The Essence of Jane Addams’s Twenty Years at Hull House

Edited with an Introduction by Hunter Lewis
Paperback: $12.00 • ISBN: 978-1-60419-054-0

A Classic Memoir by an American Secular Saint

Summary

Axios Press’s Essence of . . . series takes the greatest works ever written in the field of practical philosophy and pares them down to their essence. We select the best passages—the ones that are immediately relevant to us today, full of timeless wisdom and advice about the world and how best to live our lives—and leave behind the more obscure or less important bits. Our selections are not isolated: they flow together to create a seamless work that will capture your interest and attention from page one. And we provide useful notes and a solid introduction to the work.

Jane Addams was arguably the most influential woman in American history. She founded Hull-House, a “settlement house” intended to serve the poor of Chicago, in 1897, and lived there the rest of her life.

As time passed, she became a spokesperson for the poor, for women, for children, for families, for sanitation, for public health, for social and political reform, first in Chicago, then nationally, and finally throughout the world. In her time, she was as famous as a president, and her books were read everywhere.

Concern for the poor and minorities led her gradually into active politics. This included, in addition to municipal reform, winning voting rights for women and also a pacifist approach to world affairs. In 1931, she became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Addams’s mission as one of the first American public intellectuals, and a hugely successful activist and reformer as well, shines forth brightly in her inspiring and easy to read autobiography.

About the Author

Jane Addams (1860-1935) founded Hull-House, a “settlement house” intended to serve the poor of Chicago, in 1897. In 1931, she became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

About the Editor

Hunter Lewis, co-founder of global investment firm Cambridge Associates, has written nine books on economics and moral philosophy. He has served on boards and committees of fifteen leading not-for-profit organizations, including environmental, teaching, research, and cultural organizations, as well as the World Bank.

Introduction

1: Preface

2: Earliest Impressions

3: Influence of Lincoln

4: Boarding School Ideals

5: The Snare of Preparation

6: First Days at Hull House

7: Some Early Undertakings at Hull House

8: Problems of Poverty

9: A Decade of Economic Discussion

10: Pioneer Labor Legislation in Illinois

11: Immigrants and Their Children

12: Tolstoyism

13: Public Activities and Investigations

14: Civic Cooperation

15: The Value of Social Clubs

16: Arts at Hull House

17: Echoes of the Russian Revolution

18: Socialized Education

Index

From: Introduction

Jane Addams (1860–1935) was arguably the most influential woman in American history. In 1897 she founded Hull House, a “settlement house” intended to serve the poor of Chicago, and lived there the rest of her life.

As time passed, she became a spokesperson for the poor, for women, for children, for families, for sanitation, for public health, for social and political reform, first in Chicago, then nationally, and finally throughout the world. In her time, she was as famous as a president, and her books were read everywhere.

Concern for the poor and minorities led her gradually into active politics. This included, in addition to municipal reform, winning voting rights for women and also a pacifist approach to world affairs. In 1931, she became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Addams was among the first female American public intellectuals, and a hugely successful activist and reformer as well. Many in her own day and later regarded her, in addition, as a kind of secular saint. Her story shines forth brightly in her inspiring and easy-to-read autobiography.

In her early days, the future “saint” resisted efforts to mold her into a professing Christian, or alternatively, into a socialist. She complained of the “wilderness of dogma.” But she did eventually become a member of the Presbyterian Church. At first, on leaving college, she thought she would “study medicine and ‘live with the poor.’ ” She gave up the first ambition, but the second stayed with her during a few years of wandering around Europe with her lifelong friend, companion, and later deputy, Ellen Starr.

A particular incident deepened her resolve. In London she

saw for the first time the overcrowded quarters of a great city at midnight. A small party of tourists were taken to the East End by a city missionary to witness the Saturday night sale of decaying vegetables and fruit, which, owing to the Sunday laws in London, could not be sold until Monday, and, as they were beyond safekeeping, were disposed of at auction as late as possible on Saturday night. On Mile End Road, from the top of an omnibus which paused at the end of a dingy street lighted by only occasional flares of gas, we saw two huge masses of ill-clad people clamoring around two hucksters’ carts. They were bidding their farthings and ha’pennies for a vegetable held up by the auctioneer, which he at last scornfully flung, with a gibe for its cheapness, to the successful bidder. In the momentary pause only one man detached himself from the groups. He had bidden in a cabbage, and when it struck his hand, he instantly sat down on the curb, tore it with his teeth, and hastily devoured it, unwashed and uncooked as it was. . . . The final impression was not of ragged, tawdry clothing nor of pinched and sallow faces, but of myriads of hands, empty, pathetic, nerveless, and work worn, showing white in the uncertain light of the street, and clutching forward for food which was already unfit to eat. . . .

From: Chapter Seven – Some Early Undertakings at Hull House

If the early American Settlements stood for a more exigent standard in philanthropic activities, insisting that each new undertaking should be preceded by carefully ascertained facts, then certainly Hull House held to this standard in the opening of our new coffeehouse first started as a public kitchen. An investigation of the sweatshops had disclosed the fact that sewing women during the busy season paid little attention to the feeding of their families, for it was only by working steadily through the long day that the scanty pay of five, seven, or nine cents for finishing a dozen pairs of trousers could be made into a day’s wage; and they bought from the nearest grocery the canned goods that could be most quickly heated, or gave a few pennies to the children with which they might secure a lunch from a neighboring candy shop.

One of the residents made an investigation, at the instance of the United States Department of Agriculture, into the food values of the dietaries of the various immigrants, and this was followed by an investigation made by another resident, for the United States Department of Labor, into the foods of the Italian colony, on the supposition that the constant use of imported products bore a distinct relation to the cost of living. I recall an Italian who, coming into Hull House one day as we were sitting at the dinner table, expressed great surprise that Americans ate a variety of food, because he believed that they partook only of potatoes and beer. A little inquiry showed that this conclusion was drawn from the fact that he lived next to an Irish saloon and had never seen anything but potatoes going in and beer coming out.

At that time the New England kitchen was comparatively new in Boston, and Mrs. Richards, who was largely responsible for its foundation, hoped that cheaper cuts of meat and simpler vegetables, if they were subjected to slow and thorough processes of cooking, might be made attractive and their nutritive value secured for the people who so sadly needed more nutritious food. It was felt that this could be best accomplished in public kitchens, where the advantage of scientific training and careful supervision could be secured. One of the residents went to Boston for a training under Mrs. Richards, and when the Hull House kitchen was fitted under her guidance and direction, our hopes ran high for some modification of the food of the neighborhood. We did not reckon, however, with the wide diversity in nationality and inherited tastes, and while we sold a certain amount of the carefully prepared soups and stews in the neighboring factories—a sale which has steadily increased throughout the years—and were also patronized by a few households, perhaps the neighborhood estimate was best summed up by the woman who frankly confessed, that the food was certainly nutritious, but that she didn’t like to eat what was nutritious, that she liked to eat “what she’d ruther.”

If the dietetics were appreciated but slowly, the social value of the coffeehouse and the gymnasium, which were in the same building, were quickly demonstrated. At that time the saloon halls were the only places in the neighborhood where the immigrant could hold his social gatherings, and where he could celebrate such innocent and legitimate occasions as weddings and christenings.

These halls were rented very cheaply with the understanding that various sums of money should be “passed across the bar,” and it was considered a mean host or guest who failed to live up to this implied bargain. The consequence was that many a reputable party ended with a certain amount of disorder, due solely to the fact that the social instinct was traded upon and used as a basis for moneymaking by an adroit host. From the beginning the young people’s clubs had asked for dancing, and nothing was more popular than the increased space for parties offered by the gymnasium, with the chance to serve refreshments in the room below. We tried experiments with every known “soft drink,” from those extracted from an expensive soda water fountain to slender glasses of grape juice, but so far as drinks were concerned we never became a rival to the saloon, nor indeed did anyone imagine that we were trying to do so. I remember one man who looked about the cozy little room and said, “This would be a nice place to sit in all day if one could only have beer.” But the coffeehouse gradually performed a mission of its own and became something of a social center to the neighborhood as well as a real convenience. Businessmen from the adjacent factories and schoolteachers from the nearest public schools used it increasingly. The Hull House students and club members supped together in little groups or held their reunions and social banquets, as, to a certain extent, did organizations from all parts of the town. The experience of the coffeehouse taught us not to hold to preconceived ideas of what the neighborhood ought to have, but to keep ourselves in readiness to modify and adapt our undertakings as we discovered those things which the neighborhood was ready to accept.

Better food was doubtless needed, but more attractive and safer places for social gatherings were also needed, and the neighborhood was ready for one and not for the other. We had no hint then in Chicago of the small parks which were to be established fifteen years later, containing the halls for dancing and their own restaurants in buildings where the natural desire of the young for gaiety and social organization, could be safely indulged. Yet even in that early day a member of the Hull House Men’s Club who had been appointed superintendent of Douglas Park had secured there the first public swimming pool, and his fellow club members were proud of the achievement. . . .

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