Jane and Her Stepmother

James Linn, as the son of Jane's older sister Mary, knew his auntfor nearly sixty years, her stepmother for several decades, and thewhole Addams family situation with the intimacy of a close relative.Hence he is both authoritative and informative in telling how Jane'sfather came to choose his second wife, and to what extent his choiceinfluenced Jane's own life:

 

"Prosperous, distinguished John Addams needed a wife. One day in1867, as he was driving in to Freeport to the bank, as he did everyday, the thought came into his mind, 'What a good wife for me Mrs.William Haldeman would make!' Now William Haldeman was a citizen ofFreeport, with whom John Addams was well acquainted, and his wife wasa handsome, able woman. Suddenly John Addams realized that he wasconsidering marriage with another man's wife. He was amazed anddispleased with himself. But when he reached town, he was informed atthe bank that 'William Haldeman had died in the night.' What if thethought of Mrs. Haldeman had been sent him for guidance? A year laterhe offered her marriage, and his offer was promptly accepted.

 

"The second Mrs. John Addams was beyond any doubt a remarkableperson. She lived to be ninety-three years of age, and was stillhandsome . . . when she died. She awed her neighbors, though shenever allured them.... She was a skilled musician, giving lessons toFreeport aspirants. She was a constant reader, even of novels, whichin her day and neighborhood were thought by most good people to bedangerous. But she did not confine her reading to novels; she wasfond of reading plays aloud to her family, and as her son George andher stepdaughter Jane grew a little older she would gather them bothround the livingroom table on many an evening, and read Shakespeare,taking the characters turn about. Once in a while even John Addamswas induced to join in this reading-circle, but usually it wasconfined to Mrs. Addams, Jane, and George. Later at Hull-House it wasthe memory of these many evenings of reading aloud that led JaneAddams to put such emphasis on similar 'reading-clubs' for theneighbors. The stepmother played the guitar too, and sang endlesssongs from Tom Moore, whose lyrics she knew by heart, as well as manyothers. She was what in those days was called 'accomplished.'

 

"Mrs. Addams was fond of society; even at ninety an amusing talkerwhen she chose to be; and in the early days after her second marriageshe was determined to have more society than Cedarville afforded. Shewas not only as Mrs. John H. Addams a personage in that section ofIllinois, but she knew herself to be a personage in her own right:well educated, witty, high-spirited, and rich. She meant not toremain in Cedarville. But she encountered a quiet will even strongerthan her own. Not only did the family remain in Cedarville, but in1870, two years after his second marriage, John H. Addams declinedfurther renomination to the state senate. In the preceding sessionhis new wife had gone with him to Springfield as a matter of course,and there had been social wars and rumors of wars, of course in amild way, but disturbing to the senator's mind. He never gave this ashis reason for refusing further renomination, but his wife never hadany doubt that it was his reason, and nagged him about it inconsequence for years.

 

"In all minor matters Mrs. Addams had her own way. Mary, theoldest sister, who had managed the household since she was seventeen,quietly withdrew to Rockford Seminary, where she took lessons on thepiano and in china-painting for a while, and then married la]Presbyterian minister. . . . Alice, too, after a year or so, was sentto Rockford to school. Jane only remained at home, under herstepmother's domination.

 

"It was not a harsh domination, in itself. The little girl and herstepmother were fond of one another, and allowing for theirdifference in ages, had many of the same tastes.... The second Mrs.Addams brought with her to Cedarville her two sons, Harry and GeorgeHaldeman. Harry was eighteen, but George was only seven, six monthsyounger than Jane. Eight years later Harry Haldeman married AliceAddams, after a tempestuous season in which the stepbrother andstepsister, violently in love, were vigorously opposed by the parentsof both. Strong-willed Alice carried it through, though not until thevery last moment was she sure that her father would attend thewedding.... Harry Haldeman did not much affect Jane's life. He was ascynical as she was the reverse....

 

"But the younger brother, George, was, after her father, thedevotion of Jane's girlhood, as they grew up together. Later hewished to marry her, although he resented her social ideals, which heregarded as vague, and he laughed at her sociological inquiries. Intime, from concentration on study, particularly biological researchat Johns Hopkins, he had a nervous breakdown from which he neverfully recovered. But for nine years, from the time they were eightyears old until they were seventeen, when she went away to RockfordSeminary and he to Beloit College, they were inseparable.... WheneverJane Addams wrote or spoke of those nine years, she used always thepronoun 'we,' and it meant always 'Jennie and George.' "

 

The second Mrs. Addams persistently urged Jane to marry George,and Jane just as persistently refused: "Many years afterward, whenboth George and his mother were dead, one summer on the coast ofMaine, Jane Addams used to sit occasionally in those circles which,with their hands resting on the table, await the rappings thatfollow, if any of the company are 'psychic,' and a believer in the'spirits' once informed Jane Addams that she was psychic to a highdegree. At any rate, after a moment or two of silence the table wouldbegin to rap; invariably the first raps would indicate that JaneAddams was being addressed; and she would remark, half whimsicallyand half in boredom, 'Oh, it's my stepmother, of course, it alwaysis. Now she will be reproaching me again for not having marriedGeorge.' And the table would inquire with some petulance, 'How longare you going to keep on with that philanthropic nonsense?' "

 

From Fishwick, Marshall W. Illustrious American: Jane Addams.Pp. 18-19. Morristown, NJ: Silver Burdett Company, 1968.


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