A Final Evaluation of Addams' Contributions to Sociology

Addams helped shape American sociology in a fundamental way. Herearly work in HH Maps and Papers set the intellectualprecedent for decades of work now recognized as "ChicagoSociology." Her participation in Chicago Sociology was intrinsicto its agenda, its brilliance, and it role in American life andpolitics.

Her two major streams of thought, cultural feminism and criticalpragmatism, provide a rich heritage for scholars and Americans.She articulated a view of society based on the American experienceand the social thought of her age. Patriarchal worldviews preventedan institutionalization of her work in sociology and her epistemologicalleadership was hidden.

Despite this historical distortion of her role as a sociologist,her work with the early men of the Chicago School was significant.Her influence on them and their relationships to her are categorizedand summarized in Table 12.2. Three different patterns of relationshipscan be discerned.

TABLE 12.2

SMALLcentral, esp. economic issuesfrequent visitorused in class, supported publicationsupported Doctrine of separate spheres, sex segregation at Chicagoadmiring colleague; AJS honorary Ph.D. worked on social reform issues
HENDERSONcentral, esp. social settlementsfrequent visitor and lecturerused in writings, probably also in classesmixture of traditional religious views and liberal rightscolleague, working on numerous projects with similar social reform goals, supported social settlements
ZEUBLINcentral, especially social settlementsresident and frequent visitor and lecturercontributor, used mapping methodologysupported suffragecolleague, supported Fabian sociology
VINCENTcentral, esp. Chautauqua Educationfrequent visitorprobably more liberal than Small but believed in Doctrine of Separate Spherescolleague in Chautauqua Programs
THOMASvital, but theory and practice part of division of laborfrequent visitor and lecturer, actively supported affiliated causesstudied immigrants and urban problems (social disorganizational)dramatic change in ideas from Social Darwinist to egalitariancolleague on topics of women, espec. prostitution, immigrants, and juvenile delinquency
MEADintegral to theory of self and societyfrequent visitor, lecturer, active supported of affiliated orgs. and causesfavored mapping methodologybasically egalitariancolleague, esp. in reference to pragmatism and role of social reform in everyday life
BURGESSmixed, more favorable in early part of careerdistant admirerused mapping methodology, mixed evaluationmixed ideas; appeared to be enacting Doctrine of Separate Spheresadmired image of woman on the pedestal
PARKmixed, virulantly anti-reform ideologieslittle or no contactused mapping methodology, studied urban lifesexistknew of Addams

The first network concerns Small, Henderson, Zeublin, and Vincent.Called here the "religious men," this group worked veryclosely with Addams for almost a quarter of a century. Small,Henderson, and Zeublin were all trained in the ministry and theiruse of religious assumptions marks their work in a distinctiveway. Small and Vincent shared similar interests in elite educationand a more conservative view of women. Henderson and Zeublin wereparticularly close to the social settlement movements and activelyturned to Addams for intellectual and moral leadership. Mapping,education, social settlements, the economy, and criminal reformswere all topics central to Addams' sociological contributionsand the work done by these men. She was more radical, less sexist,and more intellectually challenging than these men. Nonetheless,they shared a basic core of common interests, work, and historicalcontext. All four men were actively associated with Addams, Hull-House,and the study of the city and its reform.

Mead and Thomas formed with Addams a significant intellectualforce and influence on American thought. The least sexist of themen, they more willingly accepted Addams as a colleague and broughttheir personal lives and professional careers together. The considerableoverlap in their ideas and work needs to be examined in greaterdepth than is possible here. Mead was most influenced by Addams'critical pragmatism, particularly supporting her concepts of democraticchange, the need for communication, and the flexibility of humannature. Thomas, too, shared an interest in immigrants and juvenileswho were undergoing rapid social change in the new American city. Of all the men, he was the most influenced by her work with womenand thereby formed a unique relationship to her thought concerningthe role of women in modernizing society.

Finally, Park and Burgess inherited the wealth of concepts andmethodologies generated by these early sociologists (see Table1.1 showing the in-bred male patterns of recruitment). Park andBurgess had the most minimal contacts with Addams, but their intellectualdebt to her was great. The most sexist of the men, the most opposedto social reform, and part of a new generation of sociologicalthought, Park and Burgess signaled the end of Addams' direct influenceon the men of the Chicago School

The changes in the relationships that occurred with these threesubgroups of men were integrally related to their historical contexts. Political limitations on the academy; changing social currentsfanned by unionization, the women's movement, progressive thought,and World War I; and the processes of increasing industrialization,urbanization, and bureaucratization were large social forces inwhich these sociologists lived, wrote, and acted. These largertides are reflected in Addams' relationships to the Chicago men.Out of this vortex of change, a clear pattern emerges. Addamswas not only integral to the development of the "ChicagoSchool," she was one of its founders.

Despite her brilliance, a number of errors in her thought areglaringly obvious. She overestimated the stability of the women'snetwork and her leadership of it. She thought progress was moreimminent and rational than it was. Her worldview was too idealisticin its interpretation of the power of patriarchy. Physical powerand coercion were more dominant and accepted parts of societythan she thought. Although she decried rampant inequalities insociety, her power resulted from her being accepted by the elite.She thought this acceptance arose from the intrinsically humanbonds that crossed lines of differences, but her role as an intellectualand public leader was more tied to the historical context thanshe realized. Despite her massive programs for social action (andmost of them were successfully adopted), Addams believed morein the power of ideas than in the material world.

She basically segregated her ideas about cultural feminism fromher ideas about critical pragmatism. Although these two epistemologiesappeared to overlap, she wrongly assumed that society was embeddedin the cultural feminism enacted by women. She thought that womenvoters would overturn the power of male viewpoints thereby showingthe greater resiliency, justice, and humanity of the feminine,cooperative worldview. In this, she erred. Women voters turnedto men for guidance, and women politicians did not gain ascendancy. Physical coercion and bedlam in World War I, World War II, Korea,and Vietnam, to list only a few conflicts, have repeatedly shownthat ours is a murderous and violent age, supported by women voters.

Despite these major weaknesses in her thought, Addams' ideas werepowerful and innovative. Her writings, lifestyle, commitments,and implementation of knowledge in everyday life dramaticallyaltered the course of American life. She is one of the most influentialAmerican sociologists, and a comprehensive examination of herimpact on sociology has only been initiated here.

As Americans enter another dark economic time, questions concerningthe work of sociology, the meaning of community and democracy,and the social construction of equality are once more pressingissues. Although Addams partially failed in her work, she alsosucceeded beyond most of our dreams. Her own words are the mostapt for guiding us in the future:

If we believe that the individual struggle for life may wideninto a struggle for the lives of all, surely the demand of anindividual for decency and comfort, for a chance to work and obtainthe fullness of life may be widened until it gradually embracesall the members of the community and rises into a sense of thecommon weal. [34]


34. Jane Addams, Democracy and Social Ethics (New York:Macmillan, 1902), p.

From Mary Jo Deegan, Jane Addams and the Men of the Chicago School, 1892-1918.New Brunswick NJ: Transaction Books, 1986, pp. 323-326.

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