American Immigration & Ethnicity (HIST 461-001)
Professor Brian J. Payne
Essay #2 – Twenty Years at Hull House, by: Jane Addams
April 3, 2014
Jane Addams was undoubtedly one of the most influential and prominent female figures in the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s. She single handedly changed the face of social reform among poor immigrants living in Chicago during this time period, and was also regarded as a catalyst for influencing positive community relationships between the poor and the wealthy. Although she was the centerpiece of numerous other reforms during this time, her progressive-era ideals on social reform policies and arguments over immigration, labor unions, women’s rights, Americanization, and government regulations revolving around the Hull House in Chicago may stand out most prominently. Addams consistently argued about themes ranging from women’s reforms and women’s activism, to immigrant workforce conditions and violent crimes of the settlement houses. But her agenda on Americanization and integration of the poor immigrants living in the Hull House were the most highly debated and critiqued, as many of these settlement housing programs encouraged and favored Americanization and integration among its residents, essentially squashing the “old world” cultures of the immigrants. But Addams’s settlement house, Hull House, had a much different approach regarding Americanization, integration, and the immigrant’s cultural background. The Hull House was not a medium for Americanization amongst the immigrants, but rather laid a foundation to encourage the immigrants to embrace and conserve their cultures. Jane Addams’ Hull House became one of, if not, the standard model for immigration settlement housing in the United States during the Progressive Era. Numerous programs were offered to the newly arrived immigrants including education, health services, religious study, arts, and social integration. Tenants were encouraged to express and obtain their cultural beliefs, ideals, and morals at the house and given access to several educational and religious resources as well. But Addams’ regulations and perspectives regarding cultural integrity in the Hull House did not go unnoticed or critically evaluated by the general public, government officials, and public and private organizations. Historian Victoria Bissell Brown states in the introduction of Twenty Years at Hull House that “In arguing that reformers were ever in need of reform and that the people in her neighborhood were utterly human and utterly logical in their conduct, Addams made the progressive argument that environment, not heredity, was the cause of social problems, and she made the democratic argument that every citizen had not only the right but the capacity to participate in making social policy.”1 Clearly Addams was in opposition of many social and political issues revolving around immigrant reformation and the factors that determine social problems of a neighborhood or demographic group. Addams argument is directly correlated to her beliefs that a person’s behavior could not be attributed to the ideals of “inferior racial traits, innate sex differences, or morally depraved natures, and that behavior was actually a logical adaptation to a damaging social environment or a desperate attempt to retrieve some measure of humanity from that environment. It was no small thing to make this argument in a society where the rich had, for decades, dismissed the poor as unfit beasts.”2 Addams completely dismissed any focus regarding heredity or race as the prime factors for social problems, and instead concentrated her arguments and views on the poor, violent, and unsanitary environmental conditions of the slums and neighborhoods in Chicago as the main contributing factor for social, economic, community, and personal issues amongst immigrants. Addams was also a major supporter of legislation regarding work conditions and labor laws, allying...
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