Addams on Women and the Larger Society

The most direct way to broaden women's sphere was the extensionof their existing, home-oriented worldview into the realms ofbusiness, government, and formal institutions, such as educationand the courts. Thus, Addams saw women as able to change and improvesociety by acting on their traditional values in the everydaymasculine world. Society would be radically altered through theinclusion of values other than the display of power and forcecharacteristic of men. Nowhere is Addams as scathing of this patriarchalworld than in the article "If Men Were Seeking the Franchise."[22]

Taking the role of women in an imaginary matriarchal society,Addams noted that these rational and conscientious women couldnot see the value of having men empowered as citizens. In sucha matriarchy, the state would develop along the lines of the familyso that a primary goal would be the nurturance and education ofchildren and the protection of the sick, the weak, and the aged.[23]

In a series of arguments against enfranchising men, Addams adoptedthe role of the mystified women:

Can we, the responsible voters, take the risk of wasting our taxesby extending the vote to those who have always been so ready tolose their heads over mere military display? [24] . . . we knowthat you men have always been careless about the house, perfectlyindifferent to the necessity for sweeping and cleaning: if youwere made responsible for factory legislation it is quite probablethat you would let the workers in the textile mills contract tuberculosisthrough needlessly breathing in the fluff, or the workers in machineshops through inhaling metal filings, both of which are now carriedoff by an excellent suction system which we women have insistedupon, but which it is almost impossible to have installed in aman-made state because the men think so little of dust and itsevil effects. [25]
Would not these responsible women voters gravely shake their headsand say that as long as men exalt business profits above humanlife, it would be sheer folly to give them the franchise. [26]The trouble is that men have no imagination, or rather what theyhave is so prone to run in the historic direction of the gloryof the battlefield, that you cannot trust them with industrialaffairs. [27]

Continuing in her defense of prostitutes, Addams is revolted bythe callous hypocrisy of men:

Worse than anything which we have mentioned is the fact that inevery man-ruled city the world over a great army of women areso set aside as outcasts that it is considered a shame to speakthe mere name which designated them. [28] The men whose moneysustains their houses, supplies their tawdry clothing and providesthem with intoxicating drinks and drugs, are never arrested, norindeed are they even considered lawbreakers. [29]

This satirical essay, one of Addams' most forceful attacks onmale injustice, was a cutting critique of the male world whichfears the humanitarian world of women.

This female realm is based in the home and family relationships.But both men and women "do not perceive that as society growsmore complicated it is necessary that woman shall extend her senseof responsibility to many things outside of her own home if shewould continue to preserve the home in its entirely." [30]A woman who remained at home and did not participate in the lifeof the community was stunted. When such a woman met a more activeone, "she recognized that her hostess after all representssocial values and industrial use, as over against her own parasiticcleanliness and a social standing attained only through status."[31] Nonetheless, women were constantly urged to put the familyand their needs before other considerations. Addams called thisdemand "the family claim." Most men were adverse tochanging this standard, but so were women.

This instinct to conserve the old standards, combined with a distrustof the new standard, is a constant difficulty in the way of thoseexperiments and advances depending upon the initiative of women,both because women are the most sensitive to the individual andfamily claims, and because their training has tended to make themcontent with response to these claims alone. [32]

Modern women struggled to balance two "claims, the socialand the family." A prime resource for changing the relationshipbetween these competing prescriptions for action was education.Predictably such a change was problematic, for "the familyhas responded to the extent of granting the education, but theyare jealous of the new claim and assert the family claim as overagainst it." [33]

After completing her education, the woman was expected to onceagain be loyal to the narrowly defined family boundaries. "Thefailure to recognize the social claim as legitimate causes thetrouble, the suspicion constantly remains that woman's publicefforts are merely selfish and captious, and are not directedto the general good." [34]

With critical insight, Addams noted that such education was notautomatically liberating: "during this so-called preparation,her faculties have been trained solely for accumulation, and shelearned to utterly distrust the finer impulses of her nature,which would naturally have connected her with human interestsoutside of her family and her own immediate social circle."[35] Formal education, in other words, often trained women fora male world.

Addams saw much of her work as a translation of the family claiminto the world and work of the social claim. She did this by pointingto women's ability to care for "civic housekeeping."

The men of the city have been carelessly indifferent to much ofthis civic housekeeping, as they have always been indifferentto the details of the household. They have totally disregardeda candidate's capacity to keep the streets clean, preferring toconsider him in relation to the national tariff or to the necessityfor increasing the national navy, in a pure spirit of reversionto the traditional type of government which had to do only withenemies and outsiders. [36]

Women were also "bread givers": nurturant people whofed others emotionally, spiritually, and physically.

So we have planned to be "Bread Givers" throughout ourlives; believing that in labor alone is happiness, and that theonly true and honorable life is one filled with good works andhonest toil, we have planned to idealize our labor, and thus happilyfulfill Women's Noblest Mission. [37]

The development of this concept in 1880 at twenty years of ageillustrates the profound continuity in Addams' thought. For in1918 during World War I, she continued this theme in her passionatepleas for peace (see discussion below). Addams wanted societyto be more nurturant; to value people more than profits; and tohave the mores that governed the home and family as part of therules of interaction for the entire community. The "nation"created boundaries between people, preventing cooperation andunity. Therefore, a new international-mindedness was needed tolearn that all people were part of one community. [38]

This cross-national and cultural approach was the antithesis ofthe "competitive" perspective of Park and Burgess andtheir "Chicago" view of the basis of society. For themen described the patriarchal world in which they lived and participated,being both observers and advocates of this perspective.

Cultural feminism not only articulated the superiority of femininevalues for Addams, it also provided a perspective to critiquethe oppression of women in everyday life. A group of women whoepitomized the misuse of women in a capitalistic and exploitativesociety were prostitutes, discussed next.


ENDNOTES

22. Jane Addams, "If Men Were Seeking the Franchise,"Ladies Home Journal (June 1913):104-7. In Jane Addams:A Centennial Reader (hereafter referred to as CentennialReader), ed. Emily Cooper Johnson (New York: Macmillan, 1960),pp. 107- 13.

23. Ibid.. p. 108.

24. Ibid.

25. Ibid.. pp. 110-19.

26. Ibid., p. 110.

27. Ibid.

28. Ibid.. p. 111.

29. Ibid., p. 112.

30. Jane Addams, Democracy and Social Ethics, p. 104.

31. Ibid., p. 6. v

32. Ibid., p. 72.

33. Ibid., p. 84.

34. Ibid., pp. 89-90.

35. Ibid., p. 77.

36. Jane Addams, "Utilization of Women in Government,"in Newer Ideals of Peace (New York: Macmillan, 1907).

37. Jane Addams, "Bread Givers," Rockford (Illinois)Daily Register (21 April 1880). Reprinted in CentennialReader, p. 104.

38. George Herbert Mead, "National-Mindedness and International-Mindedness,"International Journal of Ethics 39 (November 1929):392-407.Mead's concept of democracy and international-mindedness closelyparalleled Addams' thought. See John S. Burger and Mary Jo Deegan,"George Herbert Mead on Internationalism, Democracy and War,"Wisconsin Sociologist 18 (Spring-Summer 1981):72-83.

From Mary Jo Deegan, Jane Addams and the Men of the Chicago School, 1892-1918.New Brunswick NJ: Transaction Books, 1986, pp. 230-233.


Forward to "Prostitution"
Back to "Addams on Cultural Feminism"
Back to the Index