Starr, Ellen Gates

Starr, Ellen Gates

(1859–1940) social reformer; born near Laona, Ill. Growing up in an Illinois village, she was influenced by her aunt, Eliza Allen Starr, a writer and lecturer on Christian art who lived in Chicago, to enroll in the Rockford Female Seminary (1877–78) (Rockford, Ill.), where she met Jane Addams. For several years she taught at a girls' school in Chicago, but after years of corresponding with Jane Addams and an 1888 trip with her to Europe, the two women established Hull House (1898), a settlement house in Chicago's West Side. For the next 30 years, she was the principal coordinator for cultural activities at Hull House—promoting everything from great books reading clubs to bookbinding—but she soon broadened her concerns to become an activist for child labor and labor issues in general. She eventually joined the Socialist Party and then in 1920—after a lifetime of searching for a congenial religion—she joined the Catholic Church. After a crippling ailment, she retired in 1930 to a Catholic convent in New York.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.