Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Life and Times of Jane Addams.

Jane Addams (1860–1935), known as the mother of social work, was a pioneer American settlement activist/reformer, social worker, public philosopher, sociologist, public administrator, protestor, author, and leader in women's suffrage and world peace. She co-founded Chicago's Hull House, one of America's most famous settlement houses. In 1920 she was a co-founder of the ACLU. In 1931 she became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and is recognized as the founder of the social work profession in the United States. 

Birthplace of Jane Addams
in Cedarville, Illinois.
Born in Cedarville, Illinois, Jane Addams was the youngest of eight children born into a prosperous northern Illinois family of English-American descent which traced back to colonial Pennsylvania. Three of her siblings died in infancy, and another died at age 16, leaving only four by the time Addams was age eight. Her mother, Sarah Addams, died while pregnant with her ninth child in 1863 when Jane was two years old. Jane Addams was cared for mostly by her older sisters after 1863. Addams spent her childhood playing outdoors, reading indoors, and attending Sunday school. When she was four she contracted tuberculosis of the spine, known as Potts's disease, which caused a curvature in her spine and lifelong health problems. This made it complicated as a child to function with the other children, considering she had a limp and could not run as well. As a child, she thought she was "ugly" and later remembered wanting not to embarrass her father, when he was dressed in his Sunday best, by walking down the street with him.

Addams adored her father, John H. Addams, when she was a child, as she made clear in the stories of her memoir, "Twenty years at Hull House (1910)" He was a founding member of the Illinois Republican Party, served as an Illinois State Senator (1855–70), and supported his friend Abraham Lincoln in his candidacies, for senator (1854) and the presidency (1860). John Addams kept a letter from Lincoln in his desk, and Jane Addams loved to look at it as a child. Her father was an agricultural businessman with large timber, cattle, and agricultural holdings; flour and timber mills; and a woolen factory. He was the president of The Second National Bank of Freeport. He remarried in 1868 when Jane was eight years old. His second wife was Anna Hostetter Haldeman, the widow of a miller in Freeport.

In her teens, Addams had big dreams—to do something useful in the world. Long interested in the poor from her reading of Dickens and inspired by her mother's kindness to the Cedarville poor, she decided to become a doctor so that she could live and work among the poor. It was a vague idea, nurtured by literary fiction. She was a voracious reader.

Addams' father encouraged her to pursue higher education but close to home. She was eager to attend the new college for women, Smith College in Massachusetts; but her father required her to attend nearby Rockford Female Seminary (now Rockford University), in Rockford, Illinois. After graduating from Rockford in 1881, with a collegiate certificate and membership in Phi Beta Kappa, she still hoped to attend Smith to earn a proper B.A. That summer, her father died unexpectedly from a sudden case of appendicitis. Each child inherited roughly $50,000 (equivalent to $1.3 million in 2018).

That fall, Addams, her sister Alice, Alice's husband Harry, and their stepmother, Anna Haldeman Addams, moved to Philadelphia so that the three young people could pursue medical educations. Harry was already trained in medicine and did further studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Jane and Alice completed their first year of medical school at the Woman's Medical College of Philadelphia, but Jane's health problems, a spinal operation and a nervous breakdown prevented her from completing the degree. She was filled with sadness at her failure. Stepmother Anna was also ill, so the entire family canceled their plans to stay two years and returned to Cedarville, Illinois.

The following fall her brother-in-law/stepbrother Harry performed surgery on her back, to straighten it. He then advised that she not pursue studies but, instead, travel. In August 1883, she set off for a two-year tour of Europe with her stepmother, traveling some of the time with friends and family who joined them. Addams decided that she did not have to become a doctor to be able to help the poor.

Upon her return home in June 1887, she lived with her stepmother in Cedarville and spent winters with her in Baltimore. Addams, still filled with vague ambition, sank into depression, unsure of her future and feeling useless leading the conventional life expected of a well-to-do young woman. She wrote long letters to her friend from Rockford Seminary, Ellen Gates Starr, mostly about Christianity and books but sometimes about her despair.

Meanwhile, Jane Addams gathered inspiration from what she read. Fascinated by the early Christians and Tolstoy's book "My Religion," she was baptized a Christian in the Cedarville Presbyterian Church, in the summer of 1886. Reading Giuseppe Mazzini's "Duties of Man," she began to be inspired by the idea of democracy as a social ideal. Yet she felt confused about her role as a woman. John Stuart Mill's "The Subjection of Women" made her question the social pressures on a woman to marry and devote her life to her family.

Jane Addams as a young woman,
undated studio portrait by Cox, Chicago
In the summer of 1887, Addams read in a magazine about the new idea of starting a settlement house. She decided to visit the world's first, Toynbee Hall, in London. She and several friends, including Ellen Gates Starr, traveled in Europe from December 1887 through the summer of 1888. After watching a bullfight in Madrid, fascinated by what she saw as an exotic tradition, Addams condemned this fascination and her inability to feel outraged at the suffering of the horses and bulls. At first, Addams told no one about her dream to start a settlement house; but, she felt increasingly guilty for not acting on her dream. Believing that sharing her dream might help her to act on it, she told Ellen Gates Starr. Starr loved the idea and agreed to join Addams in starting a settlement house.

Addams and another friend traveled to London without Starr, who was busy. Visiting Toynbee Hall, Addams was enchanted. She described it as "a community of University men who live there, have their recreation clubs and society all among the poor people, yet, in the same style in which they would live in their own circle. It is so free of 'professional doing good,' so unaffectedly sincere and so productive of good results in its classes and libraries seems perfectly ideal." Addams' dream of the classes mingling socially to mutual benefit, as they had in early Christian circles seemed embodied in the new type of institution.

The settlement house as Addams discovered was a space within which unexpected cultural connections could be made and where the narrow boundaries of culture, class, and education could be expanded. They doubled up as community arts centers and social service facilities. They laid the foundations for American civil society, a neutral space within which different communities and ideologies could learn from each other and seek common grounds for collective action. The role of the settlement house was an "unending effort to make culture and 'the issue of things' go together." The unending effort was the story of her own life, a struggle to reinvigorate her own culture by reconnecting with diversity and conflict of the immigrant communities in America's cities and with the necessities of social reform.

In 1889 Addams and her college friend and paramour, Ellen Gates Starr co-founded Hull House, a settlement house in Chicago. The run-down mansion had been built by Charles Jerold Hull in 1856 at 335 South Halsted Street (today; 800 South Halsted Street) and needed repairs and upgrading. Addams at first paid for all of the capital expenses (repairing the roof of the porch, repainting the rooms, buying furniture) and most of the operating costs. However gifts from individuals supported the House beginning in its first year and Addams was able to reduce the proportion of her contributions, although the annual budget grew rapidly. A number of wealthy women became important long-term donors to the House, including Helen Culver, who managed her first cousin Charles Hull's estate, and who eventually allowed the contributors to use the house rent-free. Other contributors were Louise DeKoven Bowen, Mary Rozet Smith, Mary Wilmarth, and others.

Addams and Starr were the first two occupants of the house, which would later become the residence of about 25 women. At its height, Hull House was visited each week by some 2,000 people. The Hull House was a center for research, empirical analysis, study, and debate, as well as a pragmatic center for living in and establishing good relations with the neighborhood. Residents of Hull House conducted investigations on housing, midwifery, fatigue, tuberculosis, typhoid, garbage collection, cocaine, and truancy. Dr. Harriett Alleyne Rice joined Hull House to provided medical treatment for poor families. Its facilities included a night school for adults, clubs for older children, a public kitchen, an art gallery, a gym, a girls' club, a bathhouse, a book bindery, a music school, a drama group and a theater, apartments, a library, meeting rooms for discussion, clubs, an employment bureau, and a lunchroom. Her adult night school was a forerunner of the continuing education classes offered by many universities today. In addition to making available social services and cultural events for the largely immigrant population of the neighborhood, Hull House afforded an opportunity for young social workers to acquire training. Eventually, Hull House became a 13-building settlement complex, which included a playground and a summer camp (known as Bowen Country Club).
Jane Addams talks to visitors to Hull House in 1935.
One aspect of the Hull House that was very important to Jane Addams was the Art Program. The art program at Hull House allowed Addams to challenge the system of industrialized education, which "fitted" the individual to a specific job or position. She wanted the house to provide a space, time, and tools to encourage people to think independently. She saw art as the key to unlocking the diversity of the city through collective interaction, mutual self-discovery, recreation, and imagination. Art was integral to her vision of community, disrupting fixed ideas and stimulating the diversity and interaction on which a healthy society depends, based on a continual rewriting of cultural identities through variation and interculturalism.

With funding from Edward Butler, Addams opened an art exhibition and studio space as one of the first additions to Hull House. On the first floor of the new addition, there was a branch of the Chicago Public Library, and the second was the Butler Art Gallery, which featured recreations of famous artwork as well as the work of local artists. Studio space within the art gallery provided both Hull House residents and the entire community with the opportunity to take art classes or to come in and hone their craft whenever they liked. As Hull House grew, and the relationship with the neighborhood deepened, that opportunity became less of a comfort to the poor and more of an outlet of expression and exchange of different cultures and diverse communities. Art and culture were becoming a bigger and more important part of the lives of immigrants within the 19th ward, and soon children caught on to the trend. These working-class children were offered instruction in all forms and levels of art. Places such as the Butler Art Gallery or the Bowen Country Club often hosted these classes, but more informal lessons would often be taught outdoors. Addams, with the help of Ellen Gates Starr, founded the Chicago Public School Art Society (CPSAS) in response to the positive reaction the art classes for children caused. The CPSAS provided public schools with reproductions of world-renowned pieces of art, hired artists to teach children how to create art, and also took the students on field trips to Chicago's many art museums.

The Hull House neighborhood was a mix of European ethnic groups that had immigrated to Chicago around the start of the 20th century. That mix was the ground where Hull House's inner social and philanthropic elitists tested their theories and challenged the establishment. The ethnic mix is recorded by the Bethlehem-Howard Neighborhood Center: "Germans and Jews resided south of that inner core (south of Twelfth Street)... The Greek delta formed by Harrison, Halsted Street, and Blue Island Streets served as a buffer to the Irish residing to the north and the French Canadians to the northwest." Italians resided within the inner core of the Hull House Neighborhood... from the river on the east end, on out to the western ends of what came to be known as Little Italy. Greeks and Jews, along with the remnants of other immigrant groups, began their exodus from the neighborhood in the early 20th century. Only Italians continued as an intact and thriving community through the Great Depression, World War II, and well beyond the ultimate demise of Hull House proper in 1963.

Hull House became America's best-known settlement house. Addams used it to generate system-directed change, on the principle that to keep families safe, community and societal conditions had to be improved. The neighborhood was controlled by local political bosses.

Starr and Addams developed three "ethical principles" for social settlements: "to teach by example, to practice cooperation, and to practice social democracy, that is, egalitarian, or democratic, social relations across class lines." Thus Hull House offered a comprehensive program of civic, cultural, recreational, and educational activities and attracted admiring visitors from all over the world, including William Lyon Mackenzie King, a graduate student from Harvard University who later became prime minister of Canada. In the 1890s Julia Lathrop, Florence Kelley, and other residents of the house made it a world center of social reform activity. Hull House used the latest methodology (pioneering in statistical mapping) to study overcrowding, truancy, typhoid fever, cocaine, children's reading, newsboys, infant mortality, and midwifery. Starting with efforts to improve the immediate neighborhood, the Hull House group became involved in the city- and statewide campaigns for better housing, improvements in public welfare, stricter child-labor laws, and protection of working women. Addams brought in prominent visitors from around the world and had close links with leading Chicago intellectuals and philanthropists. In 1912, she helped start the new Progressive Party and supported the presidential campaign of Theodore Roosevelt.

"Addams' philosophy combined feminist sensibilities with an unwavering commitment to social improvement through cooperative efforts. Although she sympathized with feminists, socialists, and pacifists, Addams refused to be labeled. This refusal was pragmatic rather than ideological."

Hull House stressed the importance of the role of children in the Americanization process of new immigrants. In keeping with this philosophy which also fostered the play movement and the research and service fields of leisure, youth, and human services. Addams argued in The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets (1909) that play and recreation programs are needed because cities are destroying the spirit of youth. Hull House featured multiple programs in art and drama, kindergarten classes, boys' and girls' clubs, language classes, reading groups, college extension courses, along with public baths, a gymnasium, a labor museum, and playground, all within a free-speech atmosphere. They were all designed to foster democratic cooperation and collective action and downplay individualism. She helped pass the first model tenement code and the first factory laws.
When Hull-House opened that pioneering playground in 1895, the Chicago Tribune called it “a jolly romp.”
Along with her colleagues from Hull House, in 1901 Jane Addams founded what would become the Juvenile Protective Association. JPA provided the first probation officers for the first Juvenile Court in the United States until this became a government function. From 1907 until the 1940s, JPA engaged in many studies examining such subjects as racism, child labor and exploitation, drug abuse, and prostitution in Chicago and their effects on child development. Through the years, their mission has now become to improve the social and emotional well-being and functioning of vulnerable children so they can reach their fullest potential at home, in school, and in their communities.

Addams and her colleagues documented the communal geography of typhoid fever and reported that poor workers were bearing the brunt of the illness. She identified the political corruption and business avarice that caused the city bureaucracy to ignore health, sanitation, and building codes. Linking environmental justice and municipal reform, she eventually defeated the bosses and fostered a more equitable distribution of city services and modernized inspection practices. Addams spoke of the "undoubted powers of public recreation to bring together the classes of a community in the keeping them apart." Addams worked with the Chicago Board of Health and served as the first vice-president of the Playground Association of America.

In 1912 Addams published "A New Conscience and Ancient Evil", about prostitution. This book was extremely popular because it was published in the traffic time of the Forced prostitution trade. Addams believed that prostitution was a result of kidnapping only.

Addams and her colleagues originally intended Hull House as a transmission device to bring the values of the college-educated high culture to the masses, including the Efficiency Movement, a major movement in industrial nations in the early 20th century that sought to identify and eliminate waste in the economy and society and to develop and implement best practices. However, over time, the focus changed from bringing art and culture to the neighborhood (as evidenced in the construction of the Butler Building) to responding to the needs of the community by providing childcare, educational opportunities, and large meeting spaces. Hull House became more than a proving ground for the new generation of college-educated, professional women: it also became part of the community in which it was founded, and its development reveals a shared history.
American social worker and suffragist Jane Addams
seated at a writing desk with a pen in hand. (1910)
Addams called on women, especially middle-class women with leisure time and energy as well as rich philanthropists, to exercise their civic duty to become involved in municipal affairs as a matter of "civic housekeeping." Addams thereby enlarged the concept of civic duty to include roles for women beyond motherhood (which involved child-rearing). 

Women's lives revolved around "responsibility, care, and obligation," which represented the source of women's power. This notion provided the foundation for the municipal or civil housekeeping role that Addams defined, and gave added weight to the women's suffrage movement that Addams supported. Addams argued that women, as opposed to men, were trained in the delicate matters of human welfare and needed to build upon their traditional roles of housekeeping to be civic housekeepers. Enlarged housekeeping duties involved reform efforts regarding poisonous sewage, impure milk (which often carried tuberculosis), smoke-laden air, and unsafe factory conditions. 

Addams led the "garbage wars"; in 1894 she became the first woman appointed as sanitary inspector of Chicago's 19th Ward. With the help of the Hull House Women's Club, within a year over 1000 health department violations were reported to the city council, and garbage collection reduced death and disease.

Addams had long discussions with philosopher John Dewey in which they redefined democracy in terms of pragmatism and civic activism, with an emphasis more on duty and less on rights. The two leading perspectives that distinguished Addams and her coalition from the modernizers more concerned with efficiency were the need to extend to social and economic life the democratic structures and practices that had been limited to the political sphere, as in Addams' programmatic support of trade unions; and second, their call for a new social ethic to supplant the individualist outlook as being no longer adequate in modern society.

Addams' construction of womanhood involved daughterhood, sexuality, wifehood, and motherhood. In both of her autobiographical volumes; "Twenty years at Hull House (1910)" and "The second twenty years at Hull House (1930)," Addams' gender constructions parallel the Progressive-Era ideology she championed. In "A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil (1912)" she dissected the social pathology of sex slavery, prostitution and other sexual behaviors among working-class women in American industrial centers during 1890–1910. Addams' autobiographical persona manifests her ideology and supports her popularized public activist persona as the "Mother of Social Work," in the sense that she represents herself as a celibate matron, who served the suffering immigrant masses through Hull House, as if they were her own children. Although not a mother herself, Addams became the "mother to the nation," identified with motherhood in the sense of protective care of her people.
Jane Addams 1915
Addams kept up her heavy schedule of public lectures around the country, especially at college campuses. In addition, she offered college courses through the Extension Division of the University of Chicago. She declined offers from the university to become directly affiliated with it, including an offer from Albion Small, chair of the Department of Sociology, of a graduate faculty position. She declined in order to maintain her independent role outside of academia. Her goal was to teach adults not enrolled in formal academic institutions, because of their poverty and/or lack of credentials. Furthermore, she wanted no university controls over her political activism.

Addams was a charter member of the American Sociological Society, founded in 1905. She gave papers to it in 1912, 1915, and 1919. She was the most prominent woman member during her lifetime.

Jane Addams - Circa 1926
Jane Addams, a social activist famous for her affiliation with Hull House in Chicago, died of cancer on May 21, 1935. Her death sparked a public outpouring of grief, with some commentators comparing her to Abraham Lincoln. Telegrams arrived by the hundreds, offering condolences from all over the world, including Japan, India, and England. One famous eulogy from Walter Lippmann stated, "She had infinite sympathy for common things without forgetfulness for those that are uncommon." A cartoon in the Chicago Herald and Examiner summed up her accomplishments as "carved in imperishable granite".

Before her death, the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, D.C. offered Addams burial in the National Cathedral, beside U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Addams refused this offer and instead opted to be buried in the small family plot at the Cedarville Cemetery in her hometown of Cedarville, Illinois. Two days after her death, May 23, Addams' funeral was held in the courtyard of the Hull House; it was attended by thousands. Her body was transported by train to Freeport, Illinois where it was removed and taken to the Addams Homestead and then to Cedarville Cemetery for burial.

The Addams family plot is marked with an obelisk, in Cedarville Cemetery, a short distance from her birthplace at the John H. Addams Homestead. At Addams' request, her tombstone epitaph mentions her as associated with Hull House and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, but neglects to mention her Nobel Peace Prize. Addams penned this epitaph herself.
In August 2004, the obelisk monument at the Addams family plot underwent a restoration, headed by Flachtemeier Monuments, a Freeport company. The monument restoration was funded by a donation from the Jane Addams Peace Association. Work included repairs to the monument's base and the restabilization of the marker.

  • First Social Settlement in Chicago
  • First Social Settlement with men and women residents
  • Established first public baths in Chicago
  • Established first public playground in Chicago
  • Established first gymnasium for the public in Chicago
  • Established first little theater in the United States
  • Established first citizenship preparation classes
  • Established first public kitchen in Chicago
  • Established first college extension courses in Chicago
  • Established first group work school
  • Established first painting loan program in Chicago
  • Established first free art exhibits in Chicago
  • Established first fresh air school in Chicago
  • Established first public swimming pool in Chicago
  • Established first boy scout troop in Chicago
  • Women Shirt Makers
  • Women Cloak Makers
  • Dorcas Federal Labor Union
  • Chicago Woman's Trade Union League
  • Investigations that led to creation and enactment of first factory laws in Illinois
  • Investigations that led to creation of the first model tenement code
  • First Illinois Factory Inspector, a Hull-House resident, Florence Kelley
  • First probation officer in Chicago, a Hull-House resident, Alzina Stevens
  • truancy
  • sanitation
  • typhoid fever
  • tuberculosis
  • distribution of cocaine
  • midwifery
  • children's reading
  • infant mortality
  • newsboys
  • social value of the saloon
The Jane Addams Hull House Museum, at the University of Illinois, 800 South Halsted Street in Chicago, serves as a dynamic memorial to social reformer Jane Addams, the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, and her colleagues whose work changed the lives of their immigrant neighbors as well as national and international public policy.
The museum preserves and develops the original Hull House site for the interpretation and continuation of the historic settlement house vision, linking research, education, and social engagement.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

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