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Twenty Years at Hull-House

by Jane Addams

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What did Addams credit as being the root of poverty? 

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Given how Addams's work delves into the complex nature of poverty, it is difficult to suggest that she finds only one element at its root.  I think that she explores the intricate nature of poverty to reveal how systemic it actually is.  However, one refrain that seems to present itself quite often is how Addams perceives a social inability to accept the presence of poverty.  In Addams's mind, this lack of acknowledgement enables it to grow and fester:

The lack of municipal regulation already referred to was, in the early days of Hull-House, parallelled by the inadequacy of the charitable efforts of the city and an unfounded optimism that there was no real poverty among us. Twenty years ago there was no Charity Organization Society in Chicago and the Visiting Nurse Association had not yet begun its beneficial work, while the relief societies, although conscientiously administered, were inadequate in extent and antiquated in method.

Addams makes the argument that poverty's roots lies in affirming that "there was no real poverty among us."  For Addams, this lack of acknowledgement is the root of poverty.  When people fail to accept the presence of a problem, it grows.  Addams illuminates this in her personalized stories of the poor which end up adding a face to the issue of poverty.  In a world where industrialization had taken a full grip on American society, when the accumulation of wealth was perceived as the only valid end, Addams suggests that denying the presence of poverty lies at its root.  When this "inadequacy" is addressed, Addams would suggest that the base of poverty is shattered.  From this, restoration can happen.  However, it can only take place when there is acknowledgement of a problem, a recognition that the issue exists.  Addams's hope to "let the United States know" that poverty exists is reflective of her belief that denying its presence is its very root.

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