Friday, February 24, 2012

"What government gives, government can take away"

In starting to write this blog post, I became completely overwhelmed with the number of possible topics. One of my housemates is from Chicago, and when I asked him for ideas, he listed over a hundred possible avenues, from the Haymarket Riots to the more current issues of public housing policy. The topic I chose attempts to straddle the time divide from the themes of railroads and the World's Fair that we've discussed in class into the present. 

Jane Addams was a Chicago pioneer. Following a trip to England where she was exposed to the idea, Addams opened the Hull House, an organization that sought to connect the social classes and bridge the cultural divide between the rich and the poor. When it opened in 1889, the house offered classes in Shakespeare, fine art and classical music. While these classes ostensibly tried to bring people from all classes into the same space, it was heavily focused on indoctrinating the lower classes with "culture," meaning here what was perceived as high class and American. Addams herself admitted that the house was in some ways more important and useful for the teachers, rather than the immigrants who came to the classes. For more information on the beginnings of the house and Addams herself, The timing of the opening of the house is interesting to think about in relation the White City and Haymarket Riots, because it was attempting to create a space in which the classes could come together at a time when there were such clear class stratifications in the city. 

The Hull House continued to exist until January of this year. Originally, the house was privately funded, which afforded it the ability to have whatever programming it wanted, but also limited the types of sponsorships the house could get. Eventually, the house became entirely government funded, and lost its autonomy with regards to programming. As the government's budget decreases and they continue to cut more and more social programs, the Hull House was just one more thing on the chopping block. For a more extensive commentary on the demise of the Hull House, you can check out this op-ed from the Chicago Tribune, From the articles I've read about the house and from exploring its website,, the house seemed to be a good starting point for discussing the social and class disparities that are continuing to grow in Chicago. However, the house fits perfectly into the types of programs the government loves to cut, those that benefit people who aren't part of special interest groups, who don't control huge multinationals, who are the backbone of our country. 

1 comment:

  1. super interesting!! it's interesting to see the way an idea of "high culture" manifests itself in our reading, architecturally, geographically, aesthetically, etc. ... I feel like often the ideological representation of keeping high culture exclusive serves more of a purpose than the material aspects.