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Entries : Mary McDowell and Chicago Settlement Houses
Mary McDowell and Chicago Settlement Houses

Mary McDowell and Chicago Settlement Houses

Mary McDowell and Jane Addams, 1917
Born in Cincinnati, Mary McDowell arrived in Chicago with her family in 1870. A devout Methodist, she worked with the Woman's Christian Temperance Union in the 1880s, organizing youth groups and kindergartens. Upon completion of Elizabeth Harrison's training program, she became the kindergarten teacher at Hull House and founder of the settlement Woman's Club. In 1894 McDowell took charge of a small program near the stockyards which the Christian Union of the University of Chicago had started.

Over the next two decades, she secured independent funding for the University of Chicago Settlement, acquired a gymnasium and auditorium, and built a three-story building to accommodate the residents and programs. For the Irish, German, Bohemian, and Polish families living in the vicinity of the packinghouses, the settlement sponsored classes in English and citizenship, a woman's club, youth groups, a kindergarten, and a playground.

McDowell gave staunch support to the striking packinghouse workers in 1904 and 1921, was a cofounder of the National Women's Trade Union League and an officer of the Chicago League, and was one of the initiators of the federal investigation of wages and working conditions for women and children. As a member of the City Waste Commission, she helped force Chicago to modernize its waste collection and disposal practices. And as head of Mayor William Dever's Department of Public Welfare in the 1920s, she investigated the shortage of low-income housing and helped secure the appointment of Chicago's first Housing Commission.