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Ellen Gates Starr (March 19, 1859 – February 10, 1940) was an American social reformer and activist.[1] She, along with Jane Addams, founded Chicago's Hull House in 1889.

Ellen Gates Starr
Ellen Gates Starr (cropped).jpg
Starr in 1914
Born(1859-03-19)March 19, 1859
DiedFebruary 10, 1940(1940-02-10) (aged 80)
EducationRockford Female Seminary
Parent(s)Caleb A. Starr
Susan Gates Child

Early life and educationEdit

Ellen Gates Starr, ca 1890

Ellen Gates Starr was born on March 19, 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 workEdit

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 provide original works of art and good quality reproductions, to promote public school learning 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 lifeEdit

Faderman argues that Starr was Addams's "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 there is no evidence they were sexual partners.[6][9] The intensity of the relationship dwindled when Addams met Mary Rozet Smith (who had been Starr's student at Miss Kirkland's School), and the two women subsequently set up home together.[6]

Starr joined the Episcopal Church in 1883 and by 1894 was a member of the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross an Episcopal women's prayer society that combined prayer with education and activism for social justice. Founded by Emily Malbone Morgan, the Companions included a number of influential reformers from around the United States, such as Vida Scudder, and Mary Simkhovitch. Companions came together each summer for a week retreat that allowed women reformers to reconnect spiritually, network with other reformers and attend a series of educational programs on social issues.[10]

Later lifeEdit

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, complications caused by surgery to remove a spinal abscess led to her becoming paralyzed from the waist down.[11] 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.[12]

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

Selected worksEdit

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


  1. ^ a b "Ellen Starr Dies. Hull House Aide. Co-Founder With Jane Addams of the Chicago Settlement Succumbs in Convent at 81". The 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. ^ "Outing Jane Addams". Retrieved 27 August 2018.
  9. ^ Brown, Victoria Bissell (2007), The Education of Jane Addams, University of Pennsylvania Press, p. 361, ISBN 0-8122-3747-1
  10. ^ Mary S. Donovan, "Women's Ministries in the Episcopal Church, 1850-1920, Wilton, CT:Morehouse Barlow, 1986, pp. 148-154.
  11. ^ "Education & Resources - National Women's History Museum - NWHM". Retrieved 2016-01-23.
  12. ^ Hoy, Suellen; "Ellen Gates Starr: Her Later Years"; p. 55-80. ISBN 978-0-913820-31-5