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Ellen Gates Starr papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00151

Scope and Contents

The Ellen Gates Starr Papers consist of 12 linear feet and date from 1659 to 1975. The bulk of the papers range from 1850 to 1970. Types of material include correspondence, writings, artwork, diaries, legal documents, photographs, printed material, memorabilia, biographical and genealogical material. They relate to Starr's personal and professional life, Jane Addams, and Hull House, and the Starr family. Of particular interest is material on Jane Addams including correspondence, photographs and biographical material. Jane Addams material can be found in SERIES I, II, and IV. The bulk of the papers, however, consist of those of Ellen Gates Starr and her family, dating from her grandfather Oliver Starr's family in Deerfield, Massachusetts, in the early 1800s to her grand niece Angela Starr Van Patten in 1971. There are large amounts of correspondence, writings and art relating to her sister, Mary Houghton Starr Blaisdell and her aunt, Eliza Allen Starr, and correspondence of her niece, Josephine Susanna Starr.

Always devoted to the liturgy and history of the church, Starr studied, wrote, and corresponded with the learned and interested, both lay and clerical, and correspondence and writings reflects this long and close devotion and the manner in which she shared it with others. Her socialist activism is illustrated by clippings and articles as well as correspondence concerning the Amalgamated Clothing Workers strike in Chicago in 1915. Letters from Sidney Hillman and Jacob Patofsky, heads of the Clothing Workers, attest to their admiration and appreciation of Starr's contribution to the cause of organized labor.

Dates of Materials

  • 1659 - 1975
  • Majority of material found within 1850-1970


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright to materials created by others may be owned by those individuals or their heirs or assigns. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights.

Biographical / Historical

Ellen Gates Starr was born near Laona, Illinois, the third of four children of Caleb Allen Starr and Susan Childs Gates Starr. She attended local schools and enrolled at Rockford Seminary, Rockford, Illinois, in 1877. She spent only one year at Rockford because her father could not afford the tuition. She taught at a country school in Mount Morris, Illinois, and in 1879 accepted a position at Miss Kirkland's School for Girls in Chicago where she taught a variety of subjects. Although religion was not part of her early upbringing, she spent much of her life in search of religious truth. She was greatly influenced by her aunt, Eliza Allen Starr, a devout Roman Catholic convert, writer, and lecturer. In 1884 Ellen joined the Episcopal Church.

During these years Starr was in frequent contact with Jane Addams, a close friend from Rockford Seminary. In 1888, while they were traveling in Europe, Addams confided her dream of establishing a settlement house. On their return they opened Hull House in Chicago in September 1889. Although Addams was the financial and executive force behind the establishment of Hull House, she depended on Starr's support and contacts in Chicago society. In an attempt to enlighten the lives of the immigrant population of Chicago, Starr established reading clubs, decorated Hull House with reproductions of great art, organized art history classes, and in 1894, founded and became the first president of the Chicago Public School Art Society. In the late 1890s she spent fifteen months in London studying bookbinding with T.J. Cobden-Sanderson. Although she was eager to teach the art of bookbinding on her return to the United States, she found that it was of little practical value to the people of Hull House.

Noting the prevalence of sweatshops, child labor, low wages, and long hours, she joined with Florence Kelley and others in the battle against child labor. She was a charter member of the Illinois branch of the National Women's Trade Union League and in 1896, 1910, and 1915 she came to the aid of striking textile workers. She delivered speeches, provided food and clothing, and marched in picket lines. She was arrested during a 1914 restaurant workers' strike. Starr was a close friend of Sidney Hillman and Jacob Potofsky and was made an honorary member of Hillman's Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. She joined the socialist party in 1916 and unsuccessfully ran for alderman in Chicago.

Her spiritual quest culminated in conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1920. Thereafter she spent much of her time writing and speaking about Catholic art and worship and her own conversion experience. She continued to be an occasional visitor to Hull House until 1929, when an operation to remove a spinal abscess left her paralyzed from the waist down. In 1930, she settled at the convent of the Holy Child in Suffern, NY, becoming an oblate of the Third Order of St. Benedict in 1939. She died in 1940 and was buried at the convent.


12.521 linear feet (27 containers)


Labor organizer; religious writer; settlement house worker; and founder, Hull House, Chicago. Papers represent 4 generations of the Starr family, primarily Ellen Gates Starr. Of particular interest is correspondence with Jane Addams pertaining to the founding of Hull House, as well as photographs and biographical information about Jane Addams. There is also extensive family correspondence and her writings on book binding and religion. Family material includes writings and letters of her aunt Eliza Allen Starr, sister Mary Houghton Starr Blaisdell, niece Josephine Starr, mother Susan Starr, and sea journals of her father, Caleb Allen Starr. Correspondents include Vida D. Scudder, Archibald MacLeish, Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, Thornton Wilder, Thomas J. Cobden-Sanderson, Alice Hamilton, and Sidney Hillman.


This collection is organized into four series:

  1. I. Biographical Materials
  2. II. Correspondence
  3. III. Writings and Artwork
  4. IV. Photographs

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Ellen Gates Starr Papers were donated to the Sophia Smith Collection in 1960 by her niece, Josephine Starr, and grandniece, Angela Starr Van Patten. Johanna Doniat, a former Hull House associate, donated additional letters and articles on art, religion and bookbinding in 1966. In 1968, Mary Prentice Lillie Barrow donated a scrapbook of clippings which belonged to her mother, Frances Crane Lillie.

Related Material

Related material can be found in the Jane Addams Papers, Sophia Smith Collection.

Additional papers of the Starr/Allen family are located at Memorial Hall, Old Deerfield, Massachusetts.

An example of Starr's bookbinding (Albert Stanborough Cook, The Christ of Cynewulf, A Poem in Three Parts, Boston, 1900) is located at Smith College, Mortimer Rare Book Collection.

Additional Ellen Gates Starr letters can be found in the Jane Addams Papers located at Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, and in the Charles Henry Adams Wager Papers in the Special Collections at Oberlin College, Oberlin Ohio.

Eliza Allen Starr Papers are also located in the Archives of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, St. Mary's Convent, Notre Dame, Indiana.

See Starr entries in Women Building Chicago, 1790-1990 edited by Rima Lunin Schultz and Adlel Hast (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2001) for additional sources.

Processing Information

Processed by Susan Boone, 2001.

Ellen Gates Starr papers
Finding Aid
Susan Boone
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2005-09-23: mnsss64 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02-5c.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:23-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2022-03-02: Integrated description of oversized materials

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063