In Chicago, 1889, Jane Addams co-founded Hull-House, a settlement house in a Near West Side neighborhood (Figure 1). Impoverished immigrant populations dominated the neighborhood, where they suffered the ill effects of urban industrialization. In response, young, educated reformers lived together at Hull-House, providing social, cultural, and educational services to the immigrants. The reformers also investigated and recorded local sanitary, labor, and social conditions. First Eastern European and Jewish immigrants predominated the neighborhood, and during the 1920s, Mexican and African-American migrants moved nearby. Its many success stories during these decades boosted Hull-House’s stature into a national model for social science (Figure 2).
Jane Addams gained national and international prominence as a pioneer in the realm of social science during America’s Progressive Era and beyond. Her leadership in the American Woman’s Peace Party, the first congress of the Women’s International League, and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom exposed her to criticism but also earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, the second woman to be so recognized.
A lesser-known part of Addams’ public life was her nearly four decades as a Chicago post office substation postmistress.
Figure 1. Jane Addams (1860 -1935) was a prolific writer of correspondence, speeches, and books. 1912 photo. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Figure 2. 1905 envelope with Hull-House corner card, addressed in Jane Addams’ handwriting. The main Chicago post office processed the cover before transport to North Perry, Maine. Addams often summered at Hulls Cove near Bar Harbor, Maine.
The Hull-House Post Office Substation
Post Office substations, often called contract offices, were not on postal property and Post Office Department personnel did not operate the substations. The loss of their neighborhood postal substation forced West Side area residents to travel a distance for mail services. They successfully campaigned for another, nearby office. Chicago’s West Side Post Office Substation No. 10 opened on September 9, 1897, at 335 South Halsted in the Hull-House settlement complex. The substation served reformers and neighbors in the community with the sale of stamps, money orders, and registered letters, but did not have a first class postmark device.
The Hull-House Postal Substation 10 was inside the newly-constructed children’s building, located at the corner of Halsted and Polk Streets on the first floor, with an entrance on the Polk Street side (Figures 3 and 3a). Named for donor Charles Mather Smith, the building
also provided meeting rooms, kindergarten, a nursery, a music room, and an art studio. The Hull-House substation functioned under carrier station H, located at 543 Blue Island Avenue, and after 1900, under the Pilsen Station, both southwest of Hull-House.
Figure 3 and 3a. Curt Teich linen postcard of the Hull-House complex with the Smith building at the corner of Halsted and Polk Streets in Chicago, 1950. Note the mail collection box on Polk Street near the entrance to the building and postal substation. All but two of the Hull-House buildings were torn down in the 1960s to clear land for the University of Illinois at Chicago. Today, the surviving buildings (the original Hull-House and Dining Hall) house the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. USPS featured the renovated Hull House on a 15¢ postal card in 1989 to honor the centennial of Jane Addams’ Hull-House settlement house, below.
Chicago postmaster Charles Ulysses Gordon appointed Jane Addams to head the substation as its “postmistress.” While Hull-House residents and press frequently used the title Postmistress, the official post office title was “Clerk in Charge.” Gordon told the press that “Miss Addams did not ask for this appointment, but I asked her, and I am glad to know she finally consented.” By 1909, the Post Office Department paid an annual salary of $800 (equivalent in purchasing power to over $22,000 today) to Addams, which she used to compensate clerks and pay for operations.
So why would the busy Addams, who also served as the ward’s garbage inspector, accept such an appointment? As with other Hull-House government-improvement initiatives, from playgrounds to industrial reforms, Addams sought to collect information and create a replicable model for the Post Office Department. She was also determined to provide services that her neighbors needed. Her dedication helped provide a safe, educational environment at Hull-House, open daily (except for Sunday) from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Biographer Jean Bethke Elshtain noted, “for Addams, democracy was a form of public action making possible the doing of simple tasks in peace.” She held the position of postmistress, or clerk in charge, for the rest of her life.
Figure 4. Hull-House Substation No. 10, inside the Smith building with Elisabeth McManus as clerk. The sign above the postal station window states, “Original & Permanent Location of Post Office Contract Station No. 10, Founded September 9th 1897 by Jane Addams.” Courtesy Hull-House Digital Image collection neg. 1403, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Illinois at Chicago.
Figure 5. Registered money order from Substation No. 10 mail with receipt, 1897. Courtesy Post Mark Collectors Club.
Substation 10 simplified the task of sending a money order or writing to loved ones. Many Eastern European immigrants wanted to send money orders to their families in Europe. The substation helped the immigrants avoid unauthorized agents and money brokers, who often exploited them through high commissions. Addams ensured that Hull-House postal clerks spoke multiple languages and could guide neighbors through the process of sending money orders and verifying that addresses would be legible. Only a few clerks operated the substation during its years of operation, including: Amelie Valerio, who spoke five languages; Miss Le Fevre; Mr. and Mrs. A. Vincent; Hull-House accountant Elisabeth McManus; and her sister, Winifred McManus (Figure 4).
Hull-House residents collected data from postal operations and soon realized that immigrants from Europe expected postal savings. In 1899, a branch savings bank of the Chicago Penny Savings System was added to Substation 10, with the postal clerk also serving as banker. By 1913, the substation sent $600–1500 a day in foreign money orders (Figure 5). In 1916, the substation offered parcel post services (Figures 6 and 7).
Figures 6 and 7. Registered Substation No. 10 mail with backstamp, 1934. Courtesy Jim Williamson.
Jane Addams 10¢ Postage Stamp
Following Jane Addams’s death on May 21, 1935, citizens began writing letters to the postmaster general and leaders of the Post Office Department to propose an Addams postage stamp. It seemed appropriate to many that the United States honor Addams and her achievements in human welfare, modeling the Martha Washington and Susan B. Anthony stamps. The executive board of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and members of its branches wrote in support of a government issue, as did Robert Hutchins, the president of the University of Chicago.
Many women also wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt at the White House for her support. Unknown to them, Eleanor had already lobbied for the stamp. Only a couple months after Addams’ death, Eleanor wrote her husband, avid stamp collector and president of the United States, a note requesting the stamp’s issue. Franklin D. Roosevelt replied on White House stationery, “A Stamp is impossible because it violates all plans and precedents but I hope we can devise some other practical memorial. F.D.R.” Five years later (1940), while the Roosevelts still lived in the White House, the Addams stamp became reality (Figures 8, 9, and 10).
Figures 8, 9 and 10. 10¢ Jane Addams large and small die proofs, approved on February 9, 1940. The 1914 photographic portrait of Jane Addams by Moffett Studios of Chicago served as the source image and was flopped for the stamp design so that Addams faced left. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Issued as part of the Famous Americans series for scientists, the brown Addams 10¢ stamp, known to collectors as Scott 878, depicts the only woman scientist in the series and only the eighth woman portrayed on a U.S. postage stamp. Addams was also the first Chicago resident honored on a postage stamp. A 1914 photographic profile portrait by Moffett Studios in Chicago, held by the Library of Congress, served as the source artwork. At the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, designer William A. Roach flopped the portrait so that Addams would face left. J.T. Vail and Carl T. Arlt engraved the vignette and W.B. Wells engraved the lettering. Although ten cents did not represent a postage rate at that time, the stamp sold well.
Several sites campaigned to hold the first day ceremonies, including Cedarville, Illinois, Addams’ hometown. Charlotte Carr, director of Hull-House, also sought the ceremony; Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior, wrote a letter of support for Carr. She wanted a date change for the issue to coincide with the settlement’s 50th anniversary founding celebrations. She also sought a special first day postmark that would include “from Hull-House” in the text. She succeeded in hosting the ceremony, but did not manage to change the date or obtain a non-traditional postmark device.
Figure 11. Sale of the first sheets of Jane Addams postage stamps on April 26, 1940. Left to right: Chicago postmaster Ernest J. Kruetgen, Jane Addams Freeman (daughter of former secretary to Addams), Jane Addams Allen (great-grandniece of Addams), and Elisabeth McManus, clerk and postmistress at Hull-House for 35 years.
The first day events took place April 26, 1940, in the Benedict Art Galleries, named for Enella Benedict, the first art director of Hull-House. The space at Postal Substation 10 was insufficient to handle the crowds, so the Chicago post office set up a special Exhibition Postal Unit in the larger gallery room. Carr hosted a homecoming tea for former residents who had worked with Addams. An exhibition honoring Addams and the anniversary opened in the gallery. Portraits of Addams, pictures of friends, scenes of her activities, and documents of her work and Hull-House lined the walls and filled exhibit cases.
Elizabeth McManus, who succeeded Addams as clerk in charge, opened the substation’s postal counter at 9:30 a.m., selling the first stamps to two four-year-old namesakes (Figure 11). In the next thirty minutes, McManus and a postal employee who was sent by Chicago postmaster Ernest J. Kruetgen to assist her sold 6,000 stamps. All together, the Chicago post office reported 294,000 stamps sold for the first day, with 132,375 pieces of mail receiving the first day of issue postmark (Figures 12 and 13).
The Addams stamp ignited two controversies: first, some debated whether Addams was a scientist; and second, some questioned the shield-shaped panel at lower left with an unknown symbol. Social science was an emerging field at the time and was not yet recognized by some in the basic sciences as a true science, and therefore there was no scientific symbol to represent the discipline. When letters arrived questioning this symbol, postal officials scrambled to find an answer.
Figures 12 and 13. Jane Addams first day cover with Hull-House’s official cachet featuring an original sketch of the Hull-House courtyard by settlement artist and teacher Norah Hamilton. The Jane Addams Memorial Medal, designed by Nancy V. McCormick and produced by Medallic Art Company of New York, c. 1935, is depicted in the cachet with the medallion portrait image flopped to face right. The franked envelope sold for 25 cents and included an insert about Jane Addams and Hull-House. This example is autographed by Hull-House director Charlotte Carr and Hull-House postmistress and clerk Elisabeth McManus. Norah Hamilton’s sister Alice was honored on a 55¢ postage stamp in 1995.
Robert P. Lang, a reference librarian at Oberlin College Library, wrote, “None of the faculty members in the Sociology Department here are acquainted with the symbol.” He requested references and the origins of the design, and inquired how it represented the idea of sociology.
Initially, Post Office responses to similar queries were vague, until finally postal officials answered simply that the symbol represented “unity and social science.” Using artistic license, the Bureau artists had created the symbol of a circle with an upright connecting line. It was the only symbol created for the American Scientists series.
Dr. E.D. Skeen of Gary, Indiana, was one of many who questioned Addams’ qualifications as a scientist, and suggested that maybe her settlement house was a laboratory. Forest Ray Moulton, an astronomer and secretary of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, also questioned Addams as a scientist. He wrote, “This is undoubtedly the only time she has been classed among scientists, having never had any education as a scientist, having never been engaged in scientific work and having never belonged to a scientific society or been listed in such directories of scientists as American Men of Science.” To many of these inquiries, the third assistant postmaster general replied, “While there may be some question regarding this classification when viewed from the general construction placed upon the word ‘Scientists,’ recognition was granted Jane Addams in this series for her achievements in the field of social science.”
When Jane Addams established Hull-House as a social experiment, there were no “social workers” in America and no departments of sociology at universities. Today, Addams is honored as one of the trailblazers of the social sciences in the United States. She used Substation 10 as a model postal operation for the neighborhood and nation. The Post Office Department used her image on a postage stamp to advance women’s achievements in the sciences as part of America’s national identity.
Resources and Further Reading
Addams, Jane. Twenty Years at Hull-House (New York: Macmillan; 1910).
Elshtain, Jean Bethke. Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy (New York: Basic Books; 2002).
Jane Addams Memorial Collection. (University of Illinois at Chicago: The University Library): newspaper clippings, Hull-House bulletins and yearbooks.
President’s Personal File. (Hyde Park, N.Y.: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library): File 2513.
Third Assistant Postmaster General Stamp Design Files. (Washington D.C.: National Postal Museum Library, Smithsonian Libraries): File 878.
Editor's Note: The “Jane Addams: Social Scientist and “Postmistress”” article was published in the March 2020 issue of The American Philatelist. We are bringing the archives of The American Philatelist to the Newsroom - stay tuned for more columns and articles from 2020, and read the full March issue here. Happy Women's History Month!