to distort, disguise, and circumvent the empirical evidence and vetted facts surrounding the legacy of Jane Addams and Hull House…to the extent that even this sophisticated historical reporters was being mislead. It also suggests an answer to the question of why the Museum Director would disallow the stories of those who lived the Hull House experience to be included in the HullHouseMuseum (Pages 4-5)

Dear __________

Given our phone conversation this morning, I am requesting that you not submit your story to the ____________ concerning the issue(s) impacting the UICs Hull House Museum and the Taylor Street Archives. At first blush, it appears that you are having difficulty finding the time to read the material I had emailed in preparation for either of our 2 phone interview(s). (Approximately 30 minutes of reading that you had encouraged me to email you.) Your repeated request for information that is already documented in those initial 4 attachments suggests that you may not be adequately prepared, at this time, to properly present the position of the TSA and the Italian American community. I am fearful that your presentation of your position may, by omission, be incomplete and therefore, mislead your readers. If this creates a financial burden for you, I am willing to compensate you for any loss of wages.

Also, it appears that, because of your historical foundations and your academic background, you are approaching this assignment with a predisposition to challenge the veracity of the TSA and not that of the HullHouse Museum and its affiliates representing the UIC academic community. Despite the TSA having properly sourced its facts; e.g., — the medium in which those facts appear along with their authors and dates of publication–your background and training demand further documentation.

As an example, you claim the following quote from the TSA is inadmissible because, as an historical writer, you need to see a copy of that journal: — “It is important that we don’t have a narrow vision of ownership over history or who gets to tell the story, but realize it is a collective story to be told. History should include the story of those who lived It,” Lisa Lee, UIC College of Architecture (Spring 2007 Issue.) The UIC personnel, with whom you have been in contact, apparently are not willing to confirm the authenticity of that quote…taken from their publication.

The following question was put to Lisa Lee, Director of the HH Museum, by a reporter from the Medill School of Journalism: — “Why have you refused to include the Taylor Street Archives in the bibliography of the Hull House Museum?” Her published response was, “After all, Hull House served 24 other ethnic Neighborhoods.”

The UIC’s PR Department, attempting to justify Lisa Lee’s awkward and misinformed rebuttal to why the TSA’s request to be included in the Hull House Museum’s bibliography was ignored, informed you that Lisa Lee was referencing a 1955 census when she made that statement. Meanwhile, Dean Kirschner, earlier, during our February 23, 2011 meeting, attempted to deflect attention from the absurdity of Lisa Lee’s published response and establish some modicum of credibility for Lisa Lee, by claiming that “Lisa Lee was referencing the 1895 nationality map.” For the record: Neither of those documents states that there were 24 ethnic neighborhoods within the Hull House Neighborhood.

Yet, both statements have passed your historian’s litmus test for inclusion in your article. However, a reading of the article published in the Medill School of Journalism clearly suggests that both statements are simply hasty fabrications of the truth.

I am almost fearful that your trained demeanor, in determining what is not properly authenticated and worthy of inclusion in your article, may even rule as inadmissible the 1890 invitation to the Italian American community written by Jane Addams and Ellen Starr, because neither Jane Addams nor Ellen Starr are alive to confirm that they had written that letter in Italian. I jest…??? Perhaps not!

You warned that the sentence you found in the 1987 Sun-Times article, “There were 19 different ethnic groups that lived within a 2 mile radius of Hull House, ” will also support Lisa Lee’s 2007 publicly stated response that there were 24 other ethnic neighborhoods. (As an historian, be apprised that the 2 mile radius, while encompassing the Hull House neighborhood; does not constitute the Hull House Neighborhood. It takes us well into Lake Michigan on the east and the western edges of the city on the west.*) Yet, I am advised by you that there will not be sufficient room in your article for the following sourced quote from the TSA, which refutes that flawed perception of what had constituted the Hull House Neighborhood:

The Bethlehem–Howell Neighborhood Center; and Jane Addams’ book, “The First 20 Years of Hull House,” further document that: “Italians occupied the area from the river on the east on out to the western end. Germans and Jews resided south of that inner core (south of Roosevelt Rd.)…The Greek delta formed by Harrison, Halsted and Blue Island served as a buffer to the Irish residing to the north and the Canadian–French to the northwest.”

Because of the strict requirements inherent in your discipline, your readers will not have the opportunity to discern that the comments from the UIC have no bearing whatsoever on what constituted the Hull House Neighborhood. Those UIC style comments are simply red herrings designed to mislead and confuse both you and your readers.

Even if that 2 mile radius you threaten to include in your article had any substance, it would still have nothing to do with the demographics of the Hull House Neighborhood, which is described by Jane Addams and documented by the Bethlehem-Howell Neighborhood Center. Every historian I know would endorse the fact that Italians, Jews and Greeks were the overwhelming majority of the Hull House Neighborhood and therefore, by definition, the overwhelming majority of its constituents.

Your discipline allows you to accept, as printable, the UIC’s PR department’s contention that the HH Museum now has a section on Italian Americans, without confirming its adequacy. I’m not sure how that fact explains away the decade long hypocrisy that history should include the stories of those who lived it, which is the unfabricated issue.

Because of the strict guidelines of your discipline, the authenticity of my statement that Christopher Kennedy, President of the UIC BOT, gave direction for a meeting be scheduled with Lisa Lee and me being present is questioned. Your challenge exists despite my having forwarded you the letter (more than once), from Chancellor Maeres, confirming that a meeting had been scheduled for February 23, 2011, which would include the Museum’s Drector, Dean Kirschner and myself. It would follow then that Mr. Kennedy’s advice to me would also be disqualified from your article. That advise was to encourage, at that meeting scheduled for February 23, the following title for a link on the Museum’s website, Stories From the Hull House Neighborhood” His thought was to encourage other ethnic groups, which also comprised the Hull House Neighborhood during its 74 year history, to have their stories included, as well. Your professional challenges appear designed to every relevent fact impacting upon the Italian American community’s ability to reclaim its legacy.

I recognize that you are free to submit your story for the consumption of your readers. I have no input in that decision. However, I respectfully request the right to respond to those distortions resulting from either omissions or commissions resulting from the contributions reported to you by the UIC, the HH Museum or any individual who may be in league with either or both entities.

*“Skid row’s Madison Street” was only 3 block north of Hull House…beyond those 3 blocks were the Randolph Street Market, railroad yards, the Montgomery Ward complex, etc. etc. etc.; Maxwell Street’s Jew Town was only 5 blocks south, beginning at Roosevelt Road…venturing further to the end of the 2 mile radius one enters Chinatown and Bridgeport; 2 miles east took you well into Lake Michigan…the Italian enclave began at the river, only 6 blocks east of Hull House; 2 miles west would likely take you to the edges of the city proper.


A story impacting the TSA and the HH Museum should include and not deviate from the following, without proper justification.

Fact: The Mission statement of the Hull House Museum clearly states that one of its missions is to preserve the legacy of the Hull House Neighborhood. (Sourced) The publicly stated philosophy of the Director of the HullHouseMuseum, Lisa Lee, publicly supports that mission statement. (Sourced)

Deduced: Therefore, the history of Jane Addams and the Hull House complex should include the story of those who had lived that history and contributed to that legacy. This is the foundation for any story that attempts to clarify the issue between the TSA and the HH Museum. Any attempt to initiate a different basis for that dispute would be an overt act of deception.

Fact: The Italian American enclave was one of the major components of the Hull House Neighborhood. Throughout the history of Hull House, beginning with its founding in 1889 and on through WWI, the roaring 20s, the Great Depression, WWII, and the physical demise of Hull House in 1963 by the UIC, the Italian American enclave was, for the most part, the primary component of the Hull House Neighborhood, (Sourced)

Deduced: Therefore, the story of those Italian Americans who had lived the Hull House experience, which, by defintion, includes the Taylor Street Archives, should have a place and be included in the Museum’s history of the Hull House Neighborhood. The sporadic and knee jerk comments from the Dean of Architecture, the Director of the Museum and the UIC’s PR Department are, in my opinion, simply designed to confuse and camouflage the initial issue that had been in place for more than half a decade; i.e., Are the stories of those who lived the Italian American experience of growing up in the Hull House Neighborhood deserving of being recognized and included in the history and legacy of the Jane Addams’ Hull House?

Fact: In the January 20, 2011 presentation by Vincent Romano, editor of the TSA, to the UIC Board of Trustees, a case was made for the inclusion of the TSA in the bibliography of the HH Museum’s website. It was pointed out that the Museum’s Director, in refuting and not acknowledging the nearly decade long request to include the writings of Italian Americans who had lived the experience of growing up in the Hull House Neighborhood, was based upon her flawed conviction that, “After all, Hull House served 24 other ethnic neighborhoods.” (Sourced)

Deduced: Jane Addams’ greatest achievement, the generations of lives she changed and shaped, is being obscured by the UIC Museum’s “caretakers.” No one, neither you nor any UIC employee, has the editorial license or the academic tenure to intentionally deflect the substance of that presentation to the UIC BOT in a manner that would mislead the public.

Fact: The members of the UIC BOT were sufficiently convinced that the Museum Director’s assumptions about the ethnic composition of the Hull House neighborhood were flawed and that the facts presented to them regarding the place of the Italian American community in the history of the Jane Addams’ Hull House were adequately vetted. The UIC Chancellor was instructed to schedule a meeting in which Lisa Lee, the Museum’s Director, and I, as editor of the TSA, would participate. (Aside: Lisa Lee ignored the directive and refused to attend.) Christopher Kennedy, President of the UIC BOT, suggested to me, at the conclusion of the BOT meeting, that the link on the Museum’s website would best be titled, “Stories from the HH Neighborhood.” This would encourage other immigrant/ethnic groups to include their stories as well.

Deduced: The Museum Director’s refusal to attend that scheduled February 23, 2011 meeting, which was the result of a directive from the UIC BOT, speaks volumes. Lisa Lee’s ability to extract $850,000 from the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) has apparently played a part in her being able to ignore the directive of the President of the UIC BOT and the Chancellor of the UIC. If that grant was given on the basis that the Museum would abide by its charter and mission statement, one could surmise that grant was extracted from the National Endowment of the Humanities under false pretenses.

The increase in attendance claimed is also flawed. Having attended the Museum and its functions, I can state that the alleged increase in attendance claimed to have resulted from the Museum’s makeover is a distortion. Most visitors are UIC students. Free food is the attraction. Hundreds regularly attend the programs to receive the free food and blatantly sit outside eating the food while the programs proceed indoors to a room that is sparsely filled with Museum emloyees. Students are also enticed to by being given a day off by their professors, in exchange for their merely signing the Museum’s register.

The Museum Director’s refusal to attend should not alter the basic issue; i.e., are the writings of Italian Americans who had lived the experience of the HH Neighborhood worthy of being included in the story the Museum has to tell about the legacy of Jane Addams, the Jane Addams Hull House and the neighborhood it served. The Museum’s mission statement, endorsed in the mandate by the UIC BOT, in addition to the publicly stated philosophy of the Director, clearly ordains that the Museum is to preserve the legacy of the HH Neighborhood. Failure to do so should disqualify them from any consideration for any endowments or grants based upon their status as a museum.

The Jane Addams legacy: The question put to me by most historians, writers and scholars is, “Why would the Museum’s Director not permit the stories of those who had lived the experience of the Hull House Neighborhood to be included in the HH Museum?” The true legacy of Jane Addams will be found in the Wikipedia articles on Jane Addams and Hull House. That legacy emphasizes her role as a sociologist and social theorists reaching out and impacting upon the lives of thousands of immigrants, migrants and their offspring who were submerged in an environment that was best described by another historian as: “rats’ alley where the dead men lost their bones” that is alluded to in T.S. Elliot’s epic poem, “The Wasteland.”

The Museum attempts to ignore the sociologist part of Jane Addams’ legacy in favor of the more glamorous and progressive image of a “Rebel.” Therefore, if the Museum included the stories of those who were impacted by Jane Addams, the sociologist, they would, by definition have to resurrect the legacy of Jane Addams, the sociologist and social theorists who impacted upon their lives. In doing so, it would minimize the more glamorous and progressive image of Jane Addams as the Rebel that the museum is attempting to promote…perhaps in an attempt to attach some of that rebel glitter to their not so rebellous existence.

Conclusion: As a reporter, you should be cognizant of th fact that current attempts to have us rethink (Rethinking Soup) Jane Addams as a rebel should not deter us from the reality that Jane Addams, first and foremost, was a sociologist who pioneered the theory of symbolic interactionism. Hull House’s existence was predicated on the theory that its programs could enable the residents of the Hull House Neighborhood (the Hull House laboratory) to become something more than what the experiences the inner city slums had ordained for them. Jane Addams true legacy is that of social theorists. Therefore, by definition, the stories of those who had lived the experience of the Hull House phenomenon, whether they became jurists or mob bosses, is the true legacy of Jane Addams and the Hull House phenomenon.

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