Early Childhood Education

Addams, Jane (1860-1935)

 

Jane Addams is best known for opening Hull-House in the heart of the industrial district of Chicago on September 8, 1895. Its purpose was to serve the needs of the poor, most of whom were first- and second-generation newcomers to America seeking work during the Industrial Revolution. She modeled Hull-House after Toynbee Hall, a settlement she had visited in London. Settlements were part of a social movement based on a desire by the more privileged to cross social class lines and offer more than traditional relief to the less fortunate. She regarded the educational activities, philanthropic, civic, and social undertakings of the Settlement to be different manifestations of an attempt to socialize democracy— to put theory into practice. During a visit to East London, she witnessed the poorest of the poor bidding on fruit and vegetables so rotten they were not fit for sale. She later wrote that she was never able to escape the memory of the white arms and hands waving in a huddle to bid for the decaying food. She devoted her life to caring for the underprivileged and oppressed and to working for the rights of workers, women, and children.

The first organized undertaking of Hull-House was a kindergarten, conducted by a volunteer teacher in the parlor. Mothers working long hours in factories were forced to leave their children locked inside their tenements, or during hot summer days they were locked out. Ms. Addams reported that these children began to wander into the kindergarten and fill the cool halls of Hull-House, where they were fed and bathed. As the Settlement rooms became filled with children, an apartment was leased. Finally, a special building was designed and constructed on a side street, known as the Children’s House. It was sustained by Hull-House as a day nursery for sixteen years before being taken over by a charity. Ms. Addams recognized how important the Children’s House was for the health and safety of the tenements’ youngest members, and further how vital it was for the connection it provided to the immigrant mothers who could be taught how to make life in America more possible. Hull-House was expanded to include an art gallery, a public library, the first public playground, public baths, Boys’ Clubs, gymnasiums, and much more. At its peak, Hull-House was used by at least 2,000 people a day.

In her first autobiography, Twenty Years at Hull-House (1961), Ms. Addams acknowledged the ideological challenges passed down by her father, a Quaker pioneer and miller, who began the Republican Party in Illinois. His close friendship with Abraham Lincoln underscored his determination to help build America— the great experiment in democracy. Born on September 6, I860, in Cedarville, Illinois, Ms. Addams was among the first women to graduate from Rockford College in 1882. She recalls an inner restlessness as an educated woman in a time when women did not vote and were not expected to accomplish much more than their grandmothers. Despite these limitations, she was the first president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, campaigned for social justice and, as a delegate to the first national convention of the Progressive Party in 1912, seconded the nomination of Theodore Roosevelt. In 1931 she was cowinner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Ms. Addams died in Chicago on May 21, 1935.

Further Readings: Addams, Jane (1961). Twenty years at Hull-House. New York: Penguin Putnam; Addams, Jane (1972). Spirit of youth and the city streets. Champaign: University of Illinois Press; Addams, Jane (2002). Democracy and social ethics. Chicago: University of Illinois Press; Addams, Jane (2002). The long road of woman's memory. Chicago: University of Illinois Press; Elshtain, Jean B. (2002). Jane Addams and the dream of American democracy: A life. New York: Basic Books; Elshtain, Jean B. (2002). The Jane Addams reader. New York: Basic Books.

Ann-Marie Clark