The Reaction of Moral Instruction upon Social Reform, April 4, 1909 (excerpt)


That Is the Opinion Expressed by Miss Jane Addams of Hull House.

Results That Can Be Attained by Religious Education Are Pointed Out.

We are at the beginning of a period when the stage is becoming the most successful teacher of public morals, according to Jane Addams, who occupied the pulpit of Rabbi Hirsch yesterday morning at Sinai temple. The guiding hand is a bit [wobbly] at times, in the opinion of Miss Addams, but nevertheless it is dealing with themes in which the public is most interested, a fact, she said, which has come about through the "exigencies of dramatic art."

"The playwrights," said Miss Addams, who spoke on "The Reaction of Moral Instruction on Social Reform," "are compelled to reduce their creeds to action and translate their beliefs into interesting conservation. Although many young people and older ones as well go to the theaters only to see represented and to hear discussed the themes which seem to them so tragically important, there is no doubt that what they hear there, flimsy and poor as it often is, easily becomes their actual moral guide.

Turn to Stage Heroes.

"In moments of a crisis they turn to the sayings of the hero who found himself in a similar plight. The sayings may be profound but they are at least applicable to conduct. There are a dozen plays on the stage at the present moment whose titles might be easily translated into proper headings for sociological lectures or sermons. I do not include the plays of Ibsen, Shaw and Hauptmann, which deal so directly with moral issues that the moralists themselves wince under their teaching and declare them brutal.

"Fortunately for thousands of young people whom the church has not successfully cared for, other forces, if not more serious than the stage at least more disinterested, are reducing creeds to action and making a demand upon both their ardor and their desire for altruistic action. They are caught in all sorts of movements for social betterment. Why do not moralists and educators lead these movements? Do they underestimate their high calling or do they fail to understand the needs of the movement?

Early Stage of Experiment.

"Educators, moralists, clergymen, publicists, all of us forget how early we are in the experiment of founding a first civilization in this trying climate of America, and that we are making the experiment in the most materialistic period of all history. Perhaps religious education can do little with the climate, but it can certainly assert the reality of spiritual forces, of the ideas which civilization embodies, against that rank materialism which threatens to [engulf] us all."