Saturday, February 4, 2012


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History has long since been recording events that have shaped the society in which we live. However, most of these events have occurred at the hands of a male, and they have had a direct impact on our position as a world leader. Yet, if one looks hard enough and long enough, other important people and events stand out. Jane Addams, and her work for the betterment of all mankind, shines as an example of such a person who single handily impacted the world in which she lived. It is interesting then to look at the woman behind the history. Knowing about her life, her works, and her famous “firsts,” lets a student of history understand her position and its impact.

Just seven months prior to the Civil war, Jane Addams was born in Cedarville, Illinois. The date was September 6, 1860. Her mother died when Jane was only two; Mary, her oldest sister, took over her care. Jane was born with a spinal problem unique to doctors of the time. “This problem caused Jane to walk pigeon--toed with her head tilted slightly to one side.”(Theme 1) Since children of this time were taught to walk with their toes turned out, Jane gave the grown-ups cause for worry. Jane did not stay motherless for long. Her father married the widow of William Haldeman. William had been her father, John Huy Addams’s, best friend. When her new mother arrived, she also brought her two boys. The oldest one, Harry, did not spend the time with Jane that George, the younger one, did. George was only a few months younger than Jane, and he proved to be a great companion to her. He had a great impact on her ideals of life. Jane, too, was apparently very close to her father. “John Huy Addams was a successful businessman and politician who tried to pass on to his daughter his ideals of hard work, achievement, democracy, and equality.”(Important 1) “Growing up a Quaker, she lived the traditional beliefs of hospitality. At night everyone’s bedroom door was closed and the hall would be dark. The front door of the house would be unlocked.” (Theme 1) These ideals, and close family/stepfamily relationship stayed with her throughout her college years at Rockford Female Seminary. “Rockford Female Seminary had reinforced what Jane had learned at home from her father and two mothers Christian ethics, the importance of being good and doing good, a broad role for women, a stress on accomplishing great things.”(Levine 16 & ) Upon completion of her studies at Rockford, Jane enrolled in Women’s Medical College. Her education here would not be completed due to a serious ailment to her already frail back. After surgery and six months in bed, she went to Europe to find her purpose in life. During her travels through several European cities, she had a glimpse of a lifestyle that was opposite to the one of privilege that she knew as she grew up. “She visited Toynbee Hall, the very first community center established to tackle the problems of poverty in the cities.”(Theme ) Upon her return from Europe, and deeply moved by the experiences, she took an apartment in Chicago with her friend, Ellen Starr. These two women began a campaign to make a difference in the lives of nineteenth century people.

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Jane and Ellen took it upon themselves to change a system that treated people differently based on their position in society. Obtaining support was not as difficult as it might first appear. The two young ladies were sincere in their quest to help the less fortunate to a better life. This sincerity was obvious to benefactors as they got behind the women. Their first exposure to the world of philanthropy was with Armour Mission. “Armour Mission, a non-sectarian educational institution, was founded in 1886. It included a kindergarten, library, literary societies, and lectures, a free medical dispensary, a kitchen garden, a sewing or workroom for women, nurseries and bathrooms.”(Farrell 5-54) During this time, Jane continued to strive towards reaching and assisting more people. Her works gave her the opportunity to speak to large, powerful groups who took up her cause. But, Jane did not just do the “speaking.” She would not hesitate to get personally involved. “Often, Jane would accompany truant agents on their rounds to discover the areas of the city where school absenteeism was highest. She also was escorted to areas of particularly heavy need by relief officers from the Charity Organization Society.” (Farrell 55) When the organizations took note of her efforts support quickly followed as she attempted to open the now famous Hull House. Endorsements from the various groups, both philanthropic and religious, along with those who were already working with immigrants, allowed her to make her dreams of providing help for “the starvation struggle which makes up the life of at least half of the human race.”(Farrell 56-5) Hull House evolved slowly. The first activities were very basic. They started with a reading party. Then providing hot lunches, child care, and tutoring were added to the party activities. Later, Hull House was listed to have had Chicago’s first public baths, gymnasium, public playground, little theater, citizenship preparation classes, public kitchen, college extension courses, free art exhibits, public swimming pool, boy scout troop, Hull House attempted to provide whatever was needed. Addams believed that it allow people to help put an end to the “great struggle which makes up the life of at least half of the human race.” (Farrell 56-5) But providing for the lack of necessities was not all she did. Addams worked to develop a community spirit that pulled people together to get the necessary things accomplished for themselves. Better streets, safe parks and playgrounds, and public baths were some of the things that the immigrants were soon working together to achieve. Hull House made a difference in the neighborhood around 800 South Halsted Street. Yet, its impact was beginning to have a “rippling” effect on all of the country. “Her work toward social improvements in Chicago, coupled with the work of other reformers, marked the beginning of the Progressive movement in America. This movement sought to overcome the often dehumanizing effects of rapid industrialization through a variety of political, economic, an social reforms.”(Theme 4) The experiences gained in Hull House gave the clients a beginning as well. They found strength in themselves, and they began a powerful reform movement as well. Their projects changed a great deal of the juvenile system and impacted protection for the immigrants’ rights.

Miss Addams, who never married, definitely made a name for herself in an accepted manner. She did not try to be something society frowned upon, she just made things happen by her works and her willingness to get involved. Jane has been credited with writing several books and other literary works. Yet she was not always involved in the usual things that the women of her day involved themselves in doing. She was the garbage inspector for the 1th Ward on the west side of Chicago in 185. She served as a member of the Chicago Board of Education. Jane worked to establish the NAACP, and she was the 1st Vice-President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The starting of the ACLU was also one of the credits given to Addams. She also founded and served as a ten year president for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Since the decisions of the government impacted the lives of those she attempted to help, politics were of interest to her as well. She had the opportunity and honor to second the nomination of Theodore Roosevelt for President at the Progressive Party Convention. Recognition for her works reached a new height when she became the first American woman recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 11.

Although Jane Addams died of cancer in 15, many of her endeavors are still evident today, Hull House, as a major complex, has been leveled and it’s now part of the University of Illinois campus, but its traditions and impact live on today. “In June of 167, Dr. Murray H. Nelligan, of the National Park Service unveiled a bronze plaque beside the door (of a remaining portion of the original complex) designating the building as one of 750 national historic landmarks and said, ‘In my opinion, none of the national historical landmarks better signifies the achievements of the past while pointing the way to a brighter future for our cities than does Hull House.’”(Chicago Pub. 1) When one thinks of Jane Addams and her legacy of help for whoever needed it, however they needed it, and whenever they needed it, it brings to mind a current belief used today. If you give a man a fish, he can eat for a day. If you teach him how to fish, he can eat for a lifetime. Jane Addams was indeed a great woman, person, and American. “She built her reputation as the country’s most prominent woman through her writing, her settlement work, and her international efforts for world peace.”(Biographical 1) Jane Addams definitely has earned her place in the history books and in the hearts of countless Americans.

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