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Twenty Years at Hull-House

by Jane Addams
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What important beliefs and values were being discussed and debated, and how are these conflicts presented in the book?

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In one respect, Jane Addams presents an overview of the activities and accomplishments of Hull House during her twenty years there. More broadly, she addresses both the underlying causes of poverty in the U. S. and the inadequacy of previous efforts to address either the causes or the effects. Beyond...

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In one respect, Jane Addams presents an overview of the activities and accomplishments of Hull House during her twenty years there. More broadly, she addresses both the underlying causes of poverty in the U. S. and the inadequacy of previous efforts to address either the causes or the effects. Beyond popular opposition to social aid, she fought unwillingness to admit that such dire conditions existed.

Addams situates the particular case of Hull House, Chicago, within the larger settlement house movement, and connects the need for those houses to the plight of poor people, especially women, in the early 20th century. Addams is also forthright about her own experiences and biases, attributing her child advocacy to a conviction formed in her own childhood, and connecting her concern with service to her father’s Quaker faith.

She and her sisters had also received higher education in a seminary in a time when few women did so; this helped convince her that everyone had a right to education. In regard to the functions of nursery and early childhood school, Hull House connects children’s issues to the larger question of labor, especially the lack of child labor laws. Children belong in school, learning, Addams firmly believed, and they cannot be there if they are required to work.

Similarly, female workers needed protection, including young single women and those who are already mothers. Rather than pretend that women do not need to work, Addams included them in her campaigns to improve labor conditions, often through unions, which involved her in nationwide movements, and successful passage of legislation. The book details the worker-owner conflicts involved in founding numerous women’s unions, at Hull House, and related decisions to provide apartments to striking workers.

Although it was called Hull “House,” it was actually a complex of more than a dozen buildings on and near the original Halsted Street location, each dedicated to different programs and residences. Along with housing and education, Addams was a promoter of the arts. While some viewed these activities as frivolous, and preferred attention to work and childcare, Addams believed there were benefits in helping new immigrants with assimilation. The complex had fine arts and related craft skills programs. She discusses the importance of creative talent and related skills in individual fulfillment as well as earning a living.

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