Jane Addams: Spirit in Action


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Her internal growth as a world-class democrat, coupled with the many public causes with which she interacted, is so beautifully laid out that the reader sees vividly why Addams was, is, and remains an iconic figure in American history. If there was any real fairness in this troubled world Addams would have won three Nobel Peace Prizes instead of one.

Highly recommended. This biography is a gift to my generation, a call for us to be as courageous and visionary in our own time as Jane Addams was in hers. So does her work and wisdom on such ongoing concerns as immigration, the intertwined restrictions of sex and race, striving for peace in a nation at war, and acting locally while thinking globally.

Thanks to Louise Knight, we can meet an experienced organizer and a friend we need right now. This "pragmatic visionary," as Knight calls her, is best known as the creator of Hull House, a model settlement house offering training, shelter, and culture for Chicago's poor. Addams also involved herself in a long list of Progressive campaigns. Her rhetorical skills as both speaker and writer made her internationally recognized as a supporter of civil rights, woman suffrage, and labor reform.

Using brief quotes and contextual details, Knight describes her subject's journey from a Victorian upbringing that stressed family duty through her practice of lofty "benevolence" as a young woman to the confidence to unhesitatingly risk her substantial reputation advocating pacifism during WWI. Her continuing peace activities earned her a Nobel Peace Prize in , but antagonized many longstanding supporters.

Jane Addams: Spirit in Action eBook by Louise W. Knight - | Rakuten Kobo

In this well-supported and appealing portrait of an iconic American, Knight emphasizes Addams's struggle to redefine Victorian womanhood and claim her right to "possess authority in the public realm" and "exercise authority" as a lobbying feminist who helped women acquire the right to vote. Publishers' Weekly, July 26, In this, the first full biography of Jane Addams in almost four decades, Louise W.


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As a young adult in the s, she occupied mostly the privileged side of some key barriers. The two friends were at least partly prepared for the work. She also knew many young women from prosperous Chicago families, her former students, who had time on their hands and were longing for something useful to do. Jane, twenty-nine, had a B. She had dabbled in philanthropy during the s, paying charity visits in Baltimore, and she knew several languages, having studied French, German and Italian.

She had even recently done a little fund-raising for the seminary from her Rockford classmates. The plan she and Ellen had devised — borrowed and adapted from Toynbee Hall — was that young people with backgrounds like their own would pay rent and board to live at the settlement house for a time, thus becoming settlement residents. As neighbors they would form social ties with the working people in the neighborhood and, along with other nonresident volunteers from across the city, would organize clubs and classes in their spare time.

The first was to provide the women and men of their generation, overcultured and isolated in their class, with a way to live up to the high ideals they had been taught.

Second, they wished to repair the damage done to egalitarian social relations by massive industrialization and, in the United States far more than in Great Britain, massive immigration. Chicago illustrated the developments perfectly. Between and its population exploded from forty-five hundred to one million, turning the place from a swampy lakeshore trading post into an industrial giant and the second-largest city in the country. As the owners of businesses prospered and the ranks of the upper-middle and upper classes expanded, some families became hugely wealthy.

At the same time, the number of working people living in overcrowded neighborhoods burgeoned. Many were immigrants. By the time Addams arrived there, a staggering 78 percent of the population was either foreign-born or the children of foreign-born, most of them from the farming, or peasant, classes of Europe and therefore without industrial skills, and all of them seeking better lives. Paid low wages, these workers lived on the edge of poverty as they struggled to learn English and adjust to urban living.

They read about it in magazines and books and heard sermons about it in church and synagogue. One aspect of Toynbee Hall was harder to imitate — its political agenda. In the British Parliament had given workingmen the vote. To set these new voters an example, [Anglican clergyman Samuel] Barnett encouraged settlement residents to be elected to citizen bodies in the district, such as the school board. But a settlement of women residents, being unable to vote, could not do this.

One was her wealth.

Seeking guidance in troubled times: Reviving Jane Addams’ wisdom

Clearly, she and Ellen would not have been able to pursue the plan if she had not had the income from her inheritance to finance it — to rent a house, to purchase furniture, to pay for heating and other expenses. She knew she could not fund the effort over the long haul, that donors would need to support it, but she could get it started. Her wealth, while not large, also protected her from having to earn a living; she could give all her time to the project.

Her other main qualification was her purposeful idealism. Her large vision was to create a place that would nurture universal and democratic fellowship among peoples of all classes.

Dawn As Jane Addams

It was a distinctly social, not political, ideal. But her ambitious, dogged commitment to achieving social unity was essential to what was to come. There is something to be said for aiming high and holding fast, as long as you are also willing to learn. What they needed was a house. Intending to rent one in a neighborhood of immigrants from countries whose languages they spoke, Ellen and Jane explored the Nineteenth Ward, on the near west side. Italians, Germans, and some French Canadians were concentrated there, albeit among sixteen other nationalities, including Irish Catholics and Russian Jews.

The acre ward was home to 44, people, with a major north-south artery, Halsted Street, running right down the middle. To the west, the neighborhood became gradually more prosperous. To the east, toward the Chicago River, was the industrial district, where the working poor lived and were employed. Driving in a carriage down Halsted Street one day, she saw what she was looking for, a building as refined as Toynbee Hall, plunked down on the edge of that crowded industrial neighborhood. The house had been built in as a summer home for a wealthy real estate magnate and philanthropist, Charles Hull.

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Hull died that spring, and his cousin Helen Culver, who had long managed his properties, inherited his extensive estate, which included much of the Near West Side and this house. It needed some fixing up but had many fine features. Italianate in style, it had high ceilings, marble fireplaces, and a handsome curved and cantilevered staircase that dominated the central front hall. That summer Addams paid one thousand dollars to have spruced up the part of the house that was available to rent — the second floor, which had five rooms, and the drawing room downstairs the rest was occupied by stored school desks.

She had the floors repaired and polished and the rooms painted: the upstairs in terra-cotta tints, the downstairs drawing room in ivory and gold. Culver agreed to pay for a new furnace. In May of the following year, once they were occupying the whole house and once Culver had learned more about the philanthropic nature of the enterprise, she would agree to give them a four-year lease rent free. It was a generous and important subsidy for their work.


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