Byline: Samantha Nelson Daily Herald Correspondent
Historic house museums have long struggled with their mission. When the goal is simply to preserve a piece of history, the result can be a novelty worth visiting once, but rarely returned to.
Now on the 150th anniversary of the birth of social activist Jane Addams, the Hull-House Museum has reopened with a new mission, providing interpretive exhibits and displays showing how the issues of the early 20th century relate to events today.
"Were really hoping people see what a gem this place is," said Lisa Lee, museum director.
The settlement house was built among Chicagos tenement homes and sweat shops in 1860 and was one of the few buildings to survive the Chicago Fire. It served as a home for Addams and a place where diverse groups of immigrants came to eat and learn.
A day-in-the-life section produces a fictional narrative based on historic facts, showing how Addams and a Jewish Polish immigrant might interact for part of a day, but had profoundly different experiences, or how a Hull-House pottery teacher learned from her Mexican immigrant student.
"A large part of this new exhibition is to expand the story to include not only the reformers, but the immigrants," Lee said. "The reformers were transformed by their interactions. It wasnt a one-sided relationship."
Many artifacts previously relegated to storage are on display. A plaque from 1900 commemorating Hull-Houses first organized activity is being publicly displayed for the first time. A projector shows what Halsted Street was like in the 1930s near a window where visitors can look out and see whats going on today.
"We just had footage sitting in our archives and it wasnt being used," Lee said. "We thought we had to bring all these beautiful things out."
The museum also worked with a model maker to produce a new model of Hull-House and the other buildings that were once part of the facility, including the citys first public art gallery and a space where the first womens basketball team played. …