How much impact did Jane Addams really have on solving social issues?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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It might be slightly unfair to place so much at the feet of Jane Addams.  To ask one human being to solve social issues like poverty and economic unfairness is a bit much.  With this in mind, I tend to think that Addams's real impact is to have raised awareness to such issues.  Jane Addams social work and writing helped to create a level of understanding about the conditions that industrialization brought with it.  Her impact is fully felt when Addams writes from this frame of reference:  “In the unceasing ebb and flow of justice and oppression we must all dig channels as best we may, that at the propitious moment somewhat of the swelling tide may be conducted to the barren places of life.”  Addams contributes to solving social issues of unfairness and degradation when she speaks of the "ebb and flow of justice and oppression." She is passionate about how human beings have a role in being able to maximize the former and minimize the latter:  "Perhaps nothing is so fraught with significance as the human hand, this oldest tool with which man has dug his way from savagery, and with which he is constantly groping forward.”  Addams's contribution is meaningful when viewed in this Progressive light.  She does not capitulate to the idea that nothing can be done to alleviate human suffering.  She is meaningful in her argument that human beings have the power and capacity to hear the cries of other people's suffering and do something to minimize them.  While she cannot be credited with ending poverty and human suffering, her impact is the level of awareness she created about such realities and the active role that human beings can take as a community.  Her impact lies in the advocacy of embracing a collective notion of the good.

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