Jane Addams and Life after College

Jane Addams offers an answer to the question “what is there after college?” for the young woman at the turn of the last century. Addams spoke about the topic often and wrote about it directly in the texts: “The Subjective Necessity for Social Settlements” (1892/1893), and “Filial Relations” (1902).

Jane Addams, 1900

These texts sought to change the limited cultural and familial roles of middle-class women and bring more bright, energetic women out of the stifling confines of nineteenth-century gender roles and into the vibrant and messy world of the immigrant communities of Chicago.

While these two texts differ slightly in their focus, both were written as much to address the parents of young people who are working in, or wanted to work in, social settlements as the young women themselves (Tichi 102). “The Subjective Necessity for Social Settlements” was delivered as a speech at the School of Applied Ethics, a six-week summer program organized by the Society for Ethical Culture in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It was not only well received when it was delivered with its companion speech, “The Objective Value of a Social Settlement,” but both speeches were subsequently published broadly. “Filial Relations” was published in the book Democracy and Social Ethics alongside chapters entitled “Charitable Efforts” and “Political Reform.” This text reflects Addams’s commitment to a larger ethical outlook and the need to include everyone in the democratic life of the nation.

What will become evident is that the suggestions made in these texts and speeches led many women to break from their families and form affiliative attachments with the women (and men) with whom they worked. This outcome is only barely suggested in Addams’s writings, but the reality of the separation was borne out in the lives of the women who resided and worked at Hull-House. It would have been unwise to discuss the strength of the relationships that women could form in a collegial and collaborative environment in these arguments, though today the quality and strength of relationships between unrelated adults is seen as a marker of maturity and individuation. In Addams’s world, however, the focus, at least for the lives of women was on a woman’s relationships and commitments to her family first.

The text “Filial Relations” in particular appears to have been written to parents of middle-class women, which is a rhetorical strategy she uses in hopes of liberating young women from the limitations of domestic life. Addams begins by establishing that the bulk of people do not “share the effort toward a higher social morality,” but are content to express a general conservatism, which takes as its standards the well-worn roles and cultural expectations of the past. Those who hold those notions of social conservatism judge harshly anyone who deviates from these behaviors or viewpoints. There is a logic in this, Addams observes, because these practices are proven and offer stability to the community. Yet in this age of expanding democracy, new relationships are being tested. In order to fulfill the higher call that our flourishing democratic ideals and social relations demand, some will need to (and want to) reorient their energies from the family and themselves to a loftier social goal. Thus, Addams has laid forth the changing social and political landscape of America and identified the reasonable intentions of individuals who feel no call to reform and service and adhere to traditional roles and behaviors in an attempt to win over the skeptics to her work (76-77). Continue reading

What Makes a Settlement House? Blogging SSAWW 2009

After our panel presentations yesterday, Voices from the Settlement House an interesting question was posed by University of California, San Diego professor Nicole Tonkovich about whether or not settlement houses were exclusively an urban phenomenon. The discussion that evolved during the Q&A period and then after lunch showed that this not a easily answerable . . . .

Sarah Lock, a professor from Weatherford College, who presented on the panel, offered a really nice explanation about other contemporary (Progressive Era, 1880-1920) institutions that fulfilled same functions but in different locales. “Settlement houses”or “social settlements” bearing that specific moniker do seem to be largely urban, most likely because of the concentration of money and people that are needed to offer the breadth of resources to a mass of people. Moreover the social settlement is also a institution in space, a building or a series of buildings, not just a collection of services.

However, as Lock pointed out, there are examples of other organizations that offered many of the same programs that were associated with African American schools in the south, thus they are not exactly urban (or in the north) but they are institutional in organization and had a community of people to serve and from which to draw resources. I suggested that some of the work that was conducted at or by asocial settlement did on occasions get taken up by women’s groups, thus extending the borders of one institution across the nation. The example I was thinking about was when a group of women at Hull House were reforming child labor practices and in an effort to document incidences of child labor they sent out a call to women’s groups across the country asking them to begin documenting incidents that they saw firsthand in their own communities of children working. This call was met by women who were awakened to the reality of child labor in their communities and then their results were brought into the larger work of the activists based in the urban (northern) social settlement.

Another question that arose from this conversation was posed over lunch by Judith Ranta. Ranta works on women and girls who labored in the New England textile mills and she delivered the third paper on our panel. Her paper discussed Jennie Collins (1828-1887) and Boffins’ Bower, which was an institution that helped find work for women and offered a myriad of much-needed services to the poorest women of Boston. Over our Chinese food, Ranta asked if we thought Boffin’s Bower was a settlement house. Obviously, I thought it fit enough to include her paper on the panel, but when we started to discuss it many questions about category distinctions arose.

Boffin’s Bower was established in Boston’s East Side in the 1870’s, many years before Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr opened Hull House. Boffin’s Bower was started by Jennie Collins who was not a college-educated reformer, but who already lived in the southside neighborhood in which she established her organization.

Ranta noted that the wealthy women of Boston who engaged in philanthropy were suspicious of Collins and Boffins’ Bower. However, these same philanthropically-minded women did, a few years later, give money to the college-educated women who arrived in Boston to do reform work. Ranta’s work on Collins is fascinating, and she has edited and written an introduction for a new addition of Nature’s Aristocracy: A Plea for the Oppressed (1871) by Jennie Collins that will be released in May 2010 by University of Nebraska Press.

Some of the questions that we identified that might be pertinent to the question of what distinguishes a settlement house from something else might include:

Is a social settlement defined by the fact that educated middle-class women (and men) establish it or provide the services to the neighbors?

Does it need to be located in an urban environment? Is there something particular about social settlements that mean they are defined by the structure that they take in relation to the surrounding neighborhood?

Are there types of services that are included in a number of social settlements that can be used to define them?

I imagine that there are other questions that I will come upon that will flesh out this discussion, but these are my initial thoughts. None of us could think of any texts that have defined settlement houses or taken on this question. Obviously social settlements began in England, so perhaps looking to the origin of the name and the institution there would be a place to start. I imagine that in the U.S. the use of the term social settlement or settlement house began after Addams and Starr returned from London, which is why Jennie Collins didn’t call Boffins’ Bower a settlement house. Of course other American reformers may have imported the term as well.

Perhaps another place to look for information about the question of locale and the kinds of work that was done in social settlements might be on the little bit of scholarship that links the black missions of the south to the settlement houses of the north.[1] I think it is significant to this relationship that Victoria Earle Matthews, named her settlement the White Rose Mission. Matthews was a African American journalist, who’d been born into slavery and eventually move to New York City and opened a social settlement after the death of her teenage son.

[1] See Luker, Ralph E. “Missions, Institutional Churches, and Settlement Houses: The Black Experience, 1885-1910.” The Journal of Negro History 69.3/4 (1984): 101-13. I haven’t yet found any more recent work that addresses this issue.

Settlement House Spinsters

While I am just about to set forth on my trip to Philadelphia for the Society for the Study of American Women Writers (SSAWW) conference, I am also thinking pretty seriously about the paper that I will present at the Pacific and Ancient Modern Language Association (PAMLA) conference in San Francisco two and a half weeks from now. At the PAMLA conference I will be presenting on a panel about Marriage in Nineteenth Century America.

My paper: “Settlement House Spinsters: How Settlement Houses Saved Women from Marriage” pretty much starts at the premise that marriage is something that women should be saved from, especially in the nineteenth century. I am interested in examining the ways that settlement houses offered women an alternative to heterosexual marriage, child-rearing, and domestic duties.

This paper is focused more on white middle-class women than much of the other research I have done thus far. In part this is because I am focusing on the women who worked in the social settlement, not those who lived in the neighborhood and in part this is because I will be focused on the community at Hull-House.

Hull-House and the writings of Jane Addams are at the core of this paper. At this point I plan to look at the rhetoric that she is using in two articles/speeches: “The Subjective Necessity for Settlement Houses” (1892) and “Filial Relations” (1902). I examine how Jane Addams crafts her arguments which state that young, middle-class men and women (only women in the case of “Filial Relations”) have been educated to value work that helps others; that many young people have a natural desire and inclination dedicate their time and energy to making the world a better place and righting injustices in the world, but nineteenth century middle-class society is often uncomfortable with their children leaving the comfort of their sheltered worlds, committing themselves to this kind of work and living in the poorest neighborhoods of the cities.

Moreover, Addams argues young, educated, middle-class women especially are in a bind because they have been trained to be socially committed but they have very few options when they are done with school. Young women can become wives and mothers and precious little else. Addams suggests that we should begin to think about the good it will do to allow young women to embark on work in settlement houses after college.

Working in the settlement house also offers certain benefits for young women who don’t wish to marry, but want to be out of their parents’ homes and doing something useful. For instance, there is a broad array of work that is available for the women to do. These women have useful skills, passionate social concerns, and are eager to apply themselves in places where they are needed. Also many women were interested in seeing the world outside of the cloistered worlds of home and school that they in which have been trapped for most of their lives. Also, for women who are uninterested in marriage altogether perhaps because they are not interested in heterosexual monogamy or desire to live in a women-centered communal living situation social settlements allow them the freedom to do this, under the coverage of an institution, but not in a traditional marriage. The social settlement allows these women a place for autonomy and independence.

For background I looking at books about the history of marriage in America, like Hendrik Hartog’s Man and Wife in America: A History and Nancy Cott’s Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation. I am limiting this paper to Hull-House for the sake of focus. I will also check out Eleanor Stebner’s 1997 dissertation The Women of Hull House: A Study in Spirituality, Vocation, and Friendship and literature on the lives of women like Addams, Julia Lathrop, and Florence Kelley in order to augment my analysis of Addams’s writing with historical context, biographical examples, and hopefully find some critical connections between the philosophies at work in social settlements, women’s rights groups, the nineteenth-century American family, and an evolving national identity.

On Social Settlements, Relationships and Marriage: Breaking It Down

For this project I initially thought that I would write one chapter about how marriage in Progressive Era America was effected by social settlements, half devoted to how settlement houses fostered cross-class relationships, with a particular focus on Yezeriska’s Salome of the Tenements and the other half devoted to how women were able to avoid heterosexual marriage and domestic obligations through their participation in settlement house work.

The settlement house offered women much of the coverage of marriage but without all the duties and obligations of marriage and raising a family. There must have been a breadth of experience for women in the settlement house, some institutions offering more autonomy and personal expression than others, while others were directed in a heavy-handed and paternalistic manner. I am curious if there is any correlation between the social settlements that were organized and run by women and those that were organized and supervised by men. Moreover I wonder if there are patterns of difference between different social settlements based on their individual missions. For instance Henry Street Settlement began (as I understand it from my limited research) after Lillian Wald had done a visiting nurse stint in the Lower East Side just after she was done with nursing school and saw that there was a rather profound need. Thus, HSS was begun as an institution that would take young women fresh from nursing school and send them into the local neighborhood to tend to the welfare of the local families. That kind of a project might need more direction and structure than Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr’s rather amorphous project in which they leased a ramshackle mansion and threw open the doors, asking their neighbors what they need. It seems to me that the leadership at Hull-House allowed their residents and neighborhood participants a lot of leeway in determining the needs of the community and then crafting a plan of action to meet those needs. This seems to be the kind of environment that would grant more agency to the young women who worked in it.

Thus for the chapter focused on “Settlement House Spinsters” I will want to look at Addams’s “The Subjective Necessity of the Settlement House” and also other articles on the young women who arrived took up residence in the social settlement. Moreover I think that some research on Florence Kelley might be useful since she left a heterosexual marriage and had three kids and was able to live a vibrant and professionally fulfilling life at Hull-House. Beyond that I will need to look at materials that address marriage in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. That might offer some insight into what women were trying to avoid by seeking the coverage of the social settlement.  I know there is plenty of research about women’s colleges during the Progressive Era, including material about the different women’s schools, how they prepared the women for their lives after college. I believe that Bryn Mawr was particularly focused on turning out women who had a social mission, but that this lead to great frustration for many women, who upon graduation found that there was little for them to do. It is important to keep in mind that this situation is all wrapped up in issues of class, because poor women worked and raised children and had little choice about it. There wasn’t the middle-class ennui for them, though that claim might not hold water. There was dissatisfaction, but was related to different causes.

In Louise Levitas Henriksen’s biography of her mother she writes about her mother’s complaints about the unfairness of the gendered household situation. Yezierska wrote particularly about the excruciating experience of being a woman who had once worked and then is forced into the home upon marriage and childbearing – to be the supported woman. However, Yezierska’s situation suggests a certain amount of money and privilege. Yezierska had only one child and could even afford to hire her nieces to help her around the house. She lived in what seems was a much larger apartment than her sister Annie. Whereas Annie had many children and her husband didn’t make much money. Her apartment was described a cramped and squalid – that is much different that the situation that Anzia Yezierska is describing in her true-confessions notes about “The Supported Wife.” While this is an interesting topic, it might not be that pertinent to my focus on just how the settlement house offered women an alternative to marriage.

The other chapter that could emerge from this work about the way in which social settlements and reform initiatives allowed for cross-class relationships has already begun to take shape in my previous blog post: “On Being a Specimen and Picturesque: Anzia Yezierska and the Modern Gaze.” While this post is more focused on the larger social phenomenon of the immigrant woman in the world of the social settlement and as she is interpreted by the modernizing forces of society that sought to interpollate the Southern and Eastern European immigrants into the new national identity, there are hints of how these phenomena played out in one-on-one romantic relationships. However, I think that is a post ripe with ideas that need to be explored further; it deserves a follow-up. A good place to start would be Carrie Tirado Bramen’s article and her bibliography. Moreover, my reading about Yezierska and my reading of her work is yielding a lot of material about her critique of social settlements, reform initiatives and social science. I think some of that material may be very appropriate for the introduction or conclusion of my dissertation.

In order to focus on the cross-class relationships in and around the settlement house I need to look more closely to Yezierska’s writing directly and her depiction of these relationships in texts such as novels Salome of the Tenements, and Arrogant Beggar, and short stories “Wings,” “The Miracle,” “To the Stars,”and “Children of Loneliness.” Another source that might be both academically fruitful and very interesting are the newspaper articles about Rose Pastor and Graham Stokes’s courtship and marriage. According to Yezierska’s biographer (and daughter) Louise Levitas Henriksen after Yezierska had spent Thanksgiving 1917 with Pastor Stokes she was committed to writing a story that captured some of what she had heard her friend tell her about the Pastor-Stokes marriage. In newspapers and magazines at the time of the wedding, the Pastor-Stokes relationship was presented as a Cinderella story – Pastor, dirty and laboring amid tenement squalor, finds her Prince Charming in a fortuitous encounter with a rich philanthropist. I will be curious to see how the newspapers spun that story.

It is not surprising that each of these topics is worthy of their own entire text. But my arch nemesis is a bunch of shiny balls of intellectual tin foil that beckon to be batted around.

Jane Addams and Feminist Pragmatism

I rediscovered the Jane Addams passage about the woman in the sweatshop that entertains herself with scenes from Shakespeare. It is in the final chapter of Twenty Years at Hull-House (1910), entitled “Socialized Education.” I really recommend reading the entire chapter because her argument is complex. Moreover I recommend reading the whole book because Addams is a wonderful and entertaining writer and the section of the book when she meets Tolstoy and has an epiphany about her work is important in order to understand how she frames the entirety of the book.

Jane Addams

Addams recounts a story about a young female factory-worker and member of the Shakespeare Club, who describes how she combats the monotony of her days at the sewing machine by imagining characters from Shakespeare. The woman cannot recollect what she thought about before reading Shakespeare; she surmises that she thought nothing. This anecdote and the Shakespeare Club exemplify Addams’ commitment to ensuring that art and literature be shared by all for the sake of enriching society and encouraging democracy.

The selection from Addams reads:

Therefore the residents of Hull-House place increasing emphasis upon the great inspirations and solaces of literature and are unwilling that it should ever languish as a subject for class instruction or for reading parties. The Shakespeare club has lived a continuous existence at Hull-House for sixteen years, during which time its members have heard the leading interpreters of Shakespeare, both among scholars and players. I recall that one of its earliest members said that her mind was peopled with Shakespeare characters during her long hours of sewing in a shop, that she couldn’t remember what she thought about before she joined the club, and concluded that she hadn’t thought about anything at all. To feed the mind of the worker, to lift it above the monotony of his task, and to connect it with the larger world outside of his immediate surroundings, has always been the object of art, perhaps never more nobly fulfilled than by the great English bard (284).

The fraught nature of this anecdote arises: thus entertained and placated the worker might be less willing fight for reform, and a Shakespeare Club only furthers a culturally dictated hierarchy (there is much that can be said about these points).  However, telling this woman that she must revolt is equally problematic and insensitive to her conditions. Moreover, the way that Addams frames the Shakespeare Club it is an organization kept vibrant by its members from the neighborhood, not by the dictates of Hull-House organizers. This complexity is central to my own research.

Addams continues in the same paragraph to talk about the breadth of successful lectures given to intellectual groups predominantly comprised of folks from the neighborhood and then writes:

But while we prize these classes as we do the help we are able to give to the exceptional young man or woman who reaches the college and university and leaves the neighborhood of his childhood behind him, the residents of Hull-House feel increasingly that the educational efforts of a Settlement should not be directed primarily to reproduce the college type of culture but to work out a method and an ideal adapted to the immediate situation. They feel that they should promote a culture which will not set its possessor aside in a class with others like himself, but which will, on the contrary, connect him with all sorts of people by his power to supplement their present surroundings with the historic background. (284-5)

I think this is interesting because she addresses the issues that Anzia Yezierska wrestles with time and again in her books – the young immigrant who is educated out of her class and is then alienated from her family and local community, but does not or cannot or doesn’t want to join the middle-class, white community. Here though Addams is valuing education in a form other than the college-education-will-lift-you-out-of-the-ghetto form. She believed that education and art was valuable, that anyone could find ways for it to be meaningful their lives, regardless of position or occupation.

Addams continues in this chapter to muse on just how Hull-House tries to take as its guide the needs and cultures of its surroundings, in part by creating joint ventures with groups in the community. For instance Hull-House doesn’t offer religious services because when it did try to craft a service that was representative of the multitude of community members the service satisfied no one (292-4).

The final paragraph of the chapter and the book reads: “The educational activities of a Settlement, as well as its philanthropic, civic, and social undertakings, are but different manifestations of the attempt to socialize democracy, as is the very existence of the Settlement itself” (295). I am curious what the phrase “socialize democracy” means. I imagine that she is referring to the belief that a democracy is only representative when everyone is participating. The good of all is the good to which Addams dedicated her life.

This most recent reading of Addams was in preparation for working on an article about feminist pragmatism with philosopher Matt Brown (The University of Texas at Dallas). What we are interested in in the example of the woman in the factory is how it exemplifies the thin line that emerges between egalitarian social reform that results in cultural imperialism and social reform borne of “sympathetic knowledge”–which Maurice Hamington (2004) has linked to feminist care ethics. Cultural imperialism is a constant threat when social workers occupy an empowered position, and Hamington describes how Addams’ work avoided this problem through “reciprocal dialogue” and “friendship.” But I don’t think this goes far enough. I argue that the line between care ethics and acts of cultural imperialism are difficult to negotiate and often imbricated during reform projects. The paper that Matt Brown and I are working on explores how feminist pragmatism tries to resolve this tension, and the extent to which it succeeds. In this article we go beyond the standpoint offered by Addams; we look to works of African-American feminist writers such as Ida B. Wells and Fannie Barrier Williams, who worked with Addams but offer different perspectives on the problems of social reform. Looking at their works in dialogue offers a fruitful exploration of the complex tensions between ethics of care and practices that are culturally imperialistic.

Selected Bibliography

Addams, Jane. Twenty Years at Hull-House. (1910). New York: Signet Classic, 1960.

Hamington, Maurice. Embodied Care: Jane Addams, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Feminist Ethics. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2004.

(Note: The entire text of Twenty Years at Hull-House is available on Google books – though I cannot vouch for the page numbers above.)