Sorry if this is unclear or asking about something you've recently covered, but I'm drunk and have just found you and I love her: what is/are your personal/academic opinion(s) on Jane Addams? Do you have a resource about her relationships with women that could be valuable for a queer … Fan? I guess. Follower? I know it's speculated she was queer, specifically that she had a partner (I haven't read much on her, but Mary I think her name was?) Much thanks for anything you have abt her! Xx
I’m so glad you asked this! I’m from Chicago, and I have so many feelings about Jane Addams. She did so many great things for our city and she was a big ole lesbian.
That’s all, of course, my personal feelings (aside from Addams being a lesbian—while she may not have used the label for herself, I feel comfortable saying it’s the one that most accurately describes her).
The woman you’re thinking of is Mary Rozet Smith. She and Addams were together for more than three decades, and their closest friends described them as being married.
Her most notable work, Hull House, was settled by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr in September of 1889. Starr was also a lesbian, and Addams’ partner for many years. Their relationship ended around the time Addams met and started her relationship with Smith. Hull House housed social, educational, and artistic programs. It was a center for social reform. Both women worked especially with new immigrants and women—they campaigned and promoted education, autonomy, and the destruction of traditionally male-dominated fields.
The fact that Hull House existed in a poor neighbourhood wasn’t an accident. There were classes in literature, art, history, current issues, and more. All were free, and they drew in the working class folks in the surrounding neighbourhood. Addams didn’t just create those programs though, she worked with the community and led studies and surveys on the causes of poverty and then shared these with folks in the neighbourhood. She also shared them with legislatures, who she pushed for social reform.
Additionally, queer folks are typically have lower income, especially lesbians who wouldn’t have the benefit of a man’s income. Women were discouraged from working, and Addams fought against that with her classes and her push for reform. Because of this, Hull House was also a meeting spot for lesbians at the time.
Now, despite the good she did, Jane Addams was not perfect by any stretch. She was a supporter of the prohibition, mainly because of her whorephobic rhetoric. This is regularly overlooked, and I refuse to pretend that she had no flaws. I love and appreciate all of the work she did, but she still had the issue of looking down of poor folks she felt were doing something “wrong.” She had the same issue we find with early feminists (and feminists today, let’s be honest) in that she was staunchly anti-sex work.
Hull House still partially exists as the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. Years ago, the museum had a project called “Was Jane Addams a Lesbian?” I’m uncertain if it still exists; it’s been a while since I’ve been to the museum. The director of the museum does believe she was a lesbian. In fact, there are few scholars who believe she wasn’t a lesbian. One scholar, for example, believes it’s we should focus elsewhere, because focusing on whether a lesbian was a lesbian might “overshadow” the good she did. We at Making Queer History believe straight historians should move on and let queer folks have fun.
I hope that was educational and helpful! Jane Addams is a wonderful part of our history, and she means a lot to me as a queer Chicagoan.