large three-storied house flanked by two smaller houses with clouds in the background

Twenty Years at Hull-House

by Jane Addams

Start Free Trial

How did the choices and opinions of Jane Addams fit into the prevailing attitudes of the middle class?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Jane Addams believed strongly in education, a middle class value, and more importantly, in the idea of education as a means of improvement. She was discontented with her upper class education in culture until she could apply it in some useful way to help human progress, which she did in founding Hull House. She never lost her belief in the beneficial values of spreading middle class "high" culture to the masses.

Her settlement house, therefore, reflected middle-class values about "high" culture. For example, it was important, in the eyes of Addams and her cohort, to introduce working-class people to Shakespeare, a playwright considered of the highest caliber. As Addams put it:

The Shakespeare club has lived a continuous existence at Hull-House for sixteen years during which time its members have heard the leading interpreters of Shakespeare, both among scholars and players. ...To feed the mind of the worker, to lift it above the monotony of his task, and to connect it with the larger world, outside of his immediate surroundings, has always been the object of art, perhaps never more nobly fulfilled than by the great English bard.

Inculcating a love of Shakespeare, and also, as Addams mentions, such middle-class cultural icons as Dante, Browning, and Plato, was considered important to elevating and enriching the lives of poorer people. Addams mentions one working class woman who reported that, while working long hours at her sewing job, her mind had been empty until she started attending the Shakespeare club, and she then had the elevating subject of Shakespeare to think about at work.

Addams and her friends also shared the assumption that a woman, no matter how poor, was primarily a homemaker and needed to be trained in these arts, which her cohort felt were being lost as working class women entered factories. Therefore, Hull House offered classes in cooking and sewing. The idea was that working class women needed to aspire to the middle class female role of "angel of the home"—which many did aspire to.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I think that one way in which Addams's choices and opinions fit into   prevailing middle class attitudes was in how she believed that everyone could find a realm of community within Hull- House.  Addams stressed an egalitarianism, reflective of middle class attitudes. One example of this in Twenty Years at Hull House can be seen in how art galleries and art shows at Hull House span a greater appreciation for art, in general:  "Perhaps the most satisfactory results of the studio have been obtained through the classes of young men who are engaged in the commercial arts, and who are glad to have an opportunity to work out their own ideas."  Addams displays a middle class perspective in suggesting that artistic appreciation is not for a particular group of people.  Rather, art is egalitarian.  This reflects the prevailing attitude of the middle class.

In suggesting that Hull House can serve as a locality in the neighborhood where equality in status can be embraced by everyone, Addams displays choices and opinions that can fit into the prevailing attitudes of the middle class.  The mere idea of Hull House is one where the element of equality is intrinsic to the construction of the middle class.  Addams' defense of moving away from the hierarchal terracing of status is an example of her choices and opinions fitting into a prevailing attitude of the middle class.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team