The Social Results of Charitable Effort, November 17, 1902 (excerpt)




Various Phases of Charitable Effort Presented in a Pleasing and Convincing Manner to a Large Audience at High School Last Night.

Jane Addams of Hull House, Chicago, lectured in the auditorium of the Central High School last night before one of the largest audiences ever assembled in this city. She presented the eighth of a series of sociological lectures on "The Social Results of Charitable Effort." Miss Addams is modest, sincere and convincing. Her sweet face and the nobleness of her purpose elicited the sympathies of her audience from the first. She spoke interestingly for an hour and a half and answered a number of questions. The lecture was disappointing, perhaps, in one particular. Miss Addams refrained from giving her hearers much information concerning Hull House and her own efforts in social settlement work. Perhaps she believed her audience was sufficiently well posted in this regard. But the people, for the most part, wanted to know more about Hull House, more about Jane Addams and more about the results of her work in the slums of Chicago. This was shown to be the case when she was asked to answer many questions which pertained directly to these subjects. The audience was reluctant at the conclusion of the lecture to see Miss Addams depart, and gathered about her on the platform, where an impromptu reception was held. The lecture was in part as follows:


"We are very prone to regard charitable effort as something off by itself," said Miss Addams. "We need first of all to get charitable work hitched onto the social. We need more dynamic power. We need to trace the connection between the different types of charitable effort. One must first of all know conditions as they exist. Nothing is more bungling than to assume our data. Society must become the basis for a moral striving. In life and literature [today] there is a changed attitude toward the poorer classes. We read more about the peasants of Germany, France and Russia than people did twenty-five years ago. Then if people read at all about the poor it was more that the novelist might introduce some good and noble lady who came scattering gifts among them. Or it was because the poor served as a background for virtue and benevolence. [Today] the poor have come to be a part of our great human family.

"[Tolstoy] has done much toward bringing about this changed attitude. When we read his writings it is almost as if we went through a campaign with the common soldier. Again, in Zola's Paris, one becomes attached to the poor, and cannot go to that city without feeling an interest in them. [Today] we no longer tolerate exaggeration in what we read. We want to know the facts. We demand more and more truth. A daily paper publishes an account of a destitute family, let us say. The mother is a widow. The children have no shoes to wear. Their food is coarse and unwholesome. All is pictured in minutest detail. Public spirit and human sympathy are at once aroused. What follows? The family is provided for when we understand the facts."


"How few people pause to consider that 50 [percent] of the children of poor families, under the age of 7 years, are poisoned by sewer gas or die from eating coarse food? This enormous waste of life is a terrible thing. Because we are debauched by exaggeration, we take these statements calmly. Numbers of young men and women are devoting their lives to a study of the conditions as they exist in the crowded districts in foreign cities. In Paris, London, and even in New York, we find them. In the East end in London families go to live among the tenements and associate with the people that they may get at the bottom of the whole subject. They adopt this means of getting their knowledge at first hand.

"In England people are amazed that we are so careless in America. An Englishman I once knew came to Chicago during the World's Fair and was invited to a fashionable dinner party. In the midst of the dinner he turned to the young woman sitting next to him and asked, 'What are the regulations in Chicago in regard to the number of cubic feet of air that must be found in each tenement room?' Of course, the young woman could not answer. The question was put to all at the table and met with the same fate. Later, this Englishman confided to me that a question of this nature would readily be answered at an average dinner gathering in England. 'Our people are ashamed not to know,' he continued. 'They acquire these facts as sociological data, if for no other reason. I'm afraid you're not so cultivated here in Chicago.' When I met him in London, in later years, he asked, 'Have your people aroused themselves to these conditions?' But I answered as most Chicago people would answer, 'Oh you know, Chicago has grown rapidly, and in America we have very little time to acquire this kind of knowledge.'

"If one generation grows up in tenements that are old-fashioned, unsanitary, ill-plumbed and generally unfit for human abode, it will take years to overcome the effect on these people. A betterment of existing conditions cannot be brought about until there is more investigation. It should be encouraged. Suffering and poverty cannot be alleviated until there is more friendship for the poor. We must have a sympathetic basis on which to work."


"Besides this sentimental or exact knowledge side of the subject, there is another class of motives that arouse people to conditions among the lower classes. There is what we may call a sense of prudence. Some people set up the false standard of wealth and bow down to it. A country is reckoned from the standpoint of its gold reserve. But the finest product of a nation is its people. Other things become secondary when one looks abroad and sees the waste of human life. We are throwing away the best thing we have. In our foreign colonies we throw away the inherent industrial skill, power and beauty that should be allowed to assert itself. What could we not draw out of the Italians, Syrians, Russians and Norwegians in Chicago, for instance, if their inherent skill could be turned to account? What could not be accomplished if hundreds of Italians in our own cities were sent to the dreary wastes of Alabama and the Southwest?

"They should be encouraged to return to tilling the soil. I once knew an Italian in [page 2] Chicago who began to beautify his own house. He frescoed the ceiling and carved the door posts with most artistic skill. What was the result? He was hauled up by his landlord and fined for destroying property. We waste life from a lack of cultivation and misrepresentation of life.

"I might illustrate from a feeble attempt that is being made at Hull House to turn this inherent skill to account. We have weaving and spinning among the men and women as fine as one finds in the Black Forest. There is a peculiar inverted reaction of life that arises between parents and children because the children learn to speak English first. The father and mother become dependent on the children. The latter lose respect for the former. The children become ashamed of their mother because she wears a kerchief on her head instead of a little hat bought at a cheap department store."


"There are women in Chicago who read Dante with ease, but who never come near our Italian colony. So, on this sense of prudence let us bring to bear our influence to [reclaim] the foreign element in our cities. The landscape gardener would think it a pity to choke up a beautiful river or to fill up a beautiful ravine. How much more pitiful is it to disdain to utilize these faces which have been so much longer in building?

"In Illinois there is a law which prevents children under the age of 14 from working in factories. But oftentimes a child secures an affidavit from his father or mother that he is 14, when, in fact, he is only 11 and works in spite of the law. We know this to be a foolish waste of human life and yet it goes on. A child begins to drudge before its nerves and muscles and tissues are mature. What is the result? It is thrown back on the community before it reaches the age of 35 years, to be taken care of and supported at public expense. Our compulsory education board says there are 20,000 children who cannot be accounted for in the schools. To this we often hear in reply the so-called 'widow argument.' We hear that these boys and girls have widowed mothers to support and hence are prevented from going to school. It was said, for instance, in a certain Connecticut town that there were 3,500 children supporting widowed mothers. Out of this number it was found on investigation that 2,600 were illegitimately out of school. Only sixty-six were actually the children of widows, while of this number only twenty-two had actually to support their mothers.

"Let us consider the 'sweat' trades in which hundreds of thousands are put to work for some trick of the cutters style and then thrown out of employment, perhaps for several months in the year. It has been found that these people are under the normal weight. They are housed and live under the normal housing and manner of living."


"We often hear that poverty follows moral degeneration. A certain type of poverty does. But the large percentage of the foreign element are sober and law-abiding. Let us rather say that we can't afford to allow this waste of life to continue; that we will refuse to wear garments made in the 'sweat' shops; that we won't allow children under 16 years of age to work.

"I beg of you to keep away from the made up activity in charitable effort. In our settlement work we make a synthesis of these lines of work. We make an effort to know people as they are. We attempt to find out the wastes in life and to stop the leaks. We endeavor to bring resources from different parts of town to aid us in the undertaking. Every one has this chance to know the poor. He has simply to take advantage of it. It enriches one's life immensely. I have tried to avoid describing charity as a goody-goody affair. It is the newer conception of charity which I have tried to present."

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