Visit to Toynbee Hall, June 1888
Jane Addams to Sarah Alice Addams Haldeman
On her return to England in the summer of 1888, Jane Addams expressed great interest in the proceedings of the Foreign Missions Congress and in Toynbee Hall, the social settlement experiment pioneered by Rev. Samuel A. Barnett and his wife Henrietta. At a chance meeting in Canterbury, Addams encountered Barnett’s mentor, Canon William Henry Fremantle, who provided her with a letter of introduction to Toynbee Hall. After signing the visitors’ register, she and traveling companions Helen Harrington and Sarah F. Anderson, friends from Rockford Female Seminary days, toured the distinctive red-brick structure which had opened in 1885 on Commercial Street in London, not far from Barnett’s parish of St. Jude. Addams’s letter to her sister, Sarah Alice Addams Haldemann, excerpted here, captures the excitement she experienced during her visit to Toynbee Hall. 1
3 Woburn Place London [England] June 14" 1888
My dear Alice
. . . We have been in London since Monday. I wrote you I think of Amiens, Rouen and Rheims. We had a pleasant crossing from Boulogne to Folkstone and five days of delightful rest at Canterbury. . . .
We have found a cheap boarding place & comfortable withal altho not luxurious. I have been very much interested in the World Centennial of Foreign Missions held in Exeter Hall. 2 Miss Anderson and I have been to a good many of the meetings and one evening on the Opium trade in China and the Liquor traffic on the Congo, was one of the most exciting meetings I ever attended. The questions were so political in character that they were defended on that ground, an old India office[r] even quoting scripture in defense of the opium traffic. I have become quite learned on foreign missions and ashamed of my former ignorance. The most interesting thing that we have done in London was a visit to the Toynbee Hall in the East End. It is a community of University men who live there, have their recreating[,] <clubs> & society all among the poor people yet in the <same> style they would live in their own circle. It is so free from "professional doing good" so unaffectedly sincere and so productive of good results in its classes and libraries &c that it seems perfectly ideal. We are going to the People's Palace 3 some evening. I don't know but that the Mission Side of London is the most interesting side it has. We have been reading Walter Besant His "Children of Gideon" and "All Sorts & Conditions of Man," the latter suggested the People Palace since worked out. 4 . . . Always dear Alice, Yrs
Regards to my many friends[.]
ALS (University of Illinois at Chicago, Jane Addams Memorial Collection, Haldeman-Julius Family Papers; JAPM, 2:968-73; JAP, 2:620-21).
1. In her memoir, Addams later recalled that she found herself “at Toynbee Hall equipped not only with a letter of introduction from Canon Fremantle, but with high expectations and a certain belief that whatever perplexities and discouragement concerning the life of the poor were in store for me, I should at least know something at first hand and have the solace of daily activity.” Twenty Years at Hull-House, 87-88.
2. The public meetings of the World Centennial of Foreign Missions were held in Exeter Hall of the YMCA, London, during the afternoons and evenings of 9-19 June 1888. Several Chicago-based organizations were represented among the sixteen hundred members, including the Chicago Training School for City, Home, and Foreign Missions, where Jane Addams later taught classes from 1889 to 1892.
3. The People’s Palace, officially opened by Queen Victoria in 1887, was to be a “rational recreational” center for the working people of the East End, separate and different from the pubs and gambling halls. Although not completed until 1892, at the time Jane Addams visited, the People’s Palace had meeting rooms for educational presentations and social gatherings, a spacious hall for entertainments of all kinds, including musical events, and exhibit space.
4. Walter Besant’s (1836-1901) novels, All Sorts and Conditions of Men (not “Man” as JA had written it) was issued in 1882 and Children of Gibeon (not “Gideon” as JA had written it) in 1886. Both decry the social evils and state of the working poor in East London.