TSA head asks Hull-House to include more about Italians
June 30, 2011
A knife-sharpening cart donated by the Fabrizio family is part of the Italian heritage remembrance at Hull-House.

By Susan Fong

Vince Romano, founder and editor of the Taylor Street Archives (TSA), wants the Italian-American history of the Near West Side featured more prominently in the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, which is owned and operated by the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

Romano was reared in the Taylor Street area. Since 2004, the historian has been writing and editing his own vignettes, collecting other people’s memoirs of the neighborhood’s Italian heritage, and preserving both in the TSA.

“I began collecting stories for those interested in the area’s Italian immigrant history so that others could remember what it once was before it disappears altogether,” said Romano, a senior vice president at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. In 2006, he placed the TSA’s collection of written materials and photos online at www.taylorstreetarchives.com for easier access and to open the information to a broader audience.

Romano feels passionately about his Hull-House and Bowen Country Club experiences earlier in his life, asserting their programs strongly contributed to his success today. He worked at Hull-House as a social worker and served as a camp counselor at Bowen Country Club.

Since 2006, he has been asking the Hull-House Museum to add the TSA to its museum bibliographies and include the collection on its website.

Romano criticized the museum’s director, Lisa Lee, for excluding the TSA, asking why she “remains firm in her conviction that the stories of those who lived the history of the Italian-American experience, growing up in the Hull-House neighborhood, in the legendary Taylor Street’s Little Italy, are not worthy of inclusion in either of the museum’s massive bibliographies?”

According to the museum’s mission statement, it “serves as a dynamic memorial to Jane Addams, the work of her associates, and the neighborhood they served. The museum embodies UIC’s urban land grant commitment by preserving and developing the original Hull-House site for the interpretation and continuation of the historic settlement house vision, linking research, education, and social engagement.”

Citing the museum mission statement, Romano feels that the museum should reflect the “personal stories of those who had lived” history in the area.

Speaking on behalf of Lee and the museum, Associate Director Anne Ranallo of the UIC Office of Public Affairs said, “‘dynamic memorial’means that the program and exhibits change to reflect various aspects of Jane Addams and her associates’ works.”

Ranallo added, “Hull-House Museum is governed not only by its own board of directors but falls under the auspices of the College of Architecture and the Arts at UIC.”

Both Lee and Ranallo noted that there are maps at the Hull-House Museum that substantiate that the neighborhood included 24 immigrant groups, including the Italian-American community.

Dissatisfied with his contacts with the museum, Romano wrote a letter Dec. 20, 2010, to the University of Illinois board of trustees requesting to attend their Jan. 20, 2011, meeting so he could ask that the TSA be included in the museum’s bibliographies and websites and “to comment/inform the U of I Board” of what he alleged was the “misconceived history (by omission and commission) that is being dispensed by the Hull-House Museum despite the overwhelming empirical evidence to the contrary.”

The board granted his request, and Romano made a presentation to UIC board of trustees President Christopher Kennedy and members. Romano said he got the impression Kennedy and the board were amenable, when Kennedy suggested creating a link on the museum home page titled “Stories from the Neighborhood,” which would enable the TSA and other groups to participate.

As a result of Romano’s meeting with the trustees, a Feb. 23 meeting was arranged between Romano and Dean Judith Kirshner of the UIC College of Architecture and the Arts, which administers the museum. Romano had hoped for a decision for the TSA and the area’s Italian-American heritage to play a greater role in the museum, but no such decision was forthcoming.

Lee told the Gazette that “The museum, as a National Historic Landmark, adheres to scholarly requirements for the historical material we draw upon in our interpretation of the site. Museums are governed by trained museum professionals andmust be responsive, but not beholden, to external constituencies.”

Romano intends to continue fighting to have the TSA and the Italian-American history of the area play amore prominent role in the Hull-House Museum, calling that effort “a noble cause.” He also would like a person of Italian-American heritage to be appointed to the Hull-House Museum board.