Jane Addams and Progressive Movement Essay

This essay has a total of 1421 words and 6 pages.


Jane Addams and Progressive Movement





Jane Addams is recognized as a social and political pioneer for women in America. In her
biography, which later revealed her experiences in Hull House, she demonstrates her
altruistic personality, which nurtured the poor and pushed for social reforms. Although
many of Addams ideas were considered radical for her time, she provided women with a
socially acceptable way to participate in both political and social change. She defied the
prototypical middle class women by integrating the line that separated private and
political life. Within these walls of the settlement house, Addams redefined the idea of
“separate spheres,” and with relentless determination, she separated herself
from the domestic chores that woman were confined to during the later half of the
nineteenth century which led to the twentieth one.

During the late nineteenth century, the notion of “separate spheres” dictated
that the women’s world was limited to the home, taking care of domestic concerns.
Women were considered to be in the private sphere of society. Men on the other hand were
assigned the role of the public sphere, consisting in the participation of politics, law
and economics. Women in the meantime were to preserve religious and moral ideals within
the home, placing children on the proper path while applying valuable influence on men.
The idea was that the typical middle class woman would teach children middle class values
so that they too will enjoy the luxuries and benefits in the future that the middle class
has to offer (Lecture, 10/17).

One can argue that Jane Addams did comply with the ideal middle class women, that she
remained in “her sphere” of society. This can most be seen through her work
with both children and the poor. Conservatives and liberals alike accepted her
establishment of Hull House as a teaching facility largely because teaching encompassed
the realm of the private sphere. More and more women were becoming teachers during this
period, and it was continuously being associated as a female entity. Women were allowed to
engage in certain social affairs. Although this did not include fighting for the reduction
of labor hours or the elimination of child labor, it did encompass helping the poor, which
was the immediate motive behind establishing Hull House. Reaching out to women who needed
a place to stay, or workers who could not afford to live in the crowded and unsanitary
apartments that usually stuffed several families in one room, could find shelter in
Addam’s creation. However, Addams worked extended beyond the “private
sphere” in too many areas to ignore. Her struggle led to many social and political
reforms; she took a very radical political stance for her time, breaking her association
from the standard middle class women.

Hull House was unique in the sense that it held a position in both the public and private
spheres of society. Within the private sphere, women in the Addam’s settlement house
ran the household, raised children, taught about the necessity of morals, and preached
about religion. In addition, Hull House members offered assistance to their community,
which later encompassed the realm of the private sphere. Such actions included teaching,
daycare, art galleries, and libraries. “…Hull House in the very beginning
opened what we called College Extension classes with a faculty finally numbering thirty
five…” (Addams, p. 197). Addams efforts however, also extended into the public
sphere, something only intended for men to enter. Her stance on many issues impacted
social life in nearly every way, from children labor reforms to better working conditions
for the poor. “The educational activities of the settlement, as well as its
philanthropic civic, and social undertakings, are but differing manifestations of the
attempt to socialize democracy…” (Addams, p.206).

Jane Addams shrewdly reformed the woman’s place in society. Women were prohibited
from participating in affairs dealing with social reform, but Addams figured out a way.
She made Hull House a tolerable location for women’s social and political ideas to
be discussed because she simply established a home that was aimed to help the less
fortunate. Men did not see Addams as a threat to their ideals because it was perceived
that she worked in a settlement house. Hull House however, was not considered to be
entrapped and encircled by the private sphere woman in general were confined to; its
members rebelled against the gender barrier, effectively reforming many injustices they
witnessed. As Addams saw it, “The Settlement…is an experimental effort to aid
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