Study Guide

Jane Addams

Jane Addams Essay - Critical Essays

Addams, Jane

Introduction

Jane Addams 1860-1935

American social worker, essayist and autobiographer.

Jane Addams is known primarily as a social reformer, a reputation built during the many years she devoted to serving the poor through Hull House in Chicago. But that was only one level of her achievements. She created the foundations for the profession of social work, contributed significantly to the discipline of sociology, developed the idea of parks and playgrounds as places vital for reducing urban tension, and established a model of progressive-minded activism which helped form the basis of the welfare state that emerged under the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s. In the process she became one of America's best-known and best-loved women, and her fame spread with the publication of her books—including the autobiographical Twenty Years at Hull-House (1910)—and hundreds of articles. Addams challenged her compatriots' understanding of urban life, wealth and poverty, democracy, and peace, and was instrumental in founding numerous organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). A popularizer rather than an innovator in the realm of ideas, she transformed the pragmatism of William James and John Dewey, along with the mystic agrarian socialism of Leo Tolstoy, into a workable program of social action that transformed the American landscape.

Biographical Information

Addams was born in Cedarville, Illinois, on the eve of the Civil War. Her father, John Addams, who would become her most significant role model, was an entrepreneur and politician who had served in the Illinois legislature with another of Addams's later heroes, Abraham Lincoln. Addams seldom spoke of her mother, who died when she was three, or of her stepmother, who her father married soon afterward. She was a sickly child, and like many young women of her day, was discouraged from pursuing too high a degree of education. Giving up a dream to attend Smith College, she went instead to Rockford Seminary, and soon after her graduation, a series of unhappy events threw her young life into turmoil. Her beloved father died, and after six months at a medical college in Philadelphia, she withdrew in 1882 for reasons of illness, and never went back. A year of convalescence followed, and then two tours of Europe, but her travels did not make her happy. Later she would write of being caught in "the snare of preparation" which she said impeded young women from wealthy backgrounds, keeping them locked in a state of continual preparation for life rather than permitting them to commence an actual career. Partly as a result of experiences in Europe, however, she discovered her life's mission, and with her friend and lifelong companion Ellen Gates Starr founded Hull House in a run-down Chicago mansion on September 18, 1889. At Hull House (which Addams referred to in her writing as "Hull-House"), she established numerous innovative programs to provide not just food and shelter, but a sense of purpose and belonging, both to the people served by the house and to the upper-class women and men who ran it. During the next two decades, Addams's work on behalf of the poor and immigrants of the nearby slums made her a figure of national and ultimately international prominence, and she published numerous articles and books. She was also instrumental in the founding and development of dozens of organizations, and through Hull House, helped create a model for a vital community center which could transform a troubled urban environment. In the years leading up to World War I, her outspoken pacifism began to strike a raw nerve in a nation mobilizing for the defeat of Germany, and she became almost as much a figure of scorn as she had been of admiration. But her reputation ultimately rose to its former level, a resurrection which culminated in her receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. During her career, Addams spent time with a number of notable writers and philosophers, including James, Dewey, Tolstoy, W. E. B. Du Bois, and many others. In politics she campaigned for Theodore Roosevelt in his unsuccessful bid to regain the White House under the Progressive Party banner in 1912; and later she put her support behind a man with whom she had worked in the area of famine relief following the First World War, President Herbert Hoover. Addams never married, and had few interests outside her social concerns. She was an astute manager and promoter who devoted all her efforts—and the proceeds from her publications and prizes—to Hull House and its activities.

Major Works

As with many writers, it is virtually impossible to separate Addams' published work from the conditions that surrounded their creation. This is not only because Addams's life was defined by action rather than thought, but also because most of her writings were in response to specific situations that she encountered first as the director of Hull House, and later as a campaigner for world peace. Furthermore, with a few notable exceptions, most of her books were actually composed of essays, speeches, and articles she had presented earlier, again in response to specific conditions. Such was certainly the case with her first book, Democracy and Social Ethics (1902), in which she identified a spirit of alienation pervading modern life, and as an antidote offered active involvement in the project of establishing a more humane public order. Likewise The Spirit of Youth and City Streets (1909) came from a series of essays, and it, like A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil (1912) explored the problems of the slums and the unhealthy lifestyles they bred. Her examination of prostitution in the latter work scandalized readers, but it was the pacifism expressed in volumes such as Newer Ideals of Peace (1909) and Peace and Bread in Time of War (1922) which would earn her the disapprobation of conservative leaders and institutions from the Daughters of the American Revolution to the Ku Klux Klan. The condemnation of Addams for her vocal opposition to the First World War perhaps marked the low point of her career; Twenty Years at Hull-House (1910), on the other hand, came at the high point. Ostensibly an autobiography, it was in fact the story of how Addams came to find her mission as a crusader for social justice, and then pursued that mission without wavering. Critically acclaimed at the time and thereafter, it is usually considered the best of her works, whereas the sequel, The Second Twenty Years at Hull-House (1930)—which sums up activity in the two decades that followed the writing of its predecessor—is often viewed as one of her least well-written. Her later works included a collection of essays called The Excellent Becomes the Permanent (1932), which helped to sum up an extraordinarily distinguished career.

Principal Works

Democracy and Social Ethics (essays) 1902

Newer Ideals of Peace (essays) 1907

The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets (essays) 1909

Twenty Years at Hull-House (autobiography) 1910

A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil (nonfiction) 1912

Peace and Bread in Time of War (nonfiction) 1922

The Second Twenty Years at Hull-House; September 1909 to September 1929, with a Record of a Growing World Conscience (autobiography) 1930

The Excellent Becomes the Permanent (essays) 1932

Criticism

C. C. Arbuthnot (essay date 1903)

SOURCE: The Journal of Political Economy, Vol. XI, December, 1902-September, 1903, pp. 169-171.

[In the following essay, Arbuthnot reviews Democracy and Social Ethics with a focus on its economic and political insights.]

Among the matters of particularly economic interest in Miss Addams's [Democracy and Social Ethics] is the discussion of the domestic service problem, in the chapter on "Household Adjustment" The family has given up to the factory most of the manufacture which contributes to the welfare of its members, but it retains the preparation of food and ministration to personal comfort, as essential to family life. This...

(The entire section is 812 words.)

The Nation (essay date 1910)

SOURCE: A review of Twenty Years at Hull-House, in The Nation, Vol. 91, No. 2374, December 29, 1910, pp. 634-35.

[In the following review, the critic considers Twenty Years at Hull-House primarily from the standpoint of the biographical information it offers on Addams.]

"Which is better," asks Professor Cooley in his Social Organization, "fellowship or distinction? There is much to be said on both sides, but the finer spirits of our day lean toward the former, and find it more human and exhilarating to spread abroad the good things the world already has than to prosecute a lonesome search for new ones. I notice among the choicest people I...

(The entire section is 1462 words.)

Thomas C. Hall (essay date 1911)

SOURCE: A review of Twenty Years at Hull-House, in Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 26, 1911, pp. 317-19.

[In the following review of Twenty Years at Hull-House, Hall concentrates on the role models who instilled in Addams a spirit of selflessness.]

[Twenty Years at Hull-House] is invaluable as a human document. It is a beautiful memorial to a father and a wonderful revelation of a life given to a great purpose. In its style it is transparent and simple, but it is filled with subtle suggestion. It is not a book that should be lightly skimmed. Throughout there is a constant searching for the fuller meaning of human life; and underneath all...

(The entire section is 855 words.)

The Sociological Review (essay date 1911)

SOURCE: A review of Twenty Years at Hull-House, in The Sociological Review, Vol. IV, 1911, pp. 153-54.

[The following essay appraises Twenty Years at Hull-House as not just a personal account of one life, but of a time and place.]

[Twenty Years at Hull-House is] a book which is assured of a place among the noblest life records of the time.… It is not formally autobiographic in method, but Miss Addams has the rare faculty of stating or implying the essential personal facts, in the fewest possible words, during the process of describing the experiences which led her to follow a certain course of public action, or showing the relation in...

(The entire section is 794 words.)

John Dewey (essay date 1945)

SOURCE: An introduction to Peace and Bread in Time of War, by Jane Addams, King's Crown Press, 1945, pp. i-xx.

[In the following essay, Dewey comments on the timely reissue of Peace and Bread at the end of World War II.]

The present republication of Peace and Bread is peculiarly timely. Some of the external reasons for this timeliness are evident without need of prolonged analysis. The book is a record, searching and vivid, of human aspects of the First World War. It gives a picture of the development of American sentiment from 1914 to 1922, the year of its publication. It is a forceful reminder of things that would be unforgettable, did we not...

(The entire section is 2651 words.)

Merle Curti (essay date 1960)

SOURCE: "Jane Addams on Human Nature," in Ideas in Cultural Perspective, edited by Philip P. Wiener and Aaron Noland, Rutgers University Press, 1962, pp. 468-81.

[In the following essay, which was originally presented as the first William I. Hull Lecture at Swarthmore College on 16 October 1960, Curti discusses Addams's views on the self and the place of the individual in society.]

It is somewhat curious that in tributes to Jane Addams (1860-1935) occasioned by her centennial year, no serious consideration has been given to her place in American intellectual history. One finds merited praise of her personality and of her contributions to the woman's movement, to social...

(The entire section is 6785 words.)

Sondra R. Herman (essay date 1969)

SOURCE: "Jane Addams: The Community as a Neighborhood," in Eleven Against War: Studies in American Internationalist Thought, 1898-1921, Stanford University, 1969, pp. 114-49.

[In the following excerpt, Herman explores the path by which Addams moved from philanthropic works to pacifism.]

Cease to be the shadow of man and of his passion of pride and destruction. Have a clear vision of the duty of pity! Be a living peace in the midst of war—the eternal Antigone refusing to give herself up to hatred and knowing no distinction between her suffering brothers who make war on each other.

—Romain Rolland, quoted by Jane Addams,...

(The entire section is 16039 words.)

Allen F. Davis (essay date 1972)

SOURCE: An introduction to The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets, by Jane Addams, University of Illinois Press, 1972, pp. vii-xxx.

[In the following essay, Davis introduces a new edition of The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets with a brief recap of Addams's biography, as well as details of the book's history.]

Jane Addams always claimed that The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets was her favorite book. Published in 1909, it received praise from sociologists, psychologists, and other critics. William James wrote in the American Journal of Sociology

Certain pages of Miss Addams' book seem to me to...

(The entire section is 6304 words.)

J. O. C. Phillips (essay date 1974)

SOURCE: "The Education of Jane Addams," in History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 14, Spring, 1974, pp. 49-67.

[In the following essay, Phillips identifies Addams's intellectual forebears, a group that ranges from Abraham Lincoln to Auguste Comte.]

Perhaps as a final tribute to a nineteenth century individualism soon to be extinguished by the New Deal, Americans of the late twenties and early thirties frequently amused themselves in endless polls and competitions to find America's greatest men and women. The definitive order of greatness was never discovered, but in every poll Jane Addams did well. Included in Mark Howe's list of six outstanding Americans, she received...

(The entire section is 8573 words.)

James Hurt (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: "Walden on Halsted Street: Jane Addams' Twenty Years at Hull-House," in The Centennial Review, Vol. 23, 1979, pp. 185-207.

[In the following essay, Hurt examines Twenty Years at Hull-House as a work of literary self-examination.]

I

It may seem somewhat wrong-headed to attempt to examine Jane Addams' Twenty Years at Hull-House as a work of art, since a major theme of the book is a condemnation of art for its tendency to numb us to living reality. Addams quotes William Dean Howells approvingly—"Mr. Howells has said that we are all so besotted with our novel reading that we have lost the power of seeing certain...

(The entire section is 8612 words.)

Stuart J. Hecht (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: "Social and Artistic Integration: The Emergence of Hull-House Theatre," in Theatre Journal, Vol. 34, No. 2, May, 1982, pp. 172-82.

[In the following essay, Hecht reviews the history of the Hull-House Theatre, including political clashes over its administration.]

Chicago's Hull-House Theatre developed specifically to combat the corrupting influences of urban tenement life. In 1889, Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr purchased a mansion in the city's rough Southwest section and there created the "Hull-House" settlement, a social and educational center for the largely immigrant community. The neighborhood reflected the worst of late 19th century urban conditions....

(The entire section is 5325 words.)

Ellen Condliffe Lagemann (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: "Jane Addams: An Educational Biography," in Jane Addams on Education, edited by Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1985, pp. 1-43.

[In the following introduction to her book on Addams's influence on education, Lagemann offers a review of Addams's own education and growth as a thinker.]

In September of 1889, Jane Addams moved to an immigrant slum neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago. With Ellen Gates Starr, a close college friend, she had rented the top floor of the former Charles J. Hull mansion in order to live and work with the poor. The social settlement that was established in this way, which was called Hull House, quickly...

(The entire section is 11393 words.)

Herbert Stroup (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: "Jane Addams," in Social Work Pioneers, Nelson-Hall, 1986, pp. 2-28, 281.

[In the following excerpt, Stroup presents Addams as a pioneer in developing the framework of social welfare in America.]

Jane Addams, the founder of famed Hull House, a pioneer in the settlement house movement in the United States, and the Nobel Prize recipient for peace in 1931, was born in a red brick house in Cedarville, Illinois, in the fall of 1860. Within the house lived busy people who knew moderate worldly success and who were secure in their homey integrity and virtue. The Addamses were a successful family.

Jane Addams claimed that her father was one of the...

(The entire section is 11042 words.)

Philip Abbott (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: "Reforming: Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Jane Addams," in States of Perfect Freedom, The University of Massachusetts Press, 1987, pp. 157-81.

[In the following excerpt, Abbott compares and contrasts Addams's autobiography with that of a feminist writer and contemporary, Charlotte Perkins Gilman.]

The autobiography would seem to be the ideal structure for feminist political theory. The historical subjection of women has taken the form of what John Stuart Mill called "bonds of affection." When a woman looks to identify the sources of her oppression she looks not only at the factory and its boss but also at the family and its bosses, the father and husband. For...

(The entire section is 9184 words.)

Jean Bethke Elshtain (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: "A Return to Hull House: Reflections on Jane Addams," in Power Trips and Other Journeys: Essays in Feminism as Civic Discourse, The University of Wisconsin Press, 1990, pp. 3-12.

[In the following excerpt, Elshtain offers a critique of Addams's career from a feminist standpoint outside the traditional left-wing framework.]

From a standpoint of jaded modern sophistication, the story of Jane Addams at first seems a tale of old-fashioned do-goodism fired by the charitable impulses of a "lady" who wound up fashioning an overpersonalized approach to social problems. Such naive forms of social intervention, the sophisticate might continue, inevitably gave way to...

(The entire section is 4965 words.)

Ursula Lehmkuhl (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: "The Historical Value and Historiographie Significance of Jane Addams' Autobiographies 'Twenty Years at Hull-House' and 'Second Twenty Years at Hull-House,'" in Reconstructing American Literary and Historical Studies, St. Martin's Press, 1990, pp. 285-97.

[In the following essay, Lehmkuhl treats Addams's two Hull House books as historical narratives and examines them in the context of Charles A. Beard's "new history."]

Since the late 1960s, when literary critics discovered the autobiography as a literary genre, much has been written on the literary qualities of autobiographical writings in order to prove the literary significance and value of...

(The entire section is 4860 words.)

Harriet Hyman Alonso (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: "Nobel Peace Laureates, Jane Addams and Emily Greene Balch: Two Women of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom," in Journal of Women's History, Vol. 7, No. 2, Summer, 1995, pp. 6-26.

[In the following essay, which was first presented at a conference of the Norwegian Nobel Institute in 1992, Alonso compares and contrasts the career of Addams with that of another radical pacifist and Nobel laureate, Emily Greene Balch.]

In November, 1895, Alfred Nobel, wealthy inventor and entrepreneur, signed his last will and testament. In it, he stipulated that the major part of his estate be converted into a fund and invested, the interest to be used for...

(The entire section is 9029 words.)

Louise W. Knight (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: "Jane Addams's Views on the Responsibilities of Wealth," in The Responsibilites of Wealth, edited by Dwight F. Burlingame, Indiana University Press, 1992, pp. 118-37.

[In the following essay, Knight presents Addams's views on charity, both as a member of a wealthy family and as a humanitarian seeking to raise funds.]

The title of this paper is in a sense offered tongue in cheek. While the theme of this book, "The Responsibilities of Wealth," captures a point of view held by Andrew Carnegie and other late nineteenth century philanthropists, it does not reflect the view of their contemporary, Jane Addams. She rejected the belief that an individual's wealth...

(The entire section is 7233 words.)

Linda Schott (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: "Jane Addams and William James on Alternatives to War," in Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 54, No. 2, April, 1993, pp. 241-54.

[In the following essay, Schott contrasts the pacifism of William James with the much more radical anti-war views of Addams.]

On the evening of 7 October 1904, some 500 members of the Universal Peace Congress attended a banquet in Boston. An evening of good food and conversation culminated in talks by nationally prominent peace advocates. The speakers that night included, among others, two individuals who had figured prominently in the anti-imperialism movement after the Spanish-American War: the well-respected and widely-known...

(The entire section is 6629 words.)

Francesca Sawaya (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: "Domesticity, Cultivation, and Vocation in Jane Addams and Sarah Orne Jewett," in Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 48, March, 1994, pp. 507-28.

[In the following essay, Sawaya compares the nonfiction portrayal of a household in Twenty Years at Hull-House with a fictional one in the work of Sarah Orne Jewett]

In her preface to the 1893 edition of Deephaven Sarah Orne Jewett describes her call to vocation some twenty years earlier as having arisen out of her "dark fear that townspeople and country people would never understand one another."1 She felt as a "younge writer" (p. 3) that "the individuality and quaint personal...

(The entire section is 7745 words.)

Marianne DeKoven (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: '"Excellent Not a Hull House': Gertrude Stein, Jane Addams, and Feminist-Modernist Political Culture," in Rereading Modernism: New Directions in Feminist Criticism, edited with an introduction by Lisa Rado, Garland Publishing, Inc., 1994, pp. 321-50.

[In the following excerpt, DeKoven draws parallels between the lives and of Addams and Gertrude Stein.]

An enormous gulf would seem to divide Jane Addams's immigrant Chicago from Gertrude Stein's expatriate Paris; Jane Addams's social work and politics from Gertrude Stein's writing and art. But the terms of the first opposition, immigration and expatriation, suggest at least a symbolic mutuality, and it will be my...

(The entire section is 10214 words.)