Feed the World and Have a League of Nations, February 19, 1921 (excerpts) Also known as: Speech to the Rochester City Club, February 19, 1921 (excerpts)


Jane Addams Says America's Responsibility to Humanity Demands Succor for Europe

Says Continued Aloofness Toward Horrible Suffering Would be Traitorous.

"The foremost woman of the land -- Jane Addams, of Chicago!"

This was the way that Dr. Dexter Perkins, president of the City Club, introduced the distinguished speaker at yesterday's noon luncheon at the Powers Hotel and the largest crowd of men and women that ever attended a City Club luncheon rose to their feet in tribute to the woman whose name has become synonymous to kindness, sympathy and humaneness.

Relates Facts Simply.

What this large and visibly impressed crowd saw was a woman of medium height, with hair well streaked with gray, and dressed in a plain dark dress relieved only by a white lace collar. In a clear, well-modulated voice that carried to every corner of the room she started in, without preliminaries, to tell the story of the condition of the starving children of the European countries. It was a story of things she actually had seen, but Miss Addams told it without stressing the sentimental side of it as many another speaker would have been inclined to do. It was too real a thing to her to need any descriptive passages that are designed to appeal to the emotions. Just because her story was so plain and straightforward it made all the deeper impression and the audience left the hall feeling as Miss Addams feels, that it is the duty of the United States to cast aside its policy of aloofness and do something to help straighten out conditions in the less fortunate European countries.

It is only rarely that a woman is invited to speak before the City Club and still rarer for the club to extend invitations to the women of the city to participate in the lunch. Women, of course, are always welcome to sit in the balcony to listen to the addresses, but yesterday they were allowed to come for luncheon. The result was a crowd so large that several policemen were stationed in the hallway at the Powers Hotel to keep the crowd moving. Practically every seat on the floor was taken; the balconies were taxed to the limit, and then there was an overflow in the hallway and adjoining rooms.

Great Numbers Without Aid.

Miss [Addams] spoke first of the Hoover fund of $33,000,000 that is required to keep the most unfortunate of the children alive until the next harvest or until better industrial conditions are established in the European countries. She said that the children of the suffering countries could be divided into four classes: the small number who are approximately normal, those who are suffering from malnutrition, those suffering from incipient tuberculosis, and those who are in crying need of continued hospital treatment. The fund that is being collected will go to the children of the last two classes, and Miss [Addams] [page 2] pointed out the fact that the whole situation involving the other children and the adult is left untouched.

"What are we, as a nation, going to do in this crisis?" asked Miss [Addams], and this question she put to her audience time and time again during her talk.

Are "Floundering Around."

She showed that this country has at the present time a large amount to spend. There is a glut of wheat, due to the stimulated production during the war. She said that it is estimated that there are two clips of wool, amounting to a billion pounds, in storage in this country. There is a great quantity of cotton unpicked in Oklahoma and Texas. Proposals had been made to ship the wool to Austria and the cotton to Czecho-Slovakia for manufacture into the finished product, but nothing ever had come to the schemes.

She told about her appearance before the Finance Committee of Congress at the request of a body of farmers to ask that certain appropriations be cut down and the money sent instead to Europe as a national loan. Miss Addams said that the legislators did not go into the merits of the scheme, but instead asked her what she thought the public sentiment would be on such an action.

"We are floundering around," she added. "If a plan could only be formed, Congress would be relieved and something might [be] done. The League of Nations is supposed to deal with questions like this; it has a committee on economic relations, and I feel that if some sentiment came from [this] side something would be accomplished."

Normal Child a Rarity.

Miss Addams then went on to tell of some of her experiences investigating conditions in the starving areas. She said that she visited five different countries and the impression of the starving children was one that she never will lose. She said that in her work here in America she always had come into contact with unfortunate children, but here it is always possible to do something for them. 

"In Europe," Miss Addams continued, "there are whole areas in the cities and in the rural districts where you are unable to see a thoroughly normal child. In one section of Saxony there is not a single healthy child. I will always remember one day when I was with a doctor who was examining the children of school age in one of the cities. They passed before us in rows. We saw children who looked to be 6 or 8 years old and then found out that they were 10 or 12. The children who grew to the normal height, in spite of their lack of food, invariably died. They just couldn't do both. Those who are left are the stunted ones. At Lille we saw dozens and dozens of skeletonized boys -- [page 3] and all we saw were those horrible bony structures with their shoulder blades standing out."

Children Like Animals.

"The doctor in our party estimated that 40 [percent] of the children at Lille of school age had open tuberculosis and that many of the rest were suspects. He doubted if they ever would be normal again. And that was a thing which we saw over and over again. In other children we noticed all sorts of deformities coming, due to the fact that children suffering from malnutrition were up and about and not being cared for in hospitals as they should be."

Miss Addams told a story that was given out by General Smuts of an English officer who was traveling in Vienna. This officer had a small quantity of food which he took in his pocket out on the street and offered it to a few children who were gathered together. Within a brief space of time 200 children came running from all directions, fighting for the small morsels of food. The officer was thrown down by the struggling mob, his uniform was torn to shreds and the man had to go to the hospital for treatment for a week. The children are so starved that they are breaking away from restraint and their inhibitions and are concerned only with finding food.

Danger of the Double Scar.

Miss Addams said that if America is to do something at this time she must break through her tradition of isolation. She said that great social and industrial problems are fronting these European countries and the population that we are expecting to solve these problems is a population that is facing the animal situation of living day by day with the paramount problem of getting enough food to keep them alive from day to day.

"To whom are these wretched people looking for help?" she continued. "To us, the greatest creditor nation in the world, to a nation with a surplus of food and clothing. If we don't find a way to do something, we are going to leave a double scar: a scar on the good will and integrity of this nation and a sore in the hearts of the people of the starving countries. The thing we are called upon to do is one of the most primitive and fundamental of things; it's just helping people to live. If we go back on the humblest of these people, we are going back on ourselves."

Suggests Specific Plan.

Miss Addams said that the League of Nations was concerned with settling political differences, but that it must not gloss over the human relations. She said that she did not come to offer any plan by which remedies to these pressing questions could be brought about, but suggested that in the League of Nations there exists an organization which, if given power, could make the necessary survey and work out the machinery by which the situation could be remedied.

Miss Addams said that she felt that she had a right to ask audiences to find some way out of the difficulties. She quoted the Frenchman who said that the human mind could develop ships and cables and then build up misunderstanding to foil the mechanical bridges. She made another plea that America abandon her policy of aloofness and do her share in the solution of a vital human problem.

In the questions which were asked following the talk Miss Addams said that the specific thing that an organization such as the City Club could do would be to appoint a committee, which could confer with other committees and then put their findings and recommendations up to Congress.