The New Social Spirit, December, 2, 1902

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MISS ADDAMS: I think your President yielded just a moment to the Chicago spirit, which always thinks its own things are the best things.

In this title, “The New Social Spirit,” which Mrs. Solomon and myself framed as the best subject for an address this evening, we had in mind something which is not exactly expressed by that title.  We had in mind that something which tends to bring charitable effort, scholarship and the new civic endeavor all into one stream, which, for lack of a better word, we call the “Social Movement.”  The people who take part in this social movement are not merely the philanthropic people, the scholars and the good citizens, but they are also the people whom we usually refer to as the beneficiaries of philanthropy, those whom we regard as the legitimate objects for the study of sociologists <and> those whom we describe as the “poor people” that the good citizens must “elevate.”  Nothing would offend them –-these “poor people”-–so much as to be regarded as beneficiaries, or as the mere material for reform, for they are part of the same movement of which their benefactors are, and they are thrilled by the same hopes.  Even for the sake of having one class kind to the other class we can no longer divide the world in two, and we will have to look for some other way for cultivating our own souls than to do it at the expense of some one else.  The old-fashioned charity which was founded on the belief that <undertaken because> good results came to the kind-[page2]hearted benefactor, is becoming a thing of the past, not only because the conscience of the benefactor is beginning to doubt whether that is the best way, but also because the beneficiary will not have that kind of charity, and, if any one is to be helped, more and more the helper must stand by his side and be interested in the same things, be filled with the same hope and purpose.  The philanthropist, the sociologist and the good citizen cannot ever hope to steadily march forward, because, after all, the best things of this world do not march but go zig-zagging along as they best may, and if one is fortunate after awhile it is found that advance rather than retrogression has been made.

It has thus come about that these three lines of activity are constantly becoming more democratic and daily more infused by the New Social Spirit, because nothing else will succeed.  We may quite easily illustrate each.

We find that in the charitable world people are thinking more and more of what may be done in order to prevent those conditions which make for pauperism, and they therefore give less time to the application of mere curative methods and more to preventive measures.  In other words, We are thinking more of social hygiene, perhaps, and less of social medicine.  For instance, a great deal of what we call shiftlessness-–a word that I believe that Southerners use quite as freely as we do in the North–-may be the result of over-work in childhood, or ensue from years of sewer-gas poisoning, or may be the result of lack of training or lowered vitality because of some insidious disease, so that a man cannot approach his work with any sense of success or any of the enthusiasm which is necessary in order to do it well.  A great [page 3] many things may contribute to that large class of “shiftless” people in every community who have to be helped from time to time, because their vitality seems to run so low that the clockwork stops and they do not go on unless they get a little push from the outside; but we are beginning to speak less and less about <of the difficulty of> pushing them, and we are more and more trying to find out why it is that they have come to this sad state where they need pushing.  Science is now beginning to intimate we could do away with tuberculosis in a hundred years.  If we should begin at once with a genuine spirit and courage, a very large number of cases among certain trades, the tailoring trade especially, would, in the course of a century, be wiped off the books of every charitable organization.  But such an undertaking would have to include many things-–first, improved housing, so that the people might have the sun shining into all their rooms; thorough and systematic teaching in the matter of the care of the afflicted person; a better regimen of food-–general conditions, which could only be brought about slowly.  And yet if tuberculosis can really be done away with it would all imply much less expense and labor than to take care of thousands of people who are the victims of this one disease, the orphans which it makes, and all the other untoward things which arise from it.  No philanthropist, however wise and able, could join this crusade against tuberculosis and successfully eradicate the disease in one household unless he had the constant and intelligent [cooperation] of every member of the household which he is endeavoring to serve.  He could <not> take the attitude of benefactor to beneficiary, because if he did his whole plan goes down.  Thus from the very nature of the undertaking he is forced to intimately know the habits of [page 4] this household, to understand their lives and influence their motive of action.  He says to them: “Perhaps between us we can do this thing; I alone can do nothing.  You alone do not know what to do.  It is only by [cooperation] that we can succeed.”  From the very nature of the case, then, when we undertake preventive charity, rather than curative charity, we are brought on the level of brother and brother, and from the very nature of the situation it cannot be accomplished by any other method.

If we take the subject of scholarship, we find as never before the mind of the scholar directed less to speculation and more and more to careful and wise observation.  And we very much distrust the man who does not know whereof he speaks, who is not sure of his data.  We say he may have a fine speculative intellect, but the world has been led astray over and over again by the speculative intellect, because it was not sure of its premise; starting from nowhere, it could end nowhere, and more and more we say to the scholar, “What are your facts; upon what are your teachings founded?  Are you sure you know about the people <of whom> you are telling us about <writing and talking>?”

Why do we respect such great writers as Zola and Zangwill?  Because they carefully and conscientiously studied the people in the crowded cities; because we know that while no other men accepted the facts of human nature exactly as they did, it was all done in a spirit of reverent truth seeking, as a scientist respects the fact in biology or geology.  But in order to obtain facts regarding these neglected brethren of ours, they must first be approached with sympathetic friendship and respect.  Our scholarship more and more has to go into acquaintance with all kinds and conditions of men, if it would in any wise help us to [page 5] understand and interpret them, if it would add to our working knowledge.  We would have no respect for Zola’s Paris if he had not lived in Paris; we would have no confidence in Zangwill’s Children of the Ghetto if he had insisted always on living away from that part of London. Again, we are forced into fraternal relations not necessarily from conviction but from the nature of the case. 

So in regard to a better type of citizenship, many of us believe more and more that the so-called good citizen can only be he who knows and understands a large number of his fellow-citizens; that civic reforms cannot be undertaken at arm’s length; that there is something normal and right-minded on the part of the congested districts, when they resent what they call the “silk stocking reformer.”  They distrust him because they do not believe that he knows what he is talking about, and I may confide to you that very often he does not know what he is talking about, and their resentment is quite just, so far as that is concerned.  <Many> a so-called good citizen knows absolutely nothing of the problems which the congested districts present.  In New York and Chicago, and I suppose in cities the size of Baltimore, we have large colonies of people from other lands who are struggling with the great natural differences of tradition and environment, in addition to the great barrier of language.  Their habits have all been formed under totally different conditions, and after the most painstaking and sympathetic study we can only dimly apprehend their difficulties.  This <Their> problem is largely one of adaption and fitness to a new environment.  I know many families from South Italy who lose their children year by year because the Italian women do not know how to properly clothe them for the Chicago climate, which [page 6] is so unlike the climate of Naples and Sicily; because they do not know how to feed them as they should be fed under new conditions; because they do not in any wise know what are the tenants’ rights and privileges in regard to their houses which they rent from a landlord, whose only concern is to collect his rent.  The death rate among the children which are born in this country is very high, and those who survive as a general thing are not so well and strong as those who came to this country when they were eight or ten years old, which is plainly the result of neglect, of lack of interest in them on the part of good citizens.  Good citizenship in this matter would not consist in giving money, it would not mean visiting from door to door in the old-fashioned way.  It is a matter of seeing that the City as such manages its tenement houses properly, that the Italian women learn what proper feeding is from their sisters who have become used to American conditions and who might give them many valuable hints and helps.

I sometimes tell a story of the first Art Exhibit that we gave at Hull-House, and the enormous surprise on the part of the Italians that Americans cared for pictures, because they thought that Americans only looked for “dollars;” they had never heard of any who liked pictures as the people in Italy did.  That same sort of lack of understanding of American life is found in almost every foreign colony and always will exist unless a constant effort is made to interpret the well-settled facts and habits of American life to those who come from such different conditions in the old countries.  And yet this task of interpretation calls simply for the straight-forward obligation which one citizen owes to another citizen.  If we go into the great colonies of Russians or Poles or [Romanians], you yourselves have seen, I am [page 7] sure, the curious break-down of family life which comes when a man is taken away from all the restraints which his own oppressive government put upon him, until he feels that all restraints are a burden and resents the obligations of family life as well as the oppression of the Czar.  And yet it would only be a matter of patient and sympathetic teaching to make him understand what things to hold and what things may safely be broken off and the difference would <could> in time be made clear to him.  If we would make the ideal of citizenship an effective ideal, it must be done through the medium of acquaintance and sympathy, and we are again brought to the new social spirit. 

That spirit which would say that you cannot define charity as that which has to do only with the people who are hated <beaten> by life and thrown aside, for many of them do not need to be thus beaten and thrown out of the stream of useful life if they are properly cared for and protected.  It would further say that you cannot regard literature as something which has to do with mere speculation, unless that speculation has <a> bearing upon the problems of life and is rooted in experience; that you cannot take citizenship as having to do with vague reforms, decided upon a priori evidence, because you know beforehand that they won’t work unless they are backed by great human friendliness and genuine experience.  “The New Social Spirit” would gather together efforts of all sorts, correlating them and bring them into conjunction.  It would say, You cannot divide life into compartments, any more than we can divide our minds up into compartments, but the effective mind in any direction is only that mind which has signs of wholeness or holiness.  It is a mind of large interests, that mind which feel the stimulus of its surroundings, which puts [page 8] forth efforts in various directions and becomes part of the general social movement so generous and so large that it must include all kinds of people.

And that is one reason, perhaps, for the growth of these councils such as this. They first consider their own problems and then find that their own problems are only a part of the general social problem.  For the study of the latter they unite in a more general organization, and we find that the large organizations in the long run must direct their attention to large things; that any affection of interests, that mere speaking for the sake of speaking, that mere pretense to be broad-minded, all falls away before a large, fine thing, such as this Council represents.  It becomes a part of the new social movement and is pushed forward by what we like to call the new social sprit, although I imagine it is a very old social spirit, and it is the only social spirit that has ever accomplished very much.

I should like to say one word to you as Jewish women, to formulate an impression which has come to me very often, and that is that during the past centuries Jewish women, in whatever nation they may have been living, have not been shut away from life so much as other women have been.  Historic knowledge and culture have been traditionally withheld from most women, as other knowledge and culture was, but for Jewish women alone there was enacted year over and over again the great facts of Jewish history within the home itself.  They have had put before them the great spiritual events of their race, and without breaking the tradition that women must stay within the four walls of her home they have shared this spiritual life.  We may take any other nationality-–the Teuton, the Anglo-Saxon women, who during the centuries remained at home, and her home was more or less foreign to [page 9] those large interests: she received only what was brought in from the outside by the men of her family as they might choose; but as part of the obligation upon the men of Jewish families, as part of the ritual, there was an obligation to re-enact the history of the nation within the home, and every New Year’s day and every holiday those great spiritual things came, which made <had developed> the race and upon which their minds dwelt and pondered.  If I may illustrate by a Russian woman who lives near me, I would recall her “holiday look” during the days when it is made clear to her that she is a part of a great spiritual life which has never ceased for centuries.  If that habit and obligation has preserved Jewish women from a certain narrowness <to> which, from the very nature of the case, the <women in> other homes were subjected, if that has given her a more equal opportunity in the general spiritual advancement of her people, then it would seem fair to say that the family having had this privilege, it would, <were it to remain true to its traditions,> become, in these later days, a sacred obligation upon them to join in this great social movement, which many of us believe to be a better <only a later> manifestation of religious zeal and devotion.  One might predict that social reform, as undertaken by Jewish women, would carry out the entire family, as the religious life has always done.  That <it> will not be achieved so much, perhaps by isolated women living in settlements here, there and everywhere as by communities preserving the family group and basis.  That is a fine way to do it, and no one would like to see it done that way so much as people who temporarily have had to give up their families in order to do it some other way.  But because the sense of moral obligation has come to the family instead of the individual, then it is unfair to use the family life as an excuse for not responding to the obligation at once <all>.  They ought to feel that it [page 10] is a <the> family life in its entirety which has received this impulse, the result, perhaps, of centuries of education which has been denied to the ordinary Gentile family.  But in order to move the family as a whole the sense of social obligation will have to be all the stronger.  If the family has been ennobled by those rites having taken place over and over again, then there is laid upon it a peculiar obligation, a social obligation in which the outside world has not been so trained, and if we would appreciate this new social spirit one would say, as Mrs. Solomon said in her paper before me, that we must look more and more for its justification in the its works, by what it is able to do.

If I speak for a movement of the settlements as illustrating the New Social Spirit, it is not that I think that they are in any wise different in the spirit from a dozen movements which we can see in any city about us, and they are but one agency which carries the traditional charitable relation into the broader social relation.  Regarding the settlement as a method of social reform and better adjustment, we find that it results in a polarizing of the three classes <motives>-–the philanthropic, the scholarly and that <which> means the revival of better citizenship–-into a so-called <settlement> attitude.  A group of residents representing these three classes finds itself located in the midst of a large colony of newly arrived immigrants, of people who have in the first instance many times been driven to our shores, but who have brought with them an enormous amount of spiritual energy and historic tradition, as well as a large share of industrial and commercial energy.  It takes time and devotion to discover and interpret a colony and the settlement is often surprised at revelations incidentally made.  I remember one lecture on “[Budapest]” that that was given at Hull- [page 11] House last winter, where the lecturer was exhibiting several dozen slides.  He would display a street and somewhere on this street there would be seen a very small statue.  The lecturer himself would not have the least idea what this statue stood for, and yet half the audience would break into hisses and the other half would break into applause.  A few minutes later the lecturer would perhaps put on another picture of another street and the hisses and applause would be reversed.  In this colony, as in every colony of foreign-born people, there is that enormous amount of European tradition and love of the past which we so sadly lack in America, thinking that we can start everything new, as it were; that we can obtain what we sometimes call the tin finish of American life in one or two generations without reckoning with that enormous past that lies behind us. The people who bring that past with them to America, who cherish and hold onto it in the life of today, if they should have opportunity to mingle freely with the life about them, to my mind would bring a great enrichment to the life of our country.  No matter whether the colonists come from Russia or [Romania], or South Italy, or whether they come, as so many of them are coming just now, from Finland, all of them are bringing not only industrial skill but they are also bringing their spiritual life, they are making a certain connection with the roots of the past which America has too long disregarded.  As we Americans attain more culture, as we understand more of the mystery of life and its gradual development, we will constantly prize more of the evolution of the finer influence which, properly nurtured, would grow in this country as they perhaps were denied a chance to grow in the old country.  [page 12]

On behalf of the people who live in settlements, who constantly see much of this immigrant life, I would like to say that we are not discouraged; that we are, on the contrary, very much impressed with those possibilities; but that in order to develop these, this immigrant life needs help in many directions, in the line of education, in the direction of purpose, in the conserving and applying of inherited skill which, for lack of fostering, may die out in one generation.  But if the colonies receive generous help, given a hundredfold a hundred times a day, it is safe to predict satisfactory results if <for> the material is sound and the response immediate.  Of course, if we withhold any sympathetic or scholarly study and regard our <an isolated> group here and there we may with truth say that the people are disagreeable and underdeveloped.  But to say this universally in regard to all groups is simply to show our lack of vision and lack of penetration.  It lies with us whether or not we shall profit and advantage ourselves by these great waves of immigrant life that are coming to our shores.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: I am sure I voice the opinion of the audience when I thank Miss Addams for coming to us.  (Applause)  We hope at our night sessions to give the opportunity for discussion from the floor, but this evening we desire to meet the delegates and friends who are here, and so after adjourning we will have an informal reception on the platform, and we hope to meet you all.  The meeting stands adjourned.

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