Recreation and Morality, July 28, 1907

Recreation and Morality

(It is not too much to claim for the founder of Hull House, the foremost social settlement in America, that she is Chicago's most widely known and useful citizen. From Hull House, through all the seventeen years of strenuous life and labor, has Miss Addams identified herself with all classes and interests of its citizens, as no one else has or could. Her civic achievements range from the most exact and exacting reports on civic and industrial conditions to the enactment of far-reaching legislation and to varied and effective personal and organized action. As chairman of the school management committee of the Chicago Board of Education, she now more than anyone else influenced the interior administration of the city's great school system)

We continually forget how new the modern city is, and how short the span of time in which we have assumed that we can eliminate from public life, public provision for recreation. The Greeks made their games an integral part of religion and patriotism; the Romans made provision through the circus and the pageant for public-relaxation and entertainment; the medieval city not only provided tournaments for the education of knights and ladies, but dances and routs for all of the people within its walls, and the church itself presented a drama in which no less a theme than the history of creation was put upon the stage and became a matter of thrilling interest.

But during these later centuries at the very time that the city has become distinctly industrial and daily labor is continually more monotonous and subdivided, we seem to have decided that no provision for public recreation is necessary. It would be interesting to trace how far this thoughtless conclusion is responsible for the vicious excitements and trivial amusements which in a modern city so largely take the place formerly supplied by public recreation and manly sports. It would be illuminating to know the legitimate connection between lack of public facilities for decent pleasures and our present social immoralities.

It is needless to remind you that our present cities are largely composed of people who were born in the country, and who have come either as immigrants or as "country people come to town." What happens to a man when he finds himself detached from his country experience and permanently settled in a modern city? In the country he tilled his fields, harvested his crop and fed his children with the proceeds -- a perfectly simply and direct process between cause and effect, between the discharge of energy and its reward. But when he comes to town it is his chief business not to conquer his environment, but to subordinate himself to it, to fit his activities to the conditions in which he finds, himself, to obey the foreman in his factory, to manipulate prepared material which is placed in his hands. The appeal to his eye is complicated and trivial, the use of his muscles is fussy and monotonous, the relation between cause and effect is remote and obscure. The entire process is a reversal of his country experience. His business is no longer to subdue nature, but to subordinate himself to man.

In point of fact, we have a multitude of games founded upon religious festivals, upon the maneuvers of war, and of the chase, upon harvesting grain and treading the grapes, upon love-making, upon trial by combat, upon the processes of primitive industry. It would not be impossible to revive and develop these historic games into a tremendous power for the very sort of recreation and refreshment which a man living in an industrial city most needs and of the sort which nothing else could afford him. The commingling of many nationalities in the average American city would not prove a disadvantage in this undertaking, for every attempt at adaptation of the primitive activities would bring the game nearer the universal type and therefore make more valuable its recreative quality.

Perhaps never before have the pleasures of the young and mature become so definitely separated as in the modern city. The public dance halls filled with frivolous and vapid young people in a feverish search for pleasure are but a sorry substitute for the immemorial dances on the village green in which all of the older people of the village participated. Chaperonage was not then a social duty, but natural and inevitable and the whole courtship period was naturally guarded by the conventions and restraints which were taken as a matter of course and had developed through years of publicity and simple propriety.

The modern city is content, however, to turn over all the public provision for dancing to the proprietors of "halls," who deliberately use it as a snare to vice and at the best make money from this insatiable desire on the part of young people. We have no sense of responsibility in regard to their pleasures and continually forget that amusement is stronger than vice and that it alone can stifle the lust for it. We see all about us much vice which is merely a lust for pleasure "gone wrong," the illicit expression of what might have been not only normal and recreative pleasure, but an instrument in the advance of a higher social morality. We can not imagine a young athlete, who is rushing to join his baseball team, willing to stop long enough in a saloon that he may taste the full variety of drinks in order to detect the one that, is "doctored," although that is a common source of excitement now. We can not imagine a boy who by walking three blocks can secure for himself the delicious sensation to be found in the swimming pool preferring to play craps in a foul and stuffy alley, even with the unnatural excitement which gambling offers. The spectacle of young people wandering up and down the public streets giggling and shouting and pushing each other off the pavement, is but a sorry substitute for the charm and beauty which the period of courtship might bring into a city if it were treated with dignity and decorum. The only marvel is that this stupid attempt to put the fine old wine of traditional country life into the dull bottle of the modern town does not lead to disaster, oftener than it does, and that the wine so long remains pure and sparkling. Every city in the United States spends a hundredfold more money for juvenile reform than is spent in providing means of public recreation, and none of us, as yet, see the folly and shame of such a procedure. We have discovered in Chicago that the delinquents brought into the Juvenile Court are practically all over 12 years of age; that these lads get into trouble largely because no provision is made for their activities when they become too stirring for the simple plays of childhood and insist upon a more vigorous and manly expression. We have not yet collected the data which the South Side parks of Chicago might afford to demonstrate how far the means for public recreation provided by them is reducing delinquency, but some of us have little doubt what the figures will finally show. -- (Copyrighted, 1907, by Charities and The Commons)

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