Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Biography Series Twenty Years at Hull-House Analysis
While Twenty Years at Hull-House is an autobiography in the strict sense of the word, it is much more an account of a place than it is of a life. Addams mentions her own life only as it pertains to her work. The early part of her life is covered only to the point that it influenced her later work at Hull-House. The reader is never quite sure of the illness from which Addams suffered throughout her life. Other than her father and the long-lasting influence he had on his daughter, relatives are scarcely mentioned. Addams puts her personal life aside as Hull-House takes precedence.
Although the book was written for an adult audience and presents certain difficulties because of the writing style of its day, it is nevertheless a worthwhile book for young people to read. Many of the people who drift through the pages of the book, almost always nameless, are real. The horrible conditions of life in the slums and the dreary, hardworking lives of the young people become very tangible for a young reader of today.
Addams spends much of the book relating the stories of real people to emphasize her points. When she writes of the need for child labor laws, she cites example after example of children forced to work long hours in wretched conditions for pitiful wages. Addams’ opinions of the men and women she describes are clearly evident. Most of the men in the book are portrayed as abusive and selfish, while the women are hardworking,...
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Masterplots II: Women’s Literature Series Twenty Years at Hull-House Analysis
The central issue in Hull-House is that the various socioeconomic classes have a reciprocal dependency and can therefore learn from one another. As Addams saw it, a settlement house would provide a place where “young women who had been given over too exclusively to study, might restore a balance of activity along traditional lines and learn of life from life itself.” Here was the crux of the matter: maintaining traditional lines while at the same time doing things that were very nontraditional. A few examples of Hull-House residents will demonstrate this mode of operation. Julia Lathrop, a lawyer, moved to Hull-House in 1890 and soon became a member of the State Board of Charities and organized the first juvenile court. Florence Kelley was the first factory inspector for the State of Illinois, and one of her deputies, Alzina Stevens, became the first president of the Working Woman’s Union and later the first probation officer of the Cook County Juvenile Court. Alice Hamilton identified flies as the carriers of disease and later wrote Hamilton and Hardy’s Industrial Toxicology, which was printed in its fourth edition in 1983. At one point, Addams herself was named garbage inspector for her ward, which shocked her neighbors, because that was “unwomanly work.” Addams replied that if it was a womanly task to nurse the sick, then it certainly was a womanly task to prevent those conditions that caused the illness. As one biography opined: “She revolted against the stereotype of woman as...
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Addams explores many areas in Twenty Years at Hull-House. She first deals with the influences that led a sheltered girl to become a crusader for those less fortunate than she was. She then describes some of the many people and abuses she saw during her experiences founding and directing Hull-House. The book can have a profound impact on a socially minded reader.
The book opened the eyes of many in 1910 to people, places, and tragedies that were unknown to them. Perhaps Addams’ motivation in writing the book was to let the rest of the United States know that there was much human misery and toil associated with the marvels of the industrial age. Twenty Years at Hull-House is a classic book on early social work. Since its writing, much legislation has been passed in attempts to end the abuse of immigrants and child labor.
Addams was an activist and leader in the 1800’s in a new and important field. Social work and charity work became legitimate, for the need was real. Addams continued with Hull-House and eventually wrote a second volume, entitled The Second Twenty Years at Hull-House (1930). Both books remain in print, owing to the continuing interest in social reform throughout the years. Many people were strongly influenced by Addams and her work. Her strong opinions on women represented stirrings of feminism in a world dominated by men.
Addams, a wealthy, privileged girl, participated in one of the great social reforms of the industrial age, and this book is a testament to her work. Twenty Years at Hull-House is a valuable look at history and a reminder of the responsibility that all people share for one another.