Jane Addams is nowadays viewed as a founder of social work, probably because of her contribution to social progress, namely, for the establishment of an institution known as Hull House and intended for the most disadvantaged circles of society, suffering from industrialization. In the autobiographical book entitled ‘Twenty Years at Hull House’ the author explains her motives for the creation of the institution, outlines its main activities and discusses her societal beliefs.
It needs to be noted that Jane Addams originated from a wealthy family, but her father, conversely to other aristocrats, never denied the importance of supporting the needy, so John Addams worked a lot in order to meet community needs and finally improved transportation (Kraditor, 1970), constructed two mills and introduced the first charitable budgets in the district. This means, Addams’ first and probably, the most naive ideal is the struggle with affluent people’s indifference in order to persuade them to engage actively with the lives of less successful individuals (Kraditor, 1970).
“You may remember the forlorn feeling which occasionally seizes you when you arrive early in the morning a stranger in a great city; the stream of laboring people goes past you as you gaze through the plate-glass windows of your hotel; you see hard working men lifting great burdens; you hear the driving and jostling of huge carts and your heart sinks with a sudden sense of futility” ( Addams, 2007, Ch. 4, at http://digital. library. upenn. edu).
Addams was probably among the first scholars and humanists to observe that poverty is not precisely the problem of those doomed to endure it, but rather a social pathology, caused by the maladjustment, i. e. , by the lack of education and poor social adaptation. This tendency is especially related to females, whose access to education was limited at the beginning of the 20th century and whose social status and state was to some extent static.
Addams’ settlement house was designed as a kindergarten for working women’s children as well as an education institution for young people, who experienced considerable deficiency of social skills (Kraditor, 1970; Bernard, 1981). Later, Addams expanded the facilities so that the Hull House was opened for the homeless and the underprivileged. In fact, the author claims she doesn’t believe in social Darwinism (Kraditor, 1970) and states that in civilized and responsive societies, the natural laws are irrelevant, as the entire social system is based upon mutual commitment and responsibility.
In this context, Addams states that charitable organizations should not be turned into the main agents of social security and identifies the support of the poor as government’s function. Refuting the Gilded Age principles of social coexistence, Addams infers that “if poverty was the result of the system, the system needed to be reformed. And if poverty was the result of the individual, the individual’s family needed to be helped” (Bernard, 1981, p. 197).
Furthermore, the author alleges that the American government should be committed to immigrants, as inviting foreigners to the country, it is necessary to arrange their settlement and employment. In this sense, the author exclaims: “Can white, native-born, economically secure Americans ever really understand, much less help, those who are struggling to survive? ” (Bernard, 1981, p. 184).
The existing white-privilege culture emphasized Aryan dominance over other races, but Addams didn’t believe either in eugenics or in the principles of racial inferiority/superiority and sympathized with racial minorities, so that three quarters of the Hull house residents were immigrants or African Americans. In the context of immigration, another interesting and valuable social ideal, discussed by Addams, is multiculturalism and sound cultural relativism.
The author dared not judge her minority residents’ cultural practices and intuitively avoided imposing “Americanization” to different ethnic groups. On the contrary, Addams tried to understand and accept, recognizing the humanistic value of difference and ambivalence of individuals (Kraditor, 1970). Addams’ ideals in the sphere of education also deserve attention and admiration. The scholar states that contemporary schools and even colleges ‘grow’ cultivated and sophisticated young people, who, however, appear helpless and poorly socialized.
That’s why the scholar claims education and training should be approached to real life and followed by moral upbringing in the spirit of humanism. “One of Chicago’s most significant experiments in the direction of correlating the schools with actual industry was for several years carried on in a public school building situated near Hull House, in which the bricklayers’ apprentices were taught eight hours a day in special classes during the non-bricklaying season” (Addams, 2007, Ch. 8, at http://digital. library. upenn.
edu). Such ‘experiments’, as the author suggests, should become a common practice, moreover, it is necessary to take progressive feminist approach to education and expand the scope of ’female’ professions, as at the beginning of the 20th women worked mostly as nurses, librarians, teachers and shop assistants. Thus, each self-respecting democratic society should apply both aspects in order to shape new mentality, which should be a worthy alternative to absolute individualism and non-interference into the lives of the poor.
To sum up, Jane Addams in her book presented a conceptually new social dimensions, where humanistic values prevails and where each person is valued and accepted regardless of their gender, social status, race or ethnicity. I believe, these ideals are very relevant nowadays, in the diverse American society.
Addams, J. (1912). Twenty Years at Hull House. New York: Macmillan. Retrieved http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/addams/hullhouse/hullhouse-02.html