Amy Merrill, playwright of ARDENT GIRLS, has an upcoming reading of her play on February 22. The play is about Jane Addams, the sisterhood at Hull House and Addams’ 1896 encounter with Leo Tolstoy. She was willing to talk to me about her project, her work and her passion for Jane Addams.
Merrill was inspired to write her play once she read about Jane Addams’ encounter with Leo Tolstoy. She read an excerpt from the “Second Twenty Years at Hull House,” where Addams traveled to Russia and Tolstoy could not stop staring at her sleeves. Merrill explained that this encounter gave Addams a lot to think about because Addams admired Tolstoy. But the experience gave Merrill “leeway to sort of come up with my own idea about what happened and how she felt about it and how the impact of the visit had on the rest of her life.”
In her play, Merrill depicts her idea of the Addams-Tolstoy encounter. She’s always been attracted to encounters by different types of people. Addams and Tolstoy are very idealistic, high-minded people, but they’re both different types of people. “It’s also fun to write the scene because it takes place in Russia at the Tolstoy Estate whereas most of the place takes place in Chicago. So it’s kind of fun to sort of transport everybody to Russia. So it’s the improbable, real-life encounter with Leo Tolstoy.”
Not only Tolstoy and Addams, but Merrill also paints the picture of Florence Kelley and Mary Rozet-Smith competing for Addams’ attention. She explains the two as an “effective duo” with Florence Kelley being very passionate with an interesting background and Jane Addams as a moderator. Mary Rozet-Smith was fun for Merrill because she’s not as flamboyant as the other women are, and writing all three of them in “ARDENT GIRLS.”
Addams was a “fighter for people having better lives and it’s inspiring.” With all of the sexual harassment cases and accusations coming out today, it’s important to remember Addams’ legacy. Amy Merrill admires Addams work and legacy and truly enjoyed writing a play about her. “To know Jane is to love her.” People have been thinking about her legacy and wish that she could be with us today.
For those in the Waltham, MA area, the public reading of “ARDENT GIRLS” will be held at the Merrick Theatre (Spingold Building) on February 22 at 7:30 pm at Brandeis University, Waltham, M.A.
One of the challenges that face 20th century editing projects, especially digital ones, is the need to obtain copyright permission. We are in the midst of researching and contacting heirs to the authors of letters in the Jane Addams Digital Edition. It is a complicated process, but one that is essential for historians, archivists and editors who publish materials online.
Documents published before 1922 are in the public domain. That means newspaper articles, journal articles, books, and other materials.
Documents published after 1922 may be in public domain, but you will need to determine whether the copyright has been renewed.
Unpublished documents are in public domain if the author died more than 70 years ago. If the author was a company, they are in public domain if the document was written more than 120 years ago. That means letters, unpublished reports, articles and speeches.
We have identified over 4,500 individuals and 600 organizations thus far in our work for the digital edition. Not all of these people wrote letters — some received the letter and others were merely mentioned in it. We do not need to clear permission for those individuals and organizations.
The Jane Addams Digital Edition tracks all mentions of people in documents. As our editorial assistants enter each document, they create links to the people already in the edition. For example, in a letter written to Jane Addams by Vida Dutton Scudder, we might record eight personal names — the author (Scudder), the recipient (Addams) and the names of four people mentioned.
If one or more of these people are new to the digital edition, the editorial assistant creates a new record for that person. While we don’t do a lot of research at this point on that person, we do try to secure birth and death dates. This year, the magic number is 1947. If our person died before 1947, we can mark their rights as public domain. Any documents written by them are all set for publication.
If, however, we cannot locate a death date, or we locate a date after 1947, we need to conduct some research. Editorial assistants flag the person’s record as copyright permission “pending.” We do this for all new names, whether or not they are authors.
As we move toward proofreading metadata and transcriptions for publication, we generate a list of all the documents in a given year that are not ready to publish. When we were not able to locate a death date, the editor will make another attempt to find it, and hopefully clear the documents. We are then left with a list of authors that are not in the public domain.
Our copyright research squad consists of two people, researcher Ellen Skerrett and project assistant Nina Schulze get down to the nitty gritty of copyright research.
There are a number of ways to try to locate the copyright holder of a deceased author.
If the person’s papers are stored at an archive, you can contact them. Often times they will have some information about the person who donated the papers, or have contact with family members. A good site to search for archival holdings is Archive Grid.
If the person is a published author, you may be able to contact their publisher, who may know who controls the copyright on the book, or who gets royalty payments. That can lead you to the next link in the chain.
Otherwise, we hope to find the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, or more distant relatives. Many people never dedicated their literary rights in a will, but they are assumed to fall to the heirs.
We use the genealogy site Ancestry.com and the digital newspaper site Newspaper.com, among other resources, to try to locate heirs. We look for the names of children in the available U.S. Census records, newspaper articles and obituaries, and other web-based resources. Obituaries are an invaluable resource because they update the names, especially of daughters who might have married, and in many cases provide the city or state where those survivors. We then use internet directories and phone books to try to locate current addresses.
Some people are easier to find than others. People with common surnames can be all but impossible, especially those who lived in large cities. When a person left no children, we try to go up the family tree. looking for a brother or sister, to find nephews, nieces, or cousins. It is usually easier to locate famous people’s families — the chances are better of finding a long and detailed obituary.
We then write a letter, hoping that we have gotten the right person, and wait for a result. These letters are fun to receive, often enclosing a letter written by an ancestor to Jane Addams that opens up a new story a family’s history. Family members are often amazed and intrigued to know how we were able to find them.
Good faith efforts
We are allowed to publish without securing copyright if we make a good faith effort to locating the heirs. For us, this means following all leads that we can find, tracking all known children. One of the ways that we keep looking after we have exhausted all leads is to post the names of people we still seek on our website. The hope is that you might Google an ancestor and find the project’s site, even if we can’t find you!
If you think your (great) grandmother knew Jane Addams….
We are still searching for more Jane Addams letters. If your family history involves an late 19th or early 20th century social reformer, peace activist, or settlement worker, or if your family had roots in Chicago or worked for woman suffrage, we would love to hear from you. We can check to see whether we have any letters in the archives we have searched, and would be delighted to include any letters your family might still hold.
I am pleased to announce that the Jane Addams Papers will be joining the Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC) Cooperative in its final phase of work. SNAC has been hosted by the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities and the University Library and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (2010-2012) and the Andrew Mellon Foundation (2012-2017). The Cooperative seeks to improve the economy and quality of archival processing and description, and build a global social-document network using both computational methods and human curation.
I first came across the SNAC web portal when doing research for biographies for our digital edition. SNAC provides biographical information, links to archival collections, and to related people, families and organizations.
I decided that we would make SNAC one of our go-to resources for our biographies. We link all our biographies to the SNAC record to enable our researchers to locate an ever expanding list of resources on that person. SNAC imports data from finding aids, Wikipedia entries, and other sources. As we made links between our biographies and theirs, I started to wonder whether we might be able to contribute materials as well. I reached out to Daniel Pitti, the project director.
The Jane Addams Papers is not an archive, but an edition, and I wasn’t exactly certain how what we we would interact with SNAC. With only two years of work under our belts, we have identified over 4,500 individuals, who wrote letters to Jane Addams, received letters from her, or were mentioned in the documents. Our individuals range from historical figures, like Plato and Wat Tyler, to Chicago police George Shippy and John McWeeny. We have over 100 suffrage activists, including Catherine Karaveloff, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Zofia Golińska-Daszyńska. There are philosophers, criminals, homemakers, and union leaders, and over 200 social workers and welfare activists. About 60% of the names we have linked thus far are men and 40% are women.
The people who come up in Addams’ documents are primarily American, but we have increasing numbers associated with Europe and Asia as Addams broadened her reach and networks. The screen shot below of our map view of individuals will change as we deal with more of Addams’s international peace work.
We are looking forward to seeing how SNAC can work with data coming from our Omeka-based digital edition. We will not be the only editing project joining at this time, the Walt Whitman Archive is also coming on board.
Since the Middle Ages, female servants referred to as maids have been serving Masters of prestigious wealth and status. In the past, maidens, who were young, unmarried women, had to dedicate service to their Masters for life and did not marry; these women did not expect wages as long as they received food, clothing, and a home to sleep in. As the working and living conditions of house maids have evolved, these domestic workers now have families of their own to serve. Women needed to earn enough to put food on the table or pay that month’s rent. Forming a lasting union where housekeepers can advocate for good pay, fair hours, and reasonable employers was often a figment of the imagination in the past and even now. House maids are still victims of long work hours with underpay.
Ellen Martin Henrotin, an active social reformer, tried to unite servant girls in 1901, believing that a union would provide better conditions for not only maids but also their employers as well. Jane Addams supported this movement and agreed that maids should come to know each other through organization. In fact, Addams advocated that maids should have another home to return to at night where they could be surrounded by friends. She told this story,
“I have just received a letter from a clever young woman I know, telling me that she wanted to attend a university this fall and get a Ph. D. She would be glad to do housework as a means to the Ph. D. end, but she could not live with the family by whom she would be employed.”
However, the lack of strategy in organizing these domestic workers is why maids have not yet earned a national union today. Each maid’s needs and working conditions are diverse, and it’s difficult for them to band together for a specific, common goal. Housekeeping does not have a formal hiring process because job opportunities come by word-of-mouth, and wages are set verbally.
Mexico saw progress when The National Union of Domestic Workers applied for recognition in 2015. The group targeted assistance toward victims of discrimination and violence in their employer’s homes. Yet, exclusion of groups from unions does not bring justice to everyone and leaves women angry.
When Sophie Becker organized the Working Women’s Association of North America in 1901, scrub women and laundresses were angry for not being asked to join. They cried, “I am just as good as you are.”
While maids have yet to band together for a national union, it is still important for women to fight for fair working conditions. As Jane Addams wrote,
“The number is increasing of those optimists in this country who are prone to say that everything is right and will come out right in the end. But we who are working for the improvement of the condition of wage-earners, are inclined to think that the conditions of women need improvement and that their condition will be bettered only as we concentrate intelligent thought upon the subject and are active toward that end.”
Sources: Jennings, Karla. “The History of Maids.” Hankering for History, 12 Aug. 2013, http://hankeringforhistory.com/the-history-of-maids/. Accessed 22 Aug. 2017; “In Trouble Already.” The Topeka Daily Capital, 25 Aug. 1901, p. 11; “Union as Aid to Maid.” The Inter Ocean, 23 Aug. 1901, p. 2; “Women Will Organize Women Wage Earners.” Oakland Tribune, March 27, 1905, p. 7.
As we head into the World War I years, Jane Addams’ life and her letters go international!
We are looking for someone familiar with German and early 20th century handwriting to work on a document-by-document basis translating German-language documents. At present we have only a handful, letters by women activists like Else Münsterberg of Berlin and Rosa Manus of the Netherlands, and short pamphlets enclosed in Addams’ incoming letters. But we anticipate adding more over the next few years.
If you are interested, please contact Cathy Moran Hajo (chajo at ramapo.edu) to discuss the work.
This spring, the Jane Addams Papers Project was delighted to help fund two eighth grade students, Lucy Roberts and Lindsey Alexander, from Chamblee Middle School in Georgia present their ten-minute performance on Jane Addams at the National History Day competition. The students advanced through their regional and state competitions and needed some help funding their trip to Maryland and the national contest. When preparing for the competition, they relied on the Jane Addams Digital Edition to provide primary source materials.
“National History Day requires projects to have a variety of sources, both primary and secondary,” said Lucy Roberts, who portrayed Jane Addams in the performance. “The Jane Addams Papers was so organized and helpful to help with primary sources. As far as the actual sources themselves, we used her letters and speeches to learn about her thoughts and political views.” The girls used excerpts from Addams’s autobiographies, which they found on the digital edition, as well as her opinions on immigration and labor to make their performance more historically accurate.
“What I think was the most interesting thing about Addams was her work as the city’s garbage collector. To me that was not only pretty surprising but admirable as well,” added Lucy.
National History Day invites students between sixth and twelfth grade to research a historical topic based on an annual theme and present their findings in a creative style manner as documentaries, research papers, exhibits, performances, or websites. With this year’s theme called “Taking a Stand in History,” Lucy and Lindsey were assigned to research Addams in class.
Lucy and Lindsey’s performance, “Jane Addams: Taking a Stand,” opened at Addams’s funeral in Hull-House in 1935. Lindsey, portraying a resident, passionately recited a eulogy about Addams and her life. Then, the play took the audience back in time by dramatically portraying Addams’s most significant accomplishments, such as becoming valedictorian at Rockford Seminary, co-founding the Hull-House, opposing World War I, and winning the Nobel Peace Prize. As Addams, Lucy used direct quotes from Addams’s letters and speeches, and Lindsey acted as a variety of Addams’s associates, such as Ellen Gates Starr, a Chicago Tribune reporter, and a poor immigrant, providing context for Addams’ views.
“Performing was much more difficult than I expected,” said Lucy. “There are a billion things you need to think about: facing the audience, speaking clearly, remembering your lines, blocking, props, etc. That’s why I enjoyed it so much. Not only do I love a challenge, but I got to see an idea turn into something tangible and real.”
Lucy and Lindsey did not win the national award, but thoroughly enjoyed the experience and their sightseeing in Baltimore. They visited Inner Harbor, the National Aquarium, and Hard Rock Café. “I really enjoyed that because the hard work was over and we could finally relax and enjoy the city,” said Lucy.
We are glad to have been able to help the girls have such a rewarding experience and congratulate them on their success.
The theme for 2018 is: Conflict and Compromise in History.
We are delighted to announce that the New Jersey Council for the Humanities has awarded the Jane Addams Papers a grant of $11,400 for our “Expanding Audience Participation with the Jane Addams Papers” project.
This project aims to encourage use of the digital edition among students, teachers, and the general public. We will build a crowdsourcing site where members of the public can engage with documents, create transcriptions, and rate the documents to build a new search option to highlights the most useful documents. We also want to encourage students to work with the digital edition, and will create guides for high-school and grammar school students working on National History Day projects and school projects. These tutorials will introduce topics, provide suggestions for the best texts and search strategies for that topic, and suggest sources for further research.
We will be collaborating with students in Ramapo’s Teacher Education program, with the New Jersey National History Day coordinators, and local middle and high school teachers to develop these new resources on our digital edition site.
The Jane Addams Papers’ mission is to digitize and describe the documents, and create historical context for them by identifying the people, organizations, and events mentioned in the texts. We have received funding from Ramapo College, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, and the Ruth McCormick Tankersley Charitable Trust to undertake this work. But we want to do more than build a site and hope that people will use it. Scholars and advanced students will find our site, but this outreach project will advance our mission by reaching out to students, teachers and the general public.
We think the best way to do that is to provide crowdsourcing opportunities and offer guides for using the documents in the classroom. National History Day is a very popular program that challenges students in middle and high school to interpret history through one of twelve general themes. For this year’s theme “Conflict and Compromise in History,” we advised students to look at Addams’ opposition to World War I, or her decision to open the Hull-House settlement, pointing them to the best documents and providing them with context. We will continue to expand the guides by adding more suggestions as we mount more material on the site. We also want to create topic guides for other issues, such as child labor, woman suffrage, and recreation.
We are looking forward to getting started on this exciting collaboration and will keep you posted on the results.
To better the lives of poor immigrants and children through Hull-House, Jane Addams often had to involve herself in the issues her residents cared about, such as child labor regulation, establishments of juvenile courts, overpopulated schools, and sanitation. To ensure that the government’s laws heard the voice of the poor, Addams often challenged the status quo, which made political leaders uneasy. Addams specifically butted heads with the corrupt alderman of the Nineteenth Ward, Johnny Powers. Born in Ireland in 1852, Powers moved to America at age 20 and settled in Chicago. He became a politician for the Democratic Party and served as alderman almost until his death in 1930. Since 1892, Hull-House fought Powers to build a new school for neighborhood children, which he opposed. Although ultimately victorious in that fight, Addams tried to get Powers to clean up the garbage in Chicago streets by collecting 1,000 complaints but failed.
This was the start of a political battle between the two. When Addams supported his 1896 opponent, Powers fought back by eliminating the garbage inspector position held by Addams and placing supervision of these activities under the Ward superintendent. This angered Addams because she had previously succeeded in surveying the streets each morning and decreasing Chicago’s litter.
Powers maintained his political influence by purchasing votes. In 1898, Addams wrote: “Last Christmas our Alderman distributed six tons of turkeys, and four or more tons of ducks and geese . . . It is easiest to reach people in the holiday mood of expansive good will, but on their side it seems natural and kindly that he should do it.” Powers often financed and appeared at funerals as well to gain support, earning him the nickname, “The Mourner.” Addams wrote: “If the Alderman seizes upon festivities for expressions of his good will, much more does he seize upon periods of sorrow. At a funeral he has double advantage of ministering a genuine craving for comfort and solace, and at the same time of assisting at an important social function” (1898). Addams argued that this made him seem like a man with virtue; however, he did not strive to help individuals. At the end of the day, the streets were unclean, schools were overcrowded, and parks were unusable.
In addition to owning two saloons, a gambling establishment, and a nice house, Powers sold city franchises and bought friends in the Council and courts. Addams demanded to know where he got his money from. “To their simple minds he gets it ‘from the rich,'” Addams wrote, “and so as long as he again gives it out to the poor, as a true Robin Hood, with open hand, they have no objections to offer” (1898).
In the 1898 elections, Addams supported Powers’s opponent, Simeon Armstrong. Because one-fifth of the voters’ jobs in the Nineteenth Ward depended on Powers’s largesse, it was a challenge for Addams to sway people’s self-interest towards a vote for Armstrong. She wrote, “If the so-called more enlightened members of the community accept public gifts from the man who buys up the Council, and the so-called less enlightened members accept individual gifts from the man who sells out the Council, we surely must take our punishment together” (1898).
Powers hit back against Addams in Chicago Tribune: “I am what my people like, and neither Hull House nor all the reformers in town can turn them against me,” he boasted. Powers claimed that Hull-House maligned the Ward, threatening, “Mark my word, a year from today there will be no such institution in the Nineteenth Ward.” Anonymous supporters of Powers sent violent letters to Addams during the election; but, others, like Professor William Hill, supported Hull-House, writing, “Those who make that institution their home have always regarded the people of the Nineteenth Ward as honest, hard-working citizens. Instead of standing on his own record, Powers is trying to shift the responsibility for neglected streets and empty houses upon somebody else” (1898).
Powers won the 1898 election. Despite Addams’s support for his opponents, Powers won re-election for the next 30 years. Though she failed to remove Powers from office, Addams learned through the experience. She realized that she needed to better understand and help her neighbors’ lives before wading in. Entering the political world interfered with her connections with Hull-House’s neighbors and made it more difficult for her to assist them and form relationships with them. After the election, she returned to helping her neighbors directly as well as working with the Chicago Bureau of Charities, which began development in 1894.
Addams’s short-lived success in keeping the Ward’s streets clean also taught Chicago residents to understand how their political leaders should work, challenging Powers and his patronage system in a more indirect way. As Ray Stannard Baker wrote in “Hull House and the Ward Boss” in 1898, “If it does not succeed, at least the residents of the ward will have had a stirring lesson in political morality, which will clear a way for success at another time.”
“Defi to John Powers: Antis Accept the Hull House as the Campaign Issue. ” Chicago Tribune, 3 Mar. 1898, p. 7.; Jane Addams, “Why the Ward Boss Rules,” Outlook 58, no.14 (April 2, 1898): 879-82.; Kendall. “Alderman John Powers’ Home Bombed by Political Rivals.” The Chicago Crime Scenes Project, 17 May 2009, Blogger.com, http://chicagocrimescenes.blogspot.com/2009/05/alderman-john-powers-home-bombed-by.html. Accessed 21 Jun. 2017.; “Powers and Cullerton Talk.” Chicago Tribune, 6 Apr. 1898, p. 10.; Ray Stannard Baker, “Hull House and the Ward Boss,” Outlook (March 26 1898): 769-771.; Schneiderhan, Erik. The Size of Others’ Burdens: Barack Obama, Jane Addams, and the Politics of Helping Others. Stanford University Press, 2015.; Scott, Anne Firor. “Saint Jane And The Ward Boss.” American Heritage, Dec. 1960, http://www.americanheritage.com/content/saint-jane-and-ward-boss. Accessed 28 Jun. 2017.; “War on Hull House” Chicago Tribune, 2 Mar. 1898, p. 12.
The Third Women’s History in the Digital World conference was held on July 6-7, 2017 at Maynooth University in Ireland and the Jane Addams Papers presented a panel on our digital edition. Editor Cathy Moran Hajo, Assistant Editor Victoria Sciancalepore, and our web developer Anneliese Dehner combined to present three aspects of “Editing Jane Addams.”
Cathy led off the panel talking about the “Big Picture: Conceiving a Digital Edition of Jane Addams’ Papers,” providing a short history of the Addams Papers microfilm and book projects, and the process that went into deciding to digitize the microfilm edition. The decisions to be made involved thinking through the audience for the edition and what kinds of tools and resources they needed. In addition, Cathy discussed the decision to use the Omeka database-driven platform for the digital edition rather than using text encoding using XML. Going with a web-publishing friendly system allowed the Addams Papers to design a site that not only provides deep metadata, but also manages the project’s internal workflow, tracking information on each document as it passes through our permissions and copyright checks, metadata and transcription, and proofreading. Cathy also talked about her desire to see the Addams Papers edition be flexible enough that scholars and students can use its materials to build their own research projects.
Tori’s talk, “The Nuts and Bolts: How an Omeka-based Digital Edition Works,” brought us into the back end of the project, showing how we defined the metadata and relations between the 21,000 eventual documents, and the entries on people, organizations, publications, and events that are discussed in them. She described the use of the Items Relations Omeka plugin, which we tweaked some, to build an edition that lets users move flexibly between drafts and final versions, letters written by and to a person, and individuals who were members of an organization, or participated in an event. She also talked about how we decided on a transcription policy. Because we make the images of the documents available on the site, we wanted our transcriptions to be more useful as a search mechanism. We decided to standardize our transcriptions (converting British spellings, archaic spellings, and misspellings) as long as we used brackets to signal that the editors had changed the text. Readers who want to see the original need only click to see the manuscript image. She also discussed our student workers at the Addams Papers–the engine that keeps the project moving. With editors focused on training and quality control, it is a cadre of 10-15 Ramapo College undergraduates that are entering and transcribing documents and researching and writing identifications.
Anneliese discussed “Designing a User Interface for a Digital Edition.” Coming from the perspective of a digital library developer, Anneliese talked about her experiences working on the Jane Addams Papers and the Kentucky Civil War Governors Papers, also an Omeka site. Discussing the different values that the project had, she walked through the way that developers work with editors to configure their sites, looking at who the intended users of the site will be, the kinds of searching they will need, and how much metadata should be used for site navigation. Anneliese noted that the Addams site was interested in exposing metadata, developing spatiotemporal context for documents, and creating branching paths through the edition. The Kentucky Governors project looked to create a more linear path through documents, but were more interested in presenting transcriptions alongside images of documents.
In addition to our panel session, we were able to learn about some extremely interesting projects in women’s history, both here in the U.S. and abroad. Rachel Love Monroy, Lauren N. Haumesser and Melissa Gismondi discussed the Founding Women project that seeks to build a federated documentary edition of a variety of women’s papers. Eric Pumroy spoke about Collegewomen.org, which seeks to build an inclusive resource about late 19th and early 20th century college experiences for women. Cécile Gotdon spoke about Ireland’s Military Pension Project, a fascinating look at detailed records of men and women involved in the Irish military between 1916-1923. And Alvean E. Jones’ work to provide access of the history of St. Mary’s School for Deaf Girls in a way that makes it accessible to deaf scholars, by translating digitized material into Irish Sign Language videos. Helena Byrne discussed a project to gather a digital history of Irish women’s indoor football leagues in the 1960s. And Liz Stanley gave a wonderful presentation on the Olive Schreiner Letters Online and the difficulty of representing a person from the things left behind.
Thanks to all who attended for a fascinating time!
A lot of times, college students sit at their desks, tapping their pens against their notepads during the middle of a three hour lecture and begin to think, “This relates nothing to my major; why do I need to sit through this?” Although initially eager to begin the college experience that opens up the doorway for a diverse range of opportunities, students are pummeled by essays and group assignments that heavily decrease their enthusiasm for a college degree. It’s especially frustrating to heave through the general education requirements, like math, English, and science, when they do not relate to the student’s major. How am I going to impact the world by sitting in Critical Reading and Writing 102, or First Year Seminar? Are all these classes I’m taking even going to lead me anywhere?
Like most college students, Addams had a lot of ambition entering Rockford Seminary at the age of 17. She, too, wanted to impact the world by pursing an education; however, Addams had many barriers and limitations that would delay her successes like the Hull House or recognition for her speeches on women suffrage, child labor, etc. As New York Times writer David Brooks writes in his article, “The Jane Addams Model,” Addams was a “morally ambitious young woman who dreamed of some epic life service without much idea about how it might come about… In her twenties she was one of those young people who don’t get to themselves quickly.”
During Addams’s education she desired to pursue a degree in medicine, but Rockford, which was a seminary at the time, encouraged careers associated with religion. Like many college students who are indecisive in choosing their own majors, Addams considered transferring to Smith College in Massachusetts, but never followed through with it. After finishing school at Rockford, Addams felt limited in her education because there weren’t many career paths options for women in additional education.
Addams faced a range of personal problems that affected her education as well. After graduating Rockford, her father, whom she viewed as one of her closest friends, died. She wrote two weeks after his funeral, “how purposeless and without ambition am I.” Any motivation she had about pursuing another degree disappeared with the death of her father. When Addams did eventually enroll in medical school, she suffered from severe back pains and psychological problems and chose to admit herself into a hospital instead. In addition to these issues, she felt pressure from her family to focus inward on them rather than pursue her education.
Her life filled with the same uncertainties that many of us students have, Addams chose to leave these pressures and travel outside her comfort zone. Seeing London’s streets of poverty rekindled the desire to connect with people personally. Addams recognized the contrast between the way she lived her life and the streets of Chicago and felt inspired to not only provide effective services, but also protect the dignity of those she helped. In order to do this, she thought about who she ought to be and started changing her life in small ways. With these small changes, she was able provide comfort and safety to thousands of immigrants through the Hull-House.
Students may not always know where they are headed; but the truth is Addams didn’t know either. Changing a lifestyle and becoming uncomfortable to do what’s good for others are small steps for big achievements. A three hour lecture in Math for the Modern World may be boring, or writing an essay on a topic unrelated to a major may seem useless, but they may lead to opportunities or spark a buried passion. For students, making an impact can be a simple as joining clubs on campus that they are interested in. If Addams were alive today to speak to these students, she would encourage them to vocalize their desires on a club’s executive board.