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

Jane Addams Plays Cupid

Letter from Mary Hill Dayton to Gerard Swope sent from Hull-House.

Letter from Mary Hill Dayton to Gerard Swope sent from Hull-House.

To get in the mood this Valentine’s Day, we here at the Jane Addams Papers Project are getting romantic inspiration from none other than the match-maker herself; Jane Addams.

Hear us out. In between the settlement work done at Hull House at the turn of the century, two residents entered into a courtship. One that was fostered by none other than Jane Addams.

New Jersey Native Mary Hill Dayton came to South Chicago to teach English classes. While teaching, Dayton met fellow Hull House resident Gerard Swope. An employee of GE, Swope was taking time off to teach classes on electronics and algebra.

The two teachers seem to hit it off because when Swope left Hull House in 1899, he and Dayton maintained a long distance relationship via correspondence.

The separation only seemed to strengthen their affections. In their writings they referred to their relationship as “IT.” Dayton wrote that “every time I turn on to Halsted St. my heart warms up about 50° – and I long for a time when we can be on it together.”

Perhaps Dayton worried about if “IT” was indiscrete because this is where Jane comes in. She assuaged Dayton’s fears that the whole house was gossiping about “IT”, confiding to Dayton that she had heard nothing about it.
Dayton thought that perhaps Addams was just being nice or just not in tune with the Hull House water cooler gossip, because Dayton was getting a healthy dose of teasing.

One night Dayton seemed to be slipped a note from fellow resident Julia Lathrop apologizing for teasing Dayton earlier in the day about her relationship with Swope. She closed her note, “hoping we are all best friends.”

By 1900, Dayton and Swope had become engaged. On Valentine’s day of that year, the couple asked Addams to break the news to their parents. And in 1901, Addams who officiated the wedding at Mackinac Island, Michigan.

Speaking at the wedding, Addams predicated, “Knowing as we do something of the character of these two people, somewhat of the temper of their attachment and to form of the expression we may confidently predict that and all life’s journey through to the end is will be illumined…”

Jane was correct about that. The Swopes would go on to live very happy lives. Gerard became the CEO of GE and both he and Mary remained active in social work throughout their lives.

Jane Addams made a huge impact in the time she lived with her charitable and political work. What is so wonderful about these documents is that they offer a glimpse into the personal impact Jane Addams had. If it had not been for Hull House Mary and Gerard Swope may have never met, and would not have led their lives following her charitable model.

Jane Addams’ 1894 Thanksgiving Challenge

Harper’s Bazaar Nov. 1894 cover.

Looking for a timely post on Thanksgiving, we came across a newspaper article that detailed a Thanksgiving banquet held at Chicago’s Union League Club on November 22, 1894, a week before the actual holiday on November 29. Jane Addams was one of the featured speakers at the event, which was given by the Life Underwriters’ Association of Chicago.

Setting the stage, the Inter Ocean reporter described tables adorned with:

“endless ferns dotted with chrysanthemums in cut-glass vases. . . fruit dishes heaped with red and yellow apples, the Vermont cheeses, and–not the least in flavor of ye olden time–candles in little bits of japanned candle-sticks. But the best decoration was of course the ladies, interspersed so thickly among the men.”

menuDescribing a menu decorated with two turkeys facing each other, comprised of foods from all over the country, including “Fresh echoes from the woods of Maine.” The diners wrote “Thanksgiving cards,” with whimsical notes about what they were thankful for, which mostly involved the items on the menu. Songs were sung, “My Last Cigar” (lyrics), “Welcome Song,” and “Sweetheart.” An address by the club president J. K. Stearns welcomed the women guests, including “one who is well known for good word and work and of whom it may be said, ‘Her step is music and her voice is song,’ whose life is devoted to neglected humanity and whose work is so nobly represented in the Hull House social settlement.”

Finally introduced as “one of the queens of Illinois,” Jane Addams took the podium, speaking of her interest in Chicago’s Seventeenth Ward, and then on the celebration of the holiday:

I sometimes think our patriotism is a little like our compunction of conscience–it is apt to run backward. After a thing has been done, and well done, we like to think about it; we like to think about how patriotic we have been, and how very well we did it altogether and how much we like the stars and stripes. Now I suppose in our thanksgiving and especially looking toward our thanksgiving of the future, it may be well if we bring to bear some of this patriotic feeling of emotion upon the present problems. I remember the last Fourth of July, which, as you know occurred in the midst of a strike, we were trying to arrange for a celebration when a workingman said: ‘Why should we celebrate when the whole country is so upset?’ I said to him: ‘It seems, on this Fourth, more fitting than ever to rally together–all of us–and bring to bear all our patriotism and unity of feeling upon the present condition, and see what we can do about it.

Addams, ca. 1895

Addams, ca. 1895

In other words, there was just as much need for common action then as there was among the Pilgrims fighting the Indians. We are no longer struggling to keep our conscience from outside interference, but we forget the equal demand that comes from the multiplied conditions of our modern life, especially the great poverty all about us. Hence I say that all of Chicago, all the business men and women so full of good will, if they would face together some of our problems, perhaps then we could have a rousing Thanksgiving dinner together afterward. I have very little advice to offer as to how this should be done. I have very little belief in the ready-made scheme of reform, but I do long every day that the good will which you know does exist in Chicago, that the good sense which you see exhibited all about you, should be brought to bear on these very pressing problems; that they should be held as a part of the patriotic citizenship; that they should be considered just as much of a duty as it was a duty years ago to fight Indians and go out with the musket to fight against the mother country.

Surely it is Christian altruism to say that we should be uncomfortable to have another Thanksgiving dinner unless some of the crooked place are made straighter than they are now. There are various schemes in my mind which I would like to suggest. I do not feel myself, as the old minister did, that nine-tenths will be damned. Many are doing very well, but they do need help, just as our early politics needed help. The heart of the nation needs to be brought to this modern problem in the same spirit of patriotic endeavor as it was brought to the early problem and we have no right to say all is well until we have made this effort. We are at least bound to give our minds to it, to give our endeavor to it, steadily and systematically as becomes patriotic men and women.

Addams’ speech was received to “much applause,” but the program turned again to the light-hearted and humorous, before the “assemblage sang a popular song and dispersed.”


“Call Back Old Times,” Inter-Ocean, Nov. 23, 1894, p. 4.