Ellen Gates Starr

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Ellen Gates Starr (born, March 19, 1859 on a farm near Laona, Illinois – died, February 10, 1940 in Suffern, New York), the daughter of Caleb Allen Starr and Susan Gates Child. She was an American educator, social reformer, activist and co-founder with Jane Addams of the Hull House Settlement in Chicago in 1889. Ms. Starr had a particularly strong interest in the arts and is generally considered to be the leading force behind the Hull House art gallery and founder of the bookbinding program there.

Ms. Starr and Ms. Addams first met as students at the Rockford Female Seminary in the 1877-1878 school year. Following Rockford, Starr taught for ten years in Chicago. In 1888 she was invited by Addams to accompany her on a continental tour of Europe. While in Budapest, the two decided to visit Toynbee Hall, which had been established in 1884 by men from Cambridge University in the East End of London, and run by Canon Barnett.

Later that same year, back in Chicago, Starr and Addams sought an inner-city residence at which to establish their own settlement house, and settled upon the Hull Mansion on South Halstead Street.

In her time at Hull House, Ms. Starr was active with the kindergarten, day nursery, and infant care program as well as the art museum. She single-handedly founded and led the bookbinding program. For many years, she taught literature courses on William Shakespeare, Robert Browning, Dante to children and adults at Hull House and elsewhere 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, she was strongly influenced by English romantics and the Arts and Crafts movement including John Ruskin and William Morris. Her artistic and craft activities, notably bookbinding, can be seen in light of her opposition to the industrial system and idealized view of the guild system of the Middle Ages.

Ms. Starr was very interested in the problems of industrial labor, attracted to the anti-industrialization and craft themes of the Arts and Crafts Movement and became more and more sympathetic to organized labor. She was active in local campaigns in Chicago to regulate child labor and industrial working conditions and she was arrested at least once during a restaurant strike. She joined the Women's Trade Union League and helped organize strikes by garment workers in 1896, 1910 and 1915.

She also developed a keen interest in social justice and by 1920 had become a Roman Catholic. In 1931, she retired to a convent in Suffern, New York, and died there nine years later.

Historians have long speculated on the nature of her personal relationship with Addams. Because of the illegal nature of same-sex relations at the time, it is hardly surprising that no direct evidence has been found. Lillian Faderman argues that Starr was Addams' "first serious attachment" and that the two became domestic partners at Hull House. Addams wrote to Starr, "Let's love each other through thick and thin and work out a salvation". There is no evidence to confirm whether this was a reference to an overt sexual relationship or merely the kind of lush expression of affection often employed by female letter writers in the Victorian era. 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. Brown agrees that the two can be regarded as lesbians if they are seen as "women loving women", although there is no existing evidence of a sexual relationship.

Cooling of the intensity of her relationship with Ms. Addams, after the latter met Mary Rozet Smith and Addams and Smith set up housekeeping together at Hull House does offer a possible explanation for why Ms. Starr moved out of the settlement.