When I permanently moved to Chicago in the early seventies, I volunteered at Jane Addams Center Hull House on Broadway, a northside branch of the original Hull House. (In the early 60s, 12 of the original 13 buildings of Hull House had been torn down to build UIUC). I took art classes there and later taught a few of those art classes myself. Lera Crohn (whose husband was the family physician to Loeb of Leopold and Loeb) ran the art department when I first came. Later I became the director of the art program.
The center still had the cachet then of progressive politics that first informed its founding in 1889. Political meetings (including Bill Singer’s run against Richard M. Daley in 1975), political theater, opportunities for social justice activism, literacy courses, legal aid, childcare, the Lakeview food pantry, art classes, and other programs for the working class, the poor, and seniors were offered in response to community needs. Energy around transforming society was palpable and creative solutions to problems were encouraged and celebrated. However, economics pushed the center to close its doors in 2002 (hard-pressed to keep up with the demand for services) and presently the Broadway center is the trendy Lakeview Health Club in a gentrified neighborhood. The umbrella organization, Jane Addams Hull House Association itself, filed for bankruptcy in 2012.
Today is Jane Addams’ birthday, a remarkable woman whose legacy of social reform, societal transformation, and progressive politics seems to have been trashed by the tea party and libertarian right who feel equity is entitlement and social justice is undemocratic.
The following is her obituary printed in the New York Times on May 22, 1935, a day after she died. Clearly an activist’s life well-lived — a powerful reminder to move beyond frustration and discouragement in this climate of selfishness and greed. And her pacifism becomes even more powerful and meaningful as we speed our way toward a new war in Syria.
Jane Addams: A Foe of War and Need
At Hull House, in the squalid slums of Chicago’s West Side, Jane Addams, a priestess of understanding among neighbors and of peace among nations, kept open hours for prince and pauper alike. It was her shrine and it will remain her monument.
This pioneer settlement house, which she founded forty-six years ago, blazed the trail for a scientific approach to the relief of poverty and suffering and was the parent of much of the social legislation of the last four decades.
Its founder and director, despite poor health, was the inspiration and fighting force behind a score of movements for reform and the betterment of mankind. Of all the causes she espoused, the dearest to her heart was the cause of disarmament and peace.
For her life-long devotion to this ideal, she, with Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University, received the Nobel Peace Prize, her share of which she characteristically turned over to further the cause of peace.
Honored by Many Universities
More than a dozen universities, including Smith, Yale, Wisconsin and Chicago, recognized her achievements with honorary degrees and in May, 1931, Bryn Mawr bestowed upon her the M. Carey Thomas Prize of $5,000, awarded intermittently “to an American woman in recognition of eminent achievements.”
On that occasion appreciation of her work came from President Hoover , President Masaryk of Czechoslovakia and Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, who had been a visitor at Hull House on one of his trips to the United States. On May 2, only a few weeks before her death, Miss Addams was the guest of honor at a dinner in Washington, at which she was hailed as one of the greatest living women by Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Secretary Ickes.
“Mother of Social Service”
Miss Addams has been called “the greatest woman in the world,” the “mother of social service,” “the greatest woman internationalist” and the “first citizen of Chicago.” With her idealism, serene, unafraid, militant, was always paramount. Devoted to the cause of social and political reform, to the betterment of the economic condition of the masses, to world peace and to internationalism, Miss Addams’s influence was world-wide. She was, perhaps, the world’s best-known and best-loved woman.
She made enemies. Her views were sometimes considered dangerously radical. Socialists and other radicals met at Hull House, and her opponents sometimes forgot that her liberal attitude in permitting such meetings did not include a membership in the groups she tolerated. In the World War her efforts for peace were unabated even when the United States entered the struggle and the wartime hysteria which ensued obscured for a time the American public’s realization of Miss Addams’s purity of purpose and character.
World peace was forever dear to her heart, and from the time of the war she became more and more active in its behalf. But she did not ignore other causes. Lavishly she gave of herself to fight child labor, to lead political causes such as those of Colonel Roosevelt and the Progressive Party in 1912 and of Senator La Follette and his Progressives of 1924, to battle for disarmament, for insurance against unemployment, old age and poverty, for woman suffrage and for equal rights of women. But she never left Hull House, her starting place, and remained as its resident head until her death.
She lectured from end to end of the United States. All over Europe and Asia she traveled, everywhere striving to alleviate the suffering of the masses, everywhere serene, helpful, capable, dauntless. She wrote many books. In each she pledged herself anew to fight for justice as she saw it.
Of Quaker Ancestry
Miss Addams was born in Cedarville, Ill., on Sept. 6, 1860, of Quaker ancestry. Had she chosen it, this woman who gave herself so unselfishly to the cause of the poor, the ignorant and the oppressed, could have enjoyed wealth and social position.
Her father, John H. Addams, a friend of Abraham Lincoln, was a banker who served from 1854 to 1870 in the Illinois Senate. Lincoln’s creed of the equality of men became Miss Addams’s ideal as a child.
In one of her books Miss Addams wrote:
“My father always spoke of the martyred President as Mr. Lincoln, and I never heard the great name without a thrill. I remember the day–it must have been one of comparative leisure, perhaps a Sunday–when at my request my father took out of his desk a thin packet marked ‘Mr. Lincoln’s Letters,’ the shortest one of which bore unmistakable traces of that remarkable personality. These letters began ‘My Dear Double D-‘ed Addams,’ and to the inquiry as to how the person thus addressed was about to vote on a certain measure then before the Legislature was added the assurance that he knew this Addams ‘would vote according to his conscience.'”
She wrote also that the first exciting suggestion “of the great world of moral enterprise and serious undertakings” came when she was 12 and she found her father mourning over the death of Giuseppe Mazzini, the Italian patriot. Her father explained how Mazzini had striven all his life for the freedom of his country.
“I obtained,” she wrote, “a sense of the genuine relationship which may exist between men who share large hopes and like desires, even though they differ in nationality, language and creed; that those things count for absolutely nothing between groups for men who are trying to abolish slavery in America or to throw off Hapsburg oppression in Italy.”
As a child Miss Addams regarded herself as an ugly duckling. She said she was pigeon-toed and twisted in the back so that her head leaned slightly to one side and she didn’t want to have any one know she was the daughter of so fine a man as her father. But surgery cured her deformities and she became a young woman described as “beautiful, not pretty,” “beautiful because of her remarkable expression.” She became, too, graceful, erect, with a fine carriage.
After she was graduated from Rockford College in 1881, Miss Addams went abroad to complete her education. It was not the Alps, the art galleries or the cathedrals that impressed her, but rather the slums of the great cities. More than ever she was determined to dedicate her life to the service of the poor.
She went to London and there saw Toynbee Hall, the first settlement house in the world. She was greatly impressed as she was by the European slums she visited. Returning to the United States, she was ill for some months and then, in 1888, she studied for a time in Philadelphia.
In 1889, when she was 29 years old, Miss Addams and Miss Ellen Gates Starr, her friend, founded Hull House at 800 South Halsted Street, Chicago, “in the midst of horrid little houses” of the slums. Four years previously the stately red brick mansion had been built by Charles J. Hull on the outskirts of the city. By 1889, however, it stood in the heart of one of the most miserable neighborhoods of the city. The owner, Miss Helen Culver, gave the two women a free leasehold to the house and later to the land about it, on which twelve additional buildings were built.
Hull House Opened in 1889
Miss Addams moved into Hull House in September, 1889, and it was her home thereafter. It was then between a saloon and an undertaking shop, and there was an annex to a factory in its rear. Thousands of the foreign born–Miss Addams always held welcoming arms to the strangers–including Poles, Jews, Russians, Italians, Greeks, Germans, Irish and Bohemians were welcomed there. Negroes were also cordially received.
Persons later to be famous lived there in those early days. Among them were Mr. and Mrs. Gerald Swope, who were married there, Mackenzie King, later Premier of Canada, Francis Hackett, and Professor John Dewey, dean of American philosophers, and his family.
Hull House grew to be known as one of the largest and best-known of the nation’s settlements. It commenced with the ordinary activities of children’s clubs and free kindergartens and later it sponsored courses in languages, literature, music, painting, history, mathematics, elocution, dancing, wood-carving, pottery, metal work, bookbindery, dressmaking, lacework, cooking and basketwork. A labor museum was also established at Hull House.
Dozens of clubs were organized to aid working women. A lunch room was opened, as was a nursery for the children of employed women. There was also a gymnasium, a natatorium, a penny savings bank, a lodging house, as well as a circulating library and an employment bureau. Miss Addams personally directed all these activities, which were models for hundreds of others throughout the world.
Was Named Garbage Inspector
She also became known for her work in the neighborhood, the Nineteenth Ward. So disturbed was she by the condition of the streets in the ward that she obtained the post of garbage inspector, which she filled with her characteristic successful thoroughness for three years, until, as she later explained, a politician coveted it for one of his henchmen.
She was early concerned with the welfare of young women who had been led astray or abandoned. She cared for them, for their children, and fought for better conditions for all unfortunate women. The social evil, she once said, made a $15,000,000 yearly profit for vice panderers and she blamed much of this evil on the cold attitude of the church, the “good” women and on the laws which, she said, often were unfair to women and far too lenient toward their male oppressors.
In 1909 Miss Addams became president of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections and served in that post with distinction. Her fight for world peace began early. She had an abhorrence for bloodshed and violence. In January, 1915, when the Woman’s Peace Party was organized, she was chosen president.
Helped to Form Peace Congress
In April, 1915, she helped to organize and became president of the Woman’s International League for Peace and Freedom, then called the Woman’s International Peace Congress, which she headed until 1929, when she became honorary international president. The first meeting, held in April, 1915, at The Hague, was, in many respects, a stormy one, as it was attended by women from all of the warring countries, as well as most of the neutral ones.
After the conference Miss Addams toured Europe in an effort to persuade the heads of the belligerent nations to make peace. But she found that the war spirit was dominant. The movement for a conference to offer continuous mediation, which she backed, was checked by the refusal of President Wilson to move in the matter.
Henry Ford then offered to convey several hundred Americans to Europe on a peace mission. Miss Addams intended to sail, but could not, as she was desperately ill in Chicago at the time the Oscar II sailed. The Lusitania had been sunk by this time and American patriotism became so vehement as to cause resentment against Miss Addams.
She was horrified at the sinking, but said that “talk of reprisal and aggression can only increase the spirit of bitterness.” She opposed going to war over the case and continued to cooperate with those who wanted to stop the war.
After the war declaration in April, 1917, she met measures for strengthening of the blockade of the Central Powers with the declaration that the United States “should not allow the women and children of any nation to starve.” She declared later that “the feelings of German-born Americans should have been considered before the United States entered the war.”
She was never accused of being pro-German, but was much criticized for her pacifism. After the war she presided at international conferences of the league in Zurich in 1919, in Vienna in 1921, in The Hague in 1922, in Washington in 1924, in Dublin in 1926 and at Prague in 1929. Always in her peace work she was forward looking. It was noted that in the resolutions adopted at the first conference in 1915 many of President Wilson’s Fourteen Points were forecast. In 1924 much opposition was manifested in this country to the conference, to which Miss Addams replied gracefully, without rancor.
In politics she was always liberal. She seconded the nomination of Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 for the Presidency by the Progressive party and in 1924 was a member of the Committee of 100 which supported La Follette and his party. In 1916 she cast her first vote for Wilson, regretting that she was too ill to campaign for him, as she had for Roosevelt four years before.
Endorsed Progressives of 1912
The 1912 Progressive fight, she said, was the fight for humankind and for human welfare. The social justice planks of the party that year appealed strongly to her. Then, as at all other times, she kept on fighting for the causes she stood for. She supported Hoover in 1928.
Miss Addams was a dry, but said in 1930 that the Eighteenth Amendment was “only two- thirds enforced.” She opposed violence by prohibition agents. She viewed with equanimity the shortening of women’s dress in 1921 and held that there was no objection to cigarette smoking by women. She declared that it was “all nonsense about women degenerating” and that they were merely following the fashion. In 1922 she said that girls, in her opinion, were growing morally better.
She continued to fight for her ideals as the years progressed and often interceded for political prisoners or for persons barred from entry into the United States because of their political or social views. In 1920 she said that a “modification of our ideal of private property is at hand,” adding that “nothing is more certain than the imminence of social change.”
Aided in Feeding Germans
She had previously asked for liberal peace terms for Germany and, in 1919-20, had worked in Germany to feed starving children. She opposed also secret treaties and advocated entrance of the United States into the League of Nations and endorsed the Pact of Paris and the principles of disarmament.
She wrote two books on Hull House, the first, published in 1919, entitled “Twenty Years at Hull-House” and the second, in 1930, entitled “The Second Twenty Years at Hull-House.” She always used a hyphen in describing Hull House. In the first she told of the development of the settlement and in the second of her life outside, of her fight for peace, her expulsion from the D.A.R., the progress of women in India, of juvenile courts and of hundreds of other matters close to her heart.
She was the author, also, of “Democracy and Social Ethics,” in 1902; “Newer Ideals of Peace,” 1907; “The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets,” 1910; “The Long Road of Women’s Memory,” 1916, and “Peace and Bread in Time of War,” 1922. She also wrote articles on social and political reform.
While visiting Japan in 1923, Miss Addams underwent a serious operation. She never fully recovered her strength and on the very day of the announcement that she and Dr. Butler had won the Nobel Prize she entered Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for another operation.
Of Miss Addams, Professor Halfdan Kort of the Nobel Prize committee said:
“In honoring Miss Addams we also pay homage to the work which women can do for the cause of peace and fraternity among nations. Miss Addams does not speak much, but her quiet, kind-hearted personality creates an atmosphere of good-will, which instinctively calls forth the best in all.”
Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt once said that her list of the country’s greatest women would be headed by Miss Addams. “I do not base her greatness on Hull House,” she explained, “important as that contribution is. Far more remarkable is the human trait of sticking to that project all her life. She made it a success. She stuck through when it was a success. That is a rare thing to do–to stick to a success.”