The Patron Saint of Gift Giving

In June 1907, Jane Addams sent her sister Alice Haldeman handmade bags for her birthday. Made by a Hull-House neighbor, likely a poor immigrant, the bags were a typical gift from Addams, who enjoyed sending handmade goods, particularly from the Hull-House Shops. Items like linens and wooden or metal household objects were typical choices for birthday, Christmas, and thank-you gifts Addams gave to friends, family members, and Hull-House patrons. Most of her recipients were likely grateful for these thoughtful gifts or, at least, they were gracious in the receipt of them. Haldeman, however, did not hide her feelings about much of anything, let alone gifts from baby sister. She did not appreciate the bags, and she told Addams so.

In response to Haldeman’s disappointment, Addams wrote: “I am sorry you didn’t like my poor little bags which were made by [an] old lady in the neighborhood who sells them. I have had one in my traveling bag which I have grown attached to. Of course it would be no use in a bureau drawer. However I will try again and send you a book…”

Oooo. Burn.

We cannot know what Haldeman might have written to raise the ire of her sister because her letters to Addams do not survive. However, this passive aggressive response reveals Addams’s frustration, whereas we get so little of her personality in most of her surviving letters, which are guarded, congenial, and professional. Addams’s letters to her sister from 1901 until Haldeman’s death in 1915 contain numerous instances of apologies for failed gifts, evidence that Addams’s failure in this regard caused difficulty between the sisters. To know she chafed at a sister who had the power to put her on the defensive helps us chip away a little at Addams’s constrained, disciplined, public persona.

Haldeman was picky about gifts. Addams was sensitive to Haldeman’s criticism of her gifts. They exchanged strong words. Feelings were bruised. And then the women went on being sisters and friends. Sounds human to me, and I can certainly relate on a personal level. What is interesting to me as a historian, however, is to think about Jane Addams as a sister, as an ordinary human being doing ordinary human-being things, like stressing out over gifts to her nit-picking elder sister. Addams was not just a famous social reformer, or activist, or best-selling author, or recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. She was a woman, just like me, who was imperfect, who sometimes lost her cool, and who failed on occasion to please the people she loved most.

After the failed birthday bags in June 1907, Addams was determined to get it right at Christmas. That holiday she sent Haldeman a book and followed it up with a box of sparklers, closing her Christmas Eve letter: “I am always, dear Alice, your loving sister Jane.” In other words, sis, give me a break.

The book she sent was Mother by Russian writer Maxim Gorky. Addams deemed the novel “remarkable,” but it was one of Gorky’s least successful works and Addams sent Haldeman the copy she had read because the new one she ordered did not arrive in time to send. I can almost hear Haldeman grumbling that her sister sent her a crappy, used novel for Christmas. She had complained about books before, in fact, one time accusing Addams of sending her a book for Christmas that she deemed inappropriate for her young daughter. To that snub, Addams had replied: “I hadn’t thought of course of Marcet’s reading it. I might easily send you many books that would be too mature for her.”

The Christmas gift debacle of 1909 is my favorite of Addams’s sister-gift failures. That year she sent a kimono, which seems a perfectly glorious gift to me and likely did to Addams, too. Picked out by a wealthy Chicago friend, Addams hoped it might please her finicky sister. Nope. Haldeman poo-pooed the kimono, and Addams, once again, was annoyed: “I am sorry you didn’t like the kimono, it was bought in Chinatown in San Francisco, selected by Mrs Robert Herrick when she was there, perhaps you are disillusioned about Xmas, last year you didn’t like the book I sent—after all it is only the message of remembrance which reaches thru, isn’t it? Please give the kimono to someone and forget it— next year I’ll try something quite different.”

I am not one who buys into the “Saint Jane” moniker for Jane Addams. She was too shrewd and too determined in her activism to live up to that gendered, ridiculous, otherworldly title. It is clear Alice did not think saint when she unwrapped a gift from Jane. But I do think Jane Addams was a wee bit saintly in dealing with her grumpy, perpetually dissatisfied sister. Nowhere is this clearer than in Addams’s persistent attempts to bestow on Haldeman the perfect gift. She kept trying to please her sister, even though her sister kept throwing the gifts back in her face.

Perhaps it was difficult for Haldeman to acknowledge a kindness or the favor of her younger, famous sister. Maybe she liked to play the cranky-butt. Or, most likely I believe, she took a little pleasure in stirring the emotional pot in the belly of the serious, stoic leader of Hull-House. I wonder if she actually liked all the gifts Addams selected for her, but she just couldn’t allow herself to give her sister the win. In the end, I suppose, Alice Haldeman was probably a difficult woman to please; and I love it that Jane Addams just kept on trying.

Regardless of what Haldeman thought about them, Jane Addams’s gifts were good and great and sometimes spectacular. They reflected her economic and aesthetic sensibilities, illustrated her social responsibility and intellectual curiosity, and related to her work at Hull-House, her interest in different cultures, and her respect for the immigrants who lived in Chicago. Jane Addams was a generous, inspired giver of gifts. In honor of her and in the spirit of the coming holiday season, I offer the following annotated list of gift ideas, straight out of the correspondence of the patron saint of gift giving.

Gifts Ideas from Jane Addams (JA)

Art (and for goodness sake, pay for the frame if it needs one)—JA to the wife of her nephew Stanley Linn and her one-year-old great-niece and namesake: “I hope you will like the pictures. We are all very fond of Norah Hamilton’s etching and I put in the Irish geese for Jane. Please have them all framed ‘on me,’ as it were, that is part of it.” Jane Addams to Myra Harriet Reynolds Linn, December 19, 1917

Blanket (Handmade, by YOU. If Jane Addams had time to knit, then so do you. Do you run a social settlement and take trains all over the country giving lectures about starving orphans in Europe? I didn’t think so. Start knitting; the Christmas clock is ticking, people).—JA to her niece and great-nephew: “The blanket I knitted for Henry, got awfully grimy in the process. I did it at H. H. where it is impossible to keep white wool clean. It goes to the little brother with my best love and a Merry Christmas.” Jane Addams to Anna Marcet Haldeman-Julius, December 10, 1919

Books—JA to her niece and great-niece Alice (her sister’s namesake): “I hope her very prosaic little present reached you safely, to [the] rest of you I am sending only books this year — very simple presents indeed! … I am sending things there early because of the crowded mails — don’t open them too soon.”  Jane Addams to Anna Marcet Haldeman-Julius, December 17, 1917

Books for Children (one book for siblings to share so as not to be excessive)—JA to fellow suffragist and friend: “I have sent the children one of the Van Loon books which my little nephew so dotes on. I hope they won’t mind having it together altho I am afraid it is not a favorite plan with children.” Jane Addams to Florence Gottschalk Taussig, December 31, 1921, Jane Addams Digital Edition (JADE).

Book of which you are the author—JA to the wife of a HH patron: “May I congratulate you on the new daughter and send you a copy of my new book with best wishes for a merry Christmas. You doubtless know much more about the spirit of youth these days than I can possibly tell you.” Jane Addams to Mary Everts Ewing, December 22, 1909

Car (or a Cow)—JA to her niece-in-law: “I do hope that the baby is better, if the doctor advises a cow you would better get one at once and I will send the Xmas money as soon as I return — of course we would not hesitate between a cow and a Ford if the baby is better fed by the former.” (Hey, I could use a new car this year, a Ford would be fine so long as it’s a hybrid, please). Jane Addams to Myra Harriet Reynolds Linn, November 30, 1916; Jane Addams to Myra Harriet Reynolds Linn, December 3, 1916

Holy Water Receptacle (only old ones from Paris)—JA to Alice Haldeman: “I am sending my Christmas package today to avoid the final rush. Knowing your fondness for worked metal, it is an old holy water receptacle I got in Paris last summer. It can of course be used for matches or anything you like.” Jane Addams to Sarah Alice Addams Haldeman, December 19, 1913.

Japanese Kimono (who cares what Alice thought, a kimono is a great gift idea; pick a colorful pattern you like, and if your recipient doesn’t like it, keep it for yourself and never buy that ungrateful person another gift.)—JA to Alice Haldeman: “I am sending you a short Japanese kimono which is nice to wear in bed or in your room. It goes with my best wishes for a Merry Christmas.” Jane Addams to Sarah Alice Addams Haldeman, December 19, 1908

Japanese Sparklers—JA to Alice Haldeman: “I sent you a box of Japanese ‘sparkers’ which seem to be a feature of Christmas this year. You light the end in a flame and all the rest happens merrily.” Jane Addams to Sarah Alice Addams Haldeman, December 24, 1907

Lamp—JA to her sister’s daughter: “The little Italian lamp is for Marcet. I wish very much that you would be here for Christmas but I hope that it will be a merry one, wherever it is. Jane Addams to Sarah Alice Addams Haldeman, December 6, 1903

Linens—JA to Alice Haldeman: “I am sending your Xmas present now because the mails are so full later. The bureau scarf is a [Romanian] one, ‘handmade’ from the neighborhood.” Alice probably hated it, but I’m sure JA’s niece-in-law was appreciate of her furniture linen: “The blue table covers were woven at Hull-House, one of the best bits of weaving which we have done.” Jane Addams to Sarah Alice Addams Haldeman, December 6, 1903; Jane Addams to Myra Harriet Reynolds Linn, December 11, 1919

Money (money is always good)—JA to a widowed friend: “May I send five dollars for Christmas to each child and ten for you. I wish it were ten times more, it would more adequately express my love and best wishes to the dearest family in the world.” Jane Addams to Mary Kenney O’Sullivan, December 18, 1911

Piano—JA to nephew Stanley Linn regarding gift for his wife: “I will send a little package for Jane later, but the real purpose of this letter is to ask you whether you think that between us we might get a piano for Myra’s Christmas. It might be a little solace to her to have music in the house. I could pay $150. down and the rest might come along on the [installment] plan. Could you have a good piano selected at Los Angeles and let me know the cost and terms of payment before buying. I should want to know what we were in for. It might be possible to get a good second hand one for two hundred dollars in which case I would try to do it all at once.” Following up two weeks later, JA wrote: “[Enclosed] please find a draft for the full amount of the piano. I am so glad you found one, and I hope that it is a good one.” Jane Addams to Stanley Ross Linn, December 4, 1919; Jane Addams to Stanley Ross Linn, December 17, 1919

Pin (a simple brooch of some sort)—JA to friend Lillian Wald: “May I send you this very work-a-day little pin from our shop with my most ardent wishes for the very best Christmas of all to you…” Jane Addams to Lillian D. Wald, December 21, 1911

Ad, Chicago Tribune (1917)

Rompers—JA to her grand-nieces and nephews in Kansas and California: “The rompers I had ordered from the Trade School were so big that I sent them all to Cal. and after Xmas they were going to try again.” Jane Addams to Anna Marcet Haldeman-Julius, December 17, 1917

Russian Things, Box of—JA to eight-year-old great niece: “I am sending you a box of some Russian things which I found the other day in the Russian shop, and I am sending a typewritten list so you may know how to divide them. Jane Addams to Jane Addams Linn, December 20, 1924, JADE.

Silver Box—JA to a regular Hull-House donor: “Some of the advanced boys in the shop have lately been venturing upon silver work and I am sending you a box they have made which has received some praise from one or two artists. It ought to be much bigger to contain all the gratitude and affection which I should like to put into it. But perhaps you will know what it ‘represents’ to use kindergarten lingo. With every possible good wish for the New Year.” Jane Addams to Anita McCormick Blaine, December 25, 1904

Typewriting Table (only go for this if you are giving it to someone who has hated every single gift you’ve ever given them for twenty years)—JA to Alice Haldeman: “I sent you a typewriting table today from Fields for Xmas. I almost sent a much prettier one which was not the right height but finally settled on the plainer one. If it isn’t right for the space please use it in the bank and we will look for another when you come, for your own room.” (Good grief, did Addams have to tell her sister there was a prettier one? ) Jane Addams to Sarah Alice Addams Haldeman, December 10, 1914

Happy Holidays. And good luck.

 by Stacy Lynn, Associate Editor

Notes: It is important to note that there is a disproportionate number of surviving Christmas letters that Addams wrote to her sister Alice and her nephew Stanley Linn and his family. The evidence makes it appear she favored them with her gift giving. While it is true she was fond of the Linns and provided them extra support because they struggled, the extant correspondence only provides a glimpse of Addams’s holiday generosity. Louise W. Knight, Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2005), 489n52, 519; Sherry R. Shepler and Anne F. Mattina, “Paying the Price for Pacifism: The Press’s Rhetorical Shift from ‘Saint Jane’ to ‘The Most Dangerous Woman in America,’” Feminist Formations 24 (Spring 2012): 154-71; “Noiseless Parlor Fireworks,” The Index, 17, Christmas ed. (Dec. 14, 1907): 55; “Rompers and Creepers Come,” Chicago Tribune, Feb. 19, 1917, p. 12 (advertisement); Jane Addams to Sarah Alice Addams Haldeman, January 10, 1901; Jane Addams to Sarah Alice Addams Haldeman, June 13, 1907; Jane Addams to Sarah Alice Addams Haldeman, December 18, 1907; Jane Addams to Sarah Alice Addams Haldeman, January 10, 1909;  Hull-House Year Book, January 1, 1916 (boys metalworking), all in JADE. Photo of Jane Addams, c. 1912, courtesy Prints and Photographs, Library of Congress.

Fidelity, Accuracy, and the Delicate Balance

A documentary editor’s top priority is unwavering accuracy to their collection’s text.

Wait, that doesn’t sound right.

A documentary editor’s goal should be the regularizing of words and writing styles so as to be easily read and searched by a reader.

But that doesn’t sound quite right, either.

These are the two schools of thought that a documentary editor grapples with when deciding on an editing style early in a project’s life. Fidelity: digitally representing an object exactly how it was created. Accuracy: changing characters or words to standardize and correct mistakes for various purposes. Humans are imperfect beings, leading us to make mistakes every so often, but also giving every person their own unique form of expression. But when someone’s written work, along with the imperfections it will undoubtedly have, is being prepared for increased access by being digitized and transcribed, how faithful should we be to their exact pen strokes?

For an example, take this salutation by W. E. B. Du Bois:

A greeting from a letter from W. E. B. Du Bois.
W. E. B. Du Bois to Jane Addams, April 19, 1905.

A common mistake made by over 400 authors in our digital edition so far, Du Bois spells Addams with a single D. In this case, as per our transcription guidelines, an editor would place [brackets] around the misspelled word and correct it. Our practices lean more toward accuracy than fidelity in this case, and would be applied to any incorrectly spelled name or word. After lengthy discussion, we felt this rule would aid with online searches . We also know that the spelling written above is factually wrong, and feel that correcting the mistake lessens confusion with names that may have been spelled 10 different ways across 10 different documents.

But what about another rule we have, concerning abbreviations:

A closing from a letter to Mary Rozet Smith.
Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith, August 24, 1906.

Here, in a closing of the letter to Mary Rozet Smith, Addams writes, “Always yrs J. A.” which is exactly as we have transcribed the line. But wait, “yrs” is decidedly not how you spell “yours” in which case it should be bracketed and corrected, right? In this case we are leaving the spelling as is, arguing that expanding and regularizing abbreviated words changes the tone of the writing too intrusively. By leaning more toward fidelity rather than accuracy here, we hope to retain the unique style of writing that an author may have had.

Our transcription guidelines include dozens of rules about how to treat difficult to read texts or irregularities in spelling and punctuation. With each rule, editors hope to keep the delicate balance between fidelity and accuracy in transcriptions. One rule that is visible across the site is the use of brackets. By using brackets around changed words, editors can easily inform readers that something about the text may be different than the original, and by providing an image the reader can quickly check the spot that the change took place.

The bright side to editors working on a digital edition is the ability to easily change project guidelines. If, for some reason, we decide to change any of our rules, it would be entirely possible, though perhaps time consuming. This allows our relationship with our transcriptions to continue to grow as our editors develop a deeper connection with our texts.

This blog post was inspired by Ben Brumfield’s blog post “The Transcription Quality Balancing Act”.

For further examples of different transcription practices, see the National Archives’ Transcription Tips and Family Search’s How should I index incorrect records?

From Lincoln Rubber Ducky to Addams Signed Note

For the twenty years I edited Abraham Lincoln’s papers, I never had a strong desire to own a Lincoln document. Well, let’s be honest, I never made enough money to buy a Lincoln document. Even a clipped Lincoln signature will set you back a few grand. Instead, my Lincoln collection included a bookcase full of Lincoln mass-market biographies and edited volumes, a nice bust, one significant historic print, a few mugs, salt and pepper shakers, and a weird-but-adorable Lincoln rubber ducky.

My Lincoln collecting was not at all sophisticated, based as it was on a scholarly editor’s pocketbook, but it was great fun and it still gives me much joy.  Looking back on my collection now, I understand  the value of my kitschy Lincoln stuff for the giggle it inspired in me as I conducted my serious scholarly work and for the little breather it provided from the rarified air of academic history. History should be fun, darn it, and part of the reason I think so many Americans find history boring is because they had teachers who squeezed no fun out of history at all.

I am a historian who squeezes a great deal of fun from the work I am lucky to do. I am also a historian who embraces my historical subjects with a big hug, leaning in and opening my heart as well as my head to my work. I am passionate about finding the humanity of the historical figures I study. I think at least in part, the fun I had collecting Lincolniana humanized Lincoln for me and humanized the scholar in me, too. It allowed me to see Lincoln as a man (and a bobblehead), not as a god or a myth, and to allow my work to delight me. My editing work made an important contribution to Lincoln scholarship, but allowing humor and humanity into the work provided me with balance. My joyful approach to Lincoln rooted my feet to the ground, where history actually lives, and kept my head out of the ivory tower, where history is sometimes self-important and inaccessible.

When I started working for the Jane Addams Papers Project in January 2017, I naturally approached Jane Addams in the same way I had approached Lincoln. Joy and a sense of fun balanced my very serious effort to get to know the woman and the social reformer Addams was, to understand her era, and to learn all I could about the fascinating historical contexts of her life. In the beginning of my work with the project, I immersed myself in biographies about Addams, and I studied her surviving correspondence, the speeches she delivered, and the articles and books she published. However, I also immediately coveted the Jane Addams doll that was sitting on a shelf in the project’s offices in New Jersey. All work and no fun is just not my style.

It took a few weeks, but I found said doll on eBay for $10, and Jane the Doll has been sitting next to or on my desk ever since. In her smart gray frock and sensible black hat she stands, with a slight muppet-like smile, holding her memoir Twenty Years at Hull-House under her arm and wearing her Nobel Peace Prize medal around her neck. To me, Jane the Doll is a muse, of sorts, juxtaposed as it is to the ever more solemn nature of the life-changing reform work in which the real Jane Addams was engaged. I also like that the doll is the silly to Jane Addams’s serious. It is, as well, a daily physical reminder that while my work may be a scholarly business, it is also an honor and a pleasure. I actually get paid to do work I love, so why not embrace the passion and the fun within it.

As I did with Lincoln for twenty years, I now do with Jane Addams. I balance the serious with the silly. I admit it is sometimes harder to find the funny bone in Miss Addams than it was to find it in Mr. Lincoln, but that is no bar to my finding levity in the painstaking and labor-intensive scholarly editing work I do. Collecting my subjects is my way of bringing fun into my life as a historian, so it was exciting for me to learn it will be well within my financial reach to collect first editions of each of Jane Addams’s published books (five already down six to go!). Although memorabilia of Addams is far more rare than it is for Lincoln, in my growing collection of Addams kitsch, I have already added a peace poster for the wall, buttons with “I Love Jane Addams” and “I love Peace,” a coffee mug, and a “Peace, Love, and Jane Addams” t-shirt. Only recently, however, did I realize that a Jane Addams document could be available to me for purchase.

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Springfield, Illinois, for a Lincoln event and to meet up with a group of people who have come into my life through our shared interest in Abraham Lincoln. One of those people who joined me in the sunny beer garden across from the Lincoln Home that afternoon brought me a surprise from the rare bookshop where he works: a printed calling card signed by Jane Addams! It is not a historically important note or a romantic letter to Jane’s beloved Mary Rozet Smith. It is not large, measuring just a 3½ by 2¼ inches. It is not in perfect condition, either. In fact, it has some damage on the printed side from glue which held it in position in an album or adhered it to matting within a frame, and one blob of gluey residue obscures the printed script of “Hull-House.” However, the handwritten side is pristine and features legible-for-Jane-Addams scrawl and her characteristic loopy signature. It is a humble document, indeed, but its imperfections do not lessen my enchantment with it.

Holding that little note in my hands for the first time tendered a tangible spark through my fingers and up to my heart, sending me back in time 100 years. To noisy, dirty, Progressive-Era Chicago. To Hull-House in the city’s impoverished and overcrowded 19th Ward. To Jane Addams, “the world’s best-known and best-loved woman” of her time, standing in the doorway. Handling a historic document has always been for me a kind of handshake with the historical figure of the past who wrote it. Over the years of searching for Lincoln documents in repositories across the country, I shook hands with Lincoln a great many times. But because I work with digital copies of documents at the Addams Papers, this was the first time I had the pleasure of this special and particular introduction to Addams. My day trip to Springfield got even better when I carried that little scrap of Jane Addams handwriting home for fifty times less than it would have cost me had Abraham Lincoln been the one who had penned it.

It annoys me to know that the manuscript market is as sexist as the world. To deem as practically worthless a handwritten note with a fine signature, written by a woman who was the most significant reformer of the Progressive Era, is, I think, almost a crime. But the market’s misjudgment and loss is my gain, allowing me to own a piece of historical magic. My little Jane Addams note is priceless to me. It is the star of my collection of Addamsiana, and  I plan to have it conserved and encased in a two-sided archival frame. I do not have aspirations to collect additional documents in the hand of Jane Addams. This one will be enough for me (at least for now, I think).  It conjures the handshake, inspires my joy, and provides a palpable human connection to a woman I get to hang out with five days a week.

Anyway, from the perspective of historical memorabilia, in going from a $1 Lincoln rubber ducky to a signed Addams note worth about 100 bucks, I’ve come a long way, baby. Maybe not the equivalent of Jane Addams getting the right to vote, but still super cool for this historian, who is having way too much fun.

By Stacy Lynn, Associate Editor