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Twenty Years at Hull-House

by Jane Addams

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What were the effects of anarchists at Hull House?

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Jane Addams writes about her encounter with anarchists in the chapter "Echoes of the Russian Revolution" of her autobiography Twenty Years at Hull House. Although as a turn-of-the-century middle-class reformer Addams tried to change the society without subverting the Capitalist system, she wrote sympathetically about the Russian struggle against the autocratic regime of the Czars. In the chapter she clearly distances herself from the political goals of anarchists, but she defends their right to speak freely about their ideas and to be treated fairly by the authorities. "Challenged by a anarchist," she contends, "one is always sensitive for the honor of legally constituted society". However, Addams goes on to quote several episodes when "the legally constituted society" mistreated anarchists. For example, she argues that, following the assassination of President McKinley in Chicago in 1901, a veritable hysteria against anarchists suppressed civil rights and that she felt compelled to speak in support of the anarchists' right to have an attorney and a fair trial. Her declarations and her visit to the arrested anarchists stirred a huge controversy which, Addams writes, "made my mail a horror every morning" and whose "opprobrium . . . will always remain".

The chapter is also interesting as Addams portrays the assassin of President McKinley as a loner and not as a part of the anarchist movement. To this figure, Addams opposes that of a German anarchist who had conceived a plan to kill a priest, but was talked out of it by a friend. Therefore she presents a more positive image of anarchists and argues that the American government should not act against them as those oppressive European governments from which they are escaping and seeking refuge in the United States. Addams was also directly involved in raising funds to defend anarchists in courts against extradition in their own native countries.

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