Settlers in the City Wilderness

IN a railroad train in Pennsylvania, one of the native Germans of the State was recently heard asking his companion if they were “ on zis side of Norristown or ze oder side.” An equal vagueness, so far as any accurate comparative study of the one half and “ the other half ” of the population of cities is concerned, has existed until almost the present time. It is evident enough that there has always been a hither and a yonder side of the point of division, but it is no less clear that the industrial conditions of city life have never before emphasized the division as it is emphasized to-day. The fruits of this study of differences have come to what is known as “ the reading public ” mainly through the medium of fiction and the treatment of fact which pictures and the magazines render easily digestible. It would be interesting to know just how much of the popularity of tales like Gallegher. Chimmie Fadden, and Julian Ralph’s People We Pass lies in the skill of the writers, and how much in a public curiosity concerning the type of humanity with which they deal. That they are widely, and on the score of their cleverness not unreasonably liked, and that they are eminently of our own decade, there is not a shadow of doubt.

The public ear has also been reached by scattered words from and about the “ settlements ” of cultivated men and women in the poorest portions of great cities. Happily, the time is past when everybody need be told just what these enterprises are; yet the number of wellinformed persons who contrive to maintain ignorance concerning them is often, at this late day, a matter of wonder to those who have followed their work. These wanderers should remember, however, that most of their own knowledge comes from reports, pamphlets, and the few books foreordained, as it were, to fall especially into their hands. The book which is to make the knowledge of the subject universal is still to be written, but from the volume before us 1 a very adequate conception of the work done by the American settlement which has probably had the widest opportunities and activities is to be gained.

Hull-House, in its definition of itself, differs from the other settlements in that the word “ social ’ takes the place of the more familiar “ college ” or “ university.

It has the distinction, also, of counting among its residents both women and men. Women are in the majority, the total usually numbering about twenty. It is not to be supposed that all of these devote their entire time to the service of the House; but the Appendix at the end of the volume, giving an outline of the work that has grown up since two residents began it six years ago, is proof enough that many heads and hands are kept constantly busy. The House is situated at the heart of one of the most crowded, poor, and vicious city districts of the world. Into the daily life of this community it has brought a train of civilizing influences too many even to name in completeness here. In forms adapted to the understanding of the people, it has given them books, music, and pictures, with every help to their fuller apprehension ; it has brought about better sanitary conditions ; it has entered with sympathy into the puzzling labor questions of its neighbors, showing the workers in the sewing trade, men and women, how their wretched state could be improved by organization, providing a meeting-place for young unions, giving sober counsel in times of strike, and even arbitrating successfully between employers and employed. Most important of all, it may be, in far-reaching results, it has taken to itself the children of the neighborhood, teaching them that there are other things to love than the streets, nourishing their starved imaginations, and filling their minds, by example quite as effectively as by precept, with images of a higher life than that into which the accident of birth has thrust them. The very beginnings of the settlement work were made in England only ten years ago, and until the children whom it has touched shall have grown to manhood and womanhood, and carried some leaven of the settlement influence into the lives of their cities, it is too early to count the full measure of its success. To illustrate the single point of stimulus to the imagination,—a point, as some will say, of lesser moment, — an incident may well be cited : “ One club [of children] has had a consecutive course of legends and tales of chivalry. There is no doubt that the more imaginative children learn to look upon the House as a gateway into a magic land, and get a genuine taste of the delights of literature. One boy, after a winter of Charlemagne stories, flung himself, half crying, from the house, and said that ‘ there was no good in coming any more now that Prince Roland was dead.’ ”

Social Conditions. By Residents of Hull-House, a Social Settlement, at 335 South Halstead St., Chicago. Ill. New York and Boston : Thomas Y. Crowell & Co. 1895.

The few pages describing the work of the House, however, were evidently intended by the compilers of the book to attract much less attention than the maps, the comments on them, and the separate papers of which the volume is made up. In every instance the writers have been residents of the House, and the papers represent the serious sociological study of the settlement, — a part of the work which the more noticeable social and humanizing elements are sometimes likely to obscure.

The two maps accompanying the book represent in a very vivid manner the nationalities and the wages of the people occupying the third of a square mile east of Hull-House. They were prepared in 1893 in connection with the work of Mrs. Florence Kelley, a resident of the House, acting at the time under government appointment as a Special Agent Expert, in A Special Investigation of the Slums of Great Cities, ordered by Congress and performed by the Department of Labor. The entire time of four men for more than four months was spent in a door-to-door inquiry into the condition of the district. At HullHouse the result of their labors was put into the graphic form which the maps modeled upon Mr. Charles Booth’s famous map of East London have taken. The details of what they reveal must be seen upon the maps themselves. Concerning the divisions of the eighteen nationalities herded into this third of a mile, it is worth while to transcribe the following: “ The Italians, the Russian and Polish Jews, and the Bohemians lead in numbers and importance. The Irish control the polls : while the Germans, although they make up more than a third of Chicago’s population, are not very numerous in this neighborhood ; and the Scandinavians, who fill northwest’Chicago, are a mere handful. Several Chinese in basement laundries, a dozen Arabians, about as many Greeks, a few Syrians, and seven Turks engaged in various occupations at the World’s Fair give a cosmopolitan flavor to the region, but are comparatively inconsiderable in interest.” As the abodes of members of each of these races are shown by separate colors or combinations of colors, the map of national ties is more like a patchwork quilt than the sober checker-board which usually outlines a city’s streets. The wage-map is a trifle less variegated ; for, dealing with families, its colors represent only six grades of income, ranging from “ S5 a week and less ” to “ over $20.” The largest class in the district, appears to be that receiving between $5 and $10. It is too much to expect absolute accuracy in maps such as these, especially when it is remembered that the population is constantly shifting. This exactness, indeed, is disclaimed : yet the maps render possible an easy apprehension of the nature and condition of the community in which Hull-House is doing its work. And for the higher spirit and purpose of the maps, the writer of the comments upon them speaks a word of wide application to all work for the poor: “Insistent probing into the lives of the poor would come with bad grace even from government officials, were the statistics obtained so inconsiderable as to afford no working basis for further improvement. The determination to turn on the search-light of inquiry must be steady and persistent to obtain definite results, and all spasmodic and sensational throbs of curious interest are ineffectual as well as unjustifiable. The painful nature of minute investigation and the personal impertinence of many of the questions asked would be unendurable, were it not for the conviction that the public conscience, when roused, must demand better surroundings for the most inert and long-suffering citizens of the commonwealth. Merely to state symptoms, and go no farther, would be idle ; but to state symptoms in order to ascertain the nature of the disease, and apply, it may be, its cure, is not only scientific, but in the highest sense humanitarian.”

Having thus by the maps and the comments upon them shown with what sorts of people the House must deal, the book proceeds with papers on various topics affecting their interests. In their trade relations the sweating system presents the most distressing problems, and the report upon it by Mrs. Florence Kelley, State Inspector of Factories and Workshops for Illinois, gives a picture of the misery it entails, all the more tragic for the manifest, grim truthfulness of it all. Nor is the appeal for reform made to the more favored classes on humanitarian grounds alone. Perhaps it is as well that a motive of selfishness may enter into their endeavors for a change. “ It is a fact, observes Mrs. Kelley, “ of which the public has remained curiously ignorant, that the worst forms of danger to the wearers of garments are found in heavier proportion in the manufacture of expensive custommade clothing than in the ready-made clothing trade. ... A striking example may serve to illustrate the point. I have myself found on Bunker Street a brick tenement - house filled with Bohemian and Jewish tenants engaged in the tailoring trade and in peddling. In the ground floor, front flat, which was exceedingly clean, I found a tailor at work, one Sunday afternoon, upon a broadcloth dress-coat belonging to an evening suit of the finest quality, such as sell for from $70 to $100. On a bed about five feet from the table at which the tailor was working, his son lay dying of typhoid fever. The boy died on the following day ; and the coat, when finished, was returned to the merchant tailor, and delivered to the customer without fumigation or other precaution.” It should be added that the words “ exceedingly clean ” could not possibly be used in other instances which Mrs. Kelley relates. A paper on the Wage-Earning Children of Chicago, by Mrs. Kelley and an assistant inspector, gives an equally pitiful picture of a sad condition, and, like the preceding paper, makes intelligent suggestions for its betterment.

Three other articles, written, if there is anything in a name, respectively by a Jew, a Bohemian, and an Italian, have for their topics The Chicago Ghetto, The Bohemian People in Chicago, and Remarks upon the Italian Colony in Chicago. Not the least interesting portion of the paper on the Jews describes the work of the chosen people on its own behalf. The thoroughness of Hebrew charitable work has long been recognized, but the fact of its extension along all the lines of Gentile humanitarian endeavor must come to many readers with something of surprise. The foundation of the Maxwell Street settlement, where two young college-bred Hebrews have come to live in the midst of the Ghetto, is one of the more recent undertakings. The subjects of study in the classes which the settlement provides range from “George Eliot” to “ bookkeeping; ” and, among the independent literary clubs of the district, record is made of a society for the study of Hebrew literature, which listens to lectures in pure Hebrew, — not the Jüdisch jargon of the Jewish playhouses,— and keeps its minutes in the same undefiled tongue.

Americans, however, have grown somewhat familiar with the persistent individuality of Jewish life, whatever its surroundings may be, but they cannot all have realized that, in Chicago, they may boast of possessing the third largest city of Bohemians in the world, with a population from sixty to seventy thousand in number. If John Boyle O’Reilly were living to sing that there is no land like Bohemia, he would be forced to admit that there is a city, with a lake-front for its seacoast, very like it. The social, religious, political, and trade life of the Bohemians is shown in its various distinctive aspects. The writer demonstrates their ability to rise out of insignificance into power by telling of their having served at various times in all the following posts of local distinction : alderman, county commissioner, school board, public library board, corporation counsel, assessor, and state legislature. It is certainly worthy of mention, also, that since 1874 the public library has had a Bohemian department, now numbering four thousand volumes.

The Italians of Chicago are, apparently, much like their countrymen of other cities, — for the most part voluntary exiles from their native land, working and Waiting for return only until they have earned American dollars enough to supply their modest needs at home. The paper describing them is none the less a valuable contribution to sociological knowledge, and, like the other two studies of race characteristics, and indeed all the printed results of settlement work, gains a special significance from having been done “ from the inside.” The quality of sympathy which is thus attained shows itself again in the excellently written paper on The Cook County Charities, by Julia C. Lathrop, member of the Illinois State Board of Charities. One feels, in reading it, that the writer knows her people not only as “ cases ” and "wards of the State,” but also as persons.

It remains to speak of the two concluding papers. Art and Labor, by Miss Ellen Gates Starr, and The Settlement as a Factor in the Labor Movement, by Miss Jane Addams, the head of HullHouse. As distinguished from the very practical bearing of the other essays in the book, these may be said to speak for the higher and larger aims of the settlement, its ideals. A thorough disciple of Raskin, Miss Starr sees in the bringing of some spirit of joy into the lives of our workmen the only essential hope for raising their work above the dull, mechanic round which makes it what it is. A passage at the end of her paper speaks more than any relation of results for the feeling which informs the most enlightened work for poor and rich alike, and its length does not withhold us from quoting it: —

“ The boy of our great cities, rich or poor (we are so far democratic), has this common inheritance. He sees from his earliest years the mart ; not the mercato vecchio of Florence, where the angel faces of Della Robbia looked down above the greengrocer’s wares in the open booth, from out wreaths of fruit and flowers that vied with those below, but our mercato nuovo. He sees there walls high and monotonous ; windows all alike (which he who built had no pleasure in) ; piles of merchandise, not devised with curious interest and pleasant exercise of inventive faculty, but with stolid, mechanical indifference; garish wares, and faces too harassed and hurried to give back greeting. These belong to rich and poor alike. But here the lots diverge. The poor lad goes, not to his sheep, like Giotto, nor to keeping his feet warm, like Luca, in a basket of shavings, while he works cheerily at his art and saves fire: he goes home to the dreary tenement, not fireless, but with closed windows to keep its heat within, dingy plaster, steam of washing and odors of cooking, near discordant voices, loneliness of a crowded life without companionship or high ideals ; and for view of hills and sky, the theatre bills on the walls across the street, and factory chimneys.

“ The son of the rich man goes home to his father’s house. Through plate glass and lace curtains he looks across at his neighbor’s father’s house, with its lace curtains, — perhaps a little less costly, perhaps a little more. Up and down the street, he compares the upholstery, the equipages, the number and formality of the servants belonging to the establishments which represent his social life. He has flowers in a greenhouse ; he has fine clothes ; he has books ; he has pictures. Does he lead an artistic life ? Can we look to him for the great art of the future ? Alas ! ‘ The life of the poor is too painful, the life of the rich too vulgar ! ’ Rather, is not the life of each both painful and vulgar to a degree which seems almost beyond hope ? ‘ The haggard despair of cotton-factory, coalmine operatives in these days is painful to behold ; but not so painful, hideous to the inner sense, as that brutish, God-forgetting, Profit-and-Loss Philosophy and Life-Theory which we hear jangled on all sides of us, from the throats and pens and thoughts of all-but all men. Happily, at least for art, there remains that ‘ all-but ’ modicum, — the tenaciously impractical and unbusinesslike, the incorrigibly unconvinced as to the supreme importance of ‘ selling cotton cheaper.’ Else ‘ vacuum and the serene blue ’ would indeed ‘ be much handsomer ’ than this our civilization. For the children of the ‘ degraded poor,’ and the degraded rich as well, in our present mode of life, there is no artistic hope outside of miracle.”

It is to the new freed life, which shall give fresh strength not only to man’s body, but also to his spirit, that Miss Starr looks for hope. If to some minds her words seem visionary, it may not be because those minds apprehend the whole truth. What Miss Starr has seen from the point of view of art, Miss Addams regards in its relations to the trades of the people about her ; and in her paper on the settlement’s attitude towards the labor movement she puts the aim of tradeunionism on the highest possible plane, and shows how all may become gainers by the best applications of its principles. The common remark that the greatest good of such work as that of Hull-House is through reaction upon the workers is shorn of half its effect by considering achievements and standards like those which the present volume sets forth. It is impossible to think of the contact between the lives which have produced the results here shown and the lives of the least favored citizens of Chicago without bringing up an image of actual, very positive good attained. The many sides on which the neighborhood life is touched, the sanity, the reasonableness, the human nearness of the work, the countless evidences of response and confidence from the people whom it reaches, — all these things have established the work already, wherever it is known, as unquestionably a good thing to do.

Such uprisings of the elements of disorder as the Chicago strike of 1893 may not unnaturally prompt the question, What is the use of such a little thing as a settlement, what is the use of any effort in the face of a counter-influence, of a power so vastly greater, against flic social order ? It has never been claimed that the settlements could provide the final solution of any problem. It has only been hoped that, by gaining knowledge at first hand, they might enable men to see more clearly, to bring about a better understanding between each class and every other. This, it is believed with steadily growing confidence, they are doing; and if the work of Hull-House may be taken as typical of what is best and most active in “ the movement,” the feeling of confidence and hope can only be strengthened by the knowledge that since 1889 twenty similar settlements have been established in America.

  1. Hull-House Maps and Papers. A Presentation of Nationalities and Wages in a Congested District of Chicago ; Together with Comments and Essays on Problems growing out of the