Ellen Gates Starr

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Starr in 1914

Ellen Gates Starr (March 19, 1859, near Laona, Illinois – February 10, 1940, in Suffern, New York) was an American social reformer and activist.


Starr and Mrs. F. R. Lillie

Ellen Starr was born in Laona, Illinois. She was a student at the Rockford Female Seminary (1877–78), where she met Jane Addams; their friendship lasted many years, although some historians have suggested that Starr was a lesbian who had a particularly close relationship with Addams.[1] Starr taught for ten years in Chicago before joining Addams in 1888 for a tour of Europe. While in London, they were inspired by the success of the English Settlement movement and became determined to establish a similar social settlement in Chicago.

They returned to Chicago and co-founded Hull House as a kindergarten and then a day nursery, an infancy care centre, and a center for continuing education for adults. Starr was also active in the campaign to reform child labor laws and industrial working conditions in Chicago. She was a member of the Women's Trade Union League and helped organize striking garment workers in 1896, 1910, and 1915. However, by belief she was firmly anti-industrialisation, idealizing the guild system of the Middle Ages and later the Arts and Crafts Movement.[2] She taught such writers as Dante and Robert Browning in the slums of Chicago to children who could not afford school education. She practiced her preachings about community labour to the extent of traveling to Britain to learn bookbinding. She was arrested at a restaurant strike.

Although Starr possessed an interest in Roman Catholicism for many years, it was only when she believed the Church was seriously teaching social justice that she converted in 1920. Even after that, her work in campaigns against child labour met with much opposition from inside the Church.[2] In 1931, seriously ill, Ellen Gates Starr retired to a Roman Catholic convent in Suffern, New York, where she died on February 10, 1940. She was cared for by the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, but she was not a member of their religious community (or any other).[3]


  1. ^ Brown, Victoria Bissell (2007), The Education of Jane Addams, University of Pennsylvania Press, p. 361, ISBN 0-8122-3747-1 
  2. ^ a b Allitt, Patrick; Catholic Converts: British and American Intellectuals Turn to Rome; p. 149. ISBN 0-8014-2996-X
  3. ^ Hoy, Suellen; "Ellen Gates Starr: Her Later Years"; p. 55-80. ISBN 978-0-913820-31-5