“We were poor. Absolutely poor. But we were happy,” says Ines Medor, mother of NPHM Board Member Jack Medor and core exhibition oral history participant on her experience living in the Jane Addams Homes.
She, her brother, and her parents were among the first residents who moved into the new buildings in 1938. We were able to lift these perspectives and many other nuggets of wisdom, raw observation and sometimes paradoxical reflections out of the raw material (audio and transcriptions) collected in 2011 thanks to a talented crew of researchers that joined NPHM this summer and bade their farewells in mid-September.
The narratives and photographic resources they uncovered debuted in partnership with the University of Chicago Graham Foundation’s annual “Know Your Chicago” tours. To illustrate Alexander Polikoff’s keynote address at the KYC kickoff symposium, NPHM’s team unearthed images this legal celebrity might use to illustrate the political and cultural arc of the Businesspeople for the Public Interest’s landmark case, Gautreaux vs. Chicago Housing Authority and HUD. This instrumental case toppled segregation in public housing and forever changed the tenor of public housing policy discussions.
Illustrative stories from three diverse families living in public housing at our own heritage site peppered my own remarks at the KYC tour luncheon down the street from the Jane Addams building. With our Board Chair Sunny Fischer, CHA advocate and Board Member Crystal Palmer and poverty scholar Paul Fischer, NPHM shared our story as part of the fabric of public housing in the city with 220 Chicagoland residents, many of them women. Issues of poverty, racism and cultural disconnection came alive as these newcomers to the questions visited our site as well as Lathrop and Legends on a two-day bus tour.
Programs, exhibits, talks and images capture the stories of public housing, but our stories aren’t possible without the efforts of staff, interns and volunteers that happens every day unseen at our upstart museum’s offices on Kingsbury Street. I’d like to make sure you know how valuable this work is.
On September 18 we bade farewell to University of Chicago’s undergraduate program second-year Ayelet Pinnolis from Boston. You’ll be hearing a lot more about letters she delved into the UIC archives to unearth that reveal the depth of connection between our namesake site, America’s “most dangerous women” Jane Addams and her progressive friend in Washington Sec. Harold Ickes.
Richard Anderson brings perspective on the intersection of the Hull House neighborhood and Chicago’s infamous history of machine politics, the focus of his dissertation at Princeton University. We’re delighted he’ll be with us through the beginning of 2015.
Robin Bartram returned to NPHM (after facilitating staff curatorial discussions last summer) through September as well. She’s a student of our advisor Mary Patillo, and has completed insightful comparative work on representations of domesticity and dwelling at cultural sites like the Tenement Museum as a Northwestern PhD candidate.
Together Ayelet, Richard and Robin worked to make our archives of oral history, photographic and secondary sources more accessible. The unglamorous work of sorting, filing and indexing led to the more exciting possibilities of uncovering stories, laying the groundwork for us to expose latent themes in more detail this winter and next spring.
We now also return to our oral history subjects (the Medor family along with the Rizzis and Hatches), bringing in scholarly partners to frame our work in context, and most importantly engaging current public housing residents (especially youth) in ensuring that the stories of 1322 Taylor Street connect all the way south to Altgeld, around the corner to Cabrini and from Coast to Coast.
by Todd Palmer, Interim Executive Director and Curator at the NPHM