Charlotte Carr was born in 1890. After attending Vassar College she became a policewoman in New York City. After twenty years in the force she became Secretary of Labor in Pennsylvania. Later she moved to New York and worked under Alfred Smith and Frances Perkins as director of relief in New York City.
In 1937 Carr was chosen by Louise Bowen, president of the Hull House Association board of trustees, to replace Adena Miller Rich as head resident of the Hull House Settlement in Chicago. Atlantic Monthly reported in 1938: "Charlotte Carr is probably the only graduate of boarding school and Vassar who ever walked a beat. Tonight she dominates a drawing-room with native grace; tomorrow she dominates a relief demonstration with native persuasion. Her long service on behalf of the hard-bitten under-privileged has awakened in this well-born women the traits of her ancestors. They, seven or eight generations back, were meat-and-potatoes Irish."
Carr was an active trade unionist who held radical political views and this led to clashes with Louise Bowen. In 1943 Carr was fired when she refused to resign from the left-wing Union for Democratic Action. A report in Time Magazine on 11th January, stated: "Hull House's founder, Jane Addams, in the 19th Century spirit believed in the social adjustment and education of the alien poor. Miss Carr thought that times had changed, that organization and political pressure were now the best ways for slum dwellers to better their lot."
Charlotte Carr died in 1956.
A few months ago a "fat Irishwoman" (as she described herself) decided she'd seen enough front-line service for a while. For twenty years she had manned the barricades, as a policewoman under Brooklyn Bridge, as Secretary of Labor of war-torn Pennsylvania, and as director of relief in New York City. Now she was tired and forty-seven (though she looked neither) and she wanted a furlough. What she got was one of the toughest assignments in America.
Charlotte Carr is probably the only graduate of boarding school and Vassar who ever walked a beat. Tonight she dominates a drawing-room with native grace; tomorrow she dominates a relief demonstration with native persuasion. Her long service on behalf of the hard-bitten under-privileged has awakened in this well-born women the traits of her ancestors. They, seven or eight generations back, were meat-and-potatoes Irish.
When Jane Addams moved into Hull House, forty-eight years ago, Chicago's nineteenth ward was one of the plague spots of America - an unrelieved slum, rotting and stinking within and eating its way into the rest of the careless city. In the square mile between Hull House and the river there was one bathtub. There were no parks or playgrounds. For every pickpocket clubbed by the police there were twenty maturing in every poolroom. The children of the immigrants earned four cents an hour at piecework on garments.
Hull House had two jobs, from the first. One was to make the poor less miserable in their poverty. The other was to make them less poor. The first had the blessings of Chicago's "leading citizens"; the second did not. Jane Addams and Hull House fought the city. They forced Chicago to establish a juvenile court, to build small parks and playgrounds where the children of the poor could get at them. They forced Illinois to pass factory inspection laws, the eight-hour day for women, and a workmen's compensation act. By their example, they carried these reforms to many another city and state.
When Charlotte Carr took over, the place was a museum, a shrine to Jane Addams. The thousands who still poured through its doors came to see not what Hull House was doing but what it it had done. The bloody battleground had become a "must" item for out-of-town tourists. Tinted memories overlay the scenes of Jane Addams' struggles. The crusaders were gone. Hull House had become Chicago's toy.
Charlotte Carr and the trustees of Hull House have parted company. The trustees of Hull House pay the bills. Therefore it is their show. Charlotte Carr is a hired hand, and if she wants to take part in politics, she should do it on her own time. And if the people who use the facilities of Hull House insist on participating in its management, they are forgetting their place. So I image, runs the reasoning of the trustees. And if I were a trustee, I would probably feel that way myself. When you give a dog a bone it's no fun having him snap at you.
"Hell, I was fired!" exclaimed Charlotte Carr last week at reports that she had "resigned" after five years as director of Chicago's world-famed slum settlement, Hull House. For many reasons, Charlotte Carr's position at Hull House had become shaky. Some trustees and philanthropists in particular did not like her outspoken political activity, her affiliation with the Union for Democratic Action.
Hull House's founder, Jane Addams, in the 19th Century spirit believed in the social adjustment and education of the alien poor. Miss Carr thought that times had changed, that organization and political pressure were now the best ways for slum dwellers to better their lot.
Tall, heavy and gusty, Charlotte Carr calls herself "a fat Irishwoman" and is a female counterpart of John L. Lewis - more a labor leader than a social worker.
The fundamental point is: who shall formulate the policies of Hull House? Does Hull House belong to the people it serves, or to the trustees? Shall it be an 'agency' superimposed from above; or shall it be an instrument of the people themselves? Only by involving the people significantly in the management of Hull House can it ever become a real part of the attitudes, sentiments and thinking of the people.
Formerly the largest proportion of our adult population was foreign born. But our community has now come of age. Most of the adults are native-born, were educated in American schools and act and think as Americans. We believe that our people are capable of participating in the management of our educational and social welfare institutions.
Because Charlotte Carr was thoroughly familiar with conditions as they are, and was in complete accord with our aspirations for democracy, we consider her resignation an irreparable loss to our community. And we hope that the trustees will reconsider it.
© John Simkin, April 2013