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social sciences

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Settlement House Movement  
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Hull House offered a myriad of social services. For example, volunteers taught educational courses, provided child care for working mothers, offered kindergarten and vocational classes (long before either became commonplace), and cooked meals for the poor. At the same time, living in a settlement house provided them, as well as other female volunteers, with a space in which women were not bound by obligations of marriage, child rearing, and domesticity. Such an environment gave women opportunities to explore both short and long term emotional and physical relationships with other women.

Working as partners at Hull House, Addams and Starr drew national attention by creating a blueprint for social change, and in the wake of their success, hundreds of settlement houses sprang up all over the country. Addams and Starr maintained their relationship for about fifteen years, until they drifted apart. In the mid-1890s, Addams began a romantic involvement with Mary Rozet Smith, a younger, wealthy woman who was a benefactor of Hull House. This partnership--viewed as a marriage by both women, according to Faderman--lasted more than forty years, until Smith passed away from pneumonia. Addams herself died a little over a year later.

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Contemporary Legacies

Settlement house volunteers eventually became professional (that is, paid) social reform workers. Jane Addams in particular was highly influential in the development of the social work profession, which attracted mostly women. The settlement house movement continued to exist throughout the twentieth century, although as time passed social workers stopped living in the settlement houses themselves, and the name dropped out of use.

Today, the settlement house heritage lives on through institutions more popularly known as community or neighborhood centers (including local YMCA and YWCAs). Nevertheless, the goals of building community solidarity and providing local residents with much needed services have not changed. What does need to change, however, is the historical denial of the passionate, committed same-sex relationships that played such an important part in the lives of many American social welfare pioneers. It is only through the efforts of scholars such as Lillian Faderman that these issues are finally beginning to be addressed.

Andrew Matzner

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social sciences >> Addams, Jane

American reformer, social worker, peace activist, and Nobel Laureate Jane Addams is remembered as the founder of Hull House in Chicago, but her involvement in same-sex relationships has consistently been hidden or minimized by biographers.

social sciences >> Boston Marriages

Boston marriages--romantic unions between women that were usually monogamous but not necessarily sexual--flourished in the late nineteenth-century between women who tended to be college-educated, feminist, financially independent, and career-minded.

social sciences >> Kellor, Frances Alice

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social sciences >> Wald, Lillian

Lillian Wald, an American public health nurse and social reformer, is the model of a Victorian-era lesbian active in the settlement house movement.

social sciences >> Woman-Identified Woman

A cornerstone of lesbian activism in the 1970s, the concept of the woman-identified woman expressed the need for women to define themselves without reference to male-dominated societal structures.


Addams, Jane. Twenty Years at Hull-House. 1910. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990.

Faderman, Lillian. Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love between Women from the Renaissance to the Present. New York: Morrow, 1981.

_____. To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done for America--A History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.

Trolander, Judith Ann. Settlement Houses and the Great Depression. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University, 1975.


    Citation Information
    Author: Matzner, Andrew  
    Entry Title: Settlement House Movement  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated March 18, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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