Helen Culver

National Cyclopedia of American Biography

CULVER, Helen, philanthropist, was born at Little Valley, N. Y., Mar. 23, 1832, daughter of Lyman and Emeliza (Hull) Culver. She was descended from Edward Culver who accompanied John Winthrop to America in 1635 and was one of the original founders of Wallingford, Conn. Her school training was meagre, and much of her culture was self-imparted by reading. She began teaching in her teens and to increase her fitness for the work attended an academy at Randolph, at

(179) which she was graduated in 1852. In 1853 she joined brother and a cousin, Charles J. Hull (q. v.), who had settled in Chicago, where she became a public-school teacher, first as head of a primary department, then as assistant and principal of high schools. The death of her cousin's wife, Mrs. Hull, resulted in her giving up teaching to care for and educate the Hull children at the home which afterward was the site of the famous Hull-House settlement. During the civil war she served as matron of a military hospital under the U.S. sanitary commission at Murfreesboro, Tenn. In 1868 she joined Mr. Hull in his real estate activities, becoming an assistant in his Chicago office, then his associate in realty transactions and finally the mainstay of the business. She was the first woman in Chicago to take charge of large business affairs and the first woman notary public. Their realty operations extended to Maryland, Georgia, Texas, Nebraska and other states. In 1871-72 they bought tracts of land on the outskirts of Savannah, Ga., and interested colored people in buying lots and building homes. She conducted a night school in the Savannah office, teaching negroes of all ages to read and write. Their success as home-makers inspired the statement by a Savannah newspaper that more blacks owned homes in the city than whites and that the proportion of negro home-owners was greater there than anywhere else in the South. Mr. Hull died in 1889, and his children having predeceased him, he bequeathed his estate to Miss Culver, without conditions or limitations as to its use or disposal. For some years thereafter she conducted the business alone and after 1896 its management was gradually assumed by her nephew, Charles Hull Ewing. In disposing of the Hull estate she gave $400,000 for the Hull-House Social settlement which was founded by Jane Addams (q.v.) in 1889. Of this amount $50,000 was for a building for boys, and the remainder for its maintenance. She was a trustee of the settlement until 1920 and honorary president until her death. She presented to the University of Chicago more than $1,000,000 for its biological departments, including an inland experimental station, a marine laboratory and four biological laboratories devoted respectively to zoology, anatomy, physiology and botany with connecting cloisters, the whole group forming the Helen Culver Quadrangle. She established the Helen Culver Fund for Race Psychology, through which Prof. W. I. Thomas and other sociologists began a study of immigrants' groups to determine the best methods for their assimilation, and endowed a gold medal to be awarded by the Geographic Society of Chicago. In her will Miss Culver bequeathed a further sum of $600,000 to the University of Chicago and $75.000 to be divided among charitable and educational institutions throughout the country. Blindness overcame her as her years advanced, but she retained to the last her varied interests in humanity and the spirit of service to the world which had been the mainspring of her long and useful life. She died in Lake Forest, Ill ., Aug. 19, 1925.


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