CitizenJane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy

CitizenJane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy

Louise W. Knight

Print publication date: 2013

ISBN: 9780226446998

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

Jane Addams was the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. This biography reveals Addams's early development as a political activist and social philosopher. In this book we observe a powerful mind grappling with the radical ideas of her age, most notably the ever-changing meanings of democracy. The book covers the first half of Addams's life, from 1860 to 1899. The book recounts how Addams, a child of a wealthy family in rural northern Illinois, longed for a life of larger purpose. She broadened her horizons through education, reading, and travel, and, after receiving an inheritance upon her father's death, moved to Chicago in 1889 to co-found Hull House, the city's first settlement house. The book shows vividly what the settlement house actually was—a neighborhood center for education and social gatherings—and describes how Addams learned of the abject working conditions in American factories, the unchecked power wielded by employers, the impact of corrupt local politics on city services, and the intolerable limits placed on women by their lack of voting rights. These experiences transformed Addams. Always a believer in democracy as an abstraction, Addams came to understand that this national ideal was also a life philosophy and a mandate for civic activism by all.