Jane Addams and Her Conflicts with Tolstoyism

Addams’ affection and admiration for Tolstoy is evident in both her correspondences and her published works. In her 1910 book Twenty Years at Hull-House, Addams recollected her visit to the Count’s residence in Russia. She embarked in search of the answer to a question: “I was most eager to know whether Tolstoy’s undertaking to do his daily share of the physical labor of the world, that labor which is ‘so disproportionate to the unnourished strength’ of those by whom it is ordinarily performed, had brought him peace?”

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“Leo Tolstoy Barefoot” (1901) – Ilya Repin

Addams gave a lecture in 1902 in which she explained the four types of labor Tolstoy believed every person should partake in. She noted that “he would, of course, always excuse the ill, the aged, and little children” but believed that the bulk of people should perform manual and skilled labor as well as engage in literary work and social effort. According to Tolstoy, by reducing the amount of “brutal and dehumanizing” labor that one performs it gives those unaccustomed to performing that type of labor a perspective that will change the way they view their own lives and commodities. Addams spoke of skilled labor: “If we had some of this experience we would try to simplify our lives, because we would then realize, as we do not now, some of the work on which it is founded. Many people would then stop wearing many things, and having many things in their houses which are not needed.”

Many people fear meeting their favorite celebrity since it is possible it will result in embarrassment or the shattering of a previously held illusion. Addams likely experienced both upon meeting the revered author. She recounted the “distrustful” manner with which Tolstoy regarded the sleeves of her dress during their first meeting. Tolstoy, who was clad in peasant’s clothes, commented on the excessive amount of fabric on Addams’ dress and remarked that “there was enough stuff on one arm to make a frock for a little girl.”

Despite originally feeling disconcerted, Tolstoy’s comments did not dissuade Addams from searching for the answer to her question. Addams recalled a particular instance in which she attended dinner with Tolstoy, his family, and his traveling guests in Twenty Years. She wrote:

The countess presided over the usual European dinner served by men, but the count and the daughter, who had worked all day in the fields, ate only porridge and black bread and drank only kvas, the fare of the hay-making peasants. Of course we are all accustomed to the fact that those who perform the heaviest labor eat the coarsest and simplest fare at the end of the day, but it is not often that we sit at the same table with them while we ourselves eat the more elaborate food prepared by someone else’s labor. Tolstoy ate his simple supper without remark or comment upon the food his family and guests preferred to eat, assuming that they, as well as he, had settled the matter with their own consciences.

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Immigrant Visitors Congregating in the Coffee House, 1900

Addams’ time among Tolstoy, his family, and the peasants elicited such strong feelings in her that she made a mental vow to spend two hours each morning in the bakery which had recently been added to the coffee house at Hull-House. Upon her return she realized her vision was not possible due to her overwhelming responsibilities. In Twenty Years she wrote: “The half dozen people invariably waiting to see me after breakfast, the piles of letters to be opened and answered, the demand of actual and pressing wants—were these all to be pushed aside and asked to wait while I saved my soul by two hours’ work at baking bread?”

Earlier she pointed out Tolstoy’s difficult stance:

Doubtless all of the visitors sitting in the Tolstoy garden that evening had excused themselves from laboring with their hands upon the theory that they were doing something more valuable for society in other ways. No one among our contemporaries has dissented from this point of view so violently as Tolstoy himself, and yet no man might so easily have excused himself from hard and rough work on the basis of his genius and of his intellectual contributions to the world.

While Addams admired Tolstoy, his way of life was incompatible with the life she had already established in Chicago. She wished to emulate him in some capacity, but her duties to Hull-House subsumed a great deal of her time. While writing books, giving lectures, traveling, and worrying about her own health and the health of her friends and family, Addams was always finding new ways to improve Hull-House. It is no surprise, then, that she was incapable of designating even two hours each morning to bake bread. The question remains: how might one find a compromise between Addams’ way of life and Tolstoy’s?

Hull-House later received five hundred dollars which were left over from Tolstoy’s profit from publishing his novel Resurrection. The bulk of the profit was given to the Dukhobors, a Russian religious group who had recently settled in Canada with the help of their government. When faced with the choice of what to spend the money on, Addams felt that it was only natural to use it “for the relief of the most primitive wants of food and shelter on the part of the most needy families.”

Ultimately, Addams assisted the Nineteenth Ward without spending two hours per day in the Coffee Shop baking bread. Instead, she used her talent as social reformer to improve the lives of those living in poverty around her. Although she saw the value in performing manual labor, Addams realized there was greater value, in her situation, in devoting her working hours to her role as the head figure of Hull-House.

Jane Addams and an Anonymous Bull Moose

Members of the losing party of a presidential election are met with disappointment and sadness. In the following months the party is left to recuperate and reorganize. The losing and winning party must also plan how they will function with each other in the future. In the election of 1912, the election involved a variety of political parties with some overlapping and some clashing goals. Jane Addams had an important role in the election of 1912 and its many political parties as she became the first woman to nominate a presidential nominee by seconding the nomination for Theodore Roosevelt in the Progressive Party. The backlash she received for seconding the nomination of Theodore Roosevelt for the Progressive Party, also known as the Bull Moose Party, was astounding. It lead to some of the most interesting letters I have ever read throughout my time at the Jane Addams Papers Project. After the election, Addams continued to receive letters about her participation in the 1912 election.

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A 1912 US cartoon, showing the “Big Four at the Two Chicago Conventions”. Front row (Progressive or “Bull Moose” party): Theodore Roosevelt, Jane Addams, Hiram Johnson, Albert Beveridge. Back row (Republican party): Boies Penrose, William Barnes, Jr., Winthrop M. Crane, Elihu Root.

While the Progressive Party was attempting to recover after a presidential loss, Addams received a letter that claimed that the party would potentially be destroyed by all of the other political parties involved in the election of 1912. An anonymous writer, referring to himself as “a Bull Moose,” wrote Addams on December 13, 1912 an at first seemingly innocent letter, praising Addams for her efforts with the suffrage movement. As “Bull Moose” continues, he wrote to Addams about an alleged “disaster” for the Progressive Party. In this alleged disaster the Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, and Prohibitionists had created a trap for the Progressive Party to fall into and ruin the party forever. “Bull Moose” decided to take it upon himself to create five “shamtraps” for the Progressive Party, in order to expose the traps of the other parties, but the “shamtraps” needed to be dealt with before December 15th or the plan would not work.

This was not even the strangest part of the letter. “Bull Moose” then goes on to say that Addams can tell no one else about the letter except Theodore Roosevelt, who he refers to as “our future President,” despite the fact that Roosevelt has already lost the 1912 election. “Bull Moose” must have been hoping for a 1916 victory for Roosevelt. Unfortunately for “Bull Moose,” Roosevelt would not enter the 1916 election. “Bull Moose” proceeded to give Addams a list of instructions that will prevent the other political parties from trapping the Progressive Party. The first few seem pretty reasonable – instructions such as “not to side with either Drys nor Wetts,” which makes sense since the Prohibition Party is allegedly involved in this “shamtrap” plot. Instructions six and seven are the strangest. In rule number six, “Bull Moose” instructed Addams that he would come to her as a “polish tramp to wash windows, with a raincoat on” and told her all of the horrible ways to treat him. Rule number seven instructed Addams to treat a hobo the same way, perhaps worse, if “Bull Moose” should have sent a hobo in his place.

Addams was instructed by “Bull Moose” not to share the contents of this letter with anyone besides Theodore Roosevelt until 1917. So far there has been no indication that Addams ever shared the contents of the letter with anyone, including Theodore Roosevelt. The Jane Addams Papers Project works chronologically so we have not yet read and transcribed the letters from 1917. I will certainly keep my eyes peeled for any letters about “Bull Moose” once we get there.

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This political cartoon follows the 1912 Presidential Election in which Woodrow Wilson (D) won in a landslide defeat over Theodore Roosevelt (Progressive/Bull Moose Party), William Taft (R), and Eugene Debs (Socialist Party). (From the November 8, 1912 issue of the Sandusky Register.)

“Bull Moose” was not entirely off the mark when he said that the other political parties were planning to destroy the Progressive Party. The Progressive Party ultimately did fall because of other parties, mainly the Republicans. The Progressive Party essentially merged back together with the Republican Party, especially after Roosevelt refused to accept the Progressive presidential nomination in 1916 and chose to campaign for the Republican Party. Maybe the Progressive Party would have lasted longer if Addams had followed “Bull Moose’s” instructions!

This document can be located on the Jane Addams Papers microfilm on Reel 7, frame 542. It will soon be freely available to read and view in digital form on our database website, which can be found by clicking the link to the right of this post.

 

Quit Clowning Around

Charles Cramer, alias Conway, the clown with a wooden leg, in a postcard photo with his wife, circa 1911 (Mysterious Chicago)

Charles Cramer, alias Conway, the clown
with a wooden leg, in a postcard photo with his
wife, circa 1911 (Mysterious Chicago)

“Clowns Gathering in the Woods,” blares CNN. “Creepy Clowns: Serious Matter or Sick Joke,” asks The Guardian. It all started in South Carolina, where groups of children swore that clowns, lurking in the shadowy woods, and attempted to lure them to an abandoned house deep within the forest. Police could not find any clown paraphernalia at the scene, but that did not stop another group of children from seeing a shady clown just one week later on the other side of town. Once again, police could not find any hard evidence of red noses, water-squirting flowers, or tiny cars that can somehow fit ten people inside.

Americans chuckled to themselves, “Oh those South Carolinians are too much!” Then the clowns went national. They started showing up all along the East coast, from Florida to Maine. Then, in some sort of clown-manifest-destiny, the clowns traveled West to Texas, Colorado, Utah, and eventually were found scaring fish and surfers in California. It is not known if any clowns have swam across the Pacific to haunt Hawaii.

Scary clowns are not unique to the fall of 2016. Oh no. As I was reading through old newspapers from 1912 Chicago in an attempt to find out more information about a specific correspondent, I stumbled across an incredible byline on the adjacent page. It was about a murderous clown, living in Chicago not far from Hull-House, where Jane Addams was busy toiling away, and his vaudeville singer wife who plotted the downfall of their wealthy roommate.

In early October, 1912, a Baltimore heiress named Sophie Singer came to Chicago with her fiance, Will Worthen. They were met at the station by a “Mrs. Conway” who suggested that they all get a flat together instead of a hotel. “Mrs. Conway” was really Mrs. Louisa Cramer, wife of Charles N. Cramer (alias Charles Kramer, alias Charles Conway). The couple was part of a traveling circus, he as a human cannonball and a clown, and she as a singer and a lion tamer. Oh, and he had a wooden leg, too.

The three moved in together, and were shortly joined by Mr. Cramer. The Cramers, under the alias of the Conways, were dirt poor and only lived off the wealth of their heiress roommate and her well-to-do fiance. All was well until Ms. Singer decided that she would move back to Baltimore, leaving the Conways with no well of money to draw from. This did not sit well with the carny couple, and one night while Mr. Worthen was away gambling, the one legged clown made his move.

Worthen came back to find the key-hole stuffed. Breaking down the door, he found Sophie’s tangled legs sticking out from under their bed. She had clearly been strangled to death; her hands were tied with thin wire and Cramer’s handkerchief was shoved so deep into her throat that police needed pincers to remove it. Her jewelry had been stolen.

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A sketch of Sophie Singer, Beatrice Conway, and Charles Conway (1912)

Several months later the Cramers were caught in Lima, Ohio. Mrs. Cramer quickly confessed and threw her husband under the bus as well. Charles would eventually confess as well, though he insisted that his wife had nothing to do with the murder.

During the arrest and subsequent trial Cramer the Clown decided to lighten things up with a couple jokes. “Say, Captain?” he asked during the trial. “Do you know that in this case you can’t hang a man with a wooden leg?” When the Captain said he’d never heard of a law like that, Cramer said “You have to use a rope!” Ba Dum Cha!

Charles was sentenced to life in prison, and only narrowly avoided the gallows. As he was led away, he vowed that he would “get out of this,” and twelve years later he made good on his promise. In 1925, despite his assumed lack of running ability owed to that wooden stump on his left side, Cramer ran away from a work farm in Joliet, Illinois. He was never seen or heard from again.

The next time you hear about a clown sighting in your neighborhood, you may want to exercise extra caution. Who knows? Maybe its Conway the Clown, 100 years old and still chasing people with his stump leg.

The Averbuch Incident: A Century in Chicago’s Violence

March 3, 1908. Headline proclaiming the death of Lazarus Averbuch. – The Pantagraph, Bloomington, IL.

When thinking about the issue of police brutality in Chicago, many of our first thoughts find their way to the incidents of the recent past.  The images that still burn freshly in our minds are those of Laquan McDonald being fatally shot from behind by Officer Jason Van Dyke, or a recently discovered history of gruesome torture by former police commander Jon Burge.  While Chicago certainly has a history of police misconduct – Burge had reportedly been using torture to provide false confessions from his suspects since 1972 – that history sees its true beginnings in the early 20th century, as Jane Addams attempted to make sense of the violence she saw in her city of Chicago.

Dead body of Lazarus Averbuch held up in a chair by Captain Evans of the police department, front view. – Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago Historical Society

Addams’ first published opinion on file of a police brutality incident comes during the time of the “Averbuch Incident” in 1908. The chronicle, told in the papers from the point of view of Officer Shippy, begins with Lazarus Averbuch, as the press called him, though in realty his name may have been Harry or Jeremiah, a Russian born Jew who had recently immigrated to America.  Averbuch was a young man, almost 19, who in the early morning of March 2, 1908 called upon Chicago’s Chief of Police, George Shippy, at his home in Chicago’s North Side.  Shippy, having been informed that this was the fourth time Averbuch had called upon him in two days, became suspicious; assuming Averbuch was an anarchist bent on assassination, Shippy seized Averbuch by the arms.  Before Shippy could disarm him, Averbuch drew a knife and stabbed Shippy in the arm.  As Shippy’s son, Harry, ran downstairs due to the commotion, Averbuch drew a revolver and fired two shots, one of which struck Harry.  At this, James Foley, an officer assigned to be George Shippy’s driver and bodyguard, entered and attempted to seize Averbuch.  Before being embraced by Foley, however, Averbuch fired a shot into Foley’s hand.  Very shortly after, both Foley and Shippy emptied their revolvers into Averbuch’s body, who then fell dead.

Funds were raised by prominent Jews for a private investigation into the claims made by Shippy that Averbuch was an anarchist intent on assassinating the Chicago Chief of Police.  Jane Addams organized an investigation to be led by young Chicago attorney Harold Ickes, who later served as Secretary of the Interior under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  At the same time, the Jewish press, mainly the Jewish Courier, tried to argue that Averbuch was following foreign protocol in order to obtain a letter from the chief of police indicating that he was in good standing and of good character in order to obtain a job outside his community.  All shots, the Jewish press argued, were the result of wayward bullets fired from either Foley’s or Shippy’s guns.  Addams witnessed the aftermath of the Averbuch Incident from an immediate proximity.  Addams’ Hull-House was located near Averbuch’s community, and the settlement often served as an interpreter between foreigners and the city’s native populace, and vice versa.  She understood that foreign-born anarchists were feared in the city of Chicago after their involvement in the Haymarket Riot two decades prior.  Addams, however, was not convinced of Shippy’s story, believing there to be too many inconsistencies.

Caption under photograph: Lazarus (Harry) Averbuch, anarchist and assassin. (From a postcard photograph he had made recently to send to his mother in Austria.)

Caption under photograph: Lazarus (Harry) Averbuch, anarchist and assassin. (From a postcard photograph he had made recently to send to his mother in Austria.)

In the wake of the aftermath of the Averbuch Incident, Addams wrote a piece for Charities and the Commons, a publication created to help charities give and receive information and advice, called “The Chicago Settlements and Social Unrest”.  This article, while spurred by the Averbuch Incident, also gave Addams’ opinion on the cause of and solutions to the growing unrest around immigrants with varying political and religious beliefs.  Addams believed that she had a unique vantage point as the head of a settlement house – as a member of a prosperous family, Addams understood the points of view of the fearful public, as well as those of the fearful immigrant population.  “This settlement interpretation,” she said, “may be right or wrong, but it is at least based upon years of first hand information and upon an opportunity for free intercourse with the foreign people themselves.” (Addams, 1908)  She attempted to assuage the fears on Chicago, reminding the city that

“the more excited and irrational public opinion is, the more recklessly newspapers state mere surmises as facts, and upon these surmises arouse unsubstantiated prejudices against certain immigrants, the more necessary it is that some body of people be ready to put forward the spiritual and intellectual conditions of the foreign colony which is thus being made the subject of inaccurate surmises and unjust suspicion.” (Addams, 1908)

Addams reminded the public that Russian-Jews, like Averbuch, had escaped very harsh treatment from police while in their home country; she also argued that the treatment they received from American police was no better.  “The older men,” she stated, “asked whether constitutional rights gave no guarantee against such violent aggression of police power, and the hot-headed ones cried out at once that the only way to deal with the police was to defy them; that that was true of the police the world over”.  “It registered,” she said, “a conviction that in a moment of panic a republican government cared no more for justice and fair play than an autocratic government did” (Addams, 1908).

In true Addams fashion, the philanthropic philosopher gave her own homegrown solution to the problem at hand.  “The only possible way to break down such a persistent and secretive purpose,” she said, “was by the kindliness which might have induced confession, which might have restored him into fellowship with normal men” (Addams, 1908).

Addams’ theory of kindness as an eradicator of terrorism has never really been tested in the city of Chicago, or anywhere else.  One of the most recent stories about police brutality, mentioned above, states that former police commander, Lt. Jon Burge oversaw a torture ring of detectives from 1972 until 1991.  In October of 2014, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot fatally in the back 16 times by Jason Van Dyke – an officer who alone has accumulated 20 complaints, all of which have gone undisciplined.  Citizens are so concerned about the escalation of crime in Chicago, that a website has been created to chronicle police misconduct spanning the years 2002-2008 and 2011-2015.  The Citizens Police Data Project’s findings are astounding.  Without revealing the entirety of the Project’s report, of all 56,384 of the allegations in the study, 54,089 of these, or 95.93%, were found to be “Unsustained”.

In another disheartening flurry of statistics, we also know that violence in Chicago is the highest among all US cities with 2,900 shootings in 2015.  How much of a correlation do these two numbers have?  And if the statistics are intertwined, is the answer to employ and release more officers into a populace that obviously entertains varying degrees of fear for their “protectors”?  Or should we attempt to appeal to our better natures and try actions of kindness?  Perhaps another of Addams’ solutions can be used, an effort to better educate officers, citizens, and members of immigrants and working class communities in lessons of cultural assimilation and understanding could be implemented to foster partnership based on harmony rather than discord.