14. Trumping Cultural Norms: Mary Rozet Smith
Mary Rozet Smith could afford to be a radical. Unlike most of the women at settlement houses throughout the nation in the late-19th century, Mary Smith never went to college or university. The daughter of the president of Bradner-Smith Paper Company, Mary grew up in the lap of luxury and was groomed by her parents and high society to be a woman of the world. She made numerous tours to Europe and joined charitable clubs that provided handouts to the downtrodden.
Born in 1868, Mary Smith grew up in an ever-modernizing Chicago. Thousands of immigrants moved to Chicago to work in factories in the rapidly industrializing town. When Hull-House opened its doors in 1889, Mary quickly became a financial supporter of the “social experiment.” Over the years Mary, her parents, and other of Chicago’s elite donated a lot of money to Hull-House for programs, capital improvements, and educational pursuits. The financial support form Mary Smith grew the settlement house into a 13-building complex that included a designated music building. Neighborhood children and adults learned how to play a variety of musical instruments, as well as music theory.
As with many men and women associated with the nation-wide settlement house movement was the Juvenile Protective Association (JPA). Its chapter in Chicago worked toward establishing the protections of children from abuse and neglect through education during a time when wide-spread programs simply did not exist. Mary Smith became one of the women that led the charge for the creation of the Juvenile Court. Mary Rozet Smith was not just known for her work and financial support of Hull-House.
When the Gay Rights Movement gained national steam in 1969, Mary Rozet Smith became somewhat of a celebrity. Dead since 1934, feminist activists noted how for over 30 years Mary was at the side of Jane Addams. The two women had identified themselves as being married to each other. They shared living quarters, a home, and traveled the world as companions. But any type of gay activism on Mary Smith’s part was not intentional. Speculation abounds regarding the sex life of Mary and Jane, but nothing remains either from their correspondence to each other or in observances from those that knew them best. The two women lived simply in what has been classified as a “Boston Marriage.”