“Trolls” Have Been Around For Years

Jane Addams, ca. 1915 (Swarthmore Peace Collection).

People blame the Internet for what seems like the spread of anger, meanness and bad manners. While the internet makes it easier to reach more people with much more speed, the things that people share is not so terribly different. Internet trolls, hecklers, and flame warriors seem to be modern phenomena, but it is the method, not the content that is modern. In Jane Addams’ day they just used letters. After having lunch with Addams, journalist Arthur Gleason wrote a long diatribe, including:

“She doesn’t care about people. She doesn’t like you. She likes to move you & bend you. . . This is no Florence Nightingale, nor bread-feeding legendary nun! How troubled she would look & empty beside a life of purpose like Moody’s. The lady is just one more consummate trick performer. She only looks one in the eye occasionally & she wears a stoop & forward tilt of the head from constantly speaking into the ear of politicians & getting legislation & into the ear of millionaires and getting money.”–Arthur Gleason to Leila Seward Gleason, May 4, 1906

Trolls spread false information and try to foster anger and emotional outbursts by posting provocative or outrageous comments and reactions to content. Back in Addams’ day it was “hate mail” and while its audience was more focused, the emotions and anger behind it were strikingly similar.

Despite her reputation as America’s best-loved woman, Jane Addams received anonymous and signed attacks. In 1912, when she supported Theodore Roosevelt’s candidacy for President, her mail became a mine field, peppered with angry missives questioning her intelligence and honesty.

Theodore Roosevelt on the campaign trail, 1912. Roosevelt’s candidacy brought out strong feelings, both for and against him. (Library of Congress).

One letter, written by G.H. Bastian, begins by calling Addams “possibly blind to the fact that ‘Evil Communications Corrupt Good Manners.'” The letter goes on to savage Roosevelt,

Out of his own mouth a Liar, a most audacious liar, Lied about himself, about the President, about numberless persons and things. An international burglar “I took it,” he shamelessly prates, in reference to his theft of Columbian possession Panama. A consuming perjurer in that he violated his oath of office, an open flagrant violator of every confidence ever [reposed] in him. A shameless dirty mouthed black-guard whose vile tongue spoke evil of our best of men and women, even went so low as to label men “liars,” Crooks, brigands, 2nd story men, vampires and numberless other names degrading and dirty, can there be a doubt, a doubt in this day of [reckoning], in the day of exposé that Theodore Roosevelt is about the most unclean, the most vile, and contaminating citizen in the whole Country. – G.H. Bastion to Addams, August 26, 1912.

But then he turns towards Addams, and in language archaic, but with sentiments all  too familiar to what we see on Twitter and in web comment sections:

Can it be possible that in all New England a woman — Yes even in this vast Country a woman can be found who would be willing to stoop low enough to espouse such a man. Now in order to be Consistent you should at once move to New York. Secure an office in the Tenderloin, in the Red light district, in fact you should display a red light in the front window, and label the door a “Negro Assignation House in the rear.” In addition to espousing the noble degrading cause of Rooseveltism you could handle a few “white slaves.”- G.H. Bastion to Addams, August 26, 1912.

Similarly, Addams received an anonymous letter from a woman complaining:

I have been reading after you for some time and I thought you would be a help to Ignorant [women] — but I see Instead: you are only a dupe to Roosevelt. [He] never has been; nor never will be any help to [womankind] — outside of the use that man makes of them for their [passion] sake. . . –Anonymous to Jane Addams, 1912.

The author compares women supporting Roosevelt to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Adam (Roosevelt) was only looking out for himself, and “If women is going to vote the same spiteful way that men are voting It will only add fuel to their hellfire and women and girls will only be slaughtered more than we are now.” The letter goes on explaining that women have to work hard to “Redeem their Honor.”

Buffalo Times, January 25, 1919.

A study of internet “trolls” found that they score higher on the “Dark Tetrad” of personality traits (narcissism, sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism). A 2016 study found that they espouse “negative social potency,” — their cruelty and willingness to hurt other’s for personal gain or pleasure.  It is interesting to see what kinds of behaviors provoke such reactions. One of the instances when Addams received the most criticism and hate was in the early days of America’s entry into World War I. Addams had opposed the war since its outbreak, but unlike others, continued to speak out against it after the United States joined the Allies. It was not just individuals who called her out, it was the government, the press, and even former friends.

Newspaper editorials blasted her for stepping outside of her “place” and the attacks turned personal quite quickly. The Courier-Journal:

The World takes Miss Jane too seriously. She is by no means a mystic. Properly construed there is nothing ‘inexplicable’ about her. A commonplace woman of limited mentality, somewhat over-educated, she made a useful place for herself at Hull House. . . . But when, unsatisfied with plain, everyday settlement work, for which she seemed to have been fitted, she began to fancy herself a philosopher and started out as a writer and lecturer, she got away beyond her depth.” –Quoted in the Montgomery Advertiser, June 23, 1917.

Atlanta Constitution, August 10, 1917.

In another case, Addams was attacked by Mildred Rutherford who called Addams “pro-German,” a believer in “the amalgamation of the races,” and that her father “was a white slave trafficker.” In this case, Addams’s response was published in the Atlanta Constitution (right).

Most times, Addams did not respond to these jibes and slanders, preferring to follow the advice most apply when confronted with such people — Don’t feed the troll.

 

 

 

 

To read some of the criticisms, both mild and fierce, that Addams received, click here.

Jane Addams, Ida B. Wells, and Racial Injustice in America

Jane Addams made the acquaintance of renown African-American journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells in the summer of 1899. The circumstance of these two extraordinary women in Chicago engaged in different but overlapping endeavors to make the world a better place is one of those remarkable and inspirational historical coincidences that reinforces my fascination with the past. I can only imagine the conversations that took place between such formidable activists as Addams and Wells, but I can feel the power of their connection to each other and their mutual respect for each other’s work. Wells regarded Addams “as the greatest woman in the United States,” and Addams admired Wells’ exposés on lynching and considered the controversial woman a friend.

It was Wells who inspired Addams to take a public stand against lynching. After a mob in Maysville, Kentucky, burned alive an African-American man on Dec. 6, 1899, Wells organized a mass meeting in Chicago to protest the violence, and she invited Addams to participate. After the meeting attendees passed resolutions of protest to send to President William McKinley, Addams delivered a speech. She condemned the mob’s murderous actions and argued that such violence “further runs a certain risk of brutalizing each spectator, of shaking his belief in law and order, of sowing seed for future violence.” It was a simple truth, she argued, “Brutality begets brutality.” The speech was an important public assertion of her support for African-American civil rights, and it was her first significant connection to the movement for racial justice.

Jane Addams, ca. 1910

Addams’ 1899 speech formed the basis of her argument for an article published in January 1901 in The Independent, a popular weekly magazine dedicated to social justice and reform. In 1900, there had been 101 reported lynchings in the United States, and the press coverage of these murders in all of their horrifying detail outraged many Americans, particularly reformers like Addams. In the article “Respect for the Law,” Addams again condemned mob violence and argued that it jeopardized due process of law and legal justice in any society that allowed it. However, in making her arguments, she assumed that African-American victims of lynching might be guilty of the crimes of which white lynch mobs accused them. In the early twentieth century, many whites, particularly in the South, argued that lynching preserved the legal and social order by deterring crimes committed by African Americans. Yet in truth, whites deliberately employed such violence to counter African-American resistance and to reinforce white supremacy. Lynching functioned as a terrifying message to African-Americans who dared step outside the boundaries of the proscribed racial hierarchy. Ida B. Wells had spent her entire career exposing the myth of African-American criminality, and she was disappointed in her friend for lapsing into this old “thread bare” argument.

Four months after Addams’ article appeared, Wells published a rebuttal in The Independent. While she did not necessarily disagree with the power and value of her friend’s “dispassionate and logical argument” against lynching, she did object to the critical and “unfortunate presumption” upon which the argument rested. Wells objected to the assumption that black men were “bestial” and “uncontrolled,” and she believed that Addams’ presumption reinforced the stereotype of African-American inferiority. For Wells, the sole purpose of the lynch mob was to strip African Americans of their civil rights and their humanity. She also argued that any assertions of a lynch victim’s alleged crimes were only “excuses” for violence and “that the figures of the lynching record should be allowed to plead, trumpet tongued, in defense of the slandered dead, that the silence of concession be broken, and that truth, swift-winged and courageous, summon this nation to do its duty to exalt justice and preserve inviolate the sacredness of human life.”

Addams and Wells were both brilliant writers, but they approached the serious problem of lynching from very different experiences and perspectives. It is not surprising that Wells, who had been born a slave and who had personally faced the threat of violence as a journalist in Memphis, Tennessee, more keenly understood the underlying racism that informed the violence. Regardless, every single lynching that occurred in America was abhorrent to both women. Even though the number of reported lynchings were in general decline from the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries, mobs murdered 4,761 human beings by lynching from 1882-1930, nearly all of the years spanning Jane Addams’ adulthood, and 3,386 of them were African Americans.

Thinking and writing about lynching and interacting with the brave and brilliant Ida B. Wells, solidified in Addams’ mind the significance of racism in America. As a result, Addams became a strong proponent of African-American civil rights. Although racial justice was not directly central to her social work, her efforts for child labor restrictions and pure milk, for example, were meant for the benefit of all children. Jane Addams was an important figure in the movement for racial equality, and her name in connection with the movement no doubt inspired others to come along, as well. With Ida B. Wells, Addams spoke out against an effort to racially segregate the Chicago schools and was, in 1909, a founding member of the NAACP. She supported the establishment of an African-American settlement house in Chicago, promoted the work of Professor W. E. B. Du Bois, stood up for African-American delegates denied a role in new Progressive Party in 1912, and protested against racial segregation in the federal government under President Woodrow Wilson in 1913.

As with all people and cultural groups, Jane Addams viewed African Americans as deserving of social justice, as intelligent and capable, as possessed of a rich and beautiful culture, and as worthy of a voice in the political process. She was not a perfect ally, and she stumbled at times to fully understand the depths of the racism of her era, but her mind was open and she understood as least as well as any other American of her generation that the promise of America depended on equality for all Americans. She was absolutely convinced that respectful interactions of all groups of people within a society was possible, that there was mutual benefit in those relationships, and that every American—including every working-class man, woman, immigrant, child, and African American—was entitled to social, economic, and political justice.

by Stacy Pratt McDermott

Jane Addams Documents for Further Reading:

Respect for Law, January 3, 1901

The Progressive Party and the Negro, November 1912

Has the Emancipation Act Been Nullified by National Indifference, February 1, 1913

Jane Addams, Thomas William Allinson, Cyrus Bentley, et al. to Woodrow Wilson, August 26, 1913

Sources: Jane Addams, Anti-Lynching Address, Dec. 12, 1899, Jane Addams Papers, 1860-1960 (microfilm), 46:965-68; Call for a Lincoln Conference on the Negro Question, February 13, 1909, Jane Addams Digital Edition; Ida B. Wells, “Lynching and the Excuse for It,” The Independent, 53 (May 16, 1901): 1133-36; Fitzhugh Brundage, Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880-1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993); Kristina DuRocher, Ida B. Wells: Social Reformer and Activist (New York: Routledge, 2017); Alfreda M. Duster, ed., Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970); Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, Revolt Against Chivalry: Jessie Daniel Ames and the Women’s Campaign Against Lynching (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979); Katherine Joslin, Jane Addams: A Writer’s Life (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004); Thomas C. Leonard, Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics and American Economics in the Progressive Era (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016); Louise W. Knight, Jane Addams: Spirit in Action (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2010; Michael J. Pfeifer, Rough Justice: Lynching and American Society, 1874-1947 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004); Christopher Waldrep, The Many Faces of Judge Lynch: Extralegal Violence and Punishment in America (New York: Palgrave, 2002); Thirty Years of Lynching, 1889-1918 (New York: NAACP, 1919).

A Guest Blog Post by Taylor Mills on The New Women of Chicago’s World’s Fairs (1893-1934)

I was fortunate enough to get in contact with Taylor Mills, current curator at the Chisholm Trail Museum and recent graduate of the University of Central Oklahoma, who wrote her MA thesis on the women of the Chicago’s World’s Fairs from 1893-1934. She spoke of her interest in the topic, what her research focuses on, and her thesis process.

Picture: Arnold, C. D., “Looking West From Peristyle, Court of Honor and Grand Basin of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago, Illinois).” Official Views Of The World’s Columbian Exposition

My recent research focused on women’s roles in world’s fairs and the connection these roles had to women’s transitioning roles in society. I studied Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, 1925-1928 Woman’s World’s Fairs, and the 1933-1934 Century of Progress Exposition to determine the correlation between women’s representation within the fairs and the evolution of the new woman in the United States between 1893 and 1934. I was particularly interested in the concept of the new woman, which evolved from concepts of true womanhood, real womanhood, and public womanhood. Women’s roles in society and the expositions, I found, depended on and influenced the transformation of society’s understanding of womanhood.

My interest in this topic emerged from a fascination with world’s fairs, specifically those in Chicago, Illinois, during the Gilded Age and Progressive Eras. Paired with an interest in the women’s rights movement, it was only natural that I would find interest in women’s roles within the expositions. In my readings, though, I had noticed that women were often consigned to the sidelines of the narrative; furthermore, the research that recognized women’s roles were either too narrow or too broad in scope. For instance, Jeanne Weimann’s The Fair Women: The Story of the Women’s Building at the World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago 1893 (1981) details women’s roles within the sphere of the Women’s Building, which unfortunately limits the research to an aristocratic focus.[i] Several other resources within the historiography either resembled this manner of studying women in relation to world’s fairs, or they presented broad studies of the fairs with limited mention of women’s roles within the fairs. Examples of this would be Abigail Markwyn’s Empress San Francisco: The Pacific Rim, the Great West, and California at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (2014) and Robert Rydell’s All the World’s a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions (1984), 1876-1916, World of Fairs: The Century of Progress Expositions (1993), and Fair America: World’s Fairs in the United States (2000).[ii] In these monographs, the authors examined the overall significance of world’s fairs, which unfortunately limited the amount of research focused on women involved within those fairs.

In response to this historiography, I argue that it is impossible to understand the significance of the world’s fair without fully understanding the influence it had on women’s roles in society. In 1893, the Board of Lady Managers controlled their own space within the World’s Columbian Exposition; though it was a space designed specifically for affluent and influential women, it was fully owned and operated by women. This, I argue, produced a clear image of the new woman in 1893 as representing women’s advancements in education, industry, and reform. By 1933 and 1934, the new woman embodied personal freedoms alongside those elements of the 1893 new woman; I argue that spaces within and immediately outside the 1933 Exposition—Chicago Woman’s Club Building, the Social Science Hall, the Hall of Science, the Illinois State Building, the Streets of Paris—provided women with a space to demonstrate their progress and preview future progression. I conclude the thesis by arguing that it is imperative to recognize this growth of the new woman in order to study both women’s rights and world’s fairs, for the two studies go hand in hand.

[i] Jeanne Weimann, The Fair Women: The Story of the Women’s Building at the World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago 1893 (Chicago: Academy Chicago, 1981).

[ii] Abigail Markwyn, Empress San Francisco: The Pacific Rim, the Great West, and California at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014); Robert Rydell, All the World’s a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876-1916 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984); Robert Rydell, World of Fairs: The Century of Progress Expositions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993); Robert Rydell, John E. Findling, and Kimberly D. Pelle, Fair America: World’s Fairs in the United States (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 2000).

Jane Addams Papers Receives Federal Funding

I am delighted to announce that the Jane Addams Papers has received two federal grants, one from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and a two-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. We are extremely grateful for this support!

These grants are critical to our work which centers on bringing Jane Addams’ story to the public. Our digital edition (https://digital.janeaddams.ramapo.edu/) provides free access to documents (letters, speeches, articles, and reports) along with resources that make them accessible to every American. Jane Addams (1860-1935), America’s preeminent social worker, peace activist and progressive philosopher, was an icon of her time — called by some “the most dangerous woman in America,” and by others “the world’s best-known and best-loved woman.”

One thing that sets the Jane Addams Papers apart from other projects is its reliance on undergraduate students to create its digital edition. Ramapo College students learn how to work in digital humanities by analyzing and entering data on each document, transcribing it, and researching the people, organizations, and events that are mentioned in it.  With a grant from the New Jersey Humanities Council, teacher’s education students at Ramapo have also worked to build student and teacher resources using the digital edition. The unique hands-on experiences we provide make a difference as students look to joining the workforce or apply to graduate school.