A Tale of Many Cultures: Clara Landsberg’s Experiences at Hull House

This article in its entirety was published in Volume 46, No. 3 Summer 2022 edition of Chicago Jewish History, a quarterly publication of the Chicago Jewish Historical Society and is being reprinted with the permission of the Society.

A Tale of Many Cultures:  Clara Landsberg’s Experiences at Hull House with Eastern European Jewish Immigrants and White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Social Workers

by Cynthia Francis Gensheimer

Clara Landsberg, a Jewish-born teacher, social worker, and pacifist, lived at Hull House in the room directly adjacent to Jane Addams’s for roughly 20 years and made significant contributions to the Chicago settlement house. However, scholars have paid scant attention to her story until now, perhaps because she never sought prominence during her lifetime.[1] While researching her connection with Bryn Mawr College as part of a larger project on early Jewish women students at the Seven Sisters schools, I have discovered that shortly after graduating in 1897, Landsberg left Judaism to become Episcopalian. Afterward, she maintained ties with her influential Jewish parents but also became a member of the nation’s Protestant elite and of an international sisterhood of pacifists. Like many leading women intellectuals and social workers of her day, Landsberg lived with her lifelong partner—a woman—in a predominantly female world. This article will provide an overview of Landsberg’s biography, with a focus on her role at Hull House.

Clara was the daughter of a Jewish power couple: Rabbi Max Landsberg and Miriam (Isengarten) Landsberg, leading Jewish intellectuals and nationally known experts on charity administration, with 30 years of hands-on experience in helping the less fortunate in Rochester, New York.[2] Clara’s parents had close working relationships with luminaries Jewish and non-Jewish, including Chicago’s Rabbi Emil G. Hirsch, Hannah Greenebaum Solomon, and Jane Addams.[3] Closer to home, Susan B. Anthony attended the Landsberg congregation’s annual interfaith Thanksgiving services and, in 1892, recommended Miriam Landsberg for a statewide position—although that position was ultimately filled by Anthony herself.[4] The Landsbergs helped lead efforts for social good in Rochester with their closest friends: the Unitarian minister William Gannett and his wife, Mary T. L. Gannett. Clara Landsberg followed her parents’ example in many ways.

Clara can be taken as a case study in the difficulties that many Jewish women of her generation would have faced in attempting to achieve the Landsbergs’ highest ideals. Clara graduated from the most intellectually rigorous women’s college on the East Coast and, through her partner, Margaret Hamilton, became a member of one of the country’s most elite Protestant families. Yet even after graduating from college and becoming Episcopalian, she was denied a job at a girls’ preparatory school because she was still considered Jewish. This discrimination against Jews, even those who had left the faith, was leveled against a young woman of eminent qualifications and impeccable manners. It belied her own parents’ fervent wish that Judaism should be considered only a religion, not a race, and that Jews should find full acceptance in American society.

Born in Rochester in 1873, Clara—and her two younger sisters, Rose and Grace—attended Miss Cruttenden’s School for Girls, which offered a rigorous college preparatory curriculum, but also equipped its students for lives of simple refinement. Although their social world was predominantly Jewish, they had Christian friends as well. At Rose’s confirmation, Rabbi Landsberg enjoined the teenagers coming of age in his Reform congregation to take a rational approach to religion and to determine their beliefs for themselves without feeling bound by tradition.[5] As the Landsberg children would have known, Susan B. Anthony and Mary T. L. Gannett had done exactly that by becoming Unitarians after growing up as Quakers.

At Bryn Mawr College, Clara met her future life partner: Margaret Hamilton, daughter of an upper-class WASP family in Fort Wayne, Indiana.[6] Clara also became acquainted with Margaret’s sisters: Alice Hamilton, who would later establish the field of industrial medicine, and Edith Hamilton, who would famously popularize classical Greek and Roman mythology.[7] Bryn Mawr, founded by Quakers, advertised itself as “pervaded by a simple and practical Christianity” and required daily chapel attendance.[8] Clara, the only Jew of the nearly 50 students in her graduating class, lived on campus and studied classical and modern languages, with a concentration in Latin and Greek.[9] After their 1897 graduation, Clara and Margaret studied abroad at the Sorbonne and the University of Munich.[10]

Around 1900, Clara Landsberg moved to Hull House, where she would room with Alice Hamilton for the next two decades.[11] By the time Clara arrived, three-quarters of Hull House’s clientele consisted of Jews from Chicago’s Near West Side and other neighborhoods.[12] These Jews—mostly immigrants from Eastern Europe—came to learn English, attend lectures and concerts, and participate in drama, music, and debate clubs.[13] Despite their apprehensions with respect to Christian proselytizing, they predominated among the 9,000 people who visited Hull House each week.[14] Clara Landsberg earned her living by teaching German and history at a local girls’ school; in her free time, she taught—and later supervised—the evening classes at Hull House.[15]

Jane Addams mentored Clara, who was initially in the unique position of being the only resident who had been born and raised Jewish. Jane Addams called her the “dean of our educational department”—in other words, supervisor of one of the settlement’s core activities.[16] In 1908, a paragraph in the Bryn Mawr Alumnæ Quarterly—likely written by Clara herself—reported that she was living at Hull House to familiarize herself with the problems of immigrants living in “crowded” quarters. Rather than describing her students as Catholic or Jewish, Clara identified them by their various nationalities: “Italian, Greek, Russian, Roumanian, Polish, Armenian, and German.”[17] She explained that they wanted to learn English not only to get good jobs, but also to “study subjects more or less remote from their daily work for much the same reasons that induce people of more fortunate neighborhoods to study Browning, Shakespeare, Ibsen, or Bernard Shaw.”[18] During her early years at Hull House, Clara introduced her students—primarily Eastern European Jews—to some of the classic works of English literature.[19] According to Jane Addams, Clara possessed “an unusual power” as a knowledgeable teacher with an unassuming, quiet presence.[20] In addition, Landsberg had “many friends among the poor people of the neighborhood who are devotedly attached to her.”[21] Two of those friends were Hilda Satt and Morris Levinson.

Hilda Satt’s life was transformed through her long association with the settlement and its residents. Hilda, who had first visited Hull House as a young teenager in 1895, later became a member of one of Clara Landsberg’s reading groups. Certain her mother would disapprove, Hilda had initially declined an Irish friend’s invitation to attend that year’s Hull House Christmas party. In her posthumously published autobiography, Hilda recalled her fear that she would be killed if she attended, because in Poland it had been dangerous for Jewish children to play outside on Christmas. She later wrote, “There were children and parents … from Russia, Poland, Italy, Germany, Ireland, England, and many other lands, but no one seemed to care where they had come from, or what religion they professed … I became a staunch American at this party.”[22]

In one of the first reading groups Clara conducted at Hull House, she ignited a love of English literature in Hilda, who spoke Yiddish at home and had left school after fifth grade to work days sewing shirt cuffs. In addition to the books Clara assigned, Hilda was soon reading “every book I could borrow.”[23] Only a few years earlier, Hilda’s English vocabulary had been so limited that she did not yet know the word “mushroom.” During a meal at Hull House, she had been served a mushroom omelet, of which she would later recall, “I was tortured with the question of whether the mushrooms were kosher.”[24] Soon, however, Hilda counted authors like Dickens and Louisa May Alcott among her friends. Months after meeting Hilda, Clara presented her with a Christmas gift of a copy of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. Hilda would later recall this as her fondest memory of “Miss Landsberg, … a fragile, ethereal, gentle woman … [who] opened new vistas in reading for me.”[25] With Clara Landsberg’s help, Hilda Satt became an exemplar of the path to Americanization and upward mobility that the settlement aimed to encourage.[26]

Another of Clara’s students, Morris Levinson, was, like many immigrants, eager to learn English and become an American citizen in the cultural as well as the political sense of the word. With Clara Landsberg as his mentor, he aspired to learn much more than basic skills of vocabulary, grammar, and usage.[27] Landsberg saved two letters that he wrote to her in 1905, while she was home in Rochester convalescing after a serious illness. In broken English, Morris expressed his concern that “Miss Landsberg” was “too sweet, and delicate, to be confind to bed of illness [sic],” reassured her that Ellen Gates Starr had taken him on as a pupil, and told her that he was studying a book she had given him to read: The Boys of 76, a collection of first-hand accounts of soldiers in the American Revolution:

I bolive I should have to know the history of this Country … I have resolved to read it over agan, so that I will remember everything better … Miss Landsberg, I bolive this history will make me a throught citesin.[28]

Morris also confided in Clara. He planned not to live solely seeking fun, “as a great many of people do,” but rather to “try to egicat [him]self as much as poseble” in order to “see the mining of this beautiful world and of the real uman life.”[29] Clara was not only a teacher but a role model for Morris Levinson: someone he admired and to whom he felt a deep sense of gratitude.

Although Hilda, Morris, and Clara had all been raised in Jewish homes, their similarities ended there. Clara’s highly educated, German-born parents spoke fluent English and shunned Yiddish. Like other Reform rabbis, Rabbi Landsberg jettisoned “superstitious forms and antiquated dogmas,” eliminating rituals he considered outmoded, such as Bar Mitzvah.[30] He endorsed the principles adopted by the Reform movement in its Pittsburgh Platform of 1885, but, like Rabbi Emil G. Hirsch of Chicago’s Sinai Congregation, he saw them as only the beginning rather than the end. In 1893, Rabbi Landsberg spoke in Chicago at the World Parliament of Religions, endorsing an expanded role for Jewish women in congregational life.[31]

Clara’s approach to Judaism was virtually the antithesis of that of many of the Jewish immigrants at Hull House. Her father decried Orthodoxy as well as Jewish nationalism. The Jewish immigrants—familiar and comfortable only with Orthodox Judaism—rejected Reform Judaism. Even those atheists, anarchists, and socialists who spurned all religion felt a connection to Yiddishkeit and Jewish peoplehood, concepts rejected by the Landsbergs and most Reform Jews. Did these immigrant Jews nonetheless recognize Clara Landsberg as ethnically Jewish, or did they see her as one of many Protestant residents of Hull House? Might they have accepted her precisely because they had no idea she was Jewish?

Addams and her cohort respected religious differences and tried hard to make Hull House welcoming to all.[32] Yet Jane Addams was motivated by her Protestant faith—especially by the literature and culture of social Christianity, which she described as a “renaissance of the early Christian humanitarianism … with a bent to express in social service and in terms of action the spirit of Christ.”[33] Addams has been criticized for failing to grasp that for many Eastern European Jewish immigrants, Judaism was far more than a religion. On the other hand, features of Hull House that Orthodox Jews would have found off-putting—the Chi-Rho cross Addams always wore, the Christian artwork on display, the lack of kosher food—would not have offended the most liberal Reform Jews such as Clara Landsberg or her mother, Miriam Landsberg.[34]

Miriam Landsberg, Hannah G. Solomon, and other German Jews mirrored mainstream America’s adulation of Addams. One of these Jewish admirers, Sara Hart, called Addams “the single, most influential citizen of my generation.”[35] Miriam Landsberg visited Hull House frequently and helped spearhead efforts among affluent Jews to establish a settlement in Rochester. In 1905, after spending several weeks at Hull House, she wrote: “I do not wonder that any one who has ever lived at Hull House cannot bear to go back to ordinary life.” She described the 21 residents (including her daughter Clara) as a “family” composed of “people of the finest minds” and life at Hull House as “simple, practical, … ideal.”[36]

Settlement work was popular among graduates of Bryn Mawr and similar colleges. Even so, it was not Clara’s first career choice. She and Margaret had wanted to teach at the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, but two of the school’s most influential trustees, Mary Garrett and M. Carey Thomas (then president of Bryn Mawr College), refused to hire her because she was Jewish.[37] In 1899, Edith Hamilton (then headmistress of the Bryn Mawr School) wrote to M. Carey Thomas to apprise her of Clara’s conversion:

My sister has just written me that Miss Landsberg is about to become a member of the Episcopal church, and I have wondered whether this would make a difference in your and Miss Thomas’ opinion that we could not offer her a position because she is a Jewess.[38]

Clara Landsberg’s conversion made “not the least difference,” either to Mary Garrett or to M. Carey Thomas, as Garrett explained in her response to Edith Hamilton:

Our objection is one of policy and very few Jews employed in schools or colleges are Jews by religion; it never had occurred to us that Miss Landsberg was really an orthodox Jew. We are wholly unwilling to connect with the school in any capacity a Jew by race, and in view of our feeling of the financial unwisdom of such a step we think that Jews ought to be ruled out of court for the future in consideration of possible appointments.[39]

Yet Clara persisted. In 1900, M. Carey Thomas wrote to Mary Garrett saying, “The Jews enrage me. Is nothing in the world settled? Have Miss Landsberg & the Jews to come up perpetually. It is awfully bad policy.”[40]

Clara remained at Hull House until 1920, when a Quaker organization sponsored her to travel to Vienna to perform postwar humanitarian relief work. Two letters of recommendation finally qualified her as a WASP and (therefore) fit to represent the U.S. abroad. Jane Addams provided a ringing endorsement, and Mary T. L. Gannett was careful to specify: “As a matter of information, Miss Landsberg, during her college course joined the Episcopal Church – and as far as I know is still a loyal member of that Communion.”[41]

When Addams and her partner, Mary Rozet Smith, learned that Clara Landsberg had been accepted to the Quaker program, they both wrote letters of congratulation and farewell. Addams wrote, “I can’t bear to think of H.H. [Hull-House] next winter without either Alice [Hamilton] or yourself.”[42] Mary Rozet Smith wrote: “… no words will express … [our] sense of desolation … when we think of the year without you. … J.A. and I have decided that it is like losing a mother and a child at once. … With Alice in Boston and you in Vienna what will Hull-House be! It is too depressing to face.”[43]

Did Max and Miriam Landsberg know that their daughter was no longer Jewish? In the 1899 letter announcing Clara Landsberg’s conversion, Edith Hamilton had written, “Under the circumstances her family would prefer her not to be at home.”[44] Yet there is no proof that Clara’s parents did learn of her conversion. To all appearances, she maintained a positive relationship with her mother and father throughout their lives. In his final instructions to his children, Max Landsberg wrote, “[M]y life has been one of uniform happiness. The only serious trouble in my whole life has been the loss of my dear wife, your good mother.”[45]

As tolerant as Miriam was toward other beliefs, however, it is likely she would have cared deeply that Clara had left Judaism. At a national conference, as chair of the National Council of Jewish Women’s Committee on Religion, she worried that many German Jews were “given over entirely to materialism and indifference to all Jewish affairs.” She warned Jewish mothers that children raised without religion could “fall prey to … pious sharks … eager for souls.”[46] A few years later, she implored mothers to transmit a love of Judaism to their children “to preserve to our posterity that Judaism which gave Religion to the world.”[47] Despite Miriam’s fears, it is doubtful her daughter would have fallen prey to “pious sharks.” Rather, through exposure to Christianity at school and through her closest friends and role models, Clara rejected the most modern version of Judaism, one carefully crafted by her own parents, in favor of the Episcopal Church, which her father had criticized for what he saw as its strict adherence to ritual and creed.[48]

Part Two of this article will discuss Clara Landsberg’s becoming godmother to Jane Addams’ grandniece, Clara’s travels with Addams, and Clara’s own work as a pacifist, which was deeply informed by her connection with Addams. It will also document her retaining ties to her birth family, even as she joined the Hamilton family as well. And it will describe Landsberg’s trip to Germany with Alice Hamilton just after Hitler had come to power. In a letter to herself documenting the onset of the Holocaust, Landsberg would write, “I am a Jewess.”

Our thanks to Cynthia Francis Gensheimer and the Chicago Jewish History for allowing us to share this article with you.


[1] Even one of Clara Landsberg’s fellow residents, Francis Hackett, seemingly forgot her surname: “Miss Clara, of Bryn Mawr vintage, valiant, tense, souffrante, at once impatient and remorseful, indefatigable and worn-out.” Francis Hackett, “Hull-House: A Souvenir,” 100 Years at Hull-House, eds. Mary Lynn McCree Bryan and Allen F. Davis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1969), 69.

[2] Max Landsberg, born in Berlin in 1845, was a rabbi’s son and a protégé of Abraham Geiger. American Jewish Year Book 1903–1904, 72; http://www.ajcarchives.org/AJC_DATA/Files/1903_1904_3_SpecialArticles.pdf. When Miriam Landsberg, who was born in Hanover in 1847, died, the American Israelite called her death a “loss to American Jewry.” American Israelite, April 25, 1912. Peter Eisenstadt, Affirming the Covenant: A History of Temple B’rith Kodesh, Rochester, New York, 1848–1998 (Rochester: Temple B’rith Kodesh, 1999), ch. 2 and 3; Stuart E. Rosenberg, The Jewish Community in Rochester, 1843–1925 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1954). At a 1910 meeting of the National Conference of Jewish Charities, during Miriam Landsberg’s term as vice-president, Jane Addams gave the opening address, and Rabbi Landsberg served as delegate representing the Jewish Orphan Asylum of Western New York, which he had co-founded and led for decades. Sixth Biennial Session of the National Conference of Jewish Charities in the United States Held in the City of St. Louis, May 17th to 19th, 1910 (Baltimore: Kohn & Pollock, 1910). American Israelite, February 5, 1914, 3. Rabbi Landsberg was elected president of the New York State Conference on Charities and Correction in 1910, when Miriam Landsberg was the outgoing vice-president. “Conference of Charities Holds Three Busy Sessions,” Democrat and Chronicle, November 17, 1910, 17.

[3] As chair of the Committee on Religion of the National Council of Jewish Women, Miriam Landsberg worked closely with Hannah G. Solomon, the organization’s founder. Susan B. Anthony wrote to Miriam Landsberg giving instructions for a meeting of the National Council of Women in Washington, D.C. and letting her know that Hannah G. Solomon and Sadie American had already arrived. Susan B. Anthony to Miriam Landsberg, February 12, 1899, University of Rochester Archives. After Hannah G. Solomon’s daughter, Helen, visited the Landsbergs in 1902, Rabbi Landsberg wrote to Hannah telling her what a “great treat” it had been to have her visit: “Helen reminds me so much of you, although she looks more like the best husband on earth.” He signed the letter, “With love for your husband and all the sisters within your reach.” Max Landsberg to Hannah G. Solomon, April 2, 1902. Helen Solomon Wellesley Correspondence, Hannah G. Solomon Family Collection, MC 749, American Jewish Archives. For the working relationship among Rabbi Hirsch, Hannah G. Solomon, and Jane Addams, see Rina Lunin Schultz, “Striving for Fellowship: Sinai’s Rabbi Emil G. Hirsch and Hull-House’s Jane Addams, A Not-So-Odd Couple,” unpublished manuscript, February 24, 2015.

[4] Ida Husted Harper, The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony (Indianapolis: Bowen-Merrill, 1898), 2:730. In 1891, Susan B. Anthony, Rabbi Landsberg, and Rev. William C. Gannett spoke at the annual Thanksgiving service. “The Benefits of Unrest,” Democrat and Chronicle, November 27, 1891, 6.

[5] “Rochester, N.Y.,” American Israelite, June 20, 1889, 2.

[6] For background on Bryn Mawr College, see Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women’s Colleges from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the 1930s (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984) and Horowitz, The Power and Passion of M. Carey Thomas (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994).

[7] For a significant biographical work on the nature of Clara Landsberg’s relationship with Margaret Hamilton, as well as Edith’s connection to Bryn Mawr College and the Bryn Mawr School, see Judith P. Hallett, “Edith Hamilton,” The Classical World  90, nos. 2/3, Six Women Classicists (November 1996–February 1997): 107–147.

[8] Bryn Mawr College Program 1892 (Philadelphia: Sherman & Co., 1892), 77.

[9] Clara Landsberg’s student transcript, Bryn Mawr College Archives. Religious affiliations researched by the author.

[10] Clara Landsberg’s alumna record, Bryn Mawr College Archives. Sandra L. Singer, Adventures Abroad: North American Women at German-speaking Universities, 1868–1915 (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 2003), 75, 212.

[11] Presumably by the time that Clara Landsberg moved to Hull-House, she had become a member of the Episcopal church, but evidence surrounding the conversion is scanty, and that surrounding the exact dates of Clara Landsberg’s tenure at Hull-House is contradictory. For Alice Hamilton’s experience at Hull-House, see Alice Hamilton, Exploring the Dangerous Trades (Fairfax, Virginia: American Industrial Hygiene Association, 1995), ch. 4 and 5; Barbara Sicherman, Alice Hamilton: A Life in Letters (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1984), 3–4, 5, 115–136, 139–141, 144–152, 182, 244. Both Hamilton’s and Sicherman’s books are valuable resources that contain references to Clara Landsberg throughout.

[12] Hannah G. Solomon, introducing Jane Addams as a speaker at a national convention of the National Council of Jewish Women. “General Council of Hebrew Women Meets,” The Washington Times, December 3, 1902, 2.

[13] Philip Davis, “Educational Influences,” in The Russian Jew in the United States, ed. Charles S. Bernheimer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The John C. Winston Co., 1905), 217.

[14] Hull-House was not the only center serving immigrant Jews in its neighborhood. German Jews in Chicago organized their own institutions, and in fact Jane Addams mediated between the German and eastern European Jews when the Jewish-run Maxwell Street settlement was established a few blocks from Hull-House. The first organizational meeting, held at Hull-House in 1892, nearly disbanded due to the terrible arguing between the immigrants and the German Jews who convened the meeting. In an essay titled “A Resented Philanthropy,” one of the immigrants at the meeting later credited Addams with reestablishing civility. He said, “The ‘culture’ which was to emanate from the settlement and permeate all corners of the Ghetto was conspicuously absent from the heated discussion of the ‘enlightened’ benefactors.” In 1907, 150 people visited Hull-House weekly to lecture, teach, or supervise clubs. For Hull-House’s purpose, the names of its residents, and its weekly attendance, see Hull-House Year Book 1907, 5–6 (Archive.org, https://archive.org/details/hullhouseyearboo1906hull/page/38/mode/2up?q=jewish).

[15] Clara’s work evolved over time. She worked full-time at Hull-House for one year, but, finding that too difficult, she eventually taught at the University School for Girls (Miss Haire’s). Alice Hamilton to Agnes Hamilton, [mid-June? 1902], in Sicherman, Alice Hamilton, 142–143. Clara Landsberg’s alumna record, Bryn Mawr College.

[16] Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull-House (New York: Macmillan, 1912), 437 (A Celebration of Women Writers, ed. Mary Mark Ockerbloom, https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/addams/hullhouse/hullhouse.html).

[17] Italians came to predominate during Clara’s second decade. In 1902, the Chicago Tribune reported on a “Hebrew invasion” in the “crowded west side district”: “As soon as a Jewish family gets a foothold in a tenement other occupants vacate.” “Races Shift Like Sand,” Chicago Tribune, September 26, 1902, 13.

[18] Bryn Mawr Alumnæ Quarterly Vol. 1–2 1907–1909 (Bryn Mawr, PA: Bryn Mawr Alumnæ Association, 1907–1909) (https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/214021114.pdf).

[19] Francis Hackett wrote in his memoir: “Russian Jews and Jewesses came in great numbers to the classes at Hull House, and had special leanings toward literature” (72). Some English classes were composed entirely of Jews. Philip Davis, “Intellectual Influences,” in The Russian Jew in the United States, ed. Charles S. Bernheimer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The John C. Winston Co., 1905), 217.

[20] Jane Addams to Anita McCormick Blaine, June 29, 1901, Anita McCormick Blaine Correspondence and Papers, 1828–1958, Wisconsin Historical Society (Jane Addams Papers Project, https://digital.janeaddams.ramapo.edu/items/show/1015).

[21] Jane Addams, American Friends’ Service Committee (AFSC) letter of recommendation for Clara Landsberg, May 1, 1920. AFSC Archives.

[22] Hilda Satt Polacheck, I Came a Stranger: The Story of a Hull-House Girl (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991), 51–52, 66.

[23] Polacheck, I Came a Stranger, 66.

[24] Polacheck, I Came a Stranger, 66.

[25] Polacheck, I Came a Stranger, 66–67.

[26] In 1905, Hilda Satt took over supervision of the evening classes in Clara’s absence. In 1906–07, she taught beginners’ English at Hull-House. Jane Addams to Clara Landsberg, July 4, 1905, Clara Landsberg Papers, University of Illinois at Chicago Library (Jane Addams Papers Project, https://digital.janeaddams.ramapo.edu/items/show/840); Hull-House Year Book 1906–1907, 8.

[27] Addams noted the frequency with which young Jewish men who had patronized Hull-House also graduated from high school with help from their parents and then managed on their own to go on to college. Twenty Years at Hull-House, 346.

[28] Morris Levinson to Clara Landsberg, May 26, 1905, Additional Papers of the Hamilton Family, 1850–1994, box 13, 83-M175-94-M77, Schlesinger Library. Levinson’s letters are quoted as written, without corrections as to spelling, grammar, or usage.

[29] Morris Levinson to Clara Landsberg, n/d, Additional Papers of the Hamilton Family, 1850–1994, box 13, 83-M175-94-M77, Schlesinger Library.

[30] “Dr. Landsberg’s Closing Lecture,” Jewish Tidings, March 30, 1888, 19.

[31] Max Landsberg, “The Position of Woman Among the Jews,” World Parliament of Religions, Chicago, Illinois, 1893 (GoogleBooks, https://books.google.com/books?id=q2U-AAAAYAAJ&pg=PA241&dq=%22max+landsberg%22+%22The+Position+of+Woman+among+the+Jews%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi-3aifgMLPAhUk_4MKHRbLCOIQ6AEIIDAA#v=onepage&q=%22max%20landsberg%22%20%22The%20Position%20of%20Woman%20among%20the%20Jews%22&f=false). When virtually no other rabbi in America would perform an interfaith marriage, both Hirsch and Landsberg did so. Rosenberg, The Jewish Community in Rochester, 93–94. Tobias Brinkmann, Sundays at Sinai (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 136.

[32] In Twenty Years at Hull-House, Addams explained that over time, she and the other residents abandoned Protestant evening prayer, and their demographic composition at least in part reflected the make-up of the neighborhood, including Catholics and Jews, “dissenters and a few agnostics.” Addams, Twenty Years at Hull-House, 448–449. Rivka Shpak Lissak has claimed that although many traditional Jews avoided Hull-House, it “had a closer relationship with the marginal Jewish elements, the assimilationists and the radicals.” Lissak, Pluralism and Progressives: Hull House and the New Immigrants, 1890–1919 (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 80.

[33] Rima Lunin Schultz wrote: “For Addams, who affixed a Chi-Rho Cross to her bodice, her work at Hull-House was religious; yet by establishing her settlement as an independent association without ties to any religious organization, university, or other agency, and by not requiring religious worship or religious education, she set out to spread a Christian humanism that she envisioned as cosmopolitan and democratic, inclusive and tolerant. Did this mean that she resolved to exclude religious ideas from Hull-House? I would argue that this has been an area of misunderstanding about Addams’s intentions.” Rina Lunin Schultz, “Jane Addams, Apotheosis of Social Christianity,” Church History 84, no. 1 (March 2015): 207.

[34] Many eastern European Jewish immigrants were strongly attached to Jewish culture and Zionism, even as they lost their connection to Jewish worship. Jane Addams wanted children of immigrants to respect their parents, yet she also saw that many old customs and religious traditions made no sense to the younger generation and in some cases held them back. Addams, Twenty Years at Hull-House, 247–248; Rivka Shpak Lissak, Pluralism and Progressives, 80–94. In contrast, on a family trip to Germany when Clara was ten years old, the Landsbergs had appreciated the aesthetic value of medieval Christian architecture such as the Hildesheim cathedral. Clara Landsberg, “Leaves from my Diary,” 1887, 1–4, Additional Papers of the Hamilton Family, 1850–1994, 83-M175-94-M77, box 13, folder 81, Schlesinger Library.

[35] Sara Hart wrote of Jane Addams, “It was my pleasure to know her intimately for more than thirty years.” Sara L. Hart, The Pleasure is Mine: An Autobiography (Chicago, Illinois: Valentine-Newman, 1947), 82. Hannah G. Solomon considered Jane Addams a leader of “all humanity” and  “the greatest woman of our century.” Jane Addams inspired Jewish women at the NCJW’s third biennial in 1902, which Solomon attended as president and Miriam Landsberg as vice-president (Hannah G. Solomon, “Council Welfare Work Forty Years Ago and Today,” 4, n/d, Hannah G. Solomon Collection, Library of Congress, box 11, folder 5).

[36] “Sings Praises of Hull House,” Democrat and Chronicle, March 17, 1905, 10.

[37] To understand Mary Elizabeth Garrett and the early history of Bryn Mawr School, see Kathleen Waters Sander, Mary Elizabeth Garrett: Society and Philanthropy in the Gilded Age (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 2008).

[38] Edith Hamilton to Mary Garrett, April 18, 1899, Bryn Mawr College Archives, Papers of M. Carey Thomas, reel 214.

[39] I am indebted to Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, who cites this letter and gives a good overview of M. Carey Thomas’s antisemitism in M. Carey Thomas, 230–32, 267, 486. Mary Garrett to Edith Hamilton, April 24, 1899, Bryn Mawr College Archives, Papers of M. Carey Thomas, reel 214.

[40] M. Carey Thomas to Mary Garrett, September 26, 1900, Bryn Mawr College Archives, Papers of M. Carey Thomas, reel 23, nos. 37–39.

[41] Mary T. L. Gannett, letter of recommendation, May 4, 1920, Clara Landsberg’s personnel file, AFSC Archives.

[42] Jane Addams to Clara Landsberg, August 7, 1920, Hamilton Family Collection, 84-M210, box 1, folder 7, Schlesinger Library. Alice Hamilton had just been appointed the first woman professor at Harvard’s School of Medicine.

[43] Mary Rozet Smith to Clara Landsberg, August 7, 1920, Hamilton Family Collection, 84-M210, box 1, folder 7, Schlesinger Library.

[44] Edith Hamilton to Mary Garrett, April 18, 1899.

[45] Max Landsberg to his children, January 16, 1918, Max Landsberg SC 6602, American Jewish Archives.

[46] “The Council’s Report on ‘Religion,’ ” The Reform Advocate, March 24, 1900, 167 (The National Library of Israel, https://www.nli.org.il/en/newspapers/?a=d&d=refadv19000324-01.1.11&e=——-en-20–1–img-txIN%7ctxTI-%22miriam+landsberg%22————-1).

[47] Miriam Landsberg, “Report of Committee on Religion,” The Reform Advocate, January 3, 1903, 452 (The National Library of Israel, https://www.nli.org.il/en/newspapers/refadv/1903/01/03/01/article/29/?srpos=12&e=——190-en-20–1–img-txIN%7ctxTI-landsberg+committee+on+religion————-1).

[48] Max Landsberg criticized Episcopalians for requiring members to “believe in the forty-nine articles of faith” and Presbyterians for the Westminster catechism. “What is Judaism?” Democrat and Chronicle, November 22, 1899, 11. The Hamilton sisters, whose family Clara Landsberg joined, had been reared in the Presbyterian congregation founded by their grandfather, but, as children, they preferred the small Episcopal church on Mackinac Island, where they spent their summers. For a thorough discussion of the Hamilton sisters’ religious upbringing, see The Education of Alice Hamilton, eds. Matthew C. Ringenberg, William C. Ringenberg, and Joseph D. Brain (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2019), esp. 13–14, 23–24. For a discussion of religion among the residents of Hull-House, see Eleanor J. Stebner, The Women of Hull House: A Study in Spirituality, Vocation, and Friendship (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997).

 

 

Reviews in Digital Humanities

Thanks to Núria Sara Miras Boronat for her review of the Jane Addams Papers Project, published in the most recent release of Reviews in Digital Humanities (Vol. 3, No. 2, Feb. 14, 2022).

We particularly appreciated the kudos, below:

JADE is one of the most important interventions that has occurred in the last decade for not only Addams’ work but also for pragmatist scholarship. It provides very valuable information about the intertextual and contextual references of her writings, which are not obvious to contemporary readers, especially if those readers are not from the U.S. or are not English native speakers. It also informs readers about the density of connections and affections of one of the greatest thinkers and activists of the progressive era. Finally, it has a strong value as a project for teaching digital humanities.

We are happy to address one issue that Núria pointed out, the relative difficulty in locating our blog posts. We are on it, and hope to have a easy way to find all posts up and running soon.

Jane Addams’ Pragmatist Theories of Democracy and Education

This is a guest post, written by Parysa Mostajir, a Teaching Fellow in Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science at the University of Chicago. She is currently researching the role of experience in diverse human practices like science, art, and democracy, and setting up an academic blog, Woman is a Rational Animal, dedicated to diversifying syllabi in the history of ideas.

 

Jane Addams is deservedly well-known for her tireless activism, having spent her life engaged in efforts to improve her society: She served on the boards of national and international organizations like the International Association for Labor Legislation, she campaigned for the rights of women, children, and workers, and she offered educational, recreational, and organizational resources to the immigrant communities surrounding Hull House. Although she spent most of her time in the world of action rather than the world of ideas, fewer people (including philosophers) give Jane Addams due credit for her role in developing a philosophical movement called ‘pragmatism.’

John Dewey (Wikimedia Commons)

Jane Addams was admired by some of the most celebrated pragmatist philosophers of her time, including John Dewey, George Herbert Mead, and William James. The correspondence of these professors at the University of Chicago and Harvard University, show that they recognized Addams as an imposing intellect from whom they had much to learn. In a 1908 letter on the Jane Addams Paper Project Digital Edition, George Herbert Mead describes “how deep an impression” Addams’ speech on ‘War and Progress’ made on him and others in the audience. In a 1902 letter, William James describes Addams’ Democracy and Social Ethics as “one of the great books of our time” and claims he “learned a lot” from it. Dewey’s correspondence reveals years of extensive visits and engagements with Hull House, during which he exchanged ideas with Jane Addams, the latter of whom he described as “the most magnificent exhibition of intellectual & moral faith I ever saw” [1894.10.10 (00206): John Dewey to Alice Chipman Dewey]. He even attributed to Addams the first definite statement of the pragmatist thesis “that democracy means certain types of experience,—an interest in experience in its various forms and types” [Volume 1: Political Philosophy, Logic, Ethics p. 2379].

Jane Addams with Hull House children (ca. 1930)

So what is pragmatism, and how does Jane Addams’ work fit in? Pragmatism is a tradition of philosophy that began in the United States in the late 19th century and was characterized by several core beliefs to do with action and experience. Addams’ major contributions to the tradition of pragmatism were her theories of democracy and education, which contained substantial developments on these core principles of pragmatist philosophy. Pragmatists believed that knowledge and theories should be based on our practical experiences, and be constructed in such a way as to take our practical experiences into account. Most striking about Addams’ writings in philosophy is the extent to which she adhered to the pragmatist conviction that knowledge and theories should be consistent with practice. While other pragmatists were involved in practical applications of their theories, such as John Dewey’s founding of the Laboratory School in Chicago, none of them were quite so embedded in everyday society as Jane Addams was at Hull House. Addams’ theories were derived from her practical activities at Hull House, instead of becoming lost in philosophical speculation. It was appropriate and inevitable, she wrote, that her experiences at Hull House would affect her convictions (Twenty Years, p. 308).

Pragmatists believed not only that theories should be derived from practical experiences, but that they should be applied to practical experiences in attempts to improve, enrich, and make sense of our lives. Unlike many contemporary philosophers who engaged in highly abstract theories having no relationship to the everyday world, pragmatists believed that theories gained their value by serving as instruments for empowering us to successfully take action in the world—this is the practical aspect of ‘pragmatism,’ from which the tradition derives its name. As a pragmatist, Jane Addams therefore rejected the idea, popular among sociologists of her time, that settlements like Hull House were ‘laboratories’ from which to derive pure theory (Deegan 1988, pp. 34-5; Twenty Years, p. 308). She wrote that her energies were directed “not towards sociological investigation, but to constructive work” (Hull House Maps and Papers, pp. vii-viii). Her pragmatist goal was to use the knowledge she gained from her experiences at Hull House in the application of practical changes and improvements to society and the lives of the people she served, not to derive knowledge for its own sake or out of pure curiosity.

These core pragmatist convictions concerning knowledge, practice, and experience are evident in Addams’ theories of democracy and education. To begin with her theory of democracy, Addams did not believe that democracy was a matter of ticking a ballot box once every few years. In her celebrated book on Democracy and Social Ethics, she argued that democracy was not just “a sentiment” or “a creed,” but “a rule of living,” which needed to be integrated practically with people’s everyday lives (Democracy and Social Ethics, p. 6). Many failures of contemporary democracy, she claimed, could be linked to the isolation of different sectors of society from each other, preventing familiarity with each other’s experiences. In order to resolve them and make our democracy more robust, we needed to ensure the connectedness of diverse types of people who shared the same society. For that reason, democracy could not be compartmentalized as a handful of remote political institutions, with the citizens’ democratic participation reduced to a single act of casting a vote. Democracy had to be an active practice for all citizens, embedded in their lived experience as a way of life. This would only be achieved by “mixing” the diverse members of society together and giving them “a wider acquaintance with and participation in the life about them” (Democracy and Social Ethics, p. 5). Addams argued that it was through exposure to the different ways of life, struggles, and needs of the many people with whom we share our society that we can develop attitudes of sympathy, respect, and a democratic sense of moral obligation towards each other. For example, she mentioned the importance of newspaper and literature in giving people the chance “to know all kinds of life” (Democracy and Social Ethics, p. 8). This kind of “diversified human experience and resultant sympathy” were, for Addams, “the foundation and guarantee of Democracy” (Democracy and Social Ethics, p. 7).

Jane Addams described her views of the Pullman Strike in her 1912 article, A Modern Lear.”

As a true pragmatist, concerned with the connection between theory and action, Addams based her theory of democracy on what she encountered in her practical experiences, and applied her theory of democracy to suggest resolutions to the problems she encountered. For example, Addams was involved in mediating the 1894 Pullman Strike in Chicago, in which the workers of a large factory went on strike to demand better wages. What Jane Addams saw in this conflict was a failure of the democratic practice of connecting with the experiences of others. Pullman, the owner of the factory, had built a town for the use of his factory employees, with parks and recreational facilities, believing that he was acting generously. The factory workers, on the other hand, resented the extension of Pullman’s control into the private lives. When the workers went on strike, Pullman was confused by their anger, and he felt that the factory workers were being ungrateful for the resources he had given them. In her philosophical work, Democracy and Social Ethics, Addams wrote that the “good deeds” Pullman thought he was conducting were in fact incomplete, because they were not conducted democratically. By not “calling upon the workmen either for self-expression or self-government,” he ended up lacking any familiarity with the experiences and desires of the workers (Democracy and Social Ethics, p. 143-4), and had operated undemocratically in making his decisions. “To attempt to attain a social morality,” Addams wrote, “without a basis of democratic experience results in the loss of the only possible corrective and guide” for actions—the daily experiences of other human beings (Democracy and Social Ethics, p. 176).

Addams’ theory of education was also deeply pragmatist in its commitment to connecting educational experiences to the practices and experiences of the individuals being educated. At that time, it was common for people to assume that manual laborers had no need of general education. When education was sometimes offered as part of universities’ charitable efforts—for example, University Extension Programs which sent professors to give general courses to the working class on topics like evolution, astronomy, psychology (Twenty Years, Chapter XVIII), or philanthropists who supported children in receiving clerical education—the idea was that such education either gave laborers a temporary mental escape from the mundanity of their work, or gave them the opportunity to leave their lives as factory workers and enter into more respected professions. Such educators did not consider education as having any possible genuine connection to the ordinary lives of factory workers.

Hull House class on immigration, held at the Coffee House, 1920s (Wallace Kirkland, Jane Addams Memorial Collection, University of Illinois at Chicago)

Addams, unsurprisingly, rejected these assumptions. Her pragmatist theory of education was based on extensive practical experience providing educational resources to the working-class neighborhood surrounding Hull House. In Democracy and Social Ethics, she insisted that factory workers could, and should, be provided with education on topics like history and economics which directly connected to their everyday practical experiences. Because of the division of labor, industrial workers spent most of their waking life operating machinery and manufacturing products to which they had no connection. They had no opportunities to understand the history of the invention and development of the machines they operated; they did not know the uses to which the products were put; and they did not understand the sales and distribution aspects of the businesses they worked for. Addams argued that this contributed to the poor quality of life of industrial laborers, and that education in how they fit into the workings of society would help to improve and enrich their daily experiences of manual labor. If educators, the state, and business owners were to take the value of their employees seriously, they needed to provide them with opportunities to connect their own experiences with the wider social, economic, and historical processes of which their manual labor was an important part. Such education would allow workers to make sense of the significance, purpose, and utility of their work, and would positively alter their sense of self, and their estimation of their own worth. In this way, education could be used not as an escape (either as temporary mental relief from monotony, or as an opportunity to move into a different line of work), but as a way of connecting to the ordinary lives of factory workers in such a way as to improve, enrich, and make sense of their everyday practical experience.

Jane Addams, ca. 1910

Amidst her extensive social, political, and community work, Addams found time to write several books threaded with innovative philosophical ideas and play a key role in establishing the new, pragmatist philosophical tradition in the United States—a tradition which was characterized by its beliefs in the importance of connecting knowledge with action, enriching individual experience, and solving social problems. Because Addams had so much experience taking action in the world, her philosophical writings are, more than any other pragmatist, threaded with connections to social, political, and economic problems, and filled with practical suggestions for how to ameliorate those problems. She remains one of the greatest examples of how our philosophical ideas can impact the practical approach we take to politics, economics, and culture, and how politics, economics, and culture can influence the development of ideas. In a time like ours, when universities are highly specialized and losing touch with the needs of wider society, we can look to Addams as a model public philosopher, who put her theories into action and let her real-life experiences guide her theories.

References:

Addams, Jane. Democracy and Social Ethics. New York, London: The Macmillan Company, 1907.

Addams, Jane. Twenty Years At Hull-house: With Autobiographical Notes. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1911.

Deegan, Mary Jo. Jane Addams and the Men of the Chicago School, 1892-1918. New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1988.

Dewey, John. Lectures, Volume 1: Political Philosophy, Logic, Ethics. Ed. Koch, Donald F., and The Center for Dewey Studies, 2016.

Striving for Social Justice: Jane Addams and Sophonisba Breckinridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

I was fortunate enough to get in contact with Taylor Mills, current curator at the Chisholm Trail Museum and recent graduate of the University of Central Oklahoma, who wrote her MA thesis on the women of the Chicago’s World’s Fairs from 1893-1934. She spoke of her interest in the topic, what her research focuses on, and her thesis process. Continue reading “A Guest Blog Post by Taylor Mills on The New Women of Chicago’s World’s Fairs (1893-1934)”

Jane Addams and Christian Primitivism- By Dr. Kyle Crews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chi Rho in Catacomb of St. Callixtus

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[10] Brown, 264.

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

[12] Allen and Hughes, xiii.

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

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

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