The Politician and the Old Women of Hull House

Once upon a time in Chicago, there was an ambitious little politician who decided to make a name for himself by picking a fight with the women of Hull-House. For a man who built things for a living, perhaps he should have known better than to employ a political strategy of burning down the house. But he was new to politics, and he did not know better. He saw his path to power in the persona of “Battling Peter,” who would rattle the foundations of the city’s social reform structures to raise his voice above the progressive din. His political strategy was to attack social reformers in the city, particularly the female ones, and the institutions they supported.

Peter Bartzen, a 61-year-old proprietor of a mason and carpentry business, was that politician. The office he sought was President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. During the fall of 1910, the fiery Democrat campaigned for that office by denouncing what he called the “hypocritical horde of reformers,” particularly the women of Hull-House. Politically ambitious with his eyes on a future gubernatorial run, Bartzen was a political novice. His only political experience was a four-year stint as an appointed building commissioner. To be governor, he needed a political victory and a message to launch his political career. With an “aggressive personality,” Bartzen decided to make a name for himself by whipping up foment against his city’s “child savers” and meddling do-gooders.

Bartzen was not a popular candidate, but the incumbent he hoped to unseat was not all that popular, either. Bartzen, who was not widely known, won the election on the coattails of a historic Democratic sweep, the county Democrats upsetting Republicans who had held power for sixteen years. The women Bartzen had maligned during his campaign for office had no direct say in the election, because women in Chicago, in Illinois, and in most states across the country, could not vote. No doubt that is precisely why Bartzen was so comfortable in his attacks against them. But when Bartzen took his seat, many prominent women reformers in Chicago set their watchful eyes upon the pesky, provocative politician.

During his first year in office, Bartzen did much to earn the disdain of Chicago reformers. For instance, he took aim at many of the county’s social service institutions, arguing that they were doing more harm than good to the county’s children and their families. In particular, he launched a full-scale investigation of the Chicago Juvenile Court in July 1911 in an effort to dismantle it. At the same time, Bartzen wholeheartedly embraced the long Chicago tradition of the spoils system by appointing his political allies to various posts under his authority, including some within the court itself. When Bartzen removed the juvenile court’s chief probation officer John Witter, a professional hired through the civil service system, he renewed his personal attacks against Hull-House, as well. In a public statement about Witter’s firing, Bartzen said: “It looks as if Mr. Witter has been under the influence of Hull-House. He ought not to be listening to a bunch of old women all the time.”

The “Old” Women of Hull-House (Julia Lathrop and Jane Addams with friend Mary Wilmarth, who was, actually, kind of old, but she didn’t live at Hull-House)

That bunch of old women was led by the 51-year-old Jane Addams, a nationally respected and beloved social reformer, and the 53-year-old Julia Lathrop, who helped found the influential Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy and was one of the city’s most prominent proponents of the Chicago Juvenile Court. Both of the women were a decade younger than Bartzen, but he dismissed them as members of the weaker sex, with no right to their opinions let alone their influence.  Bartzen’s position was a powerful one. He presided over a fifteen-member board that controlled some $10 million and managed much of the county’s infrastructure and its public institutions, including its civil service system. But the city’s community of social reformers was also powerful, and Bartzen underestimated the women who led them.

In September 1911, Bartzen’s fight with the women of Hull-House escalated. When he made a particular play to discredit the work of the Chicago Juvenile Court and the Illinois Industrial School for Girls, Julia Lathrop fired back. In a public speech, Lathrop responded: “Both attacks have been made for the purposes of political capital…The noble minded women who have been working for the salvation of Chicago’s children made some errors. They were not serious errors, but they were enough to give politicians a peg on which to hang an investigation.” The court had suffered some growing pains, but the court’s founders and supporters were willing to recognize problems and work to correct them. As well, the Chicago Woman’s Club and the Juvenile Protective Association, which included some very well-heeled and outspoken women, loudly reaffirmed their support of the institution in the wake of what they believed were unwarranted, politically motivated attacks against it.

Reformers in Chicago were eager to defend the court and its mission to help disadvantaged youth escape the harsh justice of the criminal courts. They were growing particularly concerned about Bartzen replacing qualified probation officers working with the juvenile court with political hacks. Just days after Lathrop’s defensive stand against Bartzen, Dr. James A. Britton, the chief medical officer of the city’s juvenile home, resigned his post in protest. He charged that Bartzen was thumbing his nose at civil service law, which provided qualified professional probation officers to the juvenile court, and that Bartzen was “loading up the county service with political friends.” Britton was a Hull-House resident and the husband of Gertrude Howe Britton, another Hull-House resident, who was also affiliated with the Juvenile Protective Association. Mrs. Britton was just 43-years-old, but Bartzen no doubt dismissed her, and likely her husband, too, as meddling Hull-House do-gooders. Bartzan was leaving in his political wake a long list of scorned old women at Hull-House.

During the next year, Bartzen did not change his colors, and neither did the old women of Hull-House. Bartzen continued to undermine the civil service system and threaten the life of the city’s social institutions; and the city’s reformers grew increasingly certain Bartzen was a dangerous political incumbent. In the fall of 1912, Jane Addams decided to beat Bartzen at his own game: politics. She led a group of the city’s reform-minded citizens, most of them men with political clout, to select a candidate to defeat Bartzen in the November 1912 election. The committee chose Alexander A. McCormick, a former newspaper editor and progressive thinker. In August, Addams sent a telegram home to Chicago while she was vacationing in Maine, indicating the reformers’ choice: “Social workers have much to do in persuading A A McCormick to run for president of county board.” Addams believed a failure to defeat Bartzen would spell the “destruction of juvenile court.”

Jane Addams (at right) in a parade for woman suffrage.

McCormick agreed to run on a Progressive Party ticket, and Addams’s political committee went to work. The campaign against Bartzen was ruthless, focused as it was on exposing him as a danger to the county’s most vulnerable citizens. Women led the charge, giving speeches and writing letters. On Nov. 2, 1912, on the Saturday just before the election, Addams and her committee behind McCormick published in the Chicago newspapers a signed circular entitled “Call to Public Service in the Interest of the Poor, Sick, Aged and Injured, and the Helpless Children of Chicago and Cook County.” The document skewered Bartzen’s policies, accused him of wasting public funds, asserted his guilt in “crimes of neglect and mismanagement of the Cook County Hospital,” and called his attack on the juvenile court “misleading and fraudulent.” In summary, the circular cautioned readers: “A vote for Peter Bartzen means a vote for the continued demoralization of all the public service institutions of the county, on which Bartzen and his henchmen have feasted while the dependents of the county have starved and been neglected.”

It is true that 1912 was a weird political year, with the role of a spunky third party mixing things up at the local, state, and national levels. The “Bull Moose” factor definitely influenced the Cook County elections. However, Bartzen’s particular reelection chances appeared to have lost traction on the heels of Chicago’s old women weighing in so loudly on his political record. Bartzen’s political strategy of picking a fight with Hull-House and Chicago’s most respected citizen backfired, and he lost the election.

The ambitious little politician had underestimated the old women at Hull-House and the political power they could garner, even without the right to vote for themselves. Bartzen not only lost this election, but he did not become the governor of Illinois, either. Even his obituary in 1933 dismissed his brief political career as minor, remembering his tenure as “anything but peaceful.” In the end, “Battling Peter” lost his battle against the battle-tested old women of Hull-House. While those women continued to make their positive marks on the history of Chicago, history resigned Bartzen to the political dustbin.

In 1914, Jane Addams published an article in the Ladies’ Home Journal in which she hailed the value of women over the age of fifty. “The weariness and dullness, which inhere in both domestic and social affairs when they are carried on by men alone, will no longer be a necessary attribute of public life when such gracious and gray-haired women become a part of it,” she wrote. “Ever-widening channels are gradually being provided through which woman’s increasing moral energy may flow, and it is not too much to predict that in the end public affairs will be amazingly revivified from those new fountainheads fed in the upper reaches of woman’s matured capacity.”

In the article, Addams shouted praise to “old” women like Ella Flagg Young, the Chicago Superintendent of Schools; novelist Edith Wharton; and Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, the long-running president of the National-American Woman Suffrage Association. Jane Addams knew the fight that resided in the hearts of experienced, capable, older women. She understood the beautiful extent of possibilities for women who used their talents for the betterment of their communities and the world. Peter Bartzen probably didn’t read that Ladies’ Home Journal article, and he may have never admitted to himself or to anyone else that he had been undone by women. Who knows if he harbored any regrets about his brief political career or the choices he made to conduct it.

The story of the politician and the old women of Hull-House is not a fairytale in which the villains are defeated and heroes in the story live happily ever after. Real life is more complicated than that. But this story is, perhaps, a fable Aesop himself may have written if he had lived in Chicago during the Progressive Era, when Jane Addams and scores of smart, capable, and commanding older women roamed the city’s dirty streets in order to clean them up. The moral of that fable is this: Beware the people you look past in your blind ambition; beware the people who seem to be precisely what you assume, unthreatening and unworthy of your respect. They might just turn out to be the clever, unrelenting, powerful force that becomes the fatal obstacle you never expected.

By Stacy Pratt McDermott, Associate Editor

Notes: David S. Tanenhaus, Juvenile Justice in the Making (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 82-110; Albert Nelson Marquis, ed., Book of Chicagoans, 1911 (Chicago: A. N. Marquis & Co., 1911), 42-43; Illinois, Deaths and Stillbirths Index, 1916-1947; Witter v. County Commissioners, 256 Ill. 616 (1912); “Editorial Musings,” The Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), Nov. 4, 1910, p. 1;  Letter, Nov. 5, 1910, “Busse-Deneen Ring Is Smashed in Cook County by Democratic Victory,” Nov. 9, 1910, p. 1; “Would End Juvenile Court,” Chicago Tribune, July 30, 1911, p. 7; “Fight New Child Court Idea,” Chicago Tribune, Aug. 1, 1911, p. 4; “Bartzen Scored by Julia Lathrop,” Chicago Tribune, Sep. 24, 1911, p. 5; “Physician Quits Bartzen Regime,” Chicago Tribune, Sep. 26, 1911, p. 3; “Call to Public Service,” Nov. 2, 1912, p. 5; “Sociologists Say Bartzen Is Menace,” The Inter Ocean (Chicago), Nov. 2, 1912, p. 5; “Chicago Women, In Humane Plea, Flay Bartzen,” The Inter Ocean, Nov. 2, 1912, p. 1; “Save the Helpless From Bartzen,” The Inter Ocean, Nov. 4, 1912, p. 6; “Old and New County Board Presidents Shake Hands,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 1, 1912, p. 3; “Peter Bartzen, Old Political Battler, Dead,” Chicago Tribune, Apr. 8, 1933, p. 1; Jane Addams to Julia Clifford Lathrop, August 7, 1911; Endorsement for Alexander McCormick for Cook County Board of Commissioners, 1912; Jane Addams to Alexander Agnew McCormick, August 21, 1912; Jane Addams to Charles E. Merriam, August 21, 1912; Jane Addams to Raymond Robins, August 21, 1912; Raymond Robins to Jane Addams, August 22, 1912; Need a Woman Over Fifty Feel Old?, October, 1914, all in Jane Addams Digital Edition.

Each for Equal: International Women’s Day 2020

Each for Equal

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #EachforEqual; an equal world is an enabled world. There are many women we could discuss today: Jane Addams, of course, for her work in the immigrant communities of Chicago, among many other areas she championed in the name of equality. Carrie Chapman Catt, who heavily campaigned for women’s suffrage rights. Lillian D. Wald, who taught women valuable skills out of the Henry Street Settlement. And Emily Greene Balch, a staunch supporter of peace as a central leader in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. But there is, I believe, a group of women whom we often forget to include when discussing Addams, especially her work for peace — the women who aided Addams outside the United States.

It is easy to forget that many of Addams’s contemporaries were

Vereeniging voor Vrouwenkiesrecht (Society for Women’s Suffrage) Officers, 1914. Aletta Henriëtte Jacobs, third from left.

located outside the United States. Dr. Aletta Henriëtte Jacobs, a Dutch physician and suffrage activist, had multiple achievements to her name, including her life-long struggle for women’s equality. Jacobs was the first woman to attend a Dutch university, inspired by her father, physician Abraham Jacobs. Jacobs became a pharmacy assistant, continuing on to University of Groningen. In 1879, Jacobs set up a practice in Amsterdam, offering free appointments to poor residents, struggling to maintain large families. In a controversial move, in 1882 Jacobs offered birth control advice at her clinic, the first clinic ever to do so in the world. She paved the way for Dutch women to seek an education outside finishing school, and control the size of their families, lowering the infant mortality rate and improving women’s health in the process.

Chrystal Macmillan was a British pioneer, one of the first woman to graduate from the University Edinburgh in 1896 then finishing her studies in Berlin and Edinburgh. MacMillan fought for women’s rights at Edinburgh University. When World War I began, Macmillan threw her energies into providing food for Belgian refugees. Her staunch pacifist views made her a leader in

the English movement against war, and brought her into the international drive to end war. Macmillan was one of only three British women who attended the 1915 International Congress of Women and throughout the war worked for peace and a negotiated settlement. In March of 1919, Macmillan attempted to lessen the surrender terms to be implemented for Germany in the Treaty of Versailles, but no changes were made. Chrystal Macmillan dedicated her life to the equality and fair treatment of women and oppressed peoples, regardless of their country of origin.

International Congress of Women, 1915. Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science

Rosika Schwimmer, a Jewish-Hungarian activist, was a powerhouse in the peace movement; her unswerving belief in peace and women’s equality were seen by some as abrasive and they found her difficult to work with. Before becoming a peace activist, Schwimmer worked as a governess, and bookkeeper, a correspondence clerk, and finally became president of the Nőtisztviselők Országos Egyesülete (National Association of Women Office Workers), in 1901. After an international mentorship with American suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt, Schwimmer returned to Hungary, founding the Hungarian Feministák Egyesülete (Feminist Association). Their goals included equality for women in education, employment, and healthcare. Schwimmer was a driving force in the efforts to stop World War I. She convinced Henry Ford to mount a peace mission in 1915, and attended meetings to the Women’s Peace Party and the International Congress of Women in 1915. Schwimmer fought against anti-Semitism and sexism during the early twentieth century to secure better living conditions for Hungarian women and beyond.

With so much history right here in the United States, it’s easy to push international affairs out of our minds, preferring to learn about our own country’s struggles. But, as Jane Addams and her contemporaries have shown, the fight for equality for women encompasses is an international fight and women need to keep working until equality has been secured for all. As Addams wrote: “The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.” This International Women’s Day, we remember the women working abroad for the equality of women worldwide.

Further Reading:

International Women’s Day 2020 #EachforEqual

Women in Medicine: An Encyclopedia, Laura Lynn Windsor

Women at the Hague: The International Congress of Women and its Results; Jane Addams, Emily Greene Balch, Alice Hamilton

Rosika Schwimmer, SNAC

 

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.

 

Jane Addams, Mary Rozet Smith, and the Disappointments of One-Sided Correspondence

Mary Rozet Smith was well-loved by a long list of extraordinary, historically important women who came through the doors of Hull-House in Chicago. From 1889, when she first visited the settlement and met its young, then unknown founder Jane Addams, until 1934, when she died suddenly of pneumonia at the age of sixty-five, Smith was an unwavering supporter of Hull-House, its residents, and its activities. She became, along with her wealthy and generous family, one of Hull-House’s most important donors. She was also for nearly forty years the dearest friend and most intimate companion of the incomparable Jane Addams. Yet Mary Rozet Smith remains something of a mystery.

Mary Rozet Smith, c. 1880s (image: Ellen Gates Starr Papers, Smith College)

Despite her importance to the story of Hull-House and to the personal life of Jane Addams, Mary Smith is an elusive wisp of a historical figure. She was, apparently, content in the shadows, wanting nothing more, or so it seems, than to be generous, to be a devoted daughter, to be a cherished friend, and to be a special confidant of Jane Addams. Mary Smith’s proximity to the most famous social experiment in American history could have made her a valuable witness and informant of that history. Instead, she left historians very few clues about her life, and the loss of her letters to Jane Addams deprive us not only of her voice in that relationship but also of her own importance as a Chicago philanthropist. As Jane Addams’ nephew James Linn wrote in his biography of his beloved aunt: “the interests of [Hull-House] remained the center of her own interests, and the friendship of Mary Smith soon became and always remained the highest and clearest note in the music of Jane Addams’s personal life.”

Just after Mary Smith died, long-time Hull-House resident Dr. Alice Hamilton wrote her sister from Chicago: “I can’t look at my grief over Mary because I should lose my grip. When I came out here I told Mary that she must get well, that she could live on without J. A., but J. A. could not live without her.” Jane Addams had suffered a second heart attack and died just thirteen months after Smith, so the statement was, perhaps, prophetic. But more importantly, what resonates in Hamilton’s words and in Linn’s words, too, is the centrality of Mary Rozet Smith to the Hull-House universe. She was embedded in the heartbeat of the institution and its women, and to one woman in particular, Jane Addams, she offered quiet domestic solace to balance the chaos of public life. However, we cannot truly know who Mary Rozet Smith was, because there is so little evidence of her activities found in newspapers, pubic documents, and organizational records; and, most unfortunately, very few of her own words survive her.

As I work on the annotation for Vol. 4 of the Selected Papers of Jane Addams, covering the years 1901-1913, and as I research and write the more than 100 footnotes about Mary Rozet Smith that will appear in the volume, I am missing her voice. When I read any of the seventy-three letters Jane Addams wrote to her during that period, I mourn the loss of her letters to Addams. Not a single letter of hers to Addams survives from those years, and I sometimes curse Jane Addams for destroying correspondence which would, I suspect, provide rich context not only for their relationship but also for Smith’s engagement as a sister of Hull-House. I am editing Addams’ papers and not Smith’s, I know, but I also know we are impoverished in our ability to fully contextualize Addams’ letters without Smith’s corresponding letters. One-sided correspondence is always a disappointment to the historian, who is left by the absent voice of one of the correspondents to answer the historical questions they raise and to ponder the important historical contexts they inspire with half of the pieces of the puzzle missing.

We have selected thirty of Addams’ letters to Smith for Vol. 4, and on their own they are rich, filled with the details of Addams’ reform activities, her writing habits, her ideas, her public speaking, and her daily life. They are also filled with details of the travels of Addams and Smith, of their health, of their shared concern for each other’s families, of their shared network of friends, and of their frequent separations from each other, due to Smith’s illnesses and Addams’ extensive lecturing and involvement in national and international organizations. However, without Smith’s letters, we are left wanting more to fill in the details, gaps, and silences that are an unfortunate characteristic of one-sided correspondence.

When Addams wrote to her “Dearest,” her “Darling,” sometimes her feelings of love and longing for Smith are clear. In a 1902 letter she wrote: “You must know, dear, how I long for you all the time—and especially during the last three weeks. There is reason in the habit of married folk keeping together. Forever yrs.” In a 1904 letter, she opined: “Your letters are the most cheerful things that I have and you must know that I am mightily empty hearted without you.” And in a 1909 letter she offered three little words that she offered to no other correspondent: “I love you.”

Mary Rozet Smith and Jane Addams (c. 1896) (image: Swarthmore Peace Collection, Swarthmore College)

Jane Addams’ letters to other women among her close circle of friends and Hull-House residents, such as Lillian Wald and Julia Lathrop, were filled with affection. Addams wrote with the intimate language that was the natural and ordinary way of letters between women during this period in American history, when half of all college-educated women did not marry and the kinship of female friends was loving and strong. In a precious few letters, the reader cannot help but to see Addams’ particular tenderness for Smith. However, in most of her letters, Addams’ language is more muted, her tone more guarded, and the content merely practical and informative, many the hasty missives of a busy woman. In those less intimate letters, Addams almost always addressed Smith as “Dearest,” a moniker of affection she reserved for her alone, and she closed all letters with very tender words, but these letters offer far fewer clues about the relationship between the two women and the various contexts of their lives together.

I wonder if the language Smith employed in her letters to Addams mirrored the language Addams used. Was there a tonal difference in her letters to Addams than what she employed in letters she wrote to their mutual friends? What words did she use to express her feelings for Addams? What terms of endearment did she choose to begin her letters to Addams, and did she often write “I love you.”? When Addams shared with Smith her doubts and fears about a book manuscript or an important speech, did Smith respond with a pep talk, a gentle critique, or some soothing, emotional refrain? Did Smith share her own doubts and fears with Addams in her letters, and did she share her hopes and dreams and opinions on the reform topics that occupied the minds of Jane Addams and other Hull-House residents? Did she provide details of her asthma attacks and nervous anxiety and other philanthropies, as well and her travels, and did she offer gossip or news that might explain a vague reference we cannot define and may never define without her letters? What was the character of the letters Smith sent that Addams reported as “a great comfort,” and what were the words Smith offered to soothe that others could not?

Maybe Jane Addams destroyed Smith’s letters because they were too intimate or too emotionally embarrassing. Or maybe she destroyed them because she was a private person, despite her celebrity, and she wished to keep her special relationship with Smith from the prying eyes of the modern world that was pressing in on Hull-House in the early 1930s. I don’t really care what her reason was, but I am quite mad at her for doing it. I can’t help it, but it makes me sad to know so little about the woman to whom Jane Addams spent so much of her personal life.

I do not bemoan the loss of Smith’s letters to Addams simply because I think they would for certain answer the big question about their relationship. Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn’t, and then again if they did we would still have to be very careful about projecting our modern notions of female sexuality onto women of the past. As an editor, who contextualizes historical documents as windows to the past, it is not for me to interpret the nature of the relationship that existed between Jane Addams and Mary Rozet Smith. Whether they were the dearest of platonic friends or enjoyed a sexual relationship is not for me to decide. No matter, besides, because in the historical record of their relationship, there are far more questions than answers. That fact is, after all, the frustrating reality of one-sided correspondence.

I am missing Smith’s voice and her words for what they might have brought to the big Jane-Addams-Hull-House party. If we had Smith’s letters to Jane Addams, I would use Smith’s words to answer Addams’ words, to balance Addams’ particularly romantic phrases, to provide our readers with the dialogue between two women who were emotionally close to each other for four decades. But I would also use them to better understand Smith’s role in the Hull-House community, to glean some clues about who she was as a person, what she believed in, what intrigued her, and what made her smile. I would employ them to understand for myself why she was so dear to all of the extraordinary women who knew and loved her.

From Hull-House financial records, we know the scope of Smith’s contributions to the settlement and its activities. From the correspondence and personal accounts of her friends, we know something of her kindness, deportment, gentle nature, and the various physical and emotional illnesses from which she suffered. And from the extant letters Jane Addams wrote to her, we can understand a little bit about her emotional importance to the woman who is the subject of our documentary edition. Ah, but alas, there is so much of whom Mary Rozet Smith was which is lost to us because her letters to Jane Addams are lost to us. Mary Rozet Smith may well have been the “highest and clearest note in the music of Jane Addams’s personal life,” but why she was and who she was as a person will likely remain elusive. She is a woman whom historians have defined entirely by her relationship to Hull-House, and that is all well and good, I suppose, because Hull-House needed her thrive.

But darnit, I wish Jane Addams would have allowed us the chance to know her dear friend better. I wish we had Mary’s words to tell us a little bit more about Jane, and to tell us a little bit about herself, as well. I wish I had thirty or ten or even two of Smith’s letters to Addams to enhance the thirty letters to her we have chosen to annotate. They would not likely answer all of the questions I have, nor would they likely fill in all of the gaps and silences in Addams’ letters; but I suspect they would fill in a whole lot of missing details and offer a nuance or two. I know they would enlighten, enrich, and contextualize, because back-and-forth correspondence usually does. And I bet they may even offer some evidence of those highest and clearest notes in the music.

By Stacy Pratt McDermott, Associate Editor

Sources: Allen F. David, American Heroine: The Life and Legend of Jane Addams (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), 85-91; Gioia Diliberto, A Useful Woman: The Early Life of Jane Addams (New York: Scribner, 1999), 182-87; Jean Bethke Elshtain, Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy (New York: Basic Books, 2002), 23-24; Louise W. Knight, Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 217-18; James Weber Linn, Jane Addams: A Biography (New York: D. Appleton-Century Co., 1935, 147; Rima Lunin Schultz and Adele Hast, eds., Women Building Chicago, 1790-1990: A Biographical Dictionary (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), 817-19; Barbara Sicherman, Alice Hamilton: A Life in Letters (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), 346-47; Eleanor J. Stebner, The Women of Hull House: A Study in Spirituality, Vocation and Friendship (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997), 158-66; Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith, May 26, 1902; Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith, August 13, 1904; Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith, October 5, 1904; Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith, February 12, 1909, all in Jane Addams Digital Edition.

The Addams Papers Goes International!

Connemara, Ireland.

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.

Cathy talking about biographical resources.

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, Cathy, and Tori after the session at Kilmainham Gaol Museum

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.

Liz Stanley gave a keynote talk on the Olive Schreiner Letters Online

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!