Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Jane Addams wrote Twenty Years at Hull-House for two main reasons: to present a record of the founding and first years of the Hull-House settlement in Chicago, and to stop the publication of two biographies of herself. The first four chapters trace Addams’ life from her childhood through college and tours of Europe to her decision to begin Hull-House. The primary influence in these years was Addams’ wealthy abolitionist father, who stressed morality and sensitivity to the poor. The second important influence was Abraham Lincoln. John H. Addams was both a supporter and a personal friend of Lincoln, and although Jane Addams was only a small child when Lincoln was assassinated, she had heard many stories of him from her father. Addams saw Lincoln as the best role model for the new immigrants, since Lincoln too had emerged from humble surroundings without ever forgetting his past and the lessons that he had learned from his experiences. These two men helped to form Jane Addams’ character and influenced the direction that her life took.

It is in these early chapters that Addams makes clear the problem that the first generation of college-educated women faced: what to do with their lives. As happened to other women of this generation, Addams suffered psychological conflict that resulted in physical distress. One result of her ailment was a physician’s recommendation to visit Europe for two years. Had she been male, a tour of Europe would have...

(The entire section is 559 words.)