A Nation in Mourning: The Death of Jane Addams

Jane Addams's funeral at Hull-House. Photographed by Wallace Kirkland. (Courtesy of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Department of Special Collections, Lea Demarest Taylor Papers).

Jane Addams’s funeral at Hull-House. Photographed by Wallace Kirkland. (Courtesy of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Department of Special Collections, Lea Demarest Taylor Papers).

On May 21, 1935, Jane Addams died, at the age of 74. Her funeral was held at Hull-House 81 years ago today.

Addams’ body was brought from the hospital and lay in state at Hull-House from 10am to 6pm on May 22nd and then from 9am to noon on May 23rd. A brief twenty-minute non-denominational funeral was held on May 23 at Hull-House. The papers reported that over 20,000 people pressed in to view and pay tribute to Addams at a rate of over one thousand an hour.

There was no demonstration. There was little conversation. The people stood about in little groups. They were waiting, and had been waiting for hours, just for a chance to pass rapidly through the hall inside and view for a second the peaceful face of their benefactor before she was taken to her girlhood home in Cedarville, Ill. to be buried in the tiny cemetery there. (Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, May 23, 1935)

Reporters talked to mourners, and noted the wide variety of people present. “Foreign-born men and women who claimed her as their best friend grieved beside millionaires and society matrons from the gold coast across town. Shiny limousines stood at the curb where several hundred Hull House “neighbors” waited, unable to find room in the court.” (DeKalb Daily Chronicle, Oct. 23, 1935).

There was no discrimination. A large wreath of orchids and lillies-of-the-valley sent by a wealthy man and his wife was no more prominently displayed than the blanket of bright red roses sent by one of the mothers’ clubs of Hull House.” (Chicago Daily Tribune, May 24, 1935.)

From the Adena Miller Rich Papers, Special Collections University of Illinois at Chicago.

From the Adena Miller Rich Papers, Special Collections University of Illinois at Chicago.

Among the prominent mourners were Anita McCormick Blaine, a long-time supporter of Hull-House, Robert Maynard Hutchins, the president of the University of Chicago, Harold Ickes, the Secretary of the Interior, and Sophonisba Breckinridge, also from the University of Chicago. But there were many more people from the neighborhood, people who knew Addams by her deeds.

A Negro woman trailed by seven solemn children–four boys and three girls–waited hours to reach the casket and then dropped out, tears streaming from her eyes, as she entered the hall. “I’d rather remember her like the day she brought my Martha a doctor when she was dying,” she sobbed. (Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, May 23, 1935)

From Bellaire, Ohio, when she learned of Addams’s death, Eleanor Roosevelt commented, “I’m dreadfully sorry. America has lost a great source of inspiration.”  Katharine Lenroot noted, “America has lost her greatest woman, her greatest social worker and the people of America have lost their most understanding and compassionate friend.” (New York Times, May 22, 1935).

 

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