From Hiram House to Warsaw: Evelina Belden Paulson’s Internationalist Extension of Social Work

Document 1: 22 August 1921     |     Document 2: 8 September 1921
Document 3: 22 September 1921     |     Document 4: 1 October 1921
Document 5: 4 October 1921     |     Document 6: 2 December 1921

Author: Evelina Belden
Recipient: Family
Date: 22 August 1921
Document Type: Typed Document
Location: Evelina Belden Paulson Papers, RG 30/406, Series II, Box 2, Letter No. 2131, O. C. A.


In the following letter, Evelina Belden wrote to her family about her trip to Lublin, Poland. She compared her experience in Hull House and Cook County Jail in Illinois to social work there. As one her earliest letters sent, perhaps her references to her work in America indicate a period of adjustment to work in Poland.

Original                       Both                    Transcription


letter p1
letter p2


Warsaw, Poland. August 22, 1921

This last trip has been most interesting and I came back less weary for after having gotten started these comes to be more routine and I can plan my strength better. I [sic] maks [sic] makes me mad to stop things because tired [sic]. Why should one have less endurance than inte [sic] interest. A rather uninteresting beginning but a good one from this end.

The trip was to Lublin, a city of perhaps a hundred thousand, and about a hundred miles from here. It is woard the Russian border though not at all near. Of course all this country to the east belonged to Russia until the freedom was ganted [sic] Poland in 1918 and since it was Russian for two centuries it still has some of those characteristics.

I drove down inthe [sic] Red Cross Ford with Dr. Smith and his interpreter, a nice young chap of twenty from Cracow. It took seven hoursx [sic] to come back by Polish train though a couple hours less by automobile. The roads all over Poland where I have been are much better than in the country inthe [sic] States. I have never ridden on as bad roads here as we had a large part of the time in going about for the Red Cross in America rural district. No doubt military needs have made these hard surfaced roads. If that is the reason we cn [sic] can put up longer with dirt roads at home.

The peasants were gathering in the harvest. It is a beautiful sight with the bright costumes and the bright gold of the grain. There are inthis [sic] reagion [sic] quite a few large estates and so the fields are large like those at h me [home] and these of course make quite a different landscape.

The excitement of the ride was seeing one tractor engin [sic] plowing. It was on a large estate. It actually plowed several furrought [sic] at once. I have seen no other in all my ytrips [sic]. Wasn’t it in contrast to the next fields where the women were raking the hay in the fields long distances from any houses, and they using only hand rakes. In another field the omen [women] were cutting the grain with sycles [sic]. (I looked up that spelling my small dictionary this time but it is not there.)

The day was too dark for kodacs [sic] or I should hae [sic] had a pict re [picture] of the babies slung in their hammocks from sticks set up inthe [sic] fields. The mothers were near by doing some farm work. Can you imagine a tiny baby swinging in such afashion [sic]?

At every stream were women washing their clothes or bleaching the linen which they make inabundance [sic] from flax they grow and spin. It is a pretty sight to see them for they sem [sic] to rather enjoy bending over and swishing around. Sometimes they walk out knee deep into the stream and stand there where the current is strong enough to do some of the hard work for them. At an old flour mill stream a half doqen [dozen] women had gathered with ther [sic] heavy sacks slung over their backs with wash.

Much of this country has ruins from the last war. There were also rows of bob [sic] wire still in the fields, and in some places the gun pits and trenches. It brings the war still nearer to see the military cemetaries [sic] we passed for cemetaries [sic] do not seem commn [sic] infact [sic] I think I have seen none except these military ones. We see plenty of funerals. One night we had a picnic on the river and built our fire in a gun pit hole that still had some concrete as a foundation.

In an old shed in Lublin, some women were actually at their weaving and spinning. It reminded me of Hull House[1] labor museum only here it was reality. I ordered a little linen from there for it seemed so interesting to have seen all these very ancient processs [sic] A woman is xxxxx encouraging the sale of it as an industry to give work to a few girls. They are goig [sic] to weave me some the width for towells [sic] for all are too wide, and I hav [sic] agreed to sell it among my friends and get some myself. The towels will be lovely of hand ade [handmade] linen and no more expensive than if bought anywhere else. I do not yet know about duty. If there is not a great deal would you people at home like me to get you som [sic]?

Mary, the Lake Erie girl in Lublin is doing very well and so interesting. She seems to have a good college behind ehr. And she is splendid in learning languages. I think she has made the most progress of anyone I have seen here. She also gets on in German comfortably. THe night I was there she had a large committee meeting of fifteen Polish people none of whom could talk English except for a few words. It had to be all in Poli [sic] Polish with an interpreter. It is a continual agony to have no language. Especially is this [sic] true with social work which has so much that is abstract.

At Lublin we went through an old fortified castle built in the eleventh centurary [sic] and now used as a prison. It has a fine chapel which is being restored. For two hundred years it has been covered with the white wash which the Russian put onto cover up the beu [sic] beautiful Polish frescoing and paintings. The castle had been the home of the famous Polish Yagello and so had many beautiful paintings.

Underneath the altar, down a winding and pitch black stairway we went into a sort of dungeon. Noone [sic] could teel [sic] what it had been used for. One could picture many sorts of queer things.

Then up a long flight of black and winding stairs we went to the tower where the Russians kept the political prisoners. This cell lkie [sic] room had a depressed center so that the prisoners could sit with their feet inthe [sic] center and they on the higher secion [sic]. Of course it had nothing but cement to sit on and lie on. Thank of the hours wasted there.

But more thrilling was to see the actual political prisoners who are now in the prisons. There was a room full of women,-I do not know about the men,-who were mostly Russian Jewish aristocracy held for Bolshevicki propoganda [sic]. They were reading and had flowers on their benches and s emed [seemed] like good looking women. One had beautiful blond hair piled high onher [sic] head ina [sic] lovely way [sic]

While come down one f [sic] the black stairways I tore my suit skirt,-old navy blue one,-and one of the rpison [sic] women mended it for me. It was a nice accident for it gave Miss Spencer and me a long time in twith [sic] the women. The woman who was guard was very fin [sic] waman [sic], much better than most of our guards at home, and she took an interest in showing us things. One of the women in the oom [sic],- the prisoner, had killed her husband and wept when we asked if she had children. She had four and was in for twenty years. In another room was a woman who had killed four police officers in a week. She had been sentenced t [sic] die but was given a sentence in prison instead. Oh my. It was the same old stories I knew in the Cook County Jail.[2] Only here there was no social work doing anything for them and such great n ed [need] of parole officers and probations officers and many other things which we are trying to develope [sic] at home. It made one realize again how much there is to be done. I could not pay the women who mended the skirt but did give a pittance to get something for the three babies who were w th [with] their mothers because too young to be separated. Why should things be so uneven inlife [sic]?

Jane Addams (1860-1935) founded Hull House in 1889, and worked there until 1935. Hull House was a secular settlement house where Chicago immigrants gathered to learn skills and create art, while meeting their survival needs (“About Jane Addams,” Hull House Museum, accessed 18 August 2016, Source).

[2] The Illinois State Legislature established Cook County Jail in 1831 in Chicago. During the 1920s, around the time Belden worked there, the jail housed more than double the amount of people it was designed for, likely leading to havoc (“Cook County Jail History,” Cook County Sheriff, Thomas J. Dart, accessed 22 August 2016, Source).