1. Kicking Gender Norms to the Curb: Jane Addams
She was known simply as Saint Jane. Born in 1860 just months before the outbreak of Civil War, Jane’s young life was touched by death. Her mother died when she was 2 and many families in Cedarville, Illinois, had sons that were killed in battle. Jane was astute in the complexities of human emotions. She understood the sadness of the mothers and fathers that lost children while at the same time she had a drive to affect change. An outcast due to a childhood illness that left her with a limp, she dreamed of becoming a doctor. Fate had other plans for Jane Addams.
In September 1889, Jane Addams and a college friend, Ellen Gates Starr, opened Hull-House. Located in a poor, immigrant community, Jane defied gender roles and stepped out of the over-protected world of lady-like femininity and into the world of sociological research and reform. Scholars have written a great deal about the activities and sociological studies that came out of Hull-House. And while Jane Addams was a key player in that, it is often overlooked that she was excellent at convincing people to support her “social experiment.”
Public speaking is difficult but Jane had a gift. She often entered the home of Chicago’s wealthiest families or went on speaking tours to various organizations and turned beautiful phrases that garnered her with massive financial support. When speaking engagements were not scheduled, she invited the press to report on the social gatherings, classes, and theater performances occurring at Hull-House. Not all of the reports were favorable, but Jane Addams knew in 1889 that all publicity was good.
Jane Addams was critical of the federal government and its failure to protect children and women from industrialists’ profits. She was no fan of a free market economy and her outspoken published works led to numerous raids on Hull-House. Undeterred, Jane Addams continued to fight for peace and equity for immigrants and the poor. In 1931 she became the first woman awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Jane Addams died on 21 May 1935. As her casket left Hull-House, the city of Chicago shut down to pay its last collective respect to the woman that made the working poor and immigrants visible.
Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:
Goldfield, David, Carl Abbot, Peter H. Argersinger, William L. Barney, Virginia DeJohn Anderson, Robert M. Weir, and Jo-Ann E. Argersinger. The American Journey: A History of the United States 4th ed. combined volume. Boston: Prentice-Hall, 2011.
Holli, Melvin G. And Peter d’A. Jones, eds. Ethnic Chicago: A Multicultural Portrait 4th ed. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.