Jane Addams

More books and articles have been written about Jane Addams thanany other American woman. [4] She captured the dreams, ideals,and imagination of a generation. In the process, her intellectualsignificance was obscured in light of her popular image as a "saint"or "villain," a woman who was larger than life and oftenportrayed as a simple follower of her convictions. [5]

Born in 1860, she was a contemporary of the early Chicago men.Addams was raised in a small Midwestern town where she was profoundlyinfluenced by her father, a Quaker, state senator, and mill owner.Her family background was based on several generations of Americans.In 1879 she entered Rockford Female Seminary, in Rockford, Illinois,which was one of the pioneering colleges for women. Unresponsiveto the religious message of the school, Addams sought to get "backto a great Primal cause--not nature, exactly, but a fosteringMother, a necessity, brooding, and watching over all things, aboveevery human passion." [6] After she graduated in 1881, sheentered an extended period of unhappiness, nervous strain anddepression. Like many of her colleagues, notably George HerbertMead and William James, Addams sought a meaning for her life butrejected traditional religion as an answer to her questions. [7]

This year, 1881, was crucial in her search for a place in theworld. In August, her father died and his absence left her confusedand despairing. But she also entered the Women's Medical Collegein Philadelphia. Before the year was out, she dropped out of medicaltraining and returned home to Cedarville, Illinois. There, shewas caught between the demands of her stepmother, a pressing suitor,and her ambition to have a career. Ill and surrounded by familyproblems, Addams drifted for a year. Finally taking some action,in 1883 she traveled to Europe. Although she was interested inthe problems of the poor at this time, she was not too troubledby their plight. "Socially, too, she was still very muchthe product of her background and education. She was the Victorianyoung lady, the epitome of American feminine innocence that HenryJames was so fond of depicting." [8]

Her family attempted to "enter her" into society, butshe rejected their social plans. She remained frustrated and sickfor the next two years and stayed primarily in Baltimore. Then,once again she traveled to Europe. On this journey, accompaniedby her college friend Ellen Gates Starr, she finally found a directionfor her life.

When she visited Toynbee Hall in London's East End, she becameimpressed with their work for the poor. This social settlementwas associated with Oxford University and was designed to provideleadership to a district populated by the exploited working classes.Emphasizing urban disorganization as a barrier to needed educationand "culture," Toynbee Hall provided a model for Addams'resolution of her personal and occupational crisis.

Years later, she theorized that one of the most difficult tasksfor women was managing the conflicting demands between their "family"and "social" claims. For Addams, this resolution occurredthrough social settlements where she could remain a "lady"while making a social and political impact. Simultaneously, shewas independent of traditional female roles and responsibilitiesin the family and home. Because of these self-benefits for thosewho helped others, she always emphasized both the "subjective"and "objective" needs for social settlements. This stresson the dual function of settlements prevented her from becomingthe sentimental or insensitive "matrician" she is oftenportrayed as being. With her internal battle in abeyance, shequickly succeeded in assuming leadership of the American socialsettlement movement and subsequently altered the course of Americanthought and politics.

This dramatic public role began soon after she returned to theUnited States in January 1889. Addams and Starr moved to Chicagoand rented an apartment there. Within a few months they movedonto one floor of a house owned by the Culver and Hull family."Hull-House," as it was called, quickly abandoned theBritish Toynbee Hall model and became more egalitarian, more female-dominated,and less religious. These changes were important intellectualinnovations, often implemented by Addams but frequently instigatedby the women with whom she surrounded herself. Moreover, in 1892the University of Chicago opened its doors bringing many facultymembers, predominantly men, as visitors and lecturers to Hull-House.But it was Addams and Hull-House who were the leader and leadinginstitution in Chicago in the 1890s, not the University of Chicago.Not only was she the charismatic head of a rapidly expanding socialmovement, but she was also considered one of the leading sociologistsof her day.

The 1890s were lively and controversial years at Hull-House. Anarchists,Marxists, socialists, unionists, and leading social theoristscongregated there. [9] John Dewey and George Herbert Mead, amongothers, were frequent visitors, lecturers, and close friends ofAddams. [10] Chicago pragmatism was born through their collegialcontacts and intellectual exchanges. They wanted to combine scientificand objective observation with ethical and moral values to generatea just and liberated society. A groundbreaking sociological text,Hull-House Maps and Papers, was published by Hull-Houseresidents in 1893, predating and establishing the interests ofthe early Chicago male sociologists. During this time, Hull-Houseand Addams gained a national and international reputation as aradical, innovative, and successful institution. Oriented towardsocial change, they articulated an American dream, particularlyadapted to bright, educated, Anglo women who wanted a new rolein life and society."

Addams surrounded herself with brilliant and dedicated people,particularly women. These women formed a core group who livedat the settlement, wrote together, gathered statistics, investigatedfactories and industries, conducted health examinations, examinedsanitary conditions, lobbied for legislative and political reform,and organized for social betterment in their congested, immigrant,working-class district. Out of this welter of activity, Addamswas the charismatic leader who translated the "facts"into everyday language, articulating the problems and needs ofthe community, and forming American ideals and social thought.[12]

Author of eleven books and hundreds of articles, Addams continuedher teaching and educating efforts through lectures across thecountry and at Hull-House. She became the spokesperson of herera and, in particular, for women and the working-class immigrant.She led social reform organizations, campaigned for the ProgressiveParty, and helped to found numerous government agencies--notablythe Childrens, Women's, and Immigration Bureaus. She practicedand advocated free speech for all and "radical democracy--shebelieved that equality must extend beyond citizenship rights andpervade all aspects of economic and social life. A "criticalpragmatist" (defined and discussed in detail in chapters10 and 11), she sought not only answers to problems, but thoseanswers that were in the best interests of all, including thepoor and disenfranchised.

Addams was a cultural feminist and her views on women were littleunderstood then or now. Having a popular image as a "saintly"woman who worked for the poor, Addams in fact believed that femalevalues were superior to male ones and that a society built onfeminine values would be more productive, peaceful, and just.Despite the lack of complete understanding of her intellectualthought, her innovative and critical ideas were accepted by thepublic for over two decades, when she was the "Saint Jane"of the popular press. Simultaneously, she was an intellectualleader in sociology as well as in related disciplines.

Only her pacifist ideas were truly understood in terms of theirradical import. As a pacifist prior to World War I, Addams waslauded as a "good woman." However, with the buildingof patriotic feeling from 1913 until America's entry into thewar in 1917, she became the increasing target of animosity andpersonal attack. By 1917 she was socially and publicly ostracized.She went from being a saint to a villain. Booed off speaking platforms,abandoned by her friends, colleagues, and, most notably here,other sociologists, Addams was a social pariah.

This was an agonizing time for her. Committed to her values basedon "feminine" ideals, she maintained her pacifist position.The culmination of her politically untouchable status occurredin 1919, when she was targeted by the U.S. government as the mostdangerous woman in America. It is at this point that this bookends, for after 1919 Addams' role as a sociologist rapidly declinedand she was ostracized by succeeding generations of sociologistsuntil the present. [13] To summarize the remainder of her life,however, is important for understanding her total impact on Americanthought.

In 1920, women were granted the franchise, and to Addams and manyother suffragists this was a major victory. Contrary to theirexpectations of a powerful women's vote, the decade of the 1920sled to an eclipse of the former power of women activists, includingAddams. In addition, Progressive leadership was squelched followingWorld War I and the liberal vision of a changing, optimistic,and scientifically rational society was doomed. Addams graduallyresumed leadership in American thought during this decade, butit was primarily the impact of the Depression which once againrestored her to the forefront of American leadership. [14] Winnerof the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, Addams became the spokespersonfor many of the values and policies adopted during the New Deal.She and her female colleagues were instrumental in establishingsocial security and many other government programs which alteredthe nature of American capitalism. Dying in 1935 she was mournedworldwide as a great leader and interpreter of American thought.

Surrounded by the imagery of a "good and noble woman,"she was able to articulate radical changes in American life andpolitics, altering the possibilities for human growth and actionfor the working class, immigrants, youth, the aged, and women.On the one hand, her significant contributions to public lifeare well known and lauded. On the other hand, her intellectualstature is barely appreciated, and her contributions to sociologytotally obscured. [15] This intellectual biography begins a seriousreevaluation and assessment of her social thought and its impacton this profession and discipline. The first and most superficialstep is to establish her credentials as a sociologist.


4. See Davis, American Heroine, p. vii.

5. Ibid.

6. Jane Addams to Ellen Gates Starr, 11 August 1879. Starr Papers,Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.

7. Addams' life is documented in many sources. Those used primarilyhere were Farrell, Beloved Lady, Davis, American Heroine;and Linn, Jane Addams. Their information is based on archivalevidence or personal knowledge of Addams and is mutually reinforcing.

8. Davis, American Heroine. p. 35.

9. The best account of these early years is presented by JaneAddams, Twenty Years at Hull-House, hereafter referredto as Twenty Years.

10. Mead is discussed in-depth throughout this book. See esp.chs. 2, 4, 9. Dewey's friendship with Addams is documented byJane Dewey, "Biography of John Dewey," in The Philosophyof John Dewey, ed. Paul A. Schilpp (New York: Tudor,1951, c. 1939), pp. 1-45. See also Jane Addams, Twenty Years,pp. 236-37, 435; John Dewey, "Introduction," in JaneAddams, Peace and Bread in Time of War (Boston:Hall, 1960. c. 1918, 1922). Jane Addams wrote the eulogy for Dewey'sson Gordon, reprinted in The Excellent Becomes Permanent(New York: Macmillan, 1932). Dewey even named his daughter afterJane Addams. He is central to Chicago Sociology, but documentingthis is beyond the scope of this book. See C. Wright Mills foran introductory analysis of the topic in Sociology andPragmatism, ed. and intro. by Irving Louis Horowitz (NewYork: Paine-Whitman. 1964).

11. See ch. 2 in this volume.

12. The best documentations of her influence can be found in thebooks mentioned in note 3 above. See also a general overview ofthe contributions of Hull-House in Eighty Years at Hull-House,ed. Allen F. Davis and Mary Lynn McCree (Chicago: Quadrangle,1969); Jane Addams, Twenty Years; and The SecondTwenty Years at Hull-House, with the latter book hereafterreferred to as Forty Years. One of the few serious, althoughlimited, treatments of Addams' intellectual thought is the workby Christopher Lasch. See his introduction to the collected writingsof Addams, The Social Thought of Jane Addams (Indianapolis,Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965), pp. vii-xxvii; and The New Radicalismin America, 1889-1963 (New York: Knopf, 1965).

13. Davis' excellent documentation of the red-baiting of Addamsand other women sociologists is discussed in American Heroine,ch. 14, "The Most Dangerous Woman in American," pp.251-81.

14. Ibid., p. 282.

15. In addition to the books noted above, two articles also examineher intellectual contributions: Merle Curti, "Jane Addamson Human Nature," Journal of the History of Ideas22 (April-June 1961):240-53; and Staughton Lynd. "Jane Addamsand the Radical Impulse," Commentary 32 (July 1961):54-59.

From Mary Jo Deegan, Jane Addams and the Men of the Chicago School, 1892-1918.New Brunswick NJ: Transaction Books, 1986, pp. 4-7.

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