Sunday, January 29, 2012

Norah Hamilton (1873-1945)

Hull House, the Chicago social services agency founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Jane Addams (1860-1935) closed down on Friday, January 27, 2012. The cause was lack of funds. At its peak, Hull House (or Hull-House, as it was called for many years) served 9,000 people per week with its educational classes, activities, medical help, and other services. The closing brings to an end an institution dating to 1889.

Two Indiana sisters played their parts in the operation of Hull-House during the early twentieth century. Alice Hamilton (1869-1970), a pioneer in the field of occupational health and industrial hygiene, served on the medical staff at Hull-House for three decades. In 1919, she became the first female faculty member at Harvard University. Her younger sister, Norah Hamilton, taught art and other skills at Hull-House for many years. The two sisters were part of an accomplished quartet of Hamilton women. Their sister Edith Hamilton (1867-1963) was the well-known teacher, classicist, and author of The Greek Way, The Roman Way, and other books. Margaret Hamilton (1871-1969) was also a teacher and assumed the head of the English department at Bryn Mawr Preparatory School upon Edith Hamilton's retirement. Two artist-cousins, sisters Jessie Hamilton (1864-1960) and Agnes Hamilton (1868-1961), added to the prominence of the Hamilton name. Agnes by the way was also a settlement house worker.

Etcher, designer, illustrator, and art teacher Norah Hamilton was born in November 1873 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the daughter of scholarly and well-to-do parents who encouraged their daughters to study art, literature, and the classics. Norah received instruction at the Fort Wayne School of Art under J. Ottis Adams and William Forsyth, at the Art Students League under William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri, and in Paris under James Abbott McNeill Whistler in 1897-1899. In the course of her European studies, Norah suffered a breakdown and repaired to a hospital in Zurich. She would battle depression for the rest of her life.

Norah Hamilton became associated with Hull-House as early as 1909. Her drawings illustrated Jane Addams' Twenty Years at Hull-House with Autobiographical Notes (1910) and her sister Alice Hamilton's Exploring the Dangerous Trades (1943). She also created a number of bookplates. Norah Hamilton taught art at Hull-House for many years, from at least 1910 to after 1930. Her art was exhibited in Paris, New York, and her hometown, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The Hamilton women lived very long lives. Norah Hamilton was the first of them to pass away, in February 1945, at age seventy-one.

"Hull-House on Halsted Street," an etching by Norah Hamilton for the book Twenty Years at Hull-House with Autobiographical Notes (1910) by Jane Addams. Norah Hamilton lived and worked at Hull-House for many years. The illustrations shown here are from Jane Addams' book and are in the collections of Northern Illinois University.
"A Neighborhood Alley Near Hull-House"
"Sweatshop Workers"
"Aniello, a Child at Hull-House"

Text copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

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