Twenty Years at Hull House

17.12.2018 in Book Review
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Twenty Years at Hull-House is a memoir written by Jane Addams. It outlines an autobiographical account of abuses and poverty during the industrial revolution in Chicago. Jane Addams is a renowned founder of the settlement house movement that was vocal during the Progressive Era. She was an outstanding USA citizen who lived during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Addams was a painstaking activist who tried to promote social reforms among the poor who had migrated to Chicago. Her activism was pushed by the fact that she had befriended many immigrants who lived in the Chicago slums (Addams, 1990).

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The settlement houses were launched by middle-class women with the aim of solving social problems encountered by numerous slum dwellers. Jane Addams began the project not only to enhance quality housing but also to advocate government policies that would recognize the actual conditions in the slums (Addams, 1990). She clearly noted that even immigrants could make some substantial contributions to the US economic development and could accrue dignity. In this respect, Addams established Hull House, which was neutral and had no religious or political affiliations. She believed that poor slum immigrants were in misery since they were considered outsiders without national roots in America.

Despite the author’s wealthy Illinois background, she was constantly concerned for the disadvantaged in the society. She used to enquire on the nature of slum houses from her father and had a dream of building a big house in the midst of small houses. Additionally, her father encouraged her to have in mind those who were not as advantaged as she was. She even opted to study medicine so as to be in touch with the poor (Addams, 1990). Addams’ dream was partly fulfilled through her vast travels across the world. She got the idea of Hull-House from one of her trips to London (Addams, 1990). Hull-House was different from other houses that sought Americanization and dilution of immigrants’ culture.

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Jane attributed the poverty of the immigrants to the fact that public authorities never took initiatives unless someone reminded them on what to do so as to address the poverty issue. Her design of Hull-House was based on views she had accumulated regarding Gilded Age ideologies, progressivism, Darwinism as well as Capitalism. She, therefore, noted that Hull-House would bring a solution to many industrial and social problems resulting from modern life in the city. To her, industrialization was a source of misery and exploitation among the immigrants. Due to political crookedness, Jane Addams ensured that Hull-House remained practical but politically neutral. Her push was mainly on social reforms on the part of women’s and immigrants’ working conditions. Furthermore, the organization was non-religious given the fact that most immigrants lacked religious freedom. To her, each immigrant had a unique religious background, making it unsuitable to force them to follow one central religion (Addams, 1990).

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Addams, however, notes that the generations of immigrants were changing, with the current immigrants enjoying health services, religious freedom, study, arts and social integration. On her part, she was vocal in addressing key issues like maternal deaths and sanitation. She also joined other activists in condemning oppressive labor laws. Her main drive was on cultural freedom and social equality for the immigrants. She pushed for a proper relationship between the poor and the rich without discrimination (Addams, 1990). Her push led to equality, regulation and trust among the immigrants not only within Hull-House but also across Chicago. She continuously dismissed the existing beliefs about immigrants as foreigners who are inferior to other people. She, however, advocated for the government to carry out reforms that would enhance recognition of immigrants as full citizens in Chicago. 

Jane Addams’ work is relevant in the current society given that groups of individuals continue to experience discrimination mainly on the basis of gender and race. In this respect, there is a critical need for social equality within the community for all citizens regardless of race or gender.

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