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Twenty Years at Hull-House

by Jane Addams

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What was the "Devil baby of Hull House?"

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Hull House was founded in 1899 in Chicago by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr. According to urban legend (see the link below), a child who born to the devil and who had horns disgusted his mother, and she abandoned the child at Hull House. The child was born to an Italian immigrant whose husband had torn down her picture of the Virgin Mary. According to this legend, Jane Addams raised the child, and the staff of Hull House tried to baptize the child until it ran away during the baptismal service. Some say the child disappeared at this point or that it died at a young age. Some people claim that you can see the devil child looking back at you from the second floor of Hull House or that the house is haunted by the devil child. In reality, however, Jane Addams was a pioneering social reformer who helped countless immigrants, sheltered victims of domestic abuse, nursed the sick, and cared for infants and children. In 1931, she became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. This myth is just that—a myth with no foundation in fact.

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According to the superstitious, Hull House is one of the most haunted buildings in Chicago. In 1889, it was set up as an establishment at which immigrants could learn to adapt to life in the USA. In 1913, people started showing up and demanding to see the "Devil Baby."

This baby was alleged to have long, pointy ears, cloven hooves and the ability to speak fluently, despite its young age. People who lived in the house repeatedly told visitors that this baby did not exist, but to no avail.

There are two main stories as to the background of this fictitious infant. The first tells of a Catholic woman married to an atheist, who claimed he would rather live with the devil than with a picture of the Madonna in his house. Some months later, his "dream" came true and his wife allegedly gave birth to the devil child.

The other story is about a father who wanted a son, but had six daughters. He claimed he would rather father the devil than have another daughter. Fate, as the story goes, granted him his wish.

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The "devil baby of Hull House" was a myth that grew up in association with Hull House, the settlement house founded by Jane Addams in inner-city Chicago. According to the myth, which originated in 1913, a Chicago woman gave birth to a child with scales, horns, and a pointed tail. The mother, whose husband's blasphemy had resulted in the birth of the devil, allegedly brought the child to Hull House. Addams, according to the story, locked the child in the attic, where he stayed. Always concerned with the reputation of Hull House, Addams was at first angry about the urban legend, but she eventually became interested in the ways in which local people, especially elderly immigrant women, responded to it. She actually wrote about the phenomenon more than once, most notably in a book entitled The Long Road of Women's Memory:

With an understanding quickened, perhaps, through my own acquaintance with the mysterious child, I listened to many tragic reminiscences from the visiting women; of premature births, "because he kicked me in the side"; of children maimed and burnt because "I had no one to leave them with when I went to work"; women had seen the tender flesh of growing little bodies given over to death because "he wouldn't let me send for the doctor" or because "there was no money to pay for the medicine."

These women saw in the "devil baby" a reflection of their own tragic experiences, which, Addams thought, stoked their morbid curiosity. Still others, having experienced abuse and neglect, were fascinated by the notion of divine retribution for the mythical child's father.

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