Ellen Gates Starr

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Ellen Gates Starr
Ellen Gates Starr.jpg
Starr in 1914
Born (1859-03-19)March 19, 1859
Laona, Illinois
Died February 10, 1940(1940-02-10) (aged 80)
Suffern, New York
Education Rockford Female Seminary
Parent(s) Caleb A. Starr
Susan Gates Child

Ellen Gates Starr (March 19, 1859 – February 10, 1940) was an American social reformer and activist.[1]

Early Life and Education[edit]

Ellen Gates Starr was born on March 18, 1859 in Laona, Illinois to Caleb Allen Starr and Susan Gates Child.

From 1877 to 1878, Starr attended the Rockford Female Seminary, where she first met Jane Addams. Forced to leave school due to financial concerns, Starr taught for ten years in Chicago.[2]

Social Reform Work[edit]

Starr joined Addams on a tour of Europe in 1888.[2] While in London, the pair were inspired by the success of the English Settlement movement and became determined to establish a similar social settlement in Chicago. When they returned to Chicago in 1889, they co-founded Hull House as a kindergarten and then a day nursery, an infancy care centre, and a center for continuing education for adults. In 1891, Starr created the Butler Art Gallery as the first addition to the Hull mansion. She travelled to England to study with the famed bookbinder, T. J. Cobden-Sanderson[3] and on her return she established a bookbindery class at the settlement house in 1898 and established an arts and crafts business school.[4][5]

She also sought to bring the Arts and Crafts movement to Chicago. In 1894, she founded the Chicago Public School Art Society with the help of the Chicago Woman’s Club. The goal of the organization was to promote public school and an appreciation of beauty as a sign of good citizenship. Starr was the president of the society until 1897 when she went on to found the Chicago Society of Arts and Crafts.[4][5]

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.[6] She was arrested at a restaurant strike. In the slums of Chicago, she taught children who could not afford school education about such writers as Dante and Robert Browning. She practiced her preachings about community labour to the extent of traveling to Britain to learn bookbinding.

Personal life[edit]

Faderman argues that Starr was Addams' "first serious attachment". The friendship between the two lasted many years, and the two became domestic partners. Addams wrote to Starr, "Let's love each other through thick and thin and work out a salvation".[7] The director of the Hull-House Museum at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Lisa Lee, has argued that the relationship was a lesbian one.[8] Brown agrees that the two can be regarded as lesbians if they are seen as "women loving women", although we do not necessarily have any evidence for genital sexual contact.[6][9] The intensity of the relationship dwindled when Addams met Mary Rozet Smith, and the two women subsequently set up home together.[6]

Later life[edit]

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.[6] In 1929, she had an operation to remove a spinal abscess where complications caused her to be paralyzed from the waist down.[10] In 1931, seriously ill, Ellen Gates Starr retired to a Roman Catholic convent where she was cared for by the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, but she was not a member of their religious community, or any other.[11]

Starr died at the convent on February 10, 1940 in Suffern, New York.[1]

Selected works[edit]

  • (1896) Settlements and the church's duty
  • (n.d.) Reflections on the breviar


  1. ^ a b "Ellen Starr Dies. Hull House Aide. Co-Founder With Jane Addams of the Chicago Settlement Succumbs in Convent at 81". New York Times. February 11, 1940. Retrieved 2015-01-09. Miss Ellen Gates Starr, co-founder in 1889 with the late Jane Addams of Hull House in Chicago and associated with the institution for more than forty years, died here today in the Convent of the Holy Child, where she had been an invalid for eight years. She would have been 81 years old March 19. 
  2. ^ a b Brown, Victoria Bissell (2004-01-01). The Education of Jane Addams. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0812237471. 
  3. ^ Denker, Ellen; Green, Nancy E; Milwaukee Art Museum (2004-01-01). Byrdcliffe: an American arts and crafts colony. Ithaca, N.Y.: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. ISBN 0964604205. OCLC 57694876. 
  4. ^ a b Harmon, Katherine E. (2013-01-01). There Were Also Many Women There: Lay Women in the Liturgical Movement in the United States, 1926-59. Liturgical Press. ISBN 9780814662960. 
  5. ^ a b Starr, Ellen Gates; Deegan, Mary Jo; Wahl, Ana-Maria. On Art, Labor, and Religion. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 9781412829960. 
  6. ^ a b c d Allitt, Patrick; Catholic Converts: British and American Intellectuals Turn to Rome; p. 149. ISBN 0-8014-2996-X
  7. ^ Lillian Faderman, To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done For America - A History, Houghton Mifflin, 2000, p118
  8. ^ http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2007-02-06/features/0702060273_1_hull-house-mary-rozet-smith-lesbian
  9. ^ Brown, Victoria Bissell (2007), The Education of Jane Addams, University of Pennsylvania Press, p. 361, ISBN 0-8122-3747-1 
  10. ^ "Education & Resources - National Women's History Museum - NWHM". www.nwhm.org. Retrieved 2016-01-23. 
  11. ^ Hoy, Suellen; "Ellen Gates Starr: Her Later Years"; p. 55-80. ISBN 978-0-913820-31-5