The Significance of Addams as a Sociologist

Because Addams is now recognized as one of the greatest womenleaders of the United States, it is necessary to address the issueof the importance of documenting her role in one, predominantlyacademic, discipline. There are several vital reasons why thisis a task affecting more than an esoteric minority.

First, Addams is a major intellectual who interpreted Americanlife, its heritage, and values. She is a social theorist of majorproportions, but because her most radical ideas are unpopularand she has been stigmatized by being reduced to an image of womanhood,her intellectual leadership has been obscured. Lasch's book onher social thought is an excellent exception to this treatment,and there are a few other texts on her life that counter thistrend toward adulation rather than analysis. [42] This book,then, is part of a larger body of work documenting Addams as aforce shaping American thought.

Second, this neglect of a major American theorist is partiallydue to patriarchal ideology. When an intellectual of such magnitudecan be neglected and distorted, it is clear that the fate of lesseminent, but nonetheless significant, women analysts is similar. This book documents the process of selectively using Addams'social thought in sociology while denying her significant contributionsto it. Simultaneously, knowledge of other segments of her thoughthas been repressed and her sociological leadership denied.

Third, the social thought itself is underanalyzed and has potentialimpact on the future of ideas in the United States, if not internationally. Addams was an articulate theorist of women's roles and valuesas well as a critical thinker of social institutions and socialchange. This thought is worthy of re-examination in its own right.

Fourth, Addams profoundly affected the course of American sociology. The discipline, then, needs to examine its roots in her workin order to understand its own history and epistemology. Concomitantly,the sexism of sociology is revealed in the study of Addams' thoughtand professional affiliations.

And fifth, Addams was the leader of an extensive network of womensociologists. This entire group of women, ranging in number betweenfifty and 100, formed a complex network of professional ties,institutions, social activism, and intellectual contributionsthat has never been seriously analyzed. This vast world of Americanwomen professionals has been submerged in a patriarchal societyand its academic disciplines. Documentation of this wide andinfluential group and the study of its erasure from history wouldrequire a series of books. [43] This volume is an introductionto this other world, where Addams was the spokesperson for womenwho were later to be disenfranchised.

Any of the above reasons would be sufficient to justify an examinationof Addams as a sociologist. As a set of reasons, they are impelling. Addams' career as a sociologist was a significant one, althoughit does not encompass her entire contributions to American society,social thought, or academic development. Her greatness exceedsher influence on this one profession. Nonetheless, an analysisof Addams the sociologist reveals a role, her intellectual leadership,and the broad practice of sociological patriarchy that cannotbe shown in any other way. She is the key to understanding anera and a discipline.


ENDNOTES

42. Jane Addams, The Social Thought of Jane Addams, ed.Lasch; Davis, American Heroine. Another book which partiallydemystified Addams' leadership is Farrell's Beloved Lady. As its title suggests, however, there is still an overlay ofmythmaking as "lady" and an emotional image in thiswork. Two excellent articles are Lynd, "Jane Addams andthe Radical Impulse," and Curti, "Jane Addams on HumanNature." Although there are some other good resources, especiallyfor documentation of her life and career, there are literallyhundreds of articles on Addams that refer to her saintliness (orvillainy) and mythologize her public image. As a group of writings,they symbolize Addams as an unreflective but often holy woman.

43. A large segment of this women's network was located at orthrough the University of Chicago and Hull-House. See Mary JoDeegan, "Women in Sociology: 1890- 1930," Journalof the History of Sociology 1 (Fall 1978): 11 -34;and "Early Women Sociologists and the American SociologicalSociety." Other women sociologists are also briefly examinedin a number of other articles. See Barbara Keating, "ElsieClews Parsons," Journal of the History of Sociology 1 (Fall 1978):1- 1. The writings of a series of women sociologistsare summarized in the articles written by Deegan for the AmericanWomen Writers series ( New York: Ungar Publishing. 1978-81). These include entries on Sophonisba Breckinridge, Edith Abbott,Emily Green Balch, Marion Talbot, and Helen Merrell Lynd. Seealso Mary Jo Deegan, "Sociology at Wellesley College. 1900-1919," Journal of the History of Sociology 6 (December1983):91-115.

From Mary Jo Deegan, Jane Addams and the Men of the Chicago School, 1892-1918.New Brunswick NJ: Transaction Books, 1986, pp. 13-15.


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