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A Study on Jane Addams’ Philanthropic Nature

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Jane Addams the voice of the poor

In a time where a no one was helping those in poverty there was one woman who helped. Jane Addams gave those in poverty not only a place to live but a place where they can learn to thrive. Jane, was born in 1860 in Cedarville, Illinois. As a child Jane had slight curvature to her spine, this overtook most of her appearance. She did not let that stop her, in college she was class president, wrote for the campus magazine, she also helped the scientific association. She graduated with a bachelor of the arts degree from Rockford university. She wanted to take another year at Smith college then go on to medical school, but she was doing so much her senior year that a month after graduation from Rockford she collapsed with severe pain in her back and from general exhaustion. After that her doctor told her that she had to give up on her medical career, soon after that her father died from a heart attack. This was a big blow to Jane, she described it as “the greatest sorrow that can ever come to me.” Her father was her biggest supporter, her biggest inspiration. Jane always had a passion for helping others as well as the general public, after her father died Jane took a trip to europe with her two close friends Ellen Starr and Sarah Anderson. While they were in London they visited Toynbee Hall, this was a place called a settlement house. They were inhabited by young university graduates. This gave them a place “…to establish friendly relationships with neighbors while providing them with cultural and educational opportunities”(Opdycke 2012 20). This gave Jane the idea to do something similar in the United States when she retured in 1888. Before Jane and Ellen retured they had decided that their settlement would be in Chicago, Illinois because it was the closest major city to Cedarville where she lived, Ellen had also taught there for many years. In January 1889 they rented an apartment in the city and started to look for a suitable location for their settlement house. Chicago was in need of this type of housing. At this time most companies were not paying people enough to live on, that paired with bouncing back from the Chicago fire that destroyed large sections of the city. This led to large portions of the population living in poverty. Also at this time workers rights were nonexistent, Jane helped fight for things such as 40 hour work week, 8 hour days, and time off. Jane Addams can be looked at as someone who gave those who were looked down on because of the status and gave them and place to live and thrive and also helped to get them fair working laws.

Jane Addams was committed to helping those in need. From January 1889 to May 1889 Jane and Ellen looked for somewhere to set up their settlement house. In May they found a building that would fit their needs perfectly. It was owned by built by Charles Hull and had been passed down to cousin Helen Culver, Jane rented the second floor and one of the large rooms on the first floor. After being renovated in the summer of 1889, Jane and Ellen moved in on September 18, 1889. They had hoped the house would not only be a place for the poor to live but a place for them to learn and teach each other skills. This gave them the opportunity to thrive and a chance for people to get into the upper class. When they first opened they remembered what it was like to be left alone while their parents were at work so the first service they offered was child care. “Within a month, two volunteers were caring for 24 children every morning…” and with that “One program lead to the next. As older children began stopping in to see what was happening, Addams and Starr organized three clubs for them” (Opdycke 2012 26). After running the house for 8 months Charles Hull’s Cousin agreed to give them the whole house rent free for the next four years. That gave their project its name the Hull House, with the expanded space “Addams and Starr developed a variety of activities for young working people…Women’s programs increased. The men of the neighborhood were the wariest, but even they gradually began to appear…”(Opdycke 2012 26-27). This push for people to become not only educated but cultured was the core of the progressive movement. Jane Addams pushed for people to be able to help themselves. To help people to change then you have to give them the ability or tools to change and Jane did just that. She gave people a place to come together and a place for them to grow as a community. She gave these people a way to move out of the lower class in the hopes of finally getting to the middle class, not by handouts but by giving people a place where they can learn new skills and learn to thrive.

Jane Addams also fought so that those living in poverty could earn a living wage and work in safe condition. At this time in history there were no laws regarding workers compensation, sick days, or minimum health insurance. This meant that if the worker got hurt or sick, which was very common at the time working in such dangerous conditions, and the worker could not work then they would not get paid. With money so tight some people did what was referred as ‘homework’ these were things that could be made in the home and brought to the factory, often making even less money than those getting paid hourly. Jane soon realised that she would have to do something about it. She first tried to get the politicians to change things and make them better, but she soon realized that it would take supporting their unions to make a change “Probably the labor-unions come nearer to expressing moral striving in politics than any other portion of the community” (Opdycke 2012 138). Jane provided support to the unions by not only giving them a place to meet but helping them run successfully. It also gave all of the unions a place to come together and talk about how things need to change and what laws they think need to be put in place. Jane also helped to develop Jane club, this would become one of the first cooperative residences. They started with 2 apartments near the Hull house, but after three years they took over all six apartments. This gave working woman a place to live so they didn’t have to worry as much about making rent every month with their low paying jobs. Both of these are centered around the idea you cannot just hand out to people they must work for their own. Jane gave them the tools, she gave them a place to meet, people who would help run unions, and people who would help the unions spread their message. This was difficult at the time with employers not believing that they needed to a representative of their workers, also most workers afraid of getting fired for speaking out against the company. Jane gave these people a voice and taught them that the best way to fix things for everyone is to compromise. This was pushing the progressive movement forward and showing those running companies that people are important and not expendable.

Jane Addams was a voice for those in poverty. She not only worked to give them a place where they could learn new skills, she gave them a place where they could come together as a community. She supported their labor rights and their unions to help them live a better life. Jane Addams can be looked at as one of the largest pushers of the progressive movement, because she never gave anyone anything. She gave them the tools to make their lives better, she gave them the support they needed to be able to thrive not just survive.

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