Hull-House Museum opens exhibition on Jane Addams Day, Dec. 10

An interactive exhibition that demonstrates Jane Addams’ legacy for domestic life and public health will mark Jane Addams Day Dec. 10 at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“Unfinished Business: 21st Century Home Economics” will open with free refreshments from 4 to 6 p.m. at the museum, 800 S. Halsted St. It will be on view through August.

The museum’s ad campaign on Chicago Transit Authority buses declares that domestic labor is “the work that makes all work possible.” The ads urge people to learn more by visiting the museum and contacting the Chicago Coalition of Household Workers, which advocates labor protections for domestic workers.

Through public workshops, performances, conversations, and hands-on activities, the exhibition describes the first-generation home economists of the early 20th century — equal rights advocates, chemists, public health advocates, and labor reformers who sought to redefine domesticity. Their goals were healthy food for all, fair labor practices for domestic work, ethical consumerism, and community child-care solutions.

Exhibit organizers say the familiar images of early home economists canning, sewing, and baking do not tell the story of the movement’s past, nor do they engage with the radical potential of its future.

Drawing on Hull-House’s historic work, “Unfinished Business” grapples with the successes and failures of this earlier generation. One display introduces Jane Addams’ housekeeper, Mary Keyser, as a community organizer and caregiver as well as cleaner at the Hull-House settlement.

“If you care about urban farming, immigration reform, labor rights, or universal health and child care, you need to know this history, and you will be astounded by its continuing relevance today,” says Heather Radke, exhibition coordinator.

“While much progress has been made on the issues Jane Addams and the reformers cared about, there is still much unfinished business,” Radke said. “The work of creating a more just society continues.”

The exhibition consists of four sections:

Food and Hunger

Historic menus detail the innovative food programs that Hull-House launched to politicize the kitchen and transform the culture of food preparation and dining. An audio piece by Radke and Chicago photographer Jason Rablando profiles Julia O’Grady, “lunch lady” at Chicago’s Academy for Global Citizenship, a public charter school. Multimedia profiles of other cafeteria workers will be created throughout the year by Street Level Youth Media.

Domestic Labor

Artifacts of caregiving donated by the Chicago Coalition of Household Workers are interpreted through labels written by domestic workers in a writing workshop led by teaching artist H. Melt of Young Chicago Authors.

On display will be the first national survey of domestic workers in the United States, “Home Economics: The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work.” The National Domestic Workers Alliance and UIC’s Center for Urban Economic Development surveyed 2,300 nannies, house cleaners and caregivers in 14 cities to document their demographics, wages, working conditions, and training needs.

An installation of woven, handcrafted rags by Collective Cleaners, a Chicago artists’ collective, explores cleaning as an artistic practice and invites visitors to think about place, history, privilege and labor.

Child Care

A display of children’s blocks by contemporary child care activist groups from around the country tells a dynamic history of child care. An interactive family activity has been developed by the Chicago Childcare Collective and illustrated by Corinne Mucha.

Craft and Conscientious Consumption

Artist Carole Frances Lung (Frau Fiber) devised an interactive installation that invites visitors to use early 20th-century sewing machines to “upcycle” used t-shirts, transforming them into tote bags.

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