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Twenty Years at Hull-House

by Jane Addams

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How did Addams describe the frustrations of young, educated people in Twenty Years at Hull House? How could settlement houses help?

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While visiting London as a young woman, just after graduating from college, Addams views the wretched poverty that afflicted many of the city's poor. She was filled with a sense of futility and restlessness, "misdirected energy," as she called it. She concluded, as she writes in Twenty Years at Hull House, that "the pursuit of cultivation would not in the end bring either solace or relief." By becoming cultivated and educated, many middle-class women of Addams's generation were, as she thought, losing touch with the problems of the world. Their education had achieved what their upbringing had begun: it sheltered them from the "suffering and helplessness" that afflicted many people during the so-called "Gilded Age." Addams came to believe that "intellectual effort" was futile "when disconnected from the ultimate test of the conduct it inspired." Hull House, and the settlement house movement in general, was, according to Addams, a way to take learning and education and put it into practice. It was a way to escape what she, quoting Russian author Leo Tolstoy, describes as a "snare of preparation." She describes Hull House as an "outlet" for young people to take action to use their education for good. Without it, their education is worthless. In this way, the settlement houses, which were overwhelmingly staffed by young, idealistic, educated people, were set up for the benefit of those who ran them as well as the many immigrants and urban poor who they served.

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