Tuesday, March 12, 2019

A biographical sketch of philanthropist and real estate dealer Charles Jerold Hull, best known for Chicago's Hull House.

This is a strange story of an unusual sort of man. It will seem like fiction, but it is, in fact, an authentic record of the life of Charles Jerold Hull (1820-1889), for whom Chicago's Hull House is named. The story is told because, as will appear, the name of Mr. Hull is mainly written in the history of the University of Chicago.

Charles Jerold Hull
Hull traced his ancestry back to Rev. Joseph Hull, a graduate of Oxford rector in the Church of England, whose leanings toward dissent brought him with "a considerable flock of his people" to the New World in 1635. This body of immigrants, known as "Hull's Colony," received a land grant on the south shore of Boston Bay. In memory of the old home from which they had come, the town soon exchanged its Indian name of Wessaguscus for that of Weymouth. A century and a quarter later, descendants of Joseph Hull were people of substance living on the large island of Conanicut in Narragansett Bay, and it is said that a house still stands on this island, burned by the British in the Revolutionary War, but later rebuilt, and known as the "Old Hull Place." A small neighboring island known as Prudence was owned by the Slocums, but this was so devastated by the English that the family never returned to it. A son of the Hulls, Robert, and a daughter of the Slocums, Sarah, married, and these were Charles J. Hull's grandparents. His father, Benjamin, married Sarah Morley. Charles was born March 18, 1820, "in a little, rough house once a cooper shop" on the corner of his grandfather Morley's farm in Manchester, Connecticut, twelve miles east of Hartford. The mother died a few weeks after his birth, and the father migrated to Ohio, which was then a far west and pioneer country. On both sides, the family has fallen on evil times. The grandfather, Robert Hull, with his wife, had settled on a farm near Castile, Wyoming County, New York, about fifty miles southeast of Buffalo. It does not appear to them just when or how the young Charles was committed, perhaps by the father on his westward migration. The son saw him but once after that, in 1839, and then had to seek him out in his Ohio home, where he died in 1853. 

The orphaned boy was welcomed into his grandparents' home, who lavished upon him the tenderest affection and the most devoted care. With this love and devotion, he returned in full measure. The grandmother was evidently the forceful member of the family. They were all curiously illiterate, but Mr. Hull always spoke of his grandmother in terms of extraordinary appreciation as a noblewoman, physically, mentally, and morally beautiful. 

The grandfather was an honest, kind, hard-working farmer who, to add to the insufficient income from the farm, made his house a country tavern in which, as was the universal custom, whiskey was sold. The boy was brought up on the farm and behind the bar. When he was fifty-six years old, Mr. Hull wrote an account of his early experiences in school: 
"Fifty years ago this summer, I think, I was sent to school to learn the Alphabet. I was a wild, rough, barefooted, bare-headed, restless, human animal. Being placed on a slab bench, without back... I soon forgot the dignity of the place and whistled. The crime was charged upon me and a cloud of small witnesses stood ready to testify I indignantly denied the accusation. But the proof was conclusive… and I was flogged. I went home, reported, and was told that I need not go to school any more. I had a rest then for about three or four years, when it was decided that I must be taught to write. A sheet of foolscap paper was purchased, folded and pinned together so as to make four leaves, and I was sent to school with instructions to write two pages a day. At the end of four days I returned the paper for inspection and it was nearly a solid ink blot. The ruling member of the family then decided that it was wholly useless to send me to school; that I never could learn anything, and I was put into the tavern to tend bar. But fate seemed determined that I should not be let off in that easy manner, and when I was about fourteen another spasm to educate me took possession of my dear old grandmother, and my grandfather's Bible, the only book I ever knew him to own, was put into my hand, and I was sent back to the log schoolhouse to get an education."
He was called up with the Testament class as he had a Bible. The boy was naturally ashamed to confess that he could not read and, when called upon, was silent. The teacher, who was a "fiery Irishman," gave him two or three chances and, knowing nothing of his utter illiteracy, supposed him simply obstinate and defiant and, after threatening to whip him within an inch of his life if he did not obey and read his verse, gave him still another chance, going so far as to read the verse and ask him to repeat it. He could not remember it even then and received the worst kind of licking. He went home and showed his arms and back. He says, "That was the last day I was sent to school. Two years later, I pushed out on my own account to pursue knowledge."

Meantime, however, he had developed a remarkable aptitude for business. The tavern bar had been turned over to him two or three years before this time, and he had conducted the business of selling whiskey with so much success that when he reached the age of fourteen, the tavern's sign was changed to his name. The farm had unfortunately been mortgaged, "and it was only by the aid of his tireless zeal that the old people were able to redeem it." He was the business manager of the farm and tavern. This continued for three years until he was seventeen.

Then came a change of which he wrote:
"The old "Hull Tavern" in Castile, near Perry, was the resort of horse-traders, horse-racers, drunkards, and gamblers on a small scale. In 1837, while it was con ducted without a license, in my name, a horse trade and a row occurred one night in the bar-room. One of the parties feeling aggrieved, the next day had me arrested for selling liquor without license. I paid his claim for damages, his attorney's fees, court costs, etc., and was released. From that day until this (1875), I have been a teetotaler, including tea and coffee."
All this so disgusted him that, despite the protests of his grandparents, he tore down the sign which bore his name. Not only did he become a teetotaler, but he entered on a life-long temperance crusade. Nearly forty years later, he wrote, "I immediately began to think and work feebly for the rescue of others. I do not remember a single week since that time in which I have not done some work in that direction." 

That was, however, not the only or the principal change wrought in him in that momentous year. His mind seemed to have a new birth. He was illiterate, and all at once, his intellectual needs became revealed to him and drove him into a passion for mental application. It was the transforming crisis of his life that almost overnight changed the boy into a man and awoke an unquenchable ambition for education. Having unusual natural endowments, he quickly taught himself reading, writing, and spelling and then applied himself to mathematics. He mastered the arithmetic of that day in fourteen weeks, carrying a copy of the multiplication table—while following the plow—in his hat for easy reference. He then entered the district school and applied himself with such diligence that he was engaged to teach at a nearby country school at the end of three months. The attainments of some of his pupils were in advance of his own, and he worked early and late to meet their needs. He engaged a private instructor to hear his recitations in new studies and assist him in advanced work. During several years of teaching, his personal studies included algebra, surveying, Latin, and law. His grandfather was now, in 1840, seventy-five years old, and much of the heavy work of the farm fell on the twenty-year-old grandson. He was accustomed to rising very early, doing the chores, going to his tutor's house and reciting to him, often before he was out of bed, and hastening to the schoolhouse, where he made the fire and swept out before the pupils arrived. "Having taught the lessons, mended the quill pens, and kept order with ingenuity and gentleness of discipline unusual in those days, he hurried home, took the horses his grandfather had hitched to the plow for him, and worked till dark." Or, if plowing was not needed, other work kept him busy as long as he could see. This was followed by studying or speaking in the country debating societies, where he was a conspicuous figure for ten miles around.

In 1841, at twenty-one, he began a contract as a village school teacher in Perry "to teach the school summer and winter for three years consecutively." Perry was ten or twelve miles from his grandfather's home. He began with fourteen pupils and ended the first term with sixty-five.

At the close of this teaching period, he entered the academy at Lima in the adjoining county of Livingston, where he continued his studies for a year and a half. His experience at Lima gave conclusive evidence of his extraordinary progress in the six years since he first awoke to the value of an education. After a few months, he taught some studies in the academy while still being taught in others. Part of his support while at the academy was earned by doing odd jobs in the village.

In the summer of 1839, when nineteen years old, Mr. Hull had made a curious journey. What moved him to make it is uncertain. Did he wish to meet his father, whom he had not seen since infancy? Did he desire simply to see something of the world beyond his home country? Or was the lure of the New West beginning to exercise its fascination over him? However strongly he was moved by any or all of these things, the journey was undoubtedly the result of that intellectual and spiritual awakening that had begun the year before and was still the controlling force in his life. Providing himself with a horse, doubtless from the farm, he rode south into Pennsylvania and west through Ohio, where he saw his father, through Indiana and Illinois, finally reaching Chicago. Although at that time Chicago was only a village of about 4,000 people and had not yet recovered from the disastrous panic of 1837, young Hull, with his unerring business instinct, decided that it should be his future home. 

It was while he was in the academy at Lima that he met the young woman who was to become his wife, Melicent A. C. Loomis, of whom it was said: "She seems to have had all her life that nameless charm which takes captive all hearts." Long after her death, friends spoke of her as "the loveliest of women." The young man himself was a personable, gifted, and ambitious youth. They were mutually attracted, became engaged, and were married in 1846.  

Carrying out the purpose formed seven years before, Mr. Hull took his wife to Chicago and there made his home for the rest of his life. He was twenty-six years old. Though Chicago as a real town was younger than he was, it had been incorporated as a city. Its population, however, was only 14,000. It was still only an overgrown village with few public improvements. No railroad from the east had yet reached it. The western terminus of the Michigan Central was sixty-six miles east, at New Buffalo, and the road was not extended to Chicago until six years later. With its reservation, Fort Dearborn still occupied what is now the most valuable business part of the city. The public schools employed only thirteen teachers. No real estate boom had yet followed the disastrous panic of 1837. The city was in the stage of arrested development, waiting for the coming of the railroads. 

It will be sufficiently evident from the story as already told that when Mr. Hull reached Chicago, he was without means. It does not appear how he raised the funds to marry a wife and transport her and himself to their new home, nor by what route they came, whether by boat from Buffalo or by rail to New Buffalo and thence by stage. One cannot but admire the courage of a man who, without means, could take his wife seven hundred miles to a new and strange city, where no business opening awaited him but where he must immediately find employment in order to live. Quite illiterate up to eighteen, a farmer boy and a bartender, with the slenderest preparation a country-school teacher for a few years, a student in a village academy for a year and a half, the prospects could hardly be called bright for him in a small western city whose future was still uncertain. While he felt absolute confidence in himself, he does not appear to have had any definite plan of procedure. At this period of his life, he was an opportunist and proposed to avail himself of whatever was offered. He accepted the first opening that presented itself and became a clerk in a hardware store while looking for something better.

Mr. Hull had an extraordinary aptitude for business. His employer quickly discovered this and, at the end of the first month, proposed to double his salary. Mr. Hull's alert intelligence had already discerned a business opening, and he began merchandising in a small way. It must have been a very small way at the outset, as he was quite without means, and he must very soon have begun to take large chances and have branched out in more than one direction. He conducted a store for general merchandise on Lake Street, but he also bought grain and shipped it east. In the course of three or four years, he had accumulated a small fortune, amounting, it is said, to $40,000, and seemed to have every prospect of large success. In 1849, however, disaster overtook him. Fire destroyed his store and his entire stock of goods. He had a cargo of grain in Buffalo and, compelled to sell by the Chicago disaster, a sudden fall in the price of wheat made the wreck of his business complete. Turning his assets into cash and collecting what was owed to him, he paid his obligations and was ready to begin again, though once more without means.

He then made a surprising but entirely characteristic change.

Children had come to him, three of them, two boys and a girl. During these years, he had given the time he could find to study law. After his business reverses he opened an office and began the practice of law, acquiring sufficient business for the support of his family. At the same time, feeling that knowledge of medicine would be useful to him in legal practice and being moved also by the fact that the members of his family were of delicate constitutions, he attended lectures at Rush Medical College, went through the course of study and in 1851 received the degree of M.D. from that institution. Evidently, the five years that had passed since his arrival in Chicago, devoted to business, the study and practice of law, and the compassing a complete course in medicine, had been a period of extraordinary toil. And then came the surprising change. Having paid his debts and got his medical degree, instead of going on with his law practice he took his wife and three children, went to Cambridge, and entered the Harvard Law School. There, he remained for two years, working with his characteristic zeal and energy and enjoying the large opportunities for self-improvement that that center of learning offered. As he had saved almost nothing from the wreck of his Chicago business, the most rigid economy was necessary, and one wonders how he managed to support his family of five during the two years the law course required. He afterward referred to the Harvard experience as "a scuffle with poverty." But Mr. Hull was an unusual man and, without a doubt, found methods of adding to his income that other men would not have thought of. He graduated from Law School in 1853 at the age of thirty-three. He then did another surprising and characteristic thing. He proceeded to Washington, applied for admission to the United States Supreme Court bar, and was admitted on the motion of the Hon. Reverdy Johnson. Returning to Chicago, he resumed the practice of law with such immediate success that within a few months, by March 1854, in addition to supporting his family and paying a small debt incurred at Harvard, he had saved a thousand dollars. The thousand dollars has a peculiar significance in the story of his life from the fact that the use he made of it eventually diverted him from the law to real estate and to the career of buying, improving and selling land. He had purchased a piece of land in the west division of Chicago for $10,000, and, with his savings making the first payment on it, he subdivided and sold it almost immediately. He then bought a second tract within three days after its purchase, which was also subdivided and on record and offered for sale. However, real estate was still a side issue, and the law was his real business, with an increasing practice. He must have been a busy man with all these irons in the fire. He had an extraordinary faculty for turning off business without seeming absorbed by it. During the period in which all these things were occupying his time and attention, a lady was visiting his house and relates that "there was no talk of business, but that she was entertained, taken to drive," and received every attention. 

Mr. Hull much enjoyed the practice of law, and, though he gave it up as a calling, his real estate business sometimes gave him important cases of his own, which he himself conducted. In 1872, he wrote:
"I have spent the entire week in court watching the R. R. Co. in its efforts to appropriate by condemnation. They have not reached our Block 34 and if our cases are not disposed of soon I don't know but I shall resume the practice of the law, for the old love returns and breaks out all over me." From all the evidence that can be obtained it seems clear that Mr. Hull had gifts that would have made him very successful in the legal profession; but he had equal or greater gifts for business, and he finally devoted himself to the latter.  
The writer of these pages saw Mr. Hull only once or twice and does not recall any acquaintance with him, but his remembrance of him corresponds, in some degree, to the following description of him by one who knew him well:
"Mr. Hull was five feet eleven inches in height and seemed taller; of fine proportions, erect and broad shouldered; of most elastic step and motion, with massive head, very fair skin, perfect white teeth, brown hair, beaming, brown eyes, and a mouth where tenderness and mirth softened the expression of unconquerable firm ness. Some years later than this he was—as he continued through all the changes wrought by years—the grandest-looking man the writer has seen. There was, moreover, a largeness of nature, a buoyancy, an unspoiled simplicity of heart, an air of being invulnerable to petty annoyances or fears, and of indifference to low aims which made his presence strongly tonic."
It is not impossible that this is the description of a friend prejudiced in his favor and that one who saw him once or twice without really knowing him would receive a slightly different impression of him. Still, he certainly was of a striking and imposing appearance. He would have attracted attention in any company. There was about him an air of distinction, and it is not too much to say of him that his abilities were as pronounced as his appearance suggested they would be. I have called Mr. Hull an unusual man. He was more than that. He was uniquely unusual. He cannot be classified. He was 'sui generis.' There was no one like him. 

The first Sunday after he arrived in Chicago in 1846, without means and without employment, he found his way to the old log jail in the courthouse square where he might meet, instruct, and encourage any prisoners he might find there. The authorities refused him admission. Not being the sort of man to be daunted by difficulties, he spoke to the imprisoned men through a hole in the door, gave them a message of encouragement, and promised to return the following Sunday. How soon the doors were opened to him does not appear, but his Sunday visits continued. Then and ever afterward, he took a deep interest in criminals. He became known as their friend. While men were confined, he visited, taught, sympathized with, and encouraged them, and when they were released, advised them, helped them, and found employment for them. After the Bridewell was built, he made his way to it every Sunday morning for many years and gave the inmates systematic moral and religious instruction. These visits continued until the destruction of the Bridewell by the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, soon after which his business took him to Baltimore for some years and later to other places, where the same work was done by him for many years thereafter. Dr. Collyer, the well-known pastor of the Unitarian Church on the North Side, Chicago, wrote of Mr. Hull: 
"I've got a collegiate pastor, if that is the right name. He preaches for nothing and 'finds' himself; also, to some extent finds his congregation, and altogether, for a poor church in want of cheap but most capital preaching, is as desirable a man as can be found. He called and settled himself and this is the way he did it. Two or three years ago I began to notice him in church. He always came late, always appeared as if he had been running, got in generally as sermon time came, and so—as I knew no facts to account for this peculiarity—I naturally got up a theory—that he was one of your modern philosophers, who had got beyond such trifles as prayer and singing—not to mention the Bible lesson—intended to get in just when what the Scotch sexton called the 'preleemoneeries' were over, but being in addition to his other excellencies a superb sleeper, especially of a Sunday morning, rather overdid it every time, and so had to run for it. It is no matter how I found out my mistake and that I had a colleague. What I have to repeat is a sketch of one of his sermons. In laying out work for the Liberal Christian League, started in Unity Church a short while ago, one committee was to see after the cause and cure of intemperance, and my friend was put on it. When they met it was found this man's little finger was thicker than all their loins upon that question. It was determined therefore to ask him to speak to the church."
He spoke on Sunday night, and the first sentence in his address cleared up the mystery of his being late at the meeting. He said: 
"I came to this city twenty-one years ago. The day after I arrived I went to visit the public schools and the prison. On the Sunday I went to the Bridewell and spoke to the inmates—a custom I've kept up steadily down to eleven o'clock this morning." 
He has been absent from his post only a dozen times over the last eight years. Every Sunday morning, he goes to the Bridewell bright and early, has his meeting, gets through about eleven, and then has to run to reach the church in time for the sermon.

About twenty teachers labored with him in the Bridewell for a time, but gradually, all dropped off till John V. Farwell and Mr. Hull alone were left to divide the work between them.  

Mr. Hull did not preach to the prisoners. He spoke to them on such subjects as "Fate and Luck," "Self-Reliance," "Compensation," "Law," "Poverty," on "Secrets," as wisely and well as if judges and savants sat before him, not as if they were branded men. If he referred to their past, it was to say, for instance, "My mission among you is not to pry into your antecedents, not to talk of what has taken place heretofore. For we are dead as to yesterday and not born as to tomorrow. I am here to talk to you today. We must take advantage of today to learn lessons that will benefit us when tomorrow comes." He implored them to "be men all overhead, heart, will, and conscience."

In the Baltimore prison, where for years he continued the same sort of work, he said to audiences: "Not a man in Maryland is poorer than I was twenty years ago. I had not so much as would buy a cracker for my wife and child. Will you change your condition when you emerge from here?" He told them to come and see him on their release, and he would do what he could for them. They were fed, lodged, and helped. Mr. Hull became known as "The Prisoners' Friend." He was sometimes imposed upon, once robbed by men he had befriended in prison, yet many times, he had the joy of knowing he had encouraged and helped men to a new start and a better and happier life. 

He began this self-denying and heroic service and continued it through the years when fortune smiled upon him and he was a man of large wealth because he felt that it was a work to which God had called him.

His interest was not confined to inmates of prisons. He was just as deeply and sincerely interested in the victims of intemperance. He was sometimes called the "Father" of the Washingtonian Home. This refuge for the intemperate was founded in Chicago in 1863. Its aim was to reclaim and save. Mr. Hull is said to have been the first contributor to its funds. When it was organized, with some of the leading men of the city among its trustees, he was made chairman of the Board. Lots were purchased, and a building was erected on Madison Street, looking north of Union Park. At the end of five years, in 1868, Mr. Hull wrote: 
"When I stated at the opening of the last anniversary exercises at the Washingtonian Home that at the Anniversary of this year the association should be free from debt, I was told by several directors that the promise was too great, that it would be impossible to pay the debts in one year I have been censured for reducing the number of inmates and for enforcing such rigid and ceaseless economy, but I now offer in defense of my program $20,000 worth of unencumbered real estate, $4,000 worth of furniture, and a state endowment, which, together with the regular income of the institution... will maintain an average of seventy-five patients. I have labored fully five years to get the home into this condition. It has done good work and will be a great blessing in the future. May I not at the end of this year cease to be its father and turn my attention to some other enterprise? I desire to do something for the colored people... of the South."
Prisoners, drunkards, emancipated slaves—these three classes seem to have offered a rather large field for the philanthropic labors of a man of business. They were far from exhausting the sympathies of this quite extraordinary man. I find him nowhere so attractive as in the interest he manifested in newsboys and bootblacks. He conducted a very large real estate business and grew rich in doing it. The glimpses we get of the circumstances under which he carried it on make us wonder how he did it at all, for it was in his office that he gathered the bootblacks and newsboy, and there became their friend, instructor, and financial adviser and helper. "For many years, the apple barrel, cracker box, and store of gingerbread stood open to the fraternity and the ex-convict and other unfortunates, and they were emptied fast, as the personal entries show. One item I have noted of $13, on one day for gingerbread alone." Many a hungry newsboy who had heard the rumor thrust his face inside the door and asked, "Be this Hull's Hash House?" Mr. Hull brought in benches to accommodate his visitors. In the evening, with the help of the ladies of his family, he taught the boys arithmetic, singing, and the like. The list of these pupils and wards showed so often the residence "nowhere" that he was moved to help them to their first lodging house. This was one of the beginnings of the Chicago Newsboys Home.

The Newsboys Home of Chicago was established in 1858. It was in a brick building, stone front, with three stories and basement, at 1421 South Wabash Avenue. It contained fourteen rooms. Breakfast, Supper, and lodging have furnished the boys for fifteen cents. Boys over sixteen years were not admitted. Donations of clothing and money were always accepted. Mrs. Eliza W. Bowman was the matron. Over one hundred boys make it their headquarters.

Their liability to "get broke" sometimes led to his establishing a loan fund. Not only in Chicago but in Baltimore, where he spent several years, his office was the headquarters of these waifs of the street. Incidents like the following happened, without doubt, hundreds of times:

Three newsboys are playing marbles under the table, and a little Italian match-seller is drying her clothes at the heater. She has lost ten cents and dares not go home. I will make her cash account right. How many children do suffer! Is there no remedy? One of the boys under the table is extremely cross-eyed and ill-shaped, chews tobacco, cheats, lies, swears and is generally devilish. I hardly know how to manage the little fellow, but I believe I am gaining on him. He is sharp in business and hardly ever gets broken. When he does fail, I give him money enough to buy new stock. Today, one of my smallest boys came in entirely "strapped." I gave him four cents and induced "cross-eyes" to loan him one. He bought ten penny papers, paid off the loan, and had nine cents for the evening trade. My ill-fated boy has no confidence in anybody, and he would not let the money go out of his hand until I promised to repay it if Jack did not. Maybe I can reach him in this way, induce him to make loans to the other boys until he has faith.

And this was a man involved in vast transactions, conducting a great business in half a dozen cities, and accumulating a fortune! The story of this man's life is well-nigh incredible, and I have not exhausted the record of his philanthropic interest.

His heart went out toward the emancipated colored men. The Civil War was hardly over before he began to make plans to help them. The scene of his most prolonged and ambitious effort was Savannah, Georgia. Shanties not worth $50.00 were rented to Negro families for $10.00 a month. "No one would sell a lot to them." Mr. Hull bought tracts of land on the outskirts of the city and began to encourage colored men to buy, build, and own their own homes. He gained the respect and goodwill of prominent businessmen and citizens of the city and state. An assistant in his office writes:

He began with the very poorest and most ignorant. Scarcely a man to whom he sold a lot this first winter (1869-70) had a dollar when he made his purchase. But with the loan of courage and money from Mr. Hull, many got up comfortable cottages. Mr. Robert C., when Mr. Hull met him on the street and took him to his office, had not a dollar; his old coat and pants hung in strips and were skewered together with wooden pins Mr. Hull helped him with his own hands to build the little house Shortly after R. C. was earning $60 per month, his daughter was in school, his wife well dressed, and the house enlarged Mr. Hull went one morning, a mile from the office, paint pot in hand, to R. C.'s house and painted the front door and casing before R. C. was up. Paints, a brush, and lime were offered to all who would paint or whitewash their houses and fences. They were advised how to purchase and repair their shoes and clothes, and when he showed them how to use the trowel, the hammer, and the paintbrush, his energy showed them how to put three days' work into one. No payments were required until the lumber and workmen's bills were paid. Then, weekly or monthly installments were often less than the man's previous house rent was expected. Before spring, he had the pleasure of seeing about thirty families in their own homes. A long college vacation enabled his daughter to spend the winter, as she did once again, zealously helping him. The cousin, Miss Helen Culver, did the same at other times. Indeed, these ladies… whether there or elsewhere, were his main dependence, working in the same spirit with him. In 1871, two night schools were established, one at the office with 365 names on the roll, five nights a week, taught three nights by Mr. Hull and Miss Culver alone; the other two, with the assistance of Mr. Hull's local agent, who the first three nights conducted another school in the suburbs. The schools were free and all necessary implements were furnished.

This most philanthropic missionary work resulted in "the first free colored school ever established in the state." Mr. Hull, in telling of the meeting which established this school, wrote: "Mr. Robert C. in his black broadcloth suit, as Chairman of the meeting and President of the Board of Education, has greatly changed in appearance since you first saw him Miss Culver reports 91 houses on these places." In January 1872, he wrote: 

Our schools are prosperous. The office is closely seated with short benches that we stow away during the day, but we are not able to accommodate all that come. More than three hundred names are on the roll, and a clamor for new admissions. The schools greatly increase the enterprise's labor, but it is all most cheerfully borne. Miss Culver and Mr. T. work at the business during the day and five nights each week in the school. The school is one of the best thoughts in our work here.

He also worked five nights in the school each week. I call attention again to this man of large wealth and this cultivated woman, Miss Culver, toiling all day in the business of helping these poor and ignorant black men to acquire a piece of ground and a home of their own and then giving their evenings to teaching them and their children. 

This work for colored people became a permanent part of Mr. Hull's business in Savannah and other southern cities. As a result of it many hundreds of families in Savannah alone owned their homes. The time came when one of the city papers stated that a larger proportion of blacks than whites owned their homes in Savannah and a larger proportion than anywhere else in the South. 

Mr. Hull wrote in 1878: "I have always had faith in a division of property. I have tried to bring a slice of the earth within the reach of the poorest family. This I have done as far as possible." And again in 1880, he wrote:

Can paupers be good citizens? Can a landless people be patriotic? Is it safe for a nation to allow the masses of the people to remain non-landholders? Is it not land the natural heritage of the tiller of the soil? If he cannot own a homestead, will he not become a restless, troublesome citizen? The land is a nation's natural wealth, and when it is not distributed, discontent and revolution will come. 

It was these convictions that determined and directed the life business of Mr. Hull. In the choice of the business he would follow and in the conduct of it, he was moved by philanthropy and patriotism, both alike sincere and enlightened. I find no other explanation of his extraordinary career. He did not fall into that business by accident. He had a profession for which he had prepared himself at great cost and for success in which his prospects were unusually bright. He loved it and deliberately left it, left it for a business to which he felt called by convictions he did not wish to resist. That business was, in its nature the same which we have seen him conducting in Savannah. The Savannah enterprise was only an illustration on a small scale of the work to which he gave his life for thirty-five years.

That work was to encourage and assist poor men, laboring men, to become property owners to secure homes of their own. For their own sake and for the sake of their country, he wanted to help them to become landholders and householders. After living for a time in a house on the corner of State and Adams Streets, Chicago, and later on the site of the old Chamber of Commerce, corner of Washington and La Salle streets, in 1855-56, he built a handsome house on the block at the corner of Polk and Halsted streets, the old Hull homestead, which later became a part of that famous Chicago institution, Hull House. Even though Addams and Starr originally named their settlement "Chicago Toynbee Hall," the name "Hull House" stuck. Many other buildings were added to the complex over the years. Still, nearly all were demolished to make way for the construction of the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle campus during the 1960s.

In "Twenty Years at Hull House (1910)Miss Jane Addams writes:
"Sunday afternoon in the early spring (1889) on the way to a Bohemian Mission in the carriage of one of its founders, we passed a fine old house standing well back from the street, surrounded on three sides by a broad piazza which was supported by wooden pillars of exceptionally fine Corinthian design and proportion. I was so attracted by the house that I set forth to visit it the very next day. This was the old Hull homestead which, by the death of his wife and children, had ceased to be a home and had passed to business uses." Miss Addams found that the lower part of it was being used for offices and storerooms in connection with a factory in the back. "Before it had been occupied by the factory it had sheltered a second-hand furniture store, and at one time the Little Sisters of the Poor had used it it for a home for the aged."
The tract of land on which Mr. Hull built his home, acquired in 1854, was one of the first purchases he made in beginning the great enterprise of his life. It was followed in the course of years by many others in various parts of the city. These subdivisions, about twenty in all, were divided up into small lots and sold to poor men who wished to build homes, or he built the houses and sold them the houses and lots on easy terms. He conducted active campaigns among them to persuade them to make the great venture of becoming owners of their homes. He achieved immediate and large success and was encouraged to extend his operations.
Charles J. Hull Mansion. 1856
In 1856, he was thirty-six years old. He had little capital and slight business experience. Young, of a sanguine disposition, urged on by high hopes of accomplishing a great mission and encouraged by large temporary success, apparently went to the limit of his credit in purchasing lands and making new subdivisions in Chicago. In the midst of these very large operations, he was overtaken and overwhelmed by the disastrous panic of 1857. Mr. Colbert, in Chicago and the Great Conflagration of 1857, says:
"The effects on the real estate market were fearful, and the building business suffered correspondingly. The depreciation of prices in corner lots was great in the winter of 1857, but it was much greater in 1858 and 1859, as payments matured which could not be met. A large proportion of the real estate in the city had been bought on "canal time," one-quarter down and the balance in one, two, and three years. The purchasers had depended on a continual advance in values to meet those payments and found that they could not even sell at a ruinous sacrifice. Great numbers of workers left the city for want of employment, and those who remained were obliged to go into narrowed quarters to reduce expenses. This caused a great many residences and stores to be vacated and brought about a reduction in rents on those still occupied, which impoverished even those who were able to hold on to their property. Many hundreds of lots and houses were abandoned by those who had made only partial payments, and the holders of mortgages needed no snap-judgment to enable them to take possession. A stop was at once put to the erection of buildings. Several blocks were left unfinished for years and some were never finished by the original owners."
This panic brought down on Mr. Hull an avalanche of debt. A business associate of after years writes: "He held a large amount of unencumbered property, but his outstanding notes for later purchases amounted, I think he has said, to $1,500,000—more than the whole would bring at the current valuation." His creditors and lawyers urged him to go into bankruptcy, but he abhorred repudiation of debts in all its forms and refused to get rid of his obligations in any other way than their payment in full. He struggled on under crushing burdens, selling at almost any sacrifice, getting his notes extended, and at the end of five years, was able to write: 
"I have now my business matters in shape so that I can see my way clear through them. Within the last twelve months I have paid nearly $400,000 of my indebtedness. I sold rather more than $1,000,000 worth of real estate in order to pay that sum. I owe about $150,000 still, which I am endeavoring to pay."
This struggle lasted nearly or quite ten years before he freed himself from debt and once more got fairly on his feet. He often said that those ten years took the hair off his head.

They may well have done this, for in addition to these business disasters, they brought him the most grievous domestic afflictions. The youngest of his three children, Louis Kossuth, born in 1852, died in childhood. In 1860, in the darkest days of his struggle against bankruptcy, he lost his wife. The oldest child was a son, Charles Morley. He entered the first University of Chicago in 1862 and graduated in 1866, just as he was entering manhood. He was a fine, capable, promising youth from whom his father hoped great things. In the fall of 1866, Chicago was again visited by an epidemic of Cholera, and the bright young life ended in the course of a single day. A daughter remained, Fredrika Bremer, amiable, devout, and talented. She was in full sympathy with her father's work and aided him in it; she was a student, traveled abroad, was given every advantage, and was most dear to her father's heart. She was his comfort and strength during the dark decade from 1857 to 1867 and lived until 1874. 

During the dark years of combined bereavement and commercial disaster, one great piece of good fortune came to Mr. Hull. His cousin, Miss Helen Culver, became a member of his family and eventually an associate in his business. Her childhood had been spent in Cattaraugus County, New York, only a few miles from the village where Mr. Hull passed his early years.

After graduating from Randolph, New York, Academy, she migrated to Sycamore, Illinois, where, for a year, she conducted a private school. In 1854, she became principal of one of the primary schools of Chicago and continued to teach, advancing to grammar and high school, until 1861. Forming a close friendship with Mrs. Hull, she was constrained by that lady, who saw her own death drawing near in 1860, to promise to give up her teaching and assume the care of the children so soon to be left without a mother. This promise she faithfully kept, abandoned a profession in which she was most successful, and took charge of Mr. Hull's household. The call of patriotism took her in 1863 to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where, for some time, she represented the United States Sanitary Commission in the military hospitals. Her genius for business soon revealed itself to Mr. Hull, and she became his business adviser and associate. Few men ever had a more competent one, a fact which he lost no opportunity to recognize. In reviewing the past, in a letter to her dated December 20, 1874, he wrote:
"Our work closes its minority today. It is twenty-one years since we bought block six, corner Polk Street and Center Avenue. The old organization is still work ing on the same principle as at its birth It has done a large work, and is capable of increase almost without limit. As far as I know, and to the best of my knowledge and belief, this is the only effort ever made to benefit and permanently elevate the poor generally, without contribution or taxation. It has behind it an idea or principle, which, if put in general operation, would entirely abolish pauperism and nearly uproot crime. The intention of the enterprise is simply to distribute the unoccupied and now waste lands among the poor, and aid in their improvement. Upon the carrying out of this idea depends the general welfare of the whole people, and the stability of our government. The popular religion of the times, aided by our charitable institutions and benevolent associations, cannot counterbalance the mischievous results of concentrating the wealth of the country in a comparatively few families. If this process of concentration goes on extensively the poor will join in riot (their revolution) and level down from the top, by destroying the property of the rich. Our idea is to level up from the bottom, by giving the poor a fair chance to rise. The great success of the undertaking is largely due to your energy, your steady, persistent labor, and your never-failing faith. You have stood hard at the helm, when I was almost tempted to go in out of the storm. Your keen womanly instinct and long-range spiritual vision caught the glimmer of the lighthouse, in the mist beyond my sight, at the end of the pier. Without your faith the work must have failed. I bless you; God will and the poor ought to."
Their joint work was conducted in many parts of the country. Miss Culver was with him in Savannah, where, as has been already told, she toiled for the enterprise's success day and night. Shortly after 1871, Mr. Hull established the business in Baltimore, where he spent much of his time for the next ten or twelve years, Miss Culver managing the manifold operations in Chicago. The business was extended to other parts of the country and was remarkably successful. Many thousands of poor men secured homes of their own, and Mr. Hull became more and more prosperous. The great object he had in mind was accomplished. Having a stake in the country, the homeowners became more patriotic, desirable citizens. They added appreciably to the strength and solidarity of the Republic. 

Inevitably, however, this question suggests itself: How did it happen that a business, the objects of which were altruistic, philanthropic, and patriotic, made its projector rich? There are two or three answers to this question. It was conducted on business principles. Mr. Hull did not believe that the way to help the poor was to give them something for nothing, to dispense charity to them. He wrote in 1877: "Gifts and loans demoralize and weaken the poor; they need tonics; their salvation is in providing for themselves. Work and economy are the needs of the poor." He believed that every man should pay par value for every dollar he got. His aim in life was to help the poor to help themselves. He expected them to pay full value for what he sold them. He did everything he could to enable them to do this. He encouraged them in industry and economy, gave them ample time to make payments, took no snap judgments on them, but insisted, for their sake as well as his own, that they should faithfully observe their covenants with him. 

However, This does not account for his ultimate success in full. There was another element in the explanation. It was this. He had an extraordinary perception of real estate values. He knew when and where to buy and make an investment profitable. In 1868, he wrote from Nebraska:

I worked five days at Lincoln, "among the real estate," and one day for the benefit of the Church and Sabbath school. I purchased forty acres adjoining the city on the south, ten acres extending within twelve hundred feet of the Capitol grounds on the east, twenty acres near the University square adjoining the city on the north and eleven lots at the state sale.

The next year, he visited Lincoln again and wrote:
"I have been here at the state sale of lots and lands; the property has sold readily and at good prices. The prices are a large advance over those of the fall sale, in some localities several hundred per cent more."
Such things as this explain his prosperity. In 1882, writing from Baltimore, he gave, without intending to do so, a luminous explanation of his business success: 
How differently men see.... "Two neighbors on Sunday afternoon wander into the suburbs of the city for an airing, and come upon an open block of ground. The one says he would like to have it as a pasture for his horse. The other calculates carefully its distance from the center of the city, and sees that the main avenue, when extended, will run through this ground. On Monday he buys it. Soon he gets the avenue extended, puts up a block of brownstone fronts and makes a fortune, while his neighbor is still hunting a pasture for his horse."
This sort of prevision led Mr. Hull to make purchases in Chicago of prairie lands through which such business streets as Halsted later ran. It was this sort of prevision as to land values that, while he was pursuing aims of noble altruism, led Mr. Hull to fortune. The closing years of his life were shadowed by an insidious disease that did not incapacitate him for business but gave him assurance that he had not long to live. He busied himself in his affairs in various parts of the country. "He disregarded physicians' warnings that he must rest, met suffering, when it came, with heightened cheer and attentiveness to others, and so forbore all notice of it that near friends half doubted the marks of sickness which they saw." To one of these friends, he wrote in December 1886: 
"For your sake I wish your commission to me to be healed could be executed. But I think it cannot be done. I made up my mind some time ago that the thorn in my side is permanent, that it cannot be removed, and the less said about it the better. It ought to make me more patient and make me do better work."
He continued in the business harness, as he had desired to do, to the last. A sudden and, to his friends, quite unexpected change in his malady resulted in his death in Houston, Texas, on February 12, 1889, just before his sixty-ninth birthday.

Mr. Hull left an estate of some millions of dollars. It had been accumulated during the period of Miss Culver's association with him in business. She had shared, perhaps equally with him, in the success that had been achieved. She had a perfect understanding of his purposes and plans. She sympathized with his ideals. There was no one else to whom he could bequeath the business with any hope of its continuing. He had unbounded confidence in her loyalty and ability. He was perfectly assured that she would make such use of the estate as he would approve, and he recognized the fact that she had had so large a part in acquiring it that it belonged to her as much as to him. It fell quite naturally to her, and the business, after his death, went on as before.

Mr. Hull regarded Chicago as his home, but his widely extended business kept him in other cities most of the time during the last twenty-two years of his life. The writer of this sketch cannot speak of his characteristics from any personal acquaintance. He said of himself in 1868: "Want of education, unfavorable associations in early life, a resolute struggle with poverty, and an unconquerable will have brought me to this age with unpleasant characteristics." 

Those who knew him best, however, said:
"No notice of Mr. Hull would be complete which did not mention the radiant breakfast-table face, the regal courtesy of home, where an unkind or indifferent word or look was unknown His character was positive. His faults were virtues carried to excess His characteristics were all strongly marked. He had indomitable will, dauntless courage, absolute self-mastery, tireless persistence, patience, unqualified truthfulness and integrity, and the utmost openness and frankness in all relations, together with constantly bubbling humor and tenderness. He neither felt nor affected reserve regarding his emotions, laughing and weeping as readily as a child He passed through a strenuous business career entirely free from rancor Unusual as were his intellect and his energy—his benignity and all- embracing benevolence were his most marked traits—not the less so that his views and methods sometimes differed from those of other benevolent persons."
In line with the last clause of this quotation, it may be said that Mr. Hull was deeply and sincerely religious, but his religion also differed from others. His whole life seems to show that he possessed the spirit of Jesus, which is the essence of true religion, but he was far from holding the views he supposed the "orthodox" cherished. 

One most interesting incidents in Mr. Hull's life, not yet mentioned, belongs just here. Toward its end, he published a book which he called Reflections from a Busy Life. I regret that it was not Reminiscences of a Busy Life, but it was what the title indicates—reflections. The reminiscences are valuable, but they are few and far between in the 320 pages of the book. The reflections seem to be excerpts from his letters—letters written, for the most part, to members of his family. They touch upon a thousand topics, are often very acute, and make an interesting book. He was an abolitionist who acted for the most part with the Republican Party, being at one time mentioned for nomination as lieutenant governor of Illinois. He was a prohibitionist, advocating as early as 1867 what our country now has national prohibition. He believed in woman suffrage when few others had thought of it.

He had pronounced opinions on the best way to help the poor, saying:
"All charities, public and private, for the support of the poor, increase pauperism. They are nurseries of poverty and crime. If they were all blotted out of existence at once, our vast, idle, worthless population would soon become self-supporting. Men cannot be helped by donations. It cripples a man to make him a receiver of favors. Make him work or starve."
Yet he invited his prison audiences to come to him when they were discharged, and they were fed, lodged, and helped. At the same time, he told them plainly: "If I give a strong, healthy man a dollar before he has earned it I do an injury to his very soul. I have done this a hundred times, but I now know it was wrong. I have no right to take away a man's incentive to work and help himself." Mr. Hull thoroughly tested both ways of helping the poor. His office was for years the recognized feeding place of the hungry, with constant wholesale provision for them. His cellar was filled with coal, which the needy were invited to take. The scale of his steady outlays, at one period of his life, is illustrated by the payment of $95 at a time for hauling coal for the poor. He came through a long experience to feel strongly that the only way really to help a man in need was to help him to help himself. 

Mr. Hull had very pronounced views on theology. He attended Dr. Robert Collyer's Unitarian Church, was an admirer of Professor David Swing, and sympathized strongly with Dr. H. W. Thomas in his separation from the Methodist church. He had no use for what he understood to be orthodox views. In the Reflections, he gave frequent expression to his views on questions of theology. In 1876, he wrote: 
Teach men everywhere that the Universe is governed by law, and that the doc trine of substitution is a fable, and that there is no such thing as the forgiveness of sins; that our highest good demands that wrong doers should suffer, and thereby be made wiser and better; that we are now building day by day for the future, and that neither angels nor God can lift us out of ourselves, that grace and growth are elements of the soul, and never can be external. In particular he combated the doctrines of substitution and the forgive ness of sins; and yet he writes: "Our Father in heaven is fast becoming to me a substantial, unseen, unchanging, quiet reality, beyond whose influence and parental care no child can wander. All are His, and none can ultimately be lost." Again he writes on faith: "There is promised to those who believe that their names shall be written in the Book of Life; blessed believers. Those who believe nothing, have no faith, hope for no future, must travel a dreary, dusty road."
In the later years of his life, Mr. Hull became a trustee of the first University of Chicago and a vice-president of the Board of Trustees. It will be recalled that his son was a graduate of that institution. Mr. Hull became so interested in the University that he arranged for a considerable bequest to it, and it was not until the institution had closed its doors finally in 1886 that these benevolent provisions were changed. Almost immediately after Mr. Hull's death, Miss Culver began to form benevolent plans for the use of the estate, which she knew would be approved by him. The first of these plans resulted in the organization of that world-famous institution, Hull House. Miss Jane Addams began her settlement work in 1889, the year of Mr. Hull's death. Miss Culver recognized the value and promise of that work and in 1890, gave the settlement a lease of the house and the lots on which it stood, rent-free for thirty years. The settlement took the name Hull House, and a few years later, Miss Culver gave the property to the Hull House Association and added contributions aggregating about $170,000 from time to time. To all this, she has added her personal services as one of the trustees of the Association. Her gifts to good causes have been widely distributed, amounting since Mr. Hull's death to more than $600,000 in addition to the great donation now to be mentioned.

At a meeting of the trustees of the University of Chicago held December 19, 1895, President Harper submitted a letter from Miss Culver in which she said:
"It has long been my purpose to set aside a portion of my estate to be used in perpetuity for the benefit of humanity. The most serious hindrance to the immediate fulfillment of the purpose was the difficulty of selecting an agency to which I could entrust the execution of my wishes. After careful consideration I concluded that the strongest guaranties of permanent and efficient administration would be assured if the property were entrusted to the University of Chicago. Having reached this decision without consulting the University authorities, I communicated it to President Harper, with the request that he would call on me to confer concerning the details of my plan. After further consideration, I now wish to present to the University of Chicago property valued at $1,000,000 The whole gift shall be devoted to the increase and spread of knowledge within the field of the biological sciences Among the motives prompting this gift is the desire to carry out the ideas and to honor the memory of Mr. Charles J. Hull, who was for a consider able time a member of the Board of Trustees of the Old University of Chicago. I think it appropriate, therefore, to add the condition, that, wherever it is suitable, the name of Mr. Hull shall be used in designation of the buildings erected and of the endowments set apart in accordance with the terms of this gift."
The property deeded to the University by Miss Culver consisted of a large number of pieces of real estate, some of it vacant. Still, most of it improved with dwellings or with buildings used for business purposes. These properties, as they were sold, did not always realize the prices anticipated, and the generous donor, from time to time added considerable sums to her original donation, these sums aggregating $253,700. From July 1, 1897, to June 30, 1913, the net income of the Fund was added to the principal. This addition amounted to $294,201.

Four biological laboratories were erected: Botany, Zoology, Anatomy, and Physiology, forming an attractive quadrangle, the four buildings being connected by cloisters. These four laboratories are thus in effect under a single roof. Their cost, including equipment, was $340,000, borne by the Helen Culver Fund. At the time this is written, the Fund, including the cost of the buildings, amounts to above $1,100,000, with about $800,000 being endowment. The laboratories are called the Hull Biological Laboratories. 

The University has not restricted its work in biology to the resources provided by the Helen Culver Fund. When, on account of the growth of the institution, the four laboratories of the Biological Group became inadequate to meet the demand for space, the Howard Taylor Ricketts Laboratory was built and equipped from other resources at a cost of $60,000, for the use of the Departments of Pathology and of Hygiene and Bacteriology. While the income from the Fund amounts to about $35,000, the University expends above $150,000 annually in conducting the work of the biological departments. About a thousand different students are enrolled each year. More than three hundred of these are pursuing graduate courses.

A member of the staff writes:
"Besides providing a place where many thousand students have taken under graduate courses in biology and thus prepared themselves for the study of medicine and other useful work, these laboratories have provided opportunity for the training of investigators who are devoting their lives to the advancement of science. Two hundred and forty-two students have here done work which has led to the degree of Doctor of Philosophy [March, 1910]. Each one of these has accomplished some piece of original investigation. Very many investigators [more than a hundred are named] have found in the group of buildings around Hull Court the means of conducting extended researches which have constituted definite advances in our knowledge of biological, including medical, science."
Among these is Dr. Alexis Carrel, who began here the series of research on surgery of the blood vessels and transplantation of organs, which later resulted in the award to him of the Nobel Prize, and who, in the Great War, made discoveries in the treatment of wounds which are recognized as of the highest importance.

The Hull Biological Laboratories were dedicated on July 2, 1897. In presenting them to the University, Miss Culver, after referring to the desire of some strenuous natures that, as a result of their lives, power might "be transmitted to succeeding generations and immortality of beneficent influence be secured," went on to say:
"It was in obedience to such a driving power that provision for these buildings was made. Since it has fallen to me to conclude the work of another, you will not think it intrusive if I refer to the character and aim of the real donor. During a lifetime of close association with Mr. Hull I have known him as a man of tenacious purpose, of inextinguishable enthusiasm, and above all things dominated by a desire to help his kind. Much of his time for fifty years was spent in close contact with those most needing inspiration and help. He had also profound convictions regarding the best basis for social development in our country, and these directed the energies of his life. Looking toward the close of activity, it was for many years his unchanging desire that a part of his estate should be administered directly for the public benefit. Many plans were discussed between us. And when he was called away, before he could see the work begun, I am glad to know that he did not doubt that some part of his purpose would be carried out. He would have shared our joy in this great University, could he have foreseen its early creation. And it would have been a greater pleasure could he have known the wide diffusion of its benefits sought by its management. I have believed that I should not do better than to name, as his heirs and representatives, those lovers of light, who, in all generations and from all ranks, give their years to search for truth, and especially those forms of inquiry which explore the Creator's will, as expressed in the laws of life and the means of rendering lives more sound and wholesome."
This sketch begins with a boy orphaned, poor, and illiterate. His youth passed under the most unpromising conditions. It has been an extraordinary story of intellectual and spiritual development and philanthropic service, ending in large material prosperity. It has been the high privilege and noble service of Helen Culver to discover and, with splendid munificence, to employ the means through which, from Charles J. Hull's life, "power may be transmitted to succeeding generations and immortality of beneficent influence be secured."

Charles J. Hull is buried in Rosehill Cemetery and Mausoleum, Chicago, Illinois.
Was Chicago's Rosehill Cemetery originally called Roe’s Hill?

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. This is fantastic. Would you mind sharing your bibliography? Thank you for sharing this!

    1. I lost a lot of data when my computer crashed in 2020, incuding the hard drive which was irretrievable. I've since used Dropbox.

    2. The Magazine of Western History Vol 14 includes a contemporary obituary of Charles J. Hull: https://books.google.com/books?id=Myk_AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA634#v=onepage&q&f=false

      Unfortunately I have not been able to locate a copy of his "Reflections from a Busy Life".


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