Critical Context

With the publication of Jane Addams in 1970, Meigs was at the forefront of a burgeoning wave of women’s biographies. Meigs’s study reveals the many but often overlooked contributions of women to the growth of the United States. Meigs’s portrayal of Addams and the women working with her is told in the context of the sociohistorical changes occurring around the beginning of the twentieth century. These women worked within the legal and political systems to help establish child labor laws and the juvenile court system.

In the light of the ongoing interest in women’s studies, Jane Addams, with its documentation of women’s activities and achievements from 1885 until 1935, is a significant contribution to young adult literature. It is important for young people to know of such events as Addams’ participation in the nominating convention for Theodore Roosevelt’s bid for the presidency in 1913 and Frances Perkins’ appointment as secretary of labor in 1932. The Social Security system, often taken for granted, is an outgrowth of Addams’ quest for “complete equality” among all people. Readers will note the fruition of Altgeld’s assertion that “relief of the poor should be the responsibility of the government” in the U.S. welfare system.

The twentieth century has seen major advances for women. Great strides have been made since Addams opened Hull-House to ease the burdens of working women and children, but child care and equality for women remain issues to be resolved. This book will heighten students’ awareness of women’s struggles to further these goals.