Jane Addams (1860-1935)
exemplified activism dedicated to creating holistic solutions to the challenges
faced by real people.
Inspired in part by the
Toynbee Hall settlement house in London’s East End, where university graduates
lived in community with working class and poor people, Jane Addams and Ellen
Starr founded their own settlement house on Chicago’s west side in 1889.
Chicago was a rapidly
growing industrial and commercial center linking the eastern and western United
States. Thousands of people poured into urban neighborhoods to work for the
city’s factories and merchants, but found the working and living conditions
in industrial districts abominable. Work hours were long, employers did not
pay decent wages, housing was overcrowded, schools were inadequate, city services
like sanitation and police protection were underprovided, crime and disease
were rampant, welfare agencies were overwhelmed, and immigrants were regarded
with suspicion and contempt. Jane Addams could have continued her comfortable,
middle class life. She chose, instead, to move to Hull House and share the
life of the poor and marginalized local community.
Hull House, Addams insisted,
was not a “philanthropy.” It was a solidarity movement. The residents of Hull
House, motivated by the belief that “the good we secure for ourselves is precarious
and uncertain… until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our
common life,” lived in the neighborhood and worked for the common good and
benefit of every person. Each person had equal dignity and value, every neighbor
had a responsibility to do fellow neighbors good, and each person, if given
the opportunity and means, had something to contribute to the benefit of all.
The work of Hull House
began simply, the residents caring for children of working parents and nursing
the sick. By the second year, Hull House provided kindergarten classes in
the morning, club meetings for older children later in the day, and clubs
and educational courses in the evening for adults. Over time the settlement
grew to include an art gallery, a public kitchen, elder care, a coffee house,
a gymnasium, a swimming pool and public baths, literacy and citizenship preparation
classes, health clinics, immunization programs, a book bindery, an art studio,
a music school, a drama program, a circulating library, a cooperative residence
for working women, political discussion groups, a meeting place for labor
unions, a labor museum and an employment center.
Though deeply rooted in
the local neighborhood, Addams’ activism extended well beyond it. She was
devoted to causes like women’s suffrage, the rights of children, the peace
movement, the eradication of racism and other progressive and reform movements.
She served both on Chicago’s Board of Education and as a garbage inspector
for the Nineteenth Ward. She helped to launch the Immigrants’ Protective League,
the Juvenile Protective Association, and the first juvenile court in the United
States. She was a leader in the Consumers’ League, the National Conference
of Charities and Corrections, the Campfire Girls, the National Playground
Association, the National Child Labor Committee, the National Women’s Suffrage
Association, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People,
among many others. She worked for the passage of laws to protect women and
children, for the passage of state and national child labor laws, and against
capital punishment, especially for minors.
Cat Clark is author of "The Truth About Susan B. Anthony: Did One of America's First Feminists Oppose Abortion?" the feature story in the Spring 2007 issue of The American Feminist,® and "Herstory" on Pearl Buck (http://www.feministsforlife.org/taf/2004/spring/Spring04.pdf), and has served as a past editor of The American Feminist.®
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