Elections: Then and Now

As the final homestretch of the 2016 election approaches and peoples’ passionate responses to the candidates hits an all-time high, we at the Project are reading up on the 1912 election where Jane Addams is knee-deep in the political consequences of supporting the Progressive Party. Moving forward and making “progress” is the aim of both the Progressive Party of 1912 and the 2016 Democratic Party, who call to their 2016 Party platform as the most progressive ever. What was progressive in 1912 is not necessarily progressive now, especially with a hundred year gap. Such as a reform close to Jane Addams’ heart, woman’s suffrage. In 2016, progressive voting reform stands against voter discrimination and intimidation. The Progressive Party, as a third party, was a counter to the Democratic Party of 1912, led by Woodrow Wilson, and the Republican Party of 1912, led by William Taft and stood out as the first party to support universal suffrage. It was also the last third party to come so close to the Presidency, though ultimately the split in the Republican Party left the Democrats in control of the White House. Though by our standards the Progressive Party of 1912 is quite conservative, for the time it was remarkably radical.

The Democrats were still the “white man’s party” that they had been during the Civil War era but they were also very focused on wasteful spending and commercial concerns. Republicans were also concerned about money and the protection of American rights at home and abroad.  Progressivism focused primarily on improving the practical conditions of workers. The Progressive Party supported a minimum, living wage, as well as legal, comprehensive safety measures for workers, full and public disclosure about the wages and labor conditions.  In 1912, the Progressives called for a minimum wage and limited work hours specifically for women and “young people” and not for all workers. In 2016 the Democratic platform calls for a minimum wage of $15 for everyone, regardless of race, age, or gender. Both the 1912 Progressives and the 2016 Democrats support of the right of individuals to organize to protect their rights as workers.

The Progressive Party also had strong views on suffrage. While they did support women’s suffrage, the Party in general and Teddy Roosevelt in particular, were less kind to black people. Despite the 15th Amendment, passed in 1870, giving the right to vote to any man, regardless of race, some members of the leadership thought it should be taken away from them. This debate is not shared by the modern Democratic Party, who is firmly behind the right of all people to vote, and more importantly, to vote without intimidation. 2016 Democrats believe in making voting easier by making the voting booth more accessible, particularly for seniors and disabled Americans, an idea that follows the Progressive ideal of granting more rule to the people. Although not so easy that you can text it in quite yet! Maybe one day we will vote from the comfort of our homes, but for now everyone still has to vote by absentee ballot or at the polls. Prior to the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913, US senators were appointed by the state legislature. The Progressive Party strongly opposed this practice, claiming that the people should have a right to elect their representatives more directly, yet another reform that made modern democracy possible

A progressive platform in 2016 goes far beyond the imaginations of Jane Addams and her fellow Progressive 100 years ago. Where they supported women’s suffrage, and Addams was criticized for taking an active role in traditional politics, the Democratic Party of 2016 has nominated a woman to fill the highest office in the country. The rights of minorities, including people of color and those in the LGBT community have taken center stage in 2016 in a way they never did in 1912. The world, including the United States, has changed dramatically since 1912.

And still, the roots of the same types of concerns that were discussed in 1912 are still discussed today. Things like women’s rights, workers’ rights, discrimination, Big Business, healthcare, and voting were hot topics then just as much as they are today. Legal protections for women do not necessarily extend to their paychecks, despite the Equal Pay Act. Class differences are still stark and spark protests, like Occupy Wall Street. Workers rights are still being trampled on, especially for people who are here illegally or are impoverished. There is still work to be done and voting is one way to help make your voice heard.

Don’t forget to vote tomorrow, Tuesday, November 8th!

Reading Jane Addams’ Palms

Fortune telling, in the forms of reading tea leaves, tarot cards, palms, and crystal ball gazing, have long been popular forms of entertainment. People were and are fascinated to see readings of celebrities, hoping to learn more about them.

Nellie Simmons Meier

Nellie Simmons Meier

Palm readers could become celebrities in their own right, like Nellie Simmons Meier (1864-1944) who built an international reputation as a palmist by insisting that it was a scientific practice rather than an occult hobby. Meier did not tell fortunes–she conducted “character readings”–but she gathered them for some of the most famous people in the early 20th century–Albert Einstein, Margaret Sanger, George Gershwin, Walt Disney, and Jane Addams. Meier organized over 100 palm prints and character readings into chapters in a book, called Lion’s Paws, that she published in 1937.

Addams’ palms were included in the chapter “Can The Leopard Change His Spots?,” along with Norman Thomas, Margaret Sanger, Susan B. Anthony, Ben B. Lindsey, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Jacob Riis. She prefaced the readings with a question:

If a reformer or a radical makes his living in the very work of reform, he is doubly suspect; if he makes no money, he is believed to be seeking notoriety, honor, distinction. Do the hands of reformers and radicals sustain this suspicion?

Addams's right hand print, as published in Lions Paws

Addams’s right hand print, as published in Lions Paws

When Meier observed Addams’ palms she noted both the extraordinary similarities and important differences between her prints and those of Susan B. Anthony’s. Both women, she reported, demonstrated practical and executive ability, appreciation of the arts, and honesty, as well as strong wills and love for others. However, she saw important differences, primarily centering around the reasons that they did what they did.

Addams, Meier claimed, was motivated by the individuals she helped. For her it was not about fame or even about the “common good” as she claimed it was for Anthony. Rather, everything came down to her interactions with individuals, and the justice and mercy served, rather than a more nebulous greater good. It is certainly evident that Addams cared about those around her and wanted to help people–if she had not she probably would not have started Hull House or crusaded for the rights of workers and immigrants.

Addams's left palm print, as published in Lion's Paws.

Addams’s left palm print, as published in Lion’s Paws.

According to the palm reader, Addams was also a born conservative, cautious about everything. Something that, intriguingly enough, appears to be present in many of her letters, which paint a picture of Addams as a woman who is faultlessly polite and dignified- the very image of a conservative woman.

Is Meier’s character reading an accurate one? It certainly seems to be in line with the Jane Addams in the letters being transcribed. However, this is also information anyone could get just by reading her books and news articles about her. These present a picture of a woman who sounds exactly as Meier described. Of course, it is possible that Jane Addams’ kindness, generosity, and care for others was indeed written in her hand, but perhaps it is more important that it was written in her life.


For more on Nellie Simmons Meier and her character readings, see finding aids to collections of her papers at the Library of Congress and the Indiana Historical Society. For details on her home, see a description of Tuckaway from Historic Meriden Park.

What would this election mean to Jane Addams?

In the wake of Super Tuesday and with all the fuss about the presidential election, I was wondering: What would Jane Addams think about our latest crop of presidential candidates and the political system we have in general? Well, we can’t really know since she died in 1935, but thanks to her prolific writing we do know what she valued in the political system. As always, her focus was on the people, not the ones in power. She had little patience for politicians who put their own interests and beliefs above those of the people they served, especially on the city level. However, she was also extremely critical of elected officials who pander too much to their constituents and put them before humanity as a whole. In short, Addams wanted a politician who could achieve a balance between caring about the people they served and being able to look towards effecting change on a much grander scale.

Addams-1900

Finding someone who fits this definition is not easy. After all, Tammany Hall may have been corrupt and self-interested, but also offered tangible help to their constituents. Was it any surprise then that they stayed in power so long? Addams argued that “the successful candidate…must be a good man according to the morality of his constituents” (Democracy and Social Ethics, 229). She was right then and her words ring true today as well. Today we see over and over again elected officials who focus exclusively on their most loyal groups, often to the exclusions and detriment of other groups, be they religious, racial, or socioeconomic. This is not a good way to run the most powerful country in the world. Placing the whims and needs of a few over those of the whole is selfish and makes any kind of progress for the good of the whole extremely difficult, but is also the simplest way to get elected.

The thing Addams criticized most in elected officials was their machinations and manipulations. She despised how they used events- sad and happy- to convince people to vote for them. She also disliked when officials bribed people, especially when they did it subtly enough that their constituents didn’t realize what was happening. Addams strongly looks down on manipulating situations because “many a man…has formulated a lenient judgement of political corruption” (Dem & S.E., 239) She spoke primarily about more local officials, but arguably it can be applied to the national level as well, especially when one considers the role of backers and endorsements. The system is corrupt and works not for the good of the people, but for the good of those in charge. This arguably is one reason why there is so much opposition and difference in modern American politics. Neither of the parties in American politics put the people before the big funders and any attempts to make meaningful reform are blocked as quickly as possible to prevent upAddamsKids1930setting the donors. Therefore, the system is continually chasing its own tail and cannot actually accomplish anything.

So what would this election mean to Addams? Truthfully, she most likely wouldn’t like any of the candidates. Her policies are more in line with Bernie Sanders than with Donald Trump, however, in her day she challenged all the elected officials and demanded that they improve and pay more attention to the needs of the people and I see no reason why she would change her opinion today. Addams was certainly a woman who knew her own mind and had no interest in keeping those opinions under wraps, at least not where the rights of the poor were concerned, and she wielded the influence she had to create change. That doesn’t strike me as the kind of woman who would sit this election out and just quietly support a candidate, but rather a woman who would use the influence she wielded to force all candidates to listen to her.

 

All I can say is #JaneAddamsForPresident2k16

Hull House Haunting

Hull-House

Hull-House

As Halloween nears, we turn to the more spirited side of the Hull House that Jane Addams started. The House itself, which was built by Charles Hull in 1856, was in an area of Chicago that was extremely fashionable before the Great Fire in 1871. After the Great Fire, the wealthy of the area left and moved to other areas, leaving the West Side of Chicago to be turned into a place for the poorest of the poor, from prostitutes to immigrants. It was these people that Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr wanted to reach out to. They therefore rented the house…and made a surprising discovery. The house was haunted by Charles Hull’s late wife.

Addams and Starr were not the first inhabitants of the Hull House to meet the late Mrs. Hull. The house had been rented out before and the tenants saw her ghostly figure in the room that had been hers. Terrified, they attempted to combat it by placing a pitcher of water over the threshold, believing that spirits could not get over the running water.

Jane Addams, ca. 1907 (Library of Congress)

Jane Addams, ca. 1907 (Library of Congress)

Addams slept originally in the room where Mrs. Hull died, which was where her spirit allegedly remained. While there, she saw Mrs. Hull a few times and, though Addams determined that she seemed to mean no harm, eventually decided to move into another room. They did not completely close off the room, however, and sometimes had guests stay in there. Some of these guests also saw Mrs. Hull’s spirit. Today, the house is included on Ghost Tours in Chicago and has a reputation as one of the most haunted places in Chicago, despite the relatively benign nature of the ghost.

In addition to the rather less frightening ghost of Mrs. Hull, there was the rumor of a Devil Baby ensconced in the attic of the Hull House. Though Jane Addams continually denied the existence of such a disfigured child hidden away in the attic, the legend persisted and even grew before it eventually died down, though it never vanished completely. Jane Addams herself took to The Atlantic in 1916 to explain the truth of the matter. In that article, she explores not just the legend of the Devil Baby, but why that story held the minds of the women that she serviced.

Headline from the Muskogee Times-Democrat, June 16, 1914.

Headline from the Muskogee Times-Democrat, June 16, 1914.

The Devil Baby has two different versions, one for the Italian Catholics and one for the Jews, though they were essentially the same. In both versions, there is an innocent bride whose husband is the villain and causes their child to be born with horns and a tail- a Devil Baby. In some versions, the baby can also spout profanity within a few months. All stories, however, conclude with the distraught mother bringing the baby to the Hull House, where a mystified Jane Addams locked it in the attic because she had no idea what to do with it.

This story, of course, was fervently denied by Addams and the rest of the Hull House staff. They insisted that the first time they ever heard the story was when two women appeared at the doorstep, wanting to see the Devil Baby for themselves. Though they were quickly turned away, they were just the first in a steady stream of visitors, seeking to see this mysterious child. Though the child never existed, the legends of it persisted, and in many ways are similar to other urban legends, such as the Jersey Devil.

So why do these kinds of stories hold the imaginations of the people, even today? Jane Addams’ theory was simply that they were a form of warning tale. Abuse was exceptionally prevalent in this period, particularly domestic abuse of wives by their husbands. Thus, the story of the Devil Baby is a morality tale of what can happen when the man of the household fails to be faithful and appropriately religious and therefore disrespects his wife and family. Though there was no actual Devil Baby caused by a cruel father, the hope that it gave the women that it would keep the menfolk in line to hear of the potential consequences of their actions was an important aspect of Jane Addams’ work and this rumor helped her determine where the women needed the most help.

Whether the hauntings of Hull House were real or not, they are certainly a rich part of the house’s legacy and the importance of the house in the history of Chicago.


 

Sources:

Jane Addams, “The Devil-Baby at Hull House,” The Atlantic, Oct. 1916.

Weird and Haunted Chicago: A guide to Ghosts, Local Legends, and Unsolved, Mysteries of the Windy City.

Social Settlement as Contested Space: Addams’ Personal Faith versus her Public Uses of Relgion,” in Urban Experience in Chicago: Hull-House and its Neighborhood, 1889-1963.

Jane Addams and the Legends of Hull-House,” Chicago’s Haunt Detective.