Striving for Social Justice: Jane Addams and Sophonisba Breckinridge

By Anya Jabour, Regents Professor of History, University of Montana

The subject of my new book, Sophonisba Breckinridge: Championing Women’s Activism in Modern America, worked closely with Jane Addams for decades. The two women, along with other reformers affiliated with Hull House, championed labor legislation, provided services to immigrants, promoted woman suffrage, and advocated for world peace. Together, they were a powerful force for social justice.

Born and raised in Kentucky, Breckinridge came to Chicago to pursue higher education at the coeducational University of Chicago. After earning her M.A. (1897) and Ph.D. (1901) in political science, she graduated with her J.D. (1904) at the top of the Law School’s first graduating class.  After completing her coursework, Breckinridge taught a pioneering course on “The Legal and Economic Position of Women” that brought her into contact with the Second City’s labor organizers and social reformers.

Breckinridge’s concern about the plight of working women initiated her long association with Hull House and its head resident, Jane Addams. In 1905, at Addams’s suggestion, she accepted an appointment as Inspector of Yards, investigating the working conditions of women in Chicago’s infamous stockyard district. Breckinridge spent more than four months inspecting the facilities and interviewing the employees of “Packingtown,” mostly immigrant girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 22.  Working in cold, windowless rooms and standing on “dirty, blood-soaked, rotting wooden floors” for ten hours a day, the workers “toil[ed] without relief in a humid atmosphere heavy with the odors of rotten wood, decayed meats, stinking offal,” and human waste from the doorless privies that vented directly into the workrooms.  Breckinridge found her task exhausting, both physically and emotionally.  To Addams, she confessed, “I was getting where I could not sleep—the vision of the day’s work presses in so!  Not my own day’s work—but that of the crews of girls I see marching past me now.”

Breckinridge translated her emotional response to women workers’ abysmal working conditions into social scientific scholarship and policy recommendations. In addition to publishing her study on women workers in the stockyards, she reported her findings to the U.S. Labor Department. With the support of settlement house workers, clubwomen, and trade unionists, she helped persuade the department to provide funding for a full-scale investigation. Ultimately, the nineteen-volume report on the working conditions of wage-earning women and children, published between 1910 and 1913, provided the basis for the establishment of two new federal bureaus, the U.S. Children’s Bureau and the U.S. Women’s Bureau.  These government agencies would advocate for a ban on child labor and better working conditions for women for decades to come.

Breckinridge (right) with Julia Clifford Lathrop (left) University of Chicago Photographic Archive, [apf1-02244], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.
Breckinridge’s work with Addams on behalf of working women soon led to an invitation to live and work at Hull House. As Russell Ballard, one of the few male residents of Hull House, expressed it, “a brilliant company of women were drawn to the settlement to pioneer in the promotion of social change. The scholarly and talented Sophonisba Breckinridge joined the company in 1907 to become one of Miss Addams’ closest friends and most helpful associates.” Although her responsibilities at the University of Chicago prevented her from living at Hull House full-time, Breckinridge spent all of her vacation quarters—and much of her limited free time—at Hull-House, where she was listed as an official “resident” from 1907 until 1921.

Breckinridge became one of Addams’s closest colleagues. She helped to raise funds for the settlement, served as a substitute speaker when Addams was unavailable, and assisted Addams with her correspondence.  Breckinridge’s papers are filled with hastily scrawled notes from Addams, invariably beginning with the exclamatory greeting “Dear Lady!” and closing, “Hastily yours, Jane Addams.” In response to such letters, Breckinridge assisted Addams in innumerable ways, both large and small, leading Addams to close one typical letter asking Breckinridge to perform a task, “I do hope that I am not putting too many things ‘off’ on you.” Breckinridge always came through for Addams, signing one letter, “Yours to command always.”

Soon after Breckinridge took up residence at Hull House, she joined a special committee investigating the conditions confronting young single immigrant women who arrived in the city, lost and alone and vulnerable to both sexual and economic exploitation.  A typical case was that of Bozena, “a nice young Bohemian immigrant girl” who was “so eager for work . . . that she had taken the first job she could find—in a saloon.”  As fellow Hull House resident Edith Abbott, Breckinridge’s colleague at the University of Chicago, explained: “The saloonkeeper had abused her shamefully and then turned her out when he found that she was to become the mother of his illegitimate child.”

Hull House residents helped Bozena file charges, obtain childcare, learn English, gain citizenship, and find work. But Breckinridge and Addams soon realized that the problem of “lost immigrant girls”—as well as the difficulties confronting immigrant men and children—was too widespread for existing service agencies to address.  As Addams explained the problem:

Every year we have heard of girls who did not arrive when their families expected them, and although their parents frantically met one train after another, the ultimate fate of the girls could never be discovered; we have constantly seen the exploitation of the newly arrived immigrant by his shrewd countrymen in league with the unscrupulous American; from time to time we have known children detained in New York and even deported whose parents had no clear understanding of the difficulty.

With Addams’s enthusiastic support, Breckinridge proposed the creation of a new organization, and the Immigrants’ Protective League was established in 1908.  As Abbott recalled: “This problem of the unaccompanied girls proved to be challenging; but nothing that ought to be done seemed impossible to Miss Breckinridge!”

Breckinridge at Green Hall at the University of Chicago. (Courtesy of University of Chicago Photographic Archive, [apf1-02252], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.)
The Immigrants’ Protective League provided essential assistance to Chicago’s immigrants—women, men, and children. One of the League’s first major accomplishments was establishing “a kind of immigration station” to welcome new arrivals.  Immigrants who arrived in Chicago by train met with League agents—chosen to represent the nationalities and speak the languages of their clients— who helped orient newcomers to the city.  Agents provided new arrivals with information about employment opportunities, social services, and evening classes. One of the principal goals of the League was to protect immigrants from exploitation.  At the welcome station, agents helped new arrivals steer clear of unscrupulous cab drivers, fraudulent employment agents, and the ever-present “cadets” who recruited young women into prostitution.  Breckinridge also persuaded local women’s clubs to provide funds for the League to provide temporary lodging for young immigrant women.  In only four years, the League served close to 80,000 immigrants at its welcome station.

Breckinridge and Addams continued to team up to advance social reform. In 1911, they were elected vice-presidents of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Under their leadership, the Second City quickly became a “stronghold for the cause.” However, internal dissension caused both women to dread meetings of the national board, which Addams compared to being immersed in “boiling oil.”

Tensions came to a head in Fall 1912, when Breckinridge and Addams, in defiance of the suffrage organization’s traditional commitment to non-partisanship, declared their support for Progressive Party presidential candidate Theodore Roosevelt. Addams, Breckinridge, and other activists not only convinced the third-party candidate to support woman suffrage, but also helped to shape the Progressive Party’s agenda. The third-party platform, known as the “Contract with the People,” was modeled on the “Platform of Industrial Minimums” adopted at the 1912 National Conference of Charities and Corrections, where both Breckinridge and Addams played prominent roles. The platform included demands for a “living wage,” unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation for all workers, as well as special protections for women and children in the workforce.

However, Breckinridge and Addams failed to convince NAWSA leadership that the suffrage movement should use party politics to promote either women’s rights or social welfare. Instead, president Anna Howard Shaw publicly denounced “party ties.” This uncomfortable situation led both Addams and Breckinridge to resign their posts after only a year in office.

Although they remained active in the suffrage movement, after leaving office, Breckinridge and Adams shifted their focus away from NAWSA and toward the Woman’s Peace Party, which they co-founded in 1915 in response to armed conflict in Europe—what would later become known as World War I. The Woman’s Peace Party was the first U.S. pacifist group to treat “peace as a women’s issue.” Many members believed that women had a special responsibility to protect life and thus to prevent war. The party preamble and platform called on women, as “the mother half of humanity,” to oppose the “reckless destruction” of human life resulting from warfare.  At the same time that they emphasized women’s special responsibility for peace work, feminist pacifists also demanded equal political rights for women.  Believing that women’s full participation in the political process was essential to ending global conflict, members of the Woman’s Peace Party worked for both women’s rights and world peace.

As chairperson and treasurer of the Woman’s Peace Party, respectively, Addams and Breckinridge represented the new organization at an international feminist-pacifist gathering known as the International Congress of Women and held at The Hague in 1915. The Congress enthusiastically adopted many of the measures proposed by the U.S. representatives, calling for the creation of an international peacekeeping body, national self-determination for all countries, and equal political participation for women. Following the Congress, two delegations visited political and religious leaders of both neutral and belligerent nations.  When Addams, who participated in the visits, returned home, she did so as the first president of the new International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace.

Addams, Breckinridge, and other members of the Woman’s Peace Party took the lead in attempts to find a peaceful solution to the ongoing war.  After Addams returned to the United States, she and Breckinridge worked with both male and female pacifists in Chicago and New York to pressure President Woodrow Wilson to intervene in the European conflict as a neutral intermediary. Addams hand-picked Breckinridge for a special committee assigned to consult with other pacifists within and beyond the U.S. on strategies to “make propositions to the belligerenets [sic] in the spirit of constructive internationalism.”

Throughout the war, Addams, Breckinridge, and other members of the Woman’s Peace Party pressured President Wilson to intervene in the war to produce a “negotiated peace.” Wilson had made initial overtures in this direction at the war’s outset, but his offer was rebuffed. Thereafter, Wilson adopted a pose of watchful waiting.  Although he steadfastly maintained his intention to offer mediation when the time seemed propitious, that time never arrived. However, Wilson’s willingness to meet with pacifist delegations, his cordial relationship with Addams, and his assurances that he considered the women’s proposals at The Hague “by far the best formulation” for world peace, encouraged the pacifist women to continue their efforts.

 

Addams and Breckinridge co-founded the Woman’s Peace Party, later to become the U.S. chapter of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, in 1915. (Courtesy Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Collection, Special Collections, University of Illinois at Chicago Library)

Addams and Breckinridge continued their search for ways to prevent U.S. entry into the conflict, to end the war, and to prevent future wars. In the aftermath of the Lusitania episode, they urged President Wilson to steer clear of what they called “a preposterous ‘preparedness’ against hypothetical dangers” and instead to provide “the epochal service which this world crisis offers for the establishment of permanent peace”—that is, to offer his services to mediate the ongoing conflict. Subsequently, they appeared before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee of Foreign Affairs to express their support for a House Joint Resolution proposal to establish a “Commission for Enduring Peace.”

The U.S. delegation to the International Congress of Women in 1915 on board the Noordam. Jane Addams in center behind the banner, Breckinridge is on the far right. (Courtesy Swarthmore College Peace Collection)

Despite their best efforts, American pacifists were unable either to halt the ongoing war or to prevent the United States’ entry into it.  Once hostilities ceased, Breckinridge and Addams—now part of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom—sought new routes to “enduring peace.” They achieved a partial victory in the establishment of the League of Nations, which incorporated many of the principles adopted at the International Congress of Women. Although the U.S. failed to join the new organization, Addams and Breckinridge persisted in promoting their vision of a peaceful postwar world.  In 1923, they discussed submitting “our” set of principles for the American Peace Award.  The plan that Breckinridge and Addams proposed called for the United States to join the World Court and the League of Nations. They also demanded that the U.S. military refrain from defending the interests of private businesses abroad, that the U.S. end both the production and the sale of armaments, and that the U.S. cooperate with other nations in a process of universal disarmament.  Finally, they recommended “cancelling or reducing debts due to the United States” from the other Allied countries in return for an agreement to “divide the costs of commissions hitherto charged against Germany alone equally between Germany and the former allies” and offering “a long moratorium to Germany” to allow that nation “eventually to pay the balance on her reparations debt as estimated by an impartial commission of experts to be constituted for the purpose.” Addams’s and Breckinridge’s joint plan thus called for the United States to promote peace not only by agreeing to abide by arbitration in future disputes and participating in a process of universal disarmament, but also by removing the reasons for rising resentment in Germany that would soon allow Adolf Hitler to rise to power. Sadly, their plan was never implemented. Nonetheless, in the years after the Second World War, many of their ideas would be adopted by the United Nations.

Addams and Breckinridge were not always fully successful in their efforts to promote social justice, but they shared a passion for justice that allowed them to persist in the face of difficulties and setbacks. Their collaboration with one another and with fellow reformers also enabled them to meet challenges with strong resolve and good cheer. Together, Addams and Breckinridge were a powerful force for social justice.

Coda: Because Breckinridge’s own papers, while extensive, are comparatively scant for the Progressive Era, to conduct my research on these decades of her life, I relied heavily on the 82-reel microfilmed edition of the Jane Addams Papers and the accompanying “Pink Bible,” the 674-page guide to the microfilm collection, created with the guidance of Jane Addams Papers Project founder Mary Lynn Bryan. I am delighted that future researchers’ work will be facilitated by the next generation of the Jane Addams Paper Project, spearheaded by Cathy Moran Hajo, which will make the Jane Addams Papers accessible in a digital format.


Anya Jabour is Regents Professor of History at the University of Montana. Her books include Topsy-Turvy: How the Civil War Turned the World Upside Down for Southern Children and Scarlett’s Sisters: Young Women in the Old South

Sources:

Abbott, Edith, and Breckinridge, Sophonisba P. “Women in Industry: The Chicago Stockyards,” Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 19, No. 8 (October 1911), 632-654.

Addams, Jane. “Woman’s Suffrage and the Progressive Party,” Chicago Tribune, October 28, 1912, pg. 9.

Addams, Jane, Balch, Emily G., and Hamilton, Alice. Women at the Hague: The International Congress of Women and Its Results (New York: Macmillan Company, 1915).

Alonso, Harriet Hyman. Peace as a Women’s Issue: A History of the U.S. Movement for World Peace and Women’s Rights (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1993).

Ballard, Russell. “The Years at Hull House,” Social Service Review, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Dec. 1948), 432-433.

Brush, Mary Isabel. “Society Leaders Will Promote Suffrage Cause in Chicago’s Fashionable Circles: National Association to Open Branch,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 24, 1911, pg. 13.

Bryan, Mary Lynn McCree, et al., eds., The Jane Addams Papers: A Comprehensive Guide (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996)

Buroker, Robert L. “From Voluntary Association to Welfare State: The Illinois Immigrants’ Protective League, 1908-1926,” Journal of American History, Vol. 58, No. 3 (December 1971), 643-660.

“Charity Honors for Chicago,” Chicago Tribune, June 20, 1912, pg. 13.

Commission for Enduring Peace: Hearing Before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, Sixty-Fourth Congress, First Session, on H.R. 6921 and H.J. Res. 32, Statement of Miss Jane Addams and Others, January 11, 1916 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1916),10-12.

“Conditions in Stockyards Described in the Neill-Reynolds Report,” Chicago Tribune, June 5, 1906, pg. 4

Costin, Lela B. “Feminism, Pacifism, Internationalism, and the 1915 International Congress of Women,” Women’s Studies International Forum, Vol. 5, No. 3-4 (1982), 300-315.

Gonzalez, Suronda. “Complicating Citizenship: Grace Abbott and the Immigrants’ Protective League, 1908-1921,” Michigan Historical Review, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Fall 1998), 56-75.

Hull House Collection, Special Collections, Richard J. Daley Library, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.

Jane Addams Papers, 1860-1960 (microfilm edition).

Leonard, Henry B. “The Immigrants’ Protective League of Chicago, 1908-1921,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 66, No. 3 (Autumn 1973), 271-284.

“Meet of Suffrage Chiefs: Chicago Women to Attend Executive Committee Session Today: Officers Will Be Chosen: Members Enthusiastic in Praise of the Progressive Party,” Chicago Tribune, October 1, 1912, pg. 5.

Patterson, David S. The Search for a Negotiated Peace: Women’s Activism and Citizen Diplomacy in World War I (New York: Routledge, 2008).

Records of the Immigrants Protective League, Special Collections, Richard J. Daley Library, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.

Sophonisba Preston Breckinridge Papers (microfilm), Breckinridge Family Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Sorensen, John, ed., A Sister’s Memories: The Life and Work of Grace Abbott, From the Writings of Her Sister, Edith Abbott (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2015).

“Urge Home for Immigrants,” Chicago Tribune, March 19, 1911, p. 5.

Wade, Louise C. “The Heritage from Chicago’s Early Settlement Houses,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 60, No. 4 (Winter 1967), 411-441.

“Warns Women of Illinois: Dr. Anna H. Shaw Advises Suffragists to Avoid Party Ties,” Chicago Tribune, September 25, 1912, p. 5.

“Will Ask Parties for Living Wage,” Chicago Tribune, June 14, 1912, pg. 7.

“Woman Puts O.K. on Neill Report,” Chicago Tribune, June 11, 1906, pg. 2.

 

“From Hull-House to Herland”: Lorraine Krall McCrary’s Guest Blog Post

I had the pleasure of asking Lorraine Krall McCrary about her new article “From Hull-House to Herland: Engaged and Extended Care in Jane Addams and Charlotte Perkins Gilman,” (Politics & Gender, August 2018, 1-21). She examines the writings and activities of Jane Addams and Charlotte Perkins Gliman and how the two activists’ opinions on the roles women have in politics, society, and family differed. Continue reading ““From Hull-House to Herland”: Lorraine Krall McCrary’s Guest Blog Post”

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

Jane Addams and Christian Primitivism- By Dr. Kyle Crews

Dr. Kyle Crews is an Assistant Professor at Saint Louis University where he also directs a program in interdisciplinary studies. His research explores the relationship between literature, theology, and culture. This post on Addams derives from his work on the theological roots of American literary anti-imperialism. You can contact Dr. Crews at kyle.crews@slu.edu.

My recent work on Jane Addams explores the moral imagination or theological vision that animated her commitment to social reform. She was an outspoken critic of corrupt politicians, avaricious capitalists, and city officials who colluded against the working class, immigrants, and other disenfranchised peoples to maintain their political and economic control. She may be most notable for establishing Hull-House in Chicago, but Addams’ activism was far more robust, particularly her peace advocacy. For instance, she co-founded the Central Anti-Imperialist League in 1899 and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1915. In fact, Addams exerted considerable influence as a female leader in the anti-imperialist movement.[1]

Addams’ writings also captured her moral vision. Like Walter Brueggemann’s depiction of the Hebrew prophets, Addams nurtured, nourished, and evoked “a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture” through her social activism and literary production.[2] She challenged existing power structures with the artist’s “resistant intellectual consciousness.”[3] In language similar to Brueggemann, Katherine Joslin describes Addams’ artistry in this way: “Her imagination ranged beyond creativity for its own sake into dense moral thickets that confounded her generation and continue to vex us today: the social and economic disparity between rich and poor; the cultural ramifications of migration; the lure of the capitalist marketplace; the politics of fair play, especially in cities; and the strains of nationalism on world peace.”[4] Addams’ moral consciousness or imagination propelled her social activism; it empowered her desire to solve some of the “dense” social problems that confounded her generation.

Scholars typically associate Addams’ moral imagination or theological vision with a popular current in American Christianity at the turn of the nineteenth century: the Social Gospel.[5] The association is not without merit since many of Addams’ progressive theological perspectives did align with social gospel teaching. My exploration into Addams’ moral imagination, however, revealed a more profound connection to Christian primitivism.[6] In fact, I would argue that Addams constructed a social imaginary through her writings and activism that was nourished by a fascination with earliest Christianity.[7] It was her attraction to the simplicity, pacifism, and social humanitarianism of the early Christians that energized her social-theological vision. She imagined her work as a participation in the purest form of Christianity exemplified by the pre-Constantinian church.

A few examples will demonstrate Addams’ fascination with this period in Christian history, and its popularity in American religious thought. Her interest in early Christianity began with a second trip to Europe from 1887 to 1888. During her travels she encountered Christian paintings and sculptures, admired Byzantine Cathedrals and mosaics in Ravenna, and experienced an epiphany in the Roman catacombs. These embodied forms of Christian teaching cast a vision of the earliest Christians that charmed Addams and guided her social reform efforts and critique of American militarism. She came to believe “that pre-institutionalized, underground Christianity, the faith shared by the early Roman poor before it became a symbol of power under Constantine, represented the most authentic form of Christianity.”[8]

The experience that really fomented Addams’ enthusiasm for early Christianity was her visit to the Roman catacombs. She prepared for her visit in early February by reading several studies of the cavernous graveyards decorated with Christian frescoes. In a 22 March 1888 letter to her sister, Sarah Alice Addams Haldemann, Addams described her initial impression of the catacombs:

The catacomb of St Agnese’s is one of the best preserved in Rome and although it has not paintings as St Calixtus has, it is one of the most interesting in Rome.  The inscriptions are quite undisturbed and there are fewer graves of martyrs which have become shrine & hence chapels.  The early Christian symbols are so beautiful and attractive, as if they could scarcely find anything joyous and pe[a]ceful enough to express their eagerness for death and belief in immortality.[9]

Chi Rho in Catacomb of St. Callixtus

Her interest in the iconography in the catacombs fueled her admiration for the earliest Christians. She was particularly influenced by one image imprinted on walls and ceilings: the Chi-Rho symbol. Chi and Rho are the Greek letters X and P, the first two letters of the word for “Christ” in Greek.  The early Christians overlaid these two letters to fashion a symbol for the religion that actually predated the later popularity of the cross. At some point during her visit to Rome, Addams purchased a Chi-Rho pin, which she frequently wore during the 1890s.  According to Victoria Brown, the Chi-Rho pin “announced Jane’s identification with that early moment in Christian history when, in Jane’s mind, followers of Jesus’ teachings comprised a democratic counterculture…For her, the brooch was symbolic of the pre-Constantinian era, as well as a pre-crucifix era, when Jesus was a guide to peaceful love in this life, not disembodied salvation in the next.”[10] The Chi-Rho pin signified Addams’ solidarity with the Christians of the first three centuries of the church as she worked for social justice and peace.

Addams continued to believe that a restoration of early Christianity could serve as a panacea for social injustice and war.  After opening the doors of Hull-House in 1889 she was invited to speak to The School of Applied Ethics in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1892 to explain the necessity for social settlements and the motives underlying the movement.  The social reformer identified three motivating factors behind the settlement movement: the desire to “extend democracy,” the “impulse to share race life,” and “a certain renaissance of Christianity, a movement toward its early humanitarian aspects.”[11] Addams’ use of “renaissance” to describe the growing popularity of early Christian humanitarianism among social settlement advocates reflected the language of American theologians who promoted the “restoration” of the early church.  American restorationism descended from Christian humanists and Protestant reformers in the sixteenth-century who viewed antiquity, and especially the primitive church, as the normative standard for all subsequent Christian faith and practice. In their study of Protestant primitivism, Richard Hughes and C. Leonard Allen explain how the restoration perspective has impacted American life:

Some Americans have enshrined first times as an ideal to be approximated and even as a kind of transcendent norm that stands in judgment on the ambiguities of the present age. In this case, the myth of first times has been a beacon summoning Americans to perfection.  On the other hand, some Americans have fully identified their religious denomination or even their nation itself with the purity of first times.  The allusion thereby fostered in the minds of these Americans is that they are an innocent and fundamentally natural people who, in effect, have stepped outside of history, thereby escaping the powerful influences of history, culture, and tradition.  These Americans therefore have often confused the historic particularities of their limited experience with universal norms that should be embraced, they have thought, by all people in all cultures and all times.[12]

Addams’ emphasis on the “renaissance” of early Christian humanitarianism mirrors at least two aspects of Hughes’ and Allen’s description of American restorationism: she undoubtedly “enshrined first times” as the “transcendent norm,” and she identified the social settlement movement with “the purity of first times.”  She was “certain” that the renaissance of early Christian humanitarianism was “going on in America, in Chicago”; it was, indeed, the “spiritual force” at work in the success of any settlement.[13] As far as Addams was concerned Hull-House restored the true character of the early church where people from every ethnicity and socio-economic condition lived together in peace, love, and unity; it stood “on something more primitive than either Catholicism or Protestantism.”[14] Chicago’s first settlement was a light to the world, a beacon pointing xenophobic, corrupt, and violent Americans to the pure humanitarianism of the early church.

It may be tempting to dismiss Addams’ idealization of earliest Christianity as hagiography, but one cannot deny the formative influence of Christian primitivism on her social thought and peacemaking. She imagined her social activism as a recapitulation of the humanitarianism of the first Christians. The moral imagination that shaped her autobiography, speeches, and books on social reform and peace was enlivened by the mythology of Christian primitivism that other American religious reformers used to promote their vision of the restored faith.[15]


[1] For a fuller discussion of gender politics within the anti-imperialist movement see Erin L. Murphy, “Women’s Anti-Imperialism, ‘The White Man’s Burden,’ and the Philippine-American War: Theorizing Masculinist Ambivalence in Protest,” Gender and Society 23, no. 2 (April 2009): 244-270.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001), 3.

[3] Edward Said, Representations of the Intellectual (New York: Vintage, 1994), 16.

[4] Katherine Joslin, Jane Addams: A Writer’s Life (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 5.

[5] For one example, see Ronald White, Jr. and C. Howard Hopkins, The Social Gospel: Religion and Reform in Changing America (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1976), 102.

[6] There were primitivist elements in the Social Gospel. For instance, see Matthew Bowman, “Sin, Spirituality, and Primitivism: The Theologies of the American Social Gospel, 1885-1917,” Religion and American Culture 17, no. 1 (Winter 2007). Nonetheless, the type of primitivism that attracted Addams was more closely associated with earlier movements in American Christianity like those identified by Leonard Allen and Richard Hughes in Illusions of Innocence: Protestant Primitivism in America, 1630-1875 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).

[7] I rely here on Charles Taylor’s definition of “social imaginary”: “By social imaginary, I mean something much broader and deeper than the intellectual schemes people may entertain when they think about social reality in a disengaged mode. I am thinking, rather, of the ways people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie these expectations.” See Charles Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 23.

[8] Victoria Bissell Brown, The Education of Jane Addams (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 194.

[9] Jane Addams, “Letter to Sarah Alice Addams Haldeman 22 March 1888,” in The Selected Papers of Jane Addams: Venturing into Usefulness, 1881-1888, eds. Mary Lynn McCree Bryan, Barbara Bair, and Maree De Angury (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 2:586.

[10] Brown, 264.

[11] Jane Addams, “The Subjective Necessity for Social Settlements,” in Philanthropy and Social Progress (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Company, 1893), 2.

[12] Allen and Hughes, xiii.

[13] Addams, “The Subjective Necessity for Social Settlements,” 20.

[14] Jane Addams, “The Settlement as a Factor in the Labor Movement,” in Hull-House Maps and Papers, a Presentation of Nationalities and Wages in a Congested District of Chicago, Together with Comments and Essays on Problems Growing Out of the Social Conditions by Residents of Hull-House, a Social Settlement (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1895), 194.

[15] See Richard Hughes, ed., The American Quest for the Primitive Church (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988).