One of the best things about combing through and culling your own archives is stumbling across books that inspired some aspect of your life. One book that was buried in my brass trunk was Jane Addams and Social Reform: A Role Model for the 1990s by K.S. Lundblad. It was a remaindered book that I picked up for a couple of dollars in 2001 or 2002.
It’s certainly true that Jane Addams was a true role model, not only for women of her times, but for social activists of all times. Her contributions to sociology and the Peace Movement earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.
Addams was born in 1860 to a Quaker family in Cedarville, Illinois. Following her formal education, she spent time at Toynbee Hall in London, England. The charity works towards ending poverty and bridging the generation and financial class gaps in society. It was and remains a vital center for social reform.
In 1889, Addams and her friend Ellen Starr started Hull House, a settlement institution in Chicago, inspired by Toynbee Hall. The settlement house was in the West Side of the city in a neighborhood of European immigrants. It soon evolved into a social action center to help children, provide adult education, and culture with an eye on progressive social ideals. She not only worked one on one with the needy but lobbied extensively for new laws to protect them.
Jane Addams recruited a cadre of like-minded young women who were committed to social progress in racial and social tensions along with women’s emancipation. Their combined work at Hull House sharpened their professionalism and made them a positive force in social and political activism.
Addams and her colleagues documented labor conditions, especially as they concerned child labor and sweatshops. Their work included a type of census of ethnicities and their living and working conditions. These studies were organized by Addams’ fellow social activists Florence Kelley and Julia Lathrop and others. Their efforts were important in those early years of social activism.
Hull House became an institution of worldwide influence. Social workers and reformers from various countries visited and studied the techniques used by workers at Hull House and the initiatives that powered and engaged the Chicago School of Sociology.
Addams legacy included the establishment of the first juvenile court in the world. Along with being a separate venue to try juvenile offenders, the court was a way to help professionals and social workers aid young people. Addams and her colleagues aimed to actively help youth find better futures.
The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders this quote from Jane Addams: “The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”