As I myself was treated with uniform courtesy by the leading papers, I may perhaps here record my discouragement over this complicated difficulty of open discussion, for democratic government is founded upon the assumption that differing policies shall be freely discussed and that each party shall have an opportunity for at least a partisan presentation of its contentions. This attitude of the newspapers was doubtless intensified because the Dunne School Board had instituted a lawsuit challenging the validity of the lease for the school ground occupied by a newspaper building. This suit has since been decided in favor of the newspaper, and it may be that in their resentment they felt justified in doing everything possible to minimize the prosecuting School Board. I am, however, inclined to think that the newspapers but reflected an opinion honestly held by many people, and that their constant and partisan presentation of this opinion clearly demonstrates one of the greatest difficulties of governmental administration in a city grown too large for verbal discussions of public affairs.
It is difficult to close this chapter without a reference to the efforts made in Chicago to secure the municipal franchise for women. During two long periods of agitation for a new city charter, a representative body of women appealed to the public, to the charter convention, and to the Illinois legislature for this very reasonable provision. During the campaign when I acted as chairman of the federation of a hundred women's organizations, nothing impressed me so forcibly as the fact that the response came from bodies of women representing the most varied traditions. We were joined by a church society of hundreds of Lutheran women, because Scandinavian women had exercised the municipal franchise since the seventeenth century and had found American cities strangely conservative; by organizations of working women who had keenly felt the need of the municipal franchise in order to secure for their workshops the most rudimentary sanitation and the consideration which the vote alone obtains for workingmen; by federations of mothers' meetings, who were interested in clean milk and the extension of kindergartens; by property-owning women, who had been powerless to protest against unjust taxation; by organizations of professional women, of university students, and of collegiate alumnae; and by women's clubs interested in municipal reforms. There was a complete absence of the traditional women's rights clamor, but much impressive testimony from busy and useful women that they had reached the place where they needed the franchise in order to carry on their own affairs. A striking witness as to the need of the ballot, even for the women who are restricted to the most primitive and traditional activities, occurred when some Russian women waited upon me to ask whether under the new charter they could vote for covered markets and so get rid of the shocking Chicago grime upon all their food; and when some neighboring Italian women sent me word that they would certainly vote for public washhouses if they ever had the chance to vote at all. It was all so human, so spontaneous, and so direct that it really seemed as if the time must be ripe for political expression of that public concern on the part of women which had so long been forced to seek indirection. None of these busy women wished to take the place of men nor to influence them in the direction of men's affairs, but they did seek an opportunity to cooperate directly in civic life through the use of the ballot in regard to their own affairs.
A Municipal Museum which was established in the Chicago public library building several years ago, largely through the activity of a group of women who had served as jurors in the departments of social economy, of education, and of sanitation in the World's Fair at St. Louis, showed nothing more clearly than that it is impossible to divide any of these departments from the political life of the modern city which is constantly forced to enlarge the boundary of its activity.
[Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom]
This chapter has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the Celebration of Women Writers. Initial text entry and proof-reading of this chapter were the work of volunteer Margaret Sylvia.
[Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom]
[A Celebration of Women Writers]
"Chapter XV: The Value of Social Clubs." by Jane Addams (1860-1935) From: Twenty Years at Hull-House with Autobiographical Notes. by Jane Addams. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1912 (c.1910) pp. 342-370.
[Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom]
THE VALUE OF SOCIAL CLUBS
From the early days at Hull-House, social clubs composed of English speaking American born young people grew apace. So eager were they for social life that no mistakes in management could drive them away. I remember one enthusiastic leader who read aloud to a club a translation of "Antigone," which she had selected because she believed that the great themes of the Greek poets were best suited to young people. She came into the club room one evening in time to hear the president call the restive members to order with the statement, "You might just as well keep quiet for she is bound to finish it, and the quicker she gets to reading, the longer time we'll have for dancing." And yet the same club leader had the pleasure of lending four copies of the drama to four of the members, and one young man almost literally committed the entire play to memory.
On the whole we were much impressed by the great desire for self-improvement, for study and debate, exhibited by many of the young men. This very tendency, in fact, brought one of the most promising of our earlier clubs to an untimely end. The young men in the club, twenty in number, had grown much irritated by the frivolity of the girls during their long debates, and had finally proposed that three of the most "frivolous" be expelled. Pending a final vote, the three culprits appealed to certain of their friends who were members of the Hull-House Men's Club, between whom and the debating young men the incident became the cause of a quarrel so bitter that at length it led to a shooting. Fortunately the shot missed fire, or it may have been true that it was "only intended for a scare," but at any rate, we were all thoroughly frightened by this manifestation of the hot blood which the defense of woman has so often evoked. After many efforts to bring about a reconciliation, the debating club of twenty young men and the seventeen young women, who either were or pretended to be sober minded, rented a hall a mile west of Hull-House severing their connection with us because their ambitious and right-minded efforts had been unappreciated, basing this on the ground that we had not urged the expulsion of the so-called "tough" members of the Men's Club, who had been involved in the difficulty. The seceding club invited me to the first meeting in their new quarters that I might present to them my version of the situation and set forth the incident from the standpoint of Hull-House. The discussion I had with the young people that evening has always remained with me as one of the moments of illumination which life in a Settlement so often affords. In response to my position that a desire to avoid all that was "tough" meant to walk only in the paths of smug self-seeking and personal improvement leading straight into the pit of self-righteousness and petty achievement and was exactly what the Settlement did not stand for, they contended with much justice that ambitious young people were obliged for their own reputation, if not for their own morals, to avoid all connection with that which bordered on the tough, and that it was quite another matter for the Hull-House residents who could afford a more generous judgment. It was in vain I urged that life teaches us nothing more inevitably than that right and wrong are most confusingly confounded; that the blackest wrong may be within our own motives, and that at the best, right will not dazzle us by its radiant shining and can only be found by exerting patience and discrimination. They still maintained their wholesome bourgeois position, which I am now quite ready to admit was most reasonable.
Of course there were many disappointments connected with these clubs when the rewards of political and commercial life easily drew the members away from the principles advocated in club meetings. One of the young men who had been a shining light in the advocacy of municipal reform deserted in the middle of a reform campaign because he had been offered a lucrative office in the city hall; another even after a course of lectures on business morality, "worked" the club itself to secure orders for custom-made clothing from samples of cloth he displayed, although the orders were filled by ready-made suits slightly refitted and delivered at double their original price. But nevertheless, there was much to cheer us as we gradually became acquainted with the daily living of the vigorous young men and women who filled to overflowing all the social clubs.
We have been much impressed during our twenty years, by the ready adaptation of city young people to the prosperity arising from their own increased wages or from the commercial success of their families. This quick adaptability is the great gift of the city child, his one reward for the hurried changing life which he has always led. The working girl has a distinct advantage in the task of transforming her whole family into the ways and connections of the prosperous when she works down town and becomes conversant with the manners and conditions of a cosmopolitan community. Therefore having lived in a Settlement twenty years, I see scores of young people who have successfully established themselves in life, and in my travels in the city and outside, I am constantly cheered by greetings from the rising young lawyer, the scholarly rabbi, the successful teacher, the prosperous young matron buying clothes for blooming children. "Don't you remember me? I used to belong to a Hull-House club." I once asked one of these young people, a man who held a good position on a Chicago daily, what special thing Hull-House had meant to him, and he promptly replied, "It was the first house I had ever been in where books and magazines just lay around as if there were plenty of them in the world. Don't you remember how much I used to read at that little round table at the back of the library? To have people regard reading as a reasonable occupation changed the whole aspect of life to me and I began to have confidence in what I could do."
Among the young men of the social clubs a large proportion of the Jewish ones at least obtain the advantages of a higher education. The parents make every sacrifice to help them through the high school after which the young men attend universities and professional schools, largely through their own efforts. From time to time they come back to us with their honors thick upon them; I remember one who returned with the prize in oratory from a contest between several western State universities, proudly testifying that he had obtained his confidence in our Henry Clay Club; another came back with a degree from Harvard University saying that he had made up his mind to go there the summer I read Royce's "Aspects of Modern Philosophy" with a group of young men who had challenged my scathing remark that Herbert Spencer was not the only man who had ventured a solution of the riddles of the universe. Occasionally one of these learned young folk does not like to be reminded he once lived in our vicinity, but that happens rarely, and for the most part they are loyal to us in much the same spirit as they are to their own families and traditions. Sometimes they go further and tell us that the standards of tastes and code of manners which Hull-House has enabled them to form, have made a very great difference in their perceptions and estimates of the larger world as well as in their own reception there. Five out of one club of twenty-five young men who had held together for eleven years, entered the University of Chicago but although the rest of the Club called them the "intellectuals," the old friendships still held.
In addition to these rising young people given to debate and dramatics, and to the members of the public school alumni associations which meet in our rooms, there are hundreds of others who for years have come to Hull-House frankly in search of that pleasure and recreation which all young things crave and which those who have spent long hours in a factory or shop demand as a right. For these young people all sorts of pleasure clubs have been cherished, and large dancing classes have been organized. One supreme gayety has come to be an annual event of such importance that it is talked of from year to year. For six weeks before St. Patrick's day, a small group of residents put their best powers of invention and construction into preparation for a cotillion which is like a pageant in its gayety and vigor. The parents sit in the gallery, and the mothers appreciate more than anyone else perhaps, the value of this ball to which an invitation is so highly prized; although their standards of manners may differ widely from the conventional, they know full well when the companionship of the young people is safe and unsullied.
As an illustration of this difference in standard, I may instance an early Hull-House picnic arranged by a club of young people, who found at the last moment that the club director could not go and accepted the offer of the mother of one of the club members to take charge of them. When they trooped back in the evening, tired and happy, they displayed a photograph of the group wherein each man's arm was carefully placed about a girl; no feminine waist lacked an arm save that of the proud chaperon, who sat in the middle smiling upon all. Seeing that the photograph somewhat surprised us, the chaperon stoutly explained, "This may look queer to you, but there wasn't one thing about that picnic that wasn't nice," and her statement was a perfectly truthful one.
Although more conventional customs are carefully enforced at our many parties and festivities, and while the dancing classes are as highly prized for the opportunity they afford for enforcing standards as for their ostensible aim, the residents at Hull-House, in their efforts to provide opportunities for clean recreation, receive the most valued help from the experienced wisdom of the older women of the neighborhood. Bowen Hall is constantly used for dancing parties with soft drinks established in its foyer. The parties given by the Hull-House clubs are by invitation and the young people themselves carefully maintain their standard of entrance so that the most cautious mother may feel safe when her daughter goes to one of our parties. No club festivity is permitted without the presence of a director; no young man under the influence of liquor is allowed; certain types of dancing often innocently started are strictly prohibited; and above all, early closing is insisted upon. This standardizing of pleasure has always seemed an obligation to the residents of Hull-House, but we are, I hope, saved from that priggishness which young people so heartily resent, by the Mardi Gras dance and other festivities which the residents themselves arrange and successfully carry out.
In spite of our belief that the standards of a ball may be almost as valuable to those without as to those within, the residents are constantly concerned for those many young people in the neighborhood who are too hedonistic to submit to the discipline of a dancing class or even to the claim of a pleasure club, but who go about in freebooter fashion to find pleasure wherever it may be cheaply on sale.
Such young people, well meaning but impatient of control, become the easy victims of the worst type of public dance halls, and of even darker places, whose purposes are hidden under music and dancing. We were thoroughly frightened when we learned that during the year which ended last December, more than twenty-five thousand young people under the age of twenty-five passed through the Juvenile and Municipal Courts of Chicago—approximately one out of every eighty of the entire population, or one out of every fifty-two of those under twenty-five years of age. One's heart aches for these young people caught by the outside glitter of city gayety, who make such a feverish attempt to snatch it for themselves. The young people in our clubs are comparatively safe, but many instances come to the knowledge of Hull-House residents which make us long for the time when the city, through more small parks, municipal gymnasiums, and schoolrooms open for recreation, can guard from disaster these young people who walk so carelessly on the edge of the pit.
The heedless girls believe that if they lived in big houses and possessed pianos and jewelry, the coveted social life would come to them. I know a Bohemian girl who surreptitiously saved her overtime wages until she had enough money to hire for a week a room with a piano in it where young men might come to call, as they could not do in her crowded untidy home. Of course she had no way of knowing the sort of young men who quickly discover an unprotected girl.
Another girl of American parentage who had come to Chicago to seek her fortune, found at the end of a year that sorting shipping receipts in a dark corner of a warehouse not only failed to accumulate riches but did not even bring the "attentions" which her quiet country home afforded. By dint of long sacrifice she had saved fifteen dollars; with five she bought an imitation sapphire necklace, and the balance she changed into a ten dollar bill. The evening her pathetic little snare was set, she walked home with one of the clerks in the establishment, told him that she had come into a fortune, and was obliged to wear the heirloom necklace to insure its safety, permitted him to see that she carried ten dollars in her glove for carfare, and conducted him to a handsome Prairie Avenue residence. There she gayly bade him good-by and ran up the steps shutting herself in the vestibule from which she did not emerge until the dazzled and bewildered young man had vanished down the street.
Then there is the ever-recurring difficulty about dress; the insistence of the young to be gayly bedecked to the utter consternation of the hardworking parents who are paying for a house and lot. The Polish girl who stole five dollars from her employer's till with which to buy a white dress for a church picnic was turned away from home by her indignant father who replaced the money to save the family honor, but would harbor no "thief" in a household of growing children who, in spite of the sister's revolt, continued to be dressed in dark heavy clothes through all the hot summer. There are a multitude of working girls who for hours carry hair ribbons and jewelry in their pockets or stockings, for they can wear them only during the journey to and from work. Sometimes this desire to taste pleasure, to escape into a world of congenial companionship takes more elaborate forms and often ends disastrously. I recall a charming young girl, the oldest daughter of a respectable German family, whom I first saw one spring afternoon issuing from a tall factory. She wore a blue print gown which so deepened the blue of her eyes that Wordsworth's line fairly sung itself:
The pliant harebell swinging in the breeze On some gray rock.
I was grimly reminded of that moment a year later when I heard the tale of this seventeen-year-old girl, who had worked steadily in the same factory for four years before she resolved "to see life." In order not to arouse her parents' suspicions, she borrowed thirty dollars from one of those loan sharks who require no security from a pretty girl, so that she might start from home every morning as if to go to work. For three weeks she spent the first part of each dearly bought day in a department store where she lunched and unfortunately made some dubious acquaintances; in the afternoon she established herself in a theater and sat contentedly hour after hour watching the endless vaudeville until the usual time for returning home. At the end of each week she gave her parents her usual wage, but when her thirty dollars was exhausted it seemed unendurable that she should return to the monotony of the factory. In the light of her newly acquired experience she had learned that possibility which the city ever holds open to the restless girl.
That more such girls do not come to grief is due to those mothers who understand the insatiable demand for a good time, and if all of the mothers did understand, those pathetic statistics which show that four fifths of all prostitutes are under twenty years of age would be marvelously changed. We are told that "the will to live" is aroused in each baby by his mother's irresistible desire to play with him, the physiological value of joy that a child is born, and that the high death rate in institutions is increased by "the discontented babies" whom no one persuades into living. Something of the same sort is necessary in that second birth at adolescence. The young people need affection and understanding each one for himself, if they are to be induced to live in an inheritance of decorum and safety and to understand the foundations upon which this orderly world rests. No one comprehends their needs so sympathetically as those mothers who iron the flimsy starched finery of their grown-up daughters late into the night, and who pay for a red velvet parlor set on the installment plan, although the younger children may sadly need new shoes. These mothers apparently understand the sharp demand for social pleasure and do their best to respond to it, although at the same time they constantly minister to all the physical needs of an exigent family of little children. We often come to a realization of the truth of Walt Whitman's statement, that one of the surest sources of wisdom is the mother of a large family.
It is but natural, perhaps, that the members of the Hull-House Woman's Club whose prosperity has given them some leisure and a chance to remove their own families to neighborhoods less full of temptations, should have offered their assistance in our attempt to provide recreation for these restless young people. In many instances their experience in the club itself has enabled them to perceive these needs. One day a Juvenile Court officer told me that a woman's club member, who has a large family of her own and one boy sufficiently difficult, had undertaken to care for a ward of the Juvenile Court who lived only a block from her house, and that she had kept him in the path of rectitude for six months. In reply to my congratulations upon this successful bit of reform to the club woman herself, she said that she was quite ashamed that she had not undertaken the task earlier for she had for years known the boy's mother who scrubbed a downtown office building, leaving home every evening at five and returning at eleven during the very time the boy could most easily find opportunities for wrongdoing. She said that her obligation toward this boy had not occurred to her until one day when the club members were making pillowcases for the Detention Home of the Juvenile Court, it suddenly seemed perfectly obvious that her share in the salvation of wayward children was to care for this particular boy and she had asked the Juvenile Court officer to commit him to her. She invited the boy to her house to supper every day that she might know just where he was at the crucial moment of twilight, and she adroitly managed to keep him under her own roof for the evening if she did not approve of the plans he had made. She concluded with the remark that it was queer that the sight of the boy himself hadn't appealed to her, but that the suggestion had come to her in such a roundabout way.
She was, of course, reflecting upon a common trait in human nature,—that we much more easily see the duty at hand when we see it in relation to the social duty of which it is a part. When she knew that an effort was being made throughout all the large cities in the United States to reclaim the wayward boy, to provide him with reasonable amusement, to give him his chance for growth and development, and when she became ready to take her share in that movement, she suddenly saw the concrete case which she had not recognized before.
We are slowly learning that social advance depends quite as much upon an increase in moral sensibility as it does upon a sense of duty, and of this one could cite many illustrations. I was at one time chairman of the Child Labor Committee in the General Federation of Woman's Clubs, which sent out a schedule asking each club in the United States to report as nearly as possible all the working children under fourteen living in its vicinity. A Florida club filled out the schedule with an astonishing number of Cuban children who were at work in sugar mills, and the club members registered a complaint that our committee had sent the schedule too late, for if they had realized the conditions earlier, they might have presented a bill to the legislature which had now adjourned. Of course the children had been working in the sugar mills for years, and had probably gone back and forth under the very eyes of the club women, but the women had never seen them, much less felt any obligation to protect them, until they joined a club, and the club joined a Federation, and the Federation appointed a Child Labor Committee who sent them a schedule. With their quickened perceptions they then saw the rescue of these familiar children in the light of a social obligation. Through some such experiences the members of the Hull-House Woman's Club have obtained the power of seeing the concrete through the general and have entered into various undertakings.
Very early in its history the club formed what was called "A Social Extension Committee." Once a month this committee gives parties to people in the neighborhood who for any reason seem forlorn and without much social pleasure. One evening they invited only Italian women, thereby crossing a distinct social "gulf," for there certainly exists as great a sense of social difference between the prosperous Irish-American women and the South-Italian peasants as between any two sets of people in the city of Chicago. The Italian women, who were almost eastern in their habits, all stayed at home and sent their husbands, and the social extension committee entered the drawing room to find it occupied by rows of Italian workingmen, who seemed to prefer to sit in chairs along the wall. They were quite ready to be "socially extended," but plainly puzzled as to what it was all about. The evening finally developed into a very successful party, not so much because the committee were equal to it, as because the Italian men rose to the occasion.
Untiring pairs of them danced the tarantella; they sang Neapolitan songs; one of them performed some of those wonderful sleight-of-hand tricks so often seen on the streets of Naples; they explained the coral finger of St. Januarius which they wore; they politely ate the strange American refreshments; and when the evening was over, one of the committee said to me, "Do you know I am ashamed of the way I have always talked about 'dagos,' they are quite like other people, only one must take a little more pains with them. I have been nagging my husband to move off M Street because they are moving in, but I am going to try staying awhile and see if I can make a real acquaintance with some of them." To my mind at that moment the speaker had passed from the region of the uncultivated person into the possibilities of the cultivated person. The former is bounded by a narrow outlook on life, unable to overcome differences of dress and habit, and his interests are slowly contracting within a circumscribed area; while the latter constantly tends to be more a citizen of the world because of his growing understanding of all kinds of people with their varying experiences. We send our young people to Europe that they may lose their provincialism and be able to judge their fellows by a more universal test, as we send them to college that they may attain the cultural background and a larger outlook; all of these it is possible to acquire in other ways, as this member of the woman's club had discovered for herself.
This social extension committee under the leadership of an ex-president of the Club, a Hull-House resident with a wide acquaintance, also discover many of those lonely people of which every city contains so large a number. We are only slowly apprehending the very real danger to the individual who fails to establish some sort of genuine relation with the people who surround him. We are all more or less familiar with the results of isolation in rural districts; the Bronte sisters have portrayed the hideous immorality and savagery of the remote dwellers on the bleak moorlands of northern England; Miss Wilkins has written of the overdeveloped will of the solitary New Englander; but tales still wait to be told of the isolated city dweller. In addition to the lonely young man recently come to town, and the country family who have not yet made their connections, are many other people who, because of temperament or from an estimate of themselves which will not permit them to make friends with the "people around here," or who, because they are victims to a combination of circumstances, lead a life as lonely and untouched by the city about them as if they were in remote country districts. The very fact that it requires an effort to preserve isolation from the tenement-house life which flows all about them, makes the character stiffer and harsher than mere country solitude could do.
Many instances of this come into my mind; the faded, ladylike hairdresser, who came and went to her work for twenty years, carefully concealing her dwelling place from the "other people in the shop," moving whenever they seemed too curious about it, and priding herself that no neighbor had ever "stepped inside her door," and yet when discovered through an asthma which forced her to crave friendly offices, she was most responsive and even gay in a social atmosphere. Another woman made a long effort to conceal the poverty resulting from her husband's inveterate gambling and to secure for her children the educational advantages to which her family had always been accustomed. Her five children, who are now university graduates, do not realize how hard and solitary was her early married life when we first knew her, and she was beginning to regret the isolation in which her children were being reared, for she saw that their lack of early companionship would always cripple their power to make friends. She was glad to avail herself of the social resources of Hull-House for them, and at last even for herself.
The leader of the social extension committee has also been able, through her connection with the vacant lot garden movement in Chicago, to maintain a most flourishing "friendly club" largely composed of people who cultivate these garden plots. During the club evening at least, they regain something of the ease of the man who is being estimated by the bushels per acre of potatoes he has raised, and not by that flimsy city judgment so often based upon store clothes. Their jollity and enthusiasm are unbounded, expressing itself in clog dances and rousing old songs often in sharp contrast to the overworked, worn aspects of the members.
Of course there are surprising possibilities discovered through other clubs, in one of Greek women or in the "circolo Italiano," for a social club often affords a sheltered space in which the gentler social usages may be exercised, as the more vigorous clubs afford a point of departure into larger social concerns.
The experiences of the Hull-House Woman's Club constantly react upon the family life of the members. Their husbands come with them to the annual midwinter reception, to club concerts and entertainments; the little children come to the May party, with its dancing and games; the older children, to the day in June when prizes are given to those sons and daughters of the members who present a good school record as graduates either from the eighth grade or from a high school.
It seemed, therefore, but a fit recognition of their efforts when the president of the club erected a building planned especially for their needs, with their own library and a hall large enough for their various social undertakings, although of course Bowen Hall is constantly put to many other uses.
It was under the leadership of this same able president that the club achieved its wider purposes and took its place with the other forces for city betterment. The club had begun, as nearly all women's clubs do, upon the basis of self-improvement, although the foundations for this later development had been laid by one of their earliest presidents, who was the first probation officer of the Juvenile Court, and who had so shared her experiences with the club that each member felt the truth as well as the pathos of the lines inscribed on her memorial tablet erected in their club library:-
"As more exposed to suffering and distress Thence also more alive to tenderness."
Each woman had discovered opportunities in her own experience for this same tender understanding, and under its succeeding president, Mrs. Pelham, in its determination to be of use to the needy and distressed, the club developed many philanthropic undertakings from the humble beginnings of a linen chest kept constantly filled with clothing for the sick and poor. It required, however, an adequate knowledge of adverse city conditions so productive of juvenile delinquency and a sympathy which could enkindle itself in many others of divers faiths and training, to arouse the club to its finest public spirit. This was done by a later president, Mrs. Bowen, who, as head of the Juvenile Protective Association, had learned that the moralized energy of a group is best fitted to cope with the complicated problems of a city; but it required ability of an unusual order to evoke a sense of social obligation from the very knowledge of adverse city conditions which the club members possessed, and to connect it with the many civic and philanthropic organizations of the city in such wise as to make it socially useful. This financial and representative connection with outside organizations, is valuable to the club only as it expresses its sympathy and kindliness at the same time in concrete form. A group of members who lunch with Mrs. Bowen each week at Hull-House discuss, not only topics of public interest, sometimes with experts whom they have long known through their mutual undertakings, but also their own club affairs in the light of this larger knowledge.
Thus the value of social clubs broadens out in one's mind to an instrument of companionship through which many may be led from a sense of isolation to one of civic responsibility, even as another type of club provides recreational facilities for those who have had only meaningless excitements, or, as a third type, opens new and interesting vistas of life to those who are ambitious.
The entire organization of the social life at Hull-House, while it has been fostered and directed by residents and others, has been largely pushed and vitalized from within by the club members themselves. Sir Walter Besant once told me that Hull-House stood in his mind more nearly for the ideal of the "Palace of Delight" than did the "London People's Palace" because we had depended upon the social resources of the people using it. He begged me not to allow Hull-House to become too educational. He believed it much easier to develop a polytechnic institute than a large recreational center, but he doubted whether the former was as useful.
The social clubs form a basis of acquaintanceship for many people living in other parts of the city. Through friendly relations with individuals, which is perhaps the sanest method of approach, they are thus brought into contact, many of them for the first time, with the industrial and social problems challenging the moral resources of our contemporary life. During our twenty years hundreds of these non-residents have directed clubs and classes, and have increased the number of Chicago citizens who are conversant with adverse social conditions and conscious that only by the unceasing devotion of each, according to his strength, shall the compulsions and hardships, the stupidities and cruelties of life be overcome. The number of people thus informed is constantly increasing in all our American cities, and they may in time remove the reproach of social neglect and indifference which has so long rested upon the citizens of the new world. I recall the experience of an Englishman who, not only because he was a member of the Queen's Cabinet and bore a title, but also because he was an able statesman, was entertained with great enthusiasm by the leading citizens of Chicago. At a large dinner party he asked the lady sitting next to him what our tenement-house legislation was in regard to the cubic feet of air required for each occupant of a tenement bedroom; upon her disclaiming any knowledge of the subject, the inquiry was put to all the diners at the long table, all of whom showed surprise that they should be expected to possess this information. In telling me the incident afterward, the English guest said that such indifference could not have been found among the leading citizens of London, whose public spirit had been aroused to provide such housing conditions as should protect tenement dwellers at least from wanton loss of vitality and lowered industrial efficiency. When I met the same Englishman in London five years afterward, he immediately asked me whether Chicago citizens were still so indifferent to the conditions of the poor that they took no interest in their proper housing. I was quick with that defense which an American is obliged to use so often in Europe, that our very democracy so long presupposed that each citizen could care for himself that we are slow to develop a sense of social obligation. He smiled at the familiar phrases and was still inclined to attribute our indifference to sheer ignorance of social conditions.
The entire social development of Hull-House is so unlike what I predicted twenty years ago, that I venture to quote from that ancient writing as an end to this chapter.
The social organism has broken down through large districts of our great cities. Many of the people living there are very poor, the majority of them without leisure or energy for anything but the gain of subsistence. They live for the moment side by side, many of them without knowledge of each other, without fellowship, without local tradition or public spirit, without social organization of any kind. Practically nothing is done to remedy this. The people who might do it, who have the social tact and training, the large houses, and the traditions and customs of hospitality, live in other parts of the city. The club houses, libraries, galleries, and semi-public conveniences for social life are also blocks away. We find workingmen organized into armies of producers because men of executive ability and business sagacity have found it to their interests thus to organize them. But these workingmen are not organized socially; although lodging in crowded tenement houses, they are living without a corresponding social contact. The chaos is as great as it would be were they working in huge factories without foremen or superintendent. Their ideas and resources are cramped, and the desire for higher social pleasure becomes extinct. They have no share in the traditions and social energy which make for progress. Too often their only place of meeting is a saloon, their only host a bartender; a local demagogue forms their public opinion. Men of ability and refinement, of social power and university cultivation, stay away from them. Personally, I believe the men who lose most are those who thus stay away. But the paradox is here; when cultivated people do stay away from a certain portion of the population, when all social advantages are persistently withheld, it may be for years, the result itself is pointed to as a reason and is used as an argument, for the continued withholding. It is constantly said that because the masses have never had social advantages, they do want them, that they are heavy and dull, and that it will take political or philanthropic machinery to change them. This divides a city into rich and poor; into the favored, who express their sense of the social obligation by gifts of money, and into the unfavored, who express it by clamoring for a "share"—both of them actuated by a vague sense of justice. This division of the city would be more justifiable, however, if the people who thus isolate themselves on certain streets and use their social ability for each other, gained enough thereby and added sufficient to the sum total of social progress to justify the withholding of the pleasures and results of that progress from so many people who ought to have them. But they cannot accomplish this for the social spirit discharges itself in many forms, and no one form is adequate to its total expression.
[Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom]
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[Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom]
[A Celebration of Women Writers]
"Chapter XVI: Arts at Hull-House." by Jane Addams (1860-1935) From: Twenty Years at Hull-House with Autobiographical Notes. by Jane Addams. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1912 (c.1910) pp. 371-400.
[Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom]
ARTS AT HULL-HOUSE
The first building erected for Hull-House contained an art gallery well lighted for day and evening use, and our first exhibit of loaned pictures was opened in June, 1891, by Mr. And Mrs. Barnett of London. It is always pleasant to associate their hearty sympathy with that first exhibit, and thus to connect it with their pioneer efforts at Toynbee Hall to secure for working people the opportunity to know the best art, and with their establishment of the first permanent art gallery in an industrial quarter.
We took pride in the fact that our first exhibit contained some of the best pictures Chicago afforded, and we conscientiously insured them against fire and carefully guarded them by night and day.
We had five of these exhibits during two years, after the gallery was completed: two of oil paintings, one of old engravings and etchings, one of water colors, and one of pictures especially selected for use in the public schools. These exhibits were surprisingly well attended and thousands of votes were cast for the most popular pictures. Their value to the neighborhood of course had to be determined by each one of us according to the value he attached to beauty and the escape it offers from dreary reality into the realm of the imagination. Miss Starr always insisted that the arts should receive adequate recognition at Hull-House and urged that one must always remember "the hungry individual soul which without art will have passed unsolaced and unfed, followed by other souls who lack the impulse his should have given."
The exhibits afforded pathetic evidence that the older immigrants do not expect the solace of art in this country; an Italian expressed great surprise when he found that we, although Americans, still liked pictures, and said quite naively that he didn't know that Americans cared for anything but dollars—that looking at pictures was something people only did in Italy.
The extreme isolation of the Italian colony was demonstrated by the fact that he did not know that there was a public art gallery in the city nor any houses in which pictures were regarded as treasures.
A Greek was much surprised to see a photograph of the Acropolis at Hull-House because he had lived in Chicago for thirteen years and had never before met any Americans who knew about this foremost glory of the world. Before he left Greece he had imagined that Americans would be most eager to see pictures of Athens, and as he was a graduate of a school of technology, he had prepared a book of colored drawings and had made a collection of photographs which he was sure Americans would enjoy. But although from his fruit stand near one of the large railroad stations he had conversed with many Americans and had often tried to lead the conversation back to ancient Greece, no one had responded, and he had at last concluded that "the people of Chicago knew nothing of ancient times."
The loan exhibits were continued until the Chicago Art Institute was opened free to the public on Sunday afternoons and parties were arranged at Hull-House and conducted there by a guide. In time even these parties were discontinued as the galleries became better known in all parts of the city and the Art Institute management did much to make pictures popular.
From the first a studio was maintained at Hull-House which has developed through the changing years under the direction of Miss Benedict, one of the residents who is a member of the faculty in the Art Institute. Buildings on the Hull-House quadrangle furnish studios for artists who find something of the same spirit in the contiguous Italian colony that the French artist is traditionally supposed to discover in his beloved Latin Quarter. These artists uncover something of the picturesque in the foreign colonies, which they have reproduced in painting, etching, and lithography. They find their classes filled not only by young people possessing facility and sometimes talent, but also by older people to whom the studio affords the one opportunity of escape from dreariness; a widow with four children who supplemented a very inadequate income by teaching the piano, for six years never missed her weekly painting lesson because it was "her one pleasure"; another woman, whose youth and strength had gone into the care of an invalid father, poured into her afternoon in the studio once a week, all of the longing for self-expression which she habitually suppressed.
Perhaps the most satisfactory results of the studio have been obtained through the classes of young men who are engaged in the commercial arts, and who are glad to have an opportunity to work out their own ideas. This is true of young engravers and lithographers; of the men who have to do with posters and illustrations in various ways. The little pile of stones and the lithographer's handpress in a corner of the studio have been used in many an experiment, as has a set of beautiful type loaned to Hull-House by a bibliophile.
The work of the studio almost imperceptibly merged into the crafts and well within the first decade a shop was opened at Hull-House under the direction of several residents who were also members of the Chicago Arts and Crafts Society. This shop is not merely a school where people are taught and then sent forth to use their teaching in art according to their individual initiative and opportunity, but where those who have already been carefully trained, may express the best they can in wood or metal. The Settlement soon discovers how difficult it is to put a fringe of art on the end of a day spent in a factory. We constantly see young people doing overhurried work. Wrapping bars of soap in pieces of paper might at least give the pleasure of accuracy and repetition if it could be done at a normal pace, but when paid for by the piece, speed becomes the sole requirement and the last suggestion of human interest is taken away. In contrast to this the Hull-House shop affords many examples of the restorative power in the exercise of a genuine craft; a young Russian who, like too many of his countrymen, had made a desperate effort to fit himself for a learned profession, and who had almost finished his course in a night law school, used to watch constantly the work being done in the metal shop at Hull-House. One evening in a moment of sudden resolve, he took off his coat, sat down at one of the benches, and began to work, obviously as a very clever silversmith. He had long concealed his craft because he thought it would hurt his efforts as a lawyer and because he imagined an office more honorable and "more American" than a shop. As he worked on during his two leisure evenings each week, his entire bearing and conversation registered the relief of one who abandons the effort he is not fitted for and becomes a man on his own feet, expressing himself through a familiar and delicate technique.
Miss Starr at length found herself quite impatient with her role of lecturer on the arts, while all the handicraft about her was untouched by beauty and did not even reflect the interest of the workman. She took a training in bookbinding in London under Mr. Cobden-Sanderson and established her bindery at Hull-House in which design and workmanship, beauty and thoroughness are taught to a small number of apprentices.
From the very first winter, concerts which are still continued were given every Sunday afternoon in the Hull-House drawing-room and later, as the audiences increased, in the larger halls. For these we are indebted to musicians from every part of the city. Mr. William Tomlins early trained large choruses of adults as his assistants did of children, and the response to all of these showed that while the number of people in our vicinity caring for the best music was not large, they constituted a steady and appreciative group. It was in connection with these first choruses that a public-spirited citizen of Chicago offered a prize for the best labor song, competition to be open to the entire country. The responses to the offer literally filled three large barrels and speaking at least for myself as one of the bewildered judges, we were more disheartened by their quality than even by their overwhelming bulk. Apparently the workers of America are not yet ready to sing, although I recall a creditable chorus trained at Hull-House for a large meeting in sympathy with the anthracite coal strike in which the swinging lines
"Who was it made the coal? Our God as well as theirs."
seemed to relieve the tension of the moment. Miss Eleanor Smith, the head of the Hull-House Music School, who had put the words to music, performed the same office for the "Sweatshop" of the Yiddish poet, the translation of which presents so graphically the bewilderment and tedium of the New York shop that it might be applied to almost any other machinery industry as the first verse indicates: —
"The roaring of the wheels has filled my ears, The clashing and the clamor shut me in, Myself, my soul, in chaos disappears, I cannot think or feel amid the din."
It may be that this plaint explains the lack of labor songs in this period of industrial maladjustment when the worker is overmastered by his very tools. In addition to sharing with our neighborhood the best music we could procure, we have conscientiously provided careful musical instruction that at least a few young people might understand those old usages of art; that they might master its trade secrets, for after all it is only through a careful technique that artistic ability can express itself and be preserved.
From the beginning we had classes in music, and the Hull-House Music School, which is housed in quarters of its own in our quieter court, was opened in 1893. The school is designed to give a thorough musical instruction to a limited number of children. From the first lessons they are taught to compose and to reduce to order the musical suggestions which may come to them, and in this wise the school has sometimes been able to recover the songs of the immigrants through their children. Some of these folk songs have never been committed to paper, but have survived through the centuries because of a touch of undying poetry which the world has always cherished; as in the song of a Russian who is digging a post hole and finds his task dull and difficult until he strikes a stratum of red sand, which in addition to making digging easy, reminds him of the red hair of his sweetheart, and all goes merrily as the song lifts into a joyous melody. I recall again the almost hilarious enjoyment of the adult audience to whom it was sung by the children who had revived it, as well as the more sober appreciation of the hymns taken from the lips of the cantor, whose father before him had officiated in the synagogue.
The recitals and concerts given by the school are attended by large and appreciative audiences. On the Sunday before Christmas the program of Christmas songs draws together people of the most diverging faiths. In the deep tones of the memorial organ erected at Hull-House, we realize that music is perhaps the most potent agent for making the universal appeal and inducing men to forget their differences.
Some of the pupils in the music school have developed during the years into trained musicians and are supporting themselves in their chosen profession. On the other hand, we constantly see the most promising musical ability extinguished when the young people enter industries which so sap their vitality that they cannot carry on serious study in the scanty hours outside of factory work. Many cases indisputably illustrate this: a Bohemian girl, who, in order to earn money for pressing family needs, first ruined her voice in a six months' constant vaudeville engagement, returned to her trade working overtime in a vain effort to continue the vaudeville income; another young girl whom Hull-House had sent to the high school so long as her parents consented, because we realized that a beautiful voice is often unavailable through lack of the informing mind, later extinguished her promise in a tobacco factory; a third girl who had supported her little sisters since she was fourteen, eagerly used her fine voice for earning money at entertainments held late after her day's work, until exposure and fatigue ruined her health as well as a musician's future; a young man whose music-loving family gave him every possible opportunity, and who produced some charming and even joyous songs during the long struggle with tuberculosis which preceded his death, had made a brave beginning, not only as a teacher of music but as a composer. In the little service held at Hull-House in his memory, when the children sang his composition, "How Sweet is the Shepherd's Sweet Lot," it was hard to realize that such an interpretive pastoral could have been produced by one whose childhood had been passed in a crowded city quarter.
Even that bitter experience did not prepare us for the sorrowful year when six promising pupils out of a class of fifteen, developed tuberculosis. It required but little penetration to see that during the eight years the class of fifteen school children had come together to the music school, they had approximately an even chance, but as soon as they reached the legal working age only a scanty moiety of those who became self-supporting could endure the strain of long hours and bad air. Thus the average human youth, "With all the sweetness of the common dawn," is flung into the vortex of industrial life wherein the everyday tragedy escapes us save when one of them becomes conspicuously unfortunate. Twice in one year we were compelled
"To find the inheritance of this poor child His little kingdom of a forced grave."
It has been pointed out many times that Art lives by devouring her own offspring and the world has come to justify even that sacrifice, but we are unfortified and unsolaced when we see the children of Art devoured, not by her, but by the uncouth stranger, Modern Industry, who, needlessly ruthless and brutal to her own children, is quickly fatal to the offspring of the gentler mother. And so schools in art for those who go to work at the age when more fortunate young people are still sheltered and educated, constantly epitomize one of the haunting problems of life; why do we permit the waste of this most precious human faculty, this consummate possession of civilization? When we fail to provide the vessel in which it may be treasured, it runs out upon the ground and is irretrievably lost.
The universal desire for the portrayal of life lying quite outside of personal experience evinces itself in many forms. One of the conspicuous features of our neighborhood, as of all industrial quarters, is the persistency with which the entire population attends the theater. The very first day I saw Halsted Street a long line of young men and boys stood outside the gallery entrance of the Bijou Theater, waiting for the Sunday matinee to begin at two o'clock, although it was only high noon. This waiting crowd might have been seen every Sunday afternoon during the twenty years which have elapsed since then. Our first Sunday evening in Hull-House, when a group of small boys sat on our piazza and told us "about things around here," their talk was all of the theater and of the astonishing things they had seen that afternoon.
But quite as it was difficult to discover the habits and purposes of this group of boys because they much preferred talking about the theater to contemplating their own lives, so it was all along the line; the young men told us their ambitions in the phrases of stage heroes, and the girls, so far as their romantic dreams could be shyly put into words, possessed no others but those soiled by long use in the melodrama. All of these young people looked upon an afternoon a week in the gallery of a Halsted Street theater as their one opportunity to see life. The sort of melodrama they see there has recently been described as "the ten commandments written in red fire." Certainly the villain always comes to a violent end, and the young and handsome hero is rewarded by marriage with a beautiful girl, usually the daughter of a millionaire, but after all that is not a portrayal of the morality of the ten commandments any more than of life itself.
Nevertheless the theater, such as it was, appeared to be the one agency which freed the boys and girls from that destructive isolation of those who drag themselves up to maturity by themselves, and it gave them a glimpse of that order and beauty into which even the poorest drama endeavors to restore the bewildering facts of life. The most prosaic young people bear testimony to this overmastering desire. A striking illustration of this came to us during our second year's residence on Halsted Street through an incident in the Italian colony, where the men have always boasted that they were able to guard their daughters from the dangers of city life, and until evil Italians entered the business of the "white slave traffic," their boast was well founded. The first Italian girl to go astray known to the residents of Hull-House, was so fascinated by the stage that on her way home from work she always loitered outside a theater before the enticing posters. Three months after her elopement with an actor, her distracted mother received a picture of her dressed in the men's clothes in which she appeared in vaudeville. Her family mourned her as dead and her name was never mentioned among them nor in the entire colony. In further illustration of an overmastering desire to see life as portrayed on the stage are two young girls whose sober parents did not approve of the theater and would allow no money for such foolish purposes. In sheer desperation the sisters evolved a plot that one of them would feign a toothache, and while she was having her tooth pulled by a neighboring dentist the other would steal the gold crowns from his table, and with the money thus procured they could attend the vaudeville theater every night on their way home from work. Apparently the pain and wrongdoing did not weigh for a moment against the anticipated pleasure. The plan was carried out to the point of selling the gold crowns to a pawnbroker when the disappointed girls were arrested.
All this effort to see the play took place in the years before the five-cent theaters had become a feature of every crowded city thoroughfare and before their popularity had induced the attendance of two and a quarter million people in the United States every twenty-four hours. The eagerness of the penniless children to get into these magic spaces is responsible for an entire crop of petty crimes made more easy because two children are admitted for one nickel at the last performance when the hour is late and the theater nearly deserted. The Hull-House residents were aghast at the early popularity of these mimic shows, and in the days before the inspection of films and the present regulations for the five-cent theaters we established at Hull-House a moving picture show. Although its success justified its existence, it was so obviously but one in the midst of hundreds that it seemed much more advisable to turn our attention to the improvement of all of them or rather to assist as best we could, the successful efforts in this direction by the Juvenile Protective Association.
However, long before the five-cent theater was even heard of, we had accumulated much testimony as to the power of the drama, and we would have been dull indeed if we had not availed ourselves of the use of the play at Hull-House, not only as an agent of recreation and education, but as a vehicle of self-expression for the teeming young life all about us.
Long before the Hull-House theater was built we had many plays, first in the drawing-room and later in the gymnasium. The young people's clubs never tired of rehearsing and preparing for these dramatic occasions, and we also discovered that older people were almost equally ready and talented. We quickly learned that no celebration at Thanksgiving was so popular as a graphic portrayal on the stage of the Pilgrim Fathers, and we were often put to it to reduce to dramatic effects the great days of patriotism and religion.
At one of our early Christmas celebrations Longfellow's "Golden Legend" was given, the actors portraying it with the touch of the miracle play spirit which it reflects. I remember an old blind man, who took the part of a shepherd, said, at the end of the last performance, "Kind Heart," a name by which he always addressed me, "it seems to me that I have been waiting all my life to hear some of these things said. I am glad we had so many performances, for I think I can remember them to the end. It is getting hard for me to listen to reading, but the different voices and all made this very plain." Had he not perhaps made a legitimate demand upon the drama, that it shall express for us that which we have not been able to formulate for ourselves, that it shall warm us with a sense of companionship with the experiences of others; does not every genuine drama present our relations to each other and to the world in which we find ourselves in such wise as may fortify us to the end of the journey?
The immigrants in the neighborhood of Hull-House have utilized our little stage in an endeavor to reproduce the past of their own nations through those immortal dramas which have escaped from the restraining bond of one country into the land of the universal.
A large colony of Greeks near Hull-House, who often feel that their history and classic background are completely ignored by Americans, and that they are easily confused with the more ignorant immigrants from other parts of southeastern Europe, welcome an occasion to present Greek plays in the ancient text. With expert help in the difficulties of staging and rehearsing a classic play, they reproduced the Ajax of Sophocles upon the Hull-House stage. It was a genuine triumph to the actors who felt that they were "showing forth the glory of Greece" to "ignorant Americans." The scholar who came with a copy of Sophocles in hand and followed the play with real enjoyment, did not in the least realize that the revelation of the love of Greek poets was mutual between the audience and the actors. The Greeks have quite recently assisted an enthusiast in producing "Electra," while the Lithuanians, the Poles, and other Russian subjects often use the Hull-House stage to present plays in their own tongue, which shall at one and the same time keep alive their sense of participation in the great Russian revolution and relieve their feelings in regard to it. There is something still more appealing in the yearning efforts the immigrants sometimes make to formulate their situation in America. I recall a play written by an Italian playwright of our neighborhood, which depicted the insolent break between Americanized sons and old country parents, so touchingly that it moved to tears all the older Italians in the audience. Did the tears of each express relief in finding that others had had the same experience as himself, and did the knowledge free each one from a sense of isolation and an injured belief that his children were the worst of all?
This effort to understand life through its dramatic portrayal, to see one's own participation intelligibly set forth, becomes difficult when one enters the field of social development, but even here it is not impossible if a Settlement group is constantly searching for new material.
A labor story appearing in the Atlantic Monthly was kindly dramatized for us by the author who also superintended its presentation upon the Hull-House stage. The little drama presented the untutored effort of a trades-union man to secure for his side the beauty of self-sacrifice, the glamour of martyrdom, which so often seems to belong solely to the nonunion forces. The presentation of the play was attended by an audience of trades-unionists and employers and those other people who are supposed to make public opinion. Together they felt the moral beauty of the man's conclusion that "it's the side that suffers most that will win out in this war—the saints is the only ones that has got the world under their feet—we've got to do the way they done if the unions is to stand," so completely that it seemed quite natural that he should forfeit his life upon the truth of this statement.
The dramatic arts have gradually been developed at Hull-House through amateur companies, one of which has held together for more than fifteen years. The members were originally selected from the young people who had evinced talent in the plays the social clubs were always giving, but the association now adds to itself only as a vacancy occurs. Some of them have developed almost a professional ability, although contrary to all predictions and in spite of several offers, none of them have taken to a stage career. They present all sorts of plays from melodrama and comedy to those of Shaw, Ibsen, and Galsworthy. The latter are surprisingly popular, perhaps because of their sincere attempt to expose the shams and pretenses of contemporary life and to penetrate into some of its perplexing social and domestic situations. Through such plays the stage may become a pioneer teacher of social righteousness.
I have come to believe, however, that the stage may do more than teach, that much of our current moral instruction will not endure the test of being cast into a lifelike mold, and when presented in dramatic form will reveal itself as platitudinous and effete. That which may have sounded like righteous teaching when it was remote and wordy, will be challenged afresh when it is obliged to simulate life itself.
This function of the stage, as a reconstructing and reorganizing agent of accepted moral truths, came to me with overwhelming force as I listened to the Passion Play at Oberammergau one beautiful summer's day in 1900. The peasants who portrayed exactly the successive scenes of the wonderful Life, who used only the very words found in the accepted version of the Gospels, yet curiously modernized and reorientated the message. They made clear that the opposition to the young Teacher sprang from the merchants whose traffic in the temple He had disturbed and from the Pharisees who were dependent upon them for support. Their query was curiously familiar, as they demanded the antecedents of the Radical who dared to touch vested interests, who presumed to dictate the morality of trade, and who insulted the marts of honest merchants by calling them "a den of thieves." As the play developed, it became clear that this powerful opposition had friends in Church and State, that they controlled influences which ramified in all directions. They obviously believed in their statement of the case and their very wealth and position in the community gave their words such weight that finally all of their hearers were convinced that the young Agitator must be done away with in order that the highest interests of society might be conserved. These simple peasants made it clear that it was the money power which induced one of the Agitator's closest friends to betray him, and the villain of the piece, Judas himself, was only a man who was so dazzled by money, so under the domination of all it represented, that he was perpetually blind to the spiritual vision unrolling before him. As I sat through the long summer day, seeing the shadows on the beautiful mountain back of the open stage shift from one side to the other and finally grow long and pointed in the soft evening light, my mind was filled with perplexing questions. Did the dramatization of the life of Jesus set forth its meaning more clearly and conclusively than talking and preaching could possibly do as a shadowy following of the command "to do the will"?
The peasant actors whom I had seen returning from mass that morning had prayed only to portray the life as He had lived it and, behold, out of their simplicity and piety arose this modern version which even Harnack was only then venturing to suggest to his advanced colleagues in Berlin. Yet the Oberammergau fold were very like thousands of immigrant men and women of Chicago, both in their experiences and in their familiarity with the hard facts of life, and throughout that day as my mind dwelt on my far-away neighbors, I was reproached with the sense of an ungarnered harvest.
Of course such a generally uplifted state comes only at rare moments, while the development of the little theater at Hull-House has not depended upon the moods of any one, but upon the genuine enthusiasm and sustained effort of a group of residents, several of them artists who have ungrudgingly given their time to it year after year. This group has long fostered junior dramatic associations, through which it seems possible to give a training in manners and morals more directly than through any other medium. They have learned to determine very cleverly the ages at which various types of the drama are most congruous and expressive of the sentiments of the little troupes, from the fairy plays such as "Snow-White" and "Puss-in-Boots" which appeal to the youngest children, to the heroic plays of "William Tell," "King John," and "Wat Tyler" for the older lads, and to the romances and comedies which set forth in stately fashion the elaborated life which so many young people admire. A group of Jewish boys gave a dramatic version of the story of Joseph and his brethren and again of Queen Esther. They had almost a sense of proprietorship in the fine old lines and were pleased to bring from home bits of Talmudic lore for the stage setting. The same club of boys at one time will buoyantly give a roaring comedy and five years later will solemnly demand a drama dealing with modern industrial conditions. The Hull-House theater is also rented from time to time to members of the Young People's Socialist League who give plays both in Yiddish and English which reduce their propaganda to conversation. Through such humble experiments as the Hull-House stage, as well as through the more ambitious reforms which are attempted in various parts of the country, the theatre may at last be restored to its rightful place in the community.
There have been times when our little stage was able to serve the theatre libre. A Chicago troupe, finding it difficult to break into a trust theater, used it one winter twice a week for the presentation of Ibsen and old French comedy. A visit from the Irish poet Yeats inspired us to do our share towards freeing the stage from its slavery to expensive scene setting, and a forest of stiff conventional trees against a gilt sky still remains with us as a reminder of an attempt not wholly unsuccessful, in this direction.
This group of Hull-House artists have filled our little foyer with a series of charming playbills and by dint of painting their own scenery and making their own costumes have obtained beguiling results in stage setting. Sometimes all the artistic resources of the House unite in a Wagnerian combination; thus, the text of the "Troll's Holiday" was written by one resident, set to music by another; sung by the Music School, and placed upon the stage under the careful direction and training of the dramatic committee; and the little brown trolls could never have tumbled about so gracefully in their gleaming caves unless they had been taught in the gymnasium.
Some such synthesis takes place every year at the Hull-House annual exhibition, when an effort is made to bring together in a spirit of holiday the nine thousand people who come to the House every week during duller times. Curiously enough the central feature at the annual exhibition seems to be the brass band of the boys' club which apparently dominates the situation by sheer size and noise, but perhaps their fresh boyish enthusiasm expresses that which the older people take more soberly.
As the stage of our little theater had attempted to portray the heroes of many lands, so we planned one early spring seven years ago, to carry out a scheme of mural decoration upon the walls of the theater itself, which should portray those cosmopolitan heroes who have become great through identification with the common lot, in preference to the heroes of mere achievement. In addition to the group of artists living at Hull-House several others were in temporary residence, and they all threw themselves enthusiastically into the plan. The series began with Tolstoy plowing his field which was painted by an artist of the Glasgow school, and the next was of the young Lincoln pushing his flatboat down the Mississippi River at the moment he received his first impression of the "great iniquity." This was done by a promising young artist of Chicago, and the wall spaces nearest to the two selected heroes were quickly filled with their immortal sayings.
A spirited discussion thereupon ensued in regard to the heroes for the two remaining large wall spaces, when to the surprise of all of us the group of twenty-five residents who had lived in unbroken harmony for more than ten years, suddenly broke up into cults and even camps of hero worship. Each cult exhibited drawings of its own hero in his most heroic moment, and of course each drawing received enthusiastic backing from the neighborhood, each according to the nationality of the hero. Thus Phidias standing high on his scaffold as he finished the heroic head of Athene; the young David dreamily playing his harp as he tended his father's sheep at Bethlehem; St. Francis washing the feet of the leper; the young slave Patrick guiding his master through the bogs of Ireland, which he later rid of their dangers; the poet Hans Sachs cobbling shoes; Jeanne d'Arc dropping her spindle in startled wonder before the heavenly visitants, naturally all obtained such enthusiastic following from our cosmopolitan neighborhood that it was certain to give offense if any two were selected. Then there was the cult of residents who wished to keep the series contemporaneous with the two heroes already painted, and they advocated William Morris at his loom, Walt Whitman tramping the open road, Pasteur in his laboratory, or Florence Nightingale seeking the wounded on the field of battle. But beyond the socialists, few of the neighbors had heard of William Morris, and the fame of Walt Whitman was still more apocryphal; Pasteur was considered merely a clever scientist without the romance which evokes popular affection and in the provisional drawing submitted for votes, gentle Florence Nightingale was said "to look more as if she were robbing the dead than succoring the wounded." The remark shows how high the feeling ran, and then, as something must be done quickly, we tried to unite upon strictly local heroes such as the famous fire marshal who had lived for many years in our neighborhood— but why prolong this description which demonstrates once more that art, if not always the handmaid of religion, yet insists upon serving those deeper sentiments for which we unexpectedly find ourselves ready to fight. When we were all fatigued and hopeless of compromise, we took refuge in a series of landscapes connected with our two heroes by a quotation from Wordsworth slightly distorted to meet our dire need, but still stating his impassioned belief in the efficacious spirit capable of companionship with man which resides in "particular spots." Certainly peace emanates from the particular folding of the hills in one of our treasured mural landscapes, yet occasionally when a guest with a bewildered air looks from one side of the theater to the other, we are forced to conclude that the connection is not convincing.
In spite of its stormy career this attempt at mural decoration connects itself quite naturally with the spirit of our earlier efforts to make Hull-House as beautiful as we could, which had in it a desire to embody in the outward aspect of the House something of the reminiscence and aspiration of the neighborhood life.
As the House enlarged for new needs and mellowed through slow-growing associations, we endeavored to fashion it from without, as it were, as well as from within. A tiny wall fountain modeled in classic pattern, for us penetrates into the world of the past, but for the Italian immigrant it may defy distance and barriers as he dimly responds to that typical beauty in which Italy has ever written its message, even as classic art knew no region of the gods which was not also sensuous, and as the art of Dante mysteriously blended the material and the spiritual.
Perhaps the early devotion of the Hull-House residents to the pre-Raphaelites recognized that they above all English speaking poets and painters reveal "the sense of the expressiveness of outward things" which is at once the glory and the limitation of the arts.
[Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom]
This chapter has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the Celebration of Women Writers. Initial text entry and proof-reading of this chapter were the work of volunteer Andrea Jeddi.
[Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom]
[A Celebration of Women Writers]
"Chapter XVII: Echoes of the Russian Revolution." by Jane Addams (1860-1935)
From: Twenty Years at Hull-House with Autobiographical Notes. by Jane Addams. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1912 (c.1910) pp. 400-426.
[Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom]
ECHOES OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION
The residents of Hull-House have always seen many evidences of the Russian Revolution; a forlorn family of little children whose parents have been massacred at Kishinev are received and supported by their relatives in our Chicago neighborhood; or a Russian woman, her face streaming with tears of indignation and pity, asks you to look at the scarred back of her sister, a young girl, who has escaped with her life from the whips of the Cossack soldiers; or a studious young woman suddenly disappears from the Hull-House classes because she has returned to Kiev to be near her brother while he is in prison, that she may earn money for the nourishing food which alone will keep him from contracting tuberculosis; or we attend a protest meeting against the newest outrages of the Russian government in which the speeches are interrupted by the groans of those whose sons have been sacrificed and by the hisses of others who cannot repress their indignation. At such moments an American is acutely conscious of our ignorance of this greatest tragedy of modern times, and at our indifference to the waste of perhaps the noblest human material among our contemporaries. Certain it is, as the distinguished Russian revolutionists have come to Chicago, they have impressed me, as no one else ever has done, as belonging to that noble company of martyrs who have ever and again poured forth blood that human progress might be advanced. Sometimes these men and women have addressed audiences gathered quite outside the Russian colony and have filled to overflowing Chicago's largest halls with American citizens deeply touched by this message of martyrdom. One significant meeting was addressed by a member of the Russian Duma and by one of Russia's oldest and sanest revolutionists; another by Madame Breshkovsky, who later languished a prisoner in the fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul.
In this wonderful procession of revolutionists, Prince Kropotkin, or, as he prefers to be called, Peter Kropotkin, was doubtless the most distinguished. When he came to America to lecture, he was heard throughout the country with great interest and respect; that he was a guest of Hull-House during his stay in Chicago attracted little attention at the time, but two years later, when the assassination of President McKinley occurred, the visit of this kindly scholar, who had always called himself an "anarchist" and had certainly written fiery tracts in his younger manhood, was made the basis of an attack upon Hull-House by a daily newspaper, which ignored the fact that while Prince Kropotkin had addressed the Chicago Arts and Crafts Society at Hull-House, giving a digest of his remarkable book on "Fields, Factories, and Workshops," he had also spoken at the State Universities of Illinois and Wisconsin and before the leading literary and scientific societies of Chicago. These institutions and societies were not, therefore, called anarchistic. Hull-House had doubtless laid itself open to this attack through an incident connected with the imprisonment of the editor on an anarchistic paper, who was arrested in Chicago immediately after the assassination of President McKinley. In the excitement following the national calamity and the avowal by the assassin of the influence of the anarchistic lecture to which he had listened, arrests were made in Chicago of every one suspected of anarchy, in the belief that a widespread plot would be uncovered. The editor's house was searched for incriminating literature, his wife and daughter taken to a police station, and his son and himself, with several other suspected anarchists, were placed in the disused cells in the basement of the city hall.
It is impossible to overstate the public excitement of the moment and the unfathomable sense of horror with which the community regarded an attack upon the chief executive of the nation, as a crime against government itself which compels an instinctive recoil from all law-abiding citizens. Doubtless both the horror and recoil have their roots deep down in human experience; the earliest forms of government implied a group which offered competent resistance to outsiders, but assuming no protection was necessary between any two of its own members, promptly punished with death the traitor who had assaulted anyone within. An anarchistic attack against an official thus furnishes an accredited basis both for unreasoning hatred and for prompt punishment. Both the hatred and the determination to punish reached the highest pitch in Chicago after the assassination of President McKinley, and the group of wretched men detained in the old-fashioned, scarcely habitable cells, had not the least idea of their ultimate fate. They were not allowed to see an attorney and were kept "in communicado" as their excited friends called it. I had seen the editor and his family only during Prince Kropotkin's stay at Hull-House, when they had come to visit him several times. The editor had impressed me as a quiet, scholarly man, challenging the social order by the philosophic touchstone of Bakunin and of Herbert Spencer, somewhat startled by the radicalism of his fiery young son and much comforted by the German domesticity of his wife and daughter. Perhaps it was but my hysterical symptom of the universal excitement, but it certainly seemed to me more than I could bear when a group of his individualistic friends, who had come to ask for help, said: "You see what becomes of your boasted law; the authorities won't even allow an attorney, nor will they accept bail for these men, against whom nothing can be proved, although the veriest criminals are not denied such a right." Challenged by an anarchist, one is always sensitive for the honor of legally constituted society, and I replied that of course the men could have an attorney, that the assassin himself would eventually be furnished with one, that the fact that a man was an anarchist had nothing to do with his rights before the law! I was met with the retort that that might do for a theory, but that the fact still remained that these men had been absolutely isolated, seeing no one but policemen, who constantly frightened them with tales of public clamor and threatened lynching.