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Jane Addams And Progressive Movement Essay, Research Paper

Jane Addams is recognized as a social and political pioneer for women in America. In her biography, which later revealed her experiences in Hull House, she demonstrates her altruistic personality, which nurtured the poor and pushed for social reforms. Although many of Addams ideas were considered radical for her time, she provided women with a socially acceptable way to participate in both political and social change. She defied the prototypical middle class women by integrating the line that separated private and political life. Within these walls of the settlement house, Addams redefined the idea of “separate spheres,” and with relentless determination, she separated herself from the domestic chores that woman were confined to during the later half of the nineteenth century which led to the twentieth one.

During the late nineteenth century, the notion of “separate spheres” dictated that the women’s world was limited to the home, taking care of domestic concerns. Women were considered to be in the private sphere of society. Men on the other hand were assigned the role of the public sphere, consisting in the participation of politics, law and economics. Women in the meantime were to preserve religious and moral ideals within the home, placing children on the proper path while applying valuable influence on men. The idea was that the typical middle class woman would teach children middle class values so that they too will enjoy the luxuries and benefits in the future that the middle class has to offer (Lecture, 10/17).

One can argue that Jane Addams did comply with the ideal middle class women, that she remained in “her sphere” of society. This can most be seen through her work with both children and the poor. Conservatives and liberals alike accepted her establishment of Hull House as a teaching facility largely because teaching encompassed the realm of the private sphere. More and more women were becoming teachers during this period, and it was continuously being associated as a female entity. Women were allowed to engage in certain social affairs. Although this did not include fighting for the reduction of labor hours or the elimination of child labor, it did encompass helping the poor, which was the immediate motive behind establishing Hull House. Reaching out to women who needed a place to stay, or workers who could not afford to live in the crowded and unsanitary apartments that usually stuffed several families in one room, could find shelter in Addam’s creation. However, Addams worked extended beyond the “private sphere” in too many areas to ignore. Her struggle led to many social and political reforms; she took a very radical political stance for her time, breaking her association from the standard middle class women.

Hull House was unique in the sense that it held a position in both the public and private spheres of society. Within the private sphere, women in the Addam’s settlement house ran the household, raised children, taught about the necessity of morals, and preached about religion. In addition, Hull House members offered assistance to their community, which later encompassed the realm of the private sphere. Such actions included teaching, daycare, art galleries, and libraries. “…Hull House in the very beginning opened what we called College Extension classes with a faculty finally numbering thirty five…” (Addams, p. 197). Addams efforts however, also extended into the public sphere, something only intended for men to enter. Her stance on many issues impacted social life in nearly every way, from children labor reforms to better working conditions for the poor. “The educational activities of the settlement, as well as its philanthropic civic, and social undertakings, are but differing manifestations of the attempt to socialize democracy…” (Addams, p.206).

Jane Addams shrewdly reformed the woman’s place in society. Women were prohibited from participating in affairs dealing with social reform, but Addams figured out a way. She made Hull House a tolerable location for women’s social and political ideas to be discussed because she simply established a home that was aimed to help the less fortunate. Men did not see Addams as a threat to their ideals because it was perceived that she worked in a settlement house. Hull House however, was not considered to be entrapped and encircled by the private sphere woman in general were confined to; its members rebelled against the gender barrier, effectively reforming many injustices they witnessed. As Addams saw it, “The Settlement…is an experimental effort to aid in the solution of the social and industrial problems which are engendered by the modern conditions of life…” (Addams, p. 95) This new concept allowed women to participate in social reform because they saw their work as an improvement to society as a whole. They felt obligated to change what they saw unjust and unfair.

With this new concept in mind, woman within Hull House went forth with a commanding reform movement, thus defying middle class standards of appropriate behavior for women. America responded to the terrible ills of industrial development: child labor, infant mortality, urban crowding and unsanitary conditions, unsafe workplaces, juvenile delinquency, unemployment, and poverty wages, largely because of Addam’s push to change their social construction. The transformations that proceeded in society consisted of the Immigrant’s Protective League, The Juvenile Protective Association, the first juvenile court in the nation, and a Juvenile Psychopathic Clinic. It continued with the Illinois legislature enacting protective legislation for women and children, and in 1903 passed a strong child labor law and an accompanying essential education law. With the creation of the Federal Children’s Bureau in 1912 and the passage of a federal child labor law in 1916, the Hull-House reformers saw their efforts expanded to the national level. Addams believed her efforts were not revolutionary, she simply founded a place where “young women who have been given over too exclusively to study, might restore a balance of activity along traditional lines and learn of life from life itself; where they might try out some of the things they had been taught.” (Addams, p. 89)

Jane Addams established herself as a progressive. She collected a group of people, consisting of women that made it their objective to rid the social evils that plagued the new industrial society during the Gilded Age. Addams main targets were very similar to most progressives, advocating “ending political corruption, bringing more businesslike methods to governing, and offering a more compassionate legislative response to the excesses of industrialization.” This separated Addams from middle class women and what was expected of them. Addams was not taking care of the “private sphere” but engaging in acts that were only suppose to be taken on by men in the “public sphere.” In this way, she liberated women from the constraints of the household. Correspondingly, she was an advocate for science as the guide to social reform. She believed that uncovering the truths about urban industrial society could potentially be restructured for the greater good of the American people. Addams, in addition with many other female social activists at Hull House, focused the scientific practice towards to working class, the poorest people in the neighborhood. As Addams put it, the Hull House’s social science consisted of “a scientific patience in the accumulation of facts and the steady holding of . . .[a person’s] sympathies as one of the best instruments for that accumulation” (Addams, p.126).

Hull House’s originality lies in the sense that women ran the show. Defying the stereotypical idea of the man as the provider and leader of the typical home, women were free to run their lives as they felt, and not as society entailed them to do. It provided women experience in life that reached over to the public realm. The “separate spheres” did not exist in Addams world; her progressive stance enabled many workers to benefit. Addams envisioned a world that did not discriminate based on one’s gender, and her commitment into the “public realm” had tremendous impact. Child labor ceased, women won the eight-hour workday, and everyone enjoyed more benefits and improved working conditions. Jane Addams established the path for future women to take as well, which led to women’s suffrage, and eventually equal pay and mutual respect. She was not your typical middle class woman; she was a reformer that changed the way America functioned forever.

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