Address to the National Conference of Unitarian and Other Christian Churches, September 25, 1901 Also known as: The Church and the Social Problem, September 25, 1901




Of the two questions, -- the church question and the social problem, -- I suppose the social problem needs defining to this audience. We are all of us conscious in our hearts of not being quite comfortable in regard to our social relations. We have managed to live nearly enough up to the teachings of our youth so that most of us do not lie nor steal. Certainly, we do not do the latter. We have been carefully taught to live up to our family obligations, so that it is not very difficult for us to be considerate to the members of our own household and to fulfil the claims which the ties of consanguinity impose. But none of us are quite satisfied in regard to the fulfilment of our social obligations. We know that, in the cities where we live, thousands of people daily are overworked; that their pleasures are narrowed down to those of the appetites very largely; that they lose the consciousness of brain power because they have not adequate food for their minds. We have learned to sit down to our well-laden dinner-tables every night, conscious that within ten or fifteen blocks of us are people who have worked all day much harder than we have, and who are eating only a [meager] workingman's supper. Yet we know they have something to eat, and we take our dinners in a certain peace and quiet that would be denied to us if we thought that they were absolutely hungry. But, in regard to the other things, which are equally precious, equally important to life as food itself, we know they are habitually without, that they are habitually in need. In regard to those things which come to us through books, which come to us through travel, which come to us from the stimulation of congenial companionship, all of those things which give value to civilization and give life its higher aspects, -- in regard to these things, we know they are continually denied, and their thirst for them has never been satisfied.

So the social problem has come to be a matter of scruple, a matter of trouble, has come to be something which is laid upon the consciences of this generation. Perhaps we will do nothing about it. Perhaps we will fill our lives [page 2] by merely reading about it, by merely talking about it, by saying to each other under our breath that we are unhappy because we do so little. But, whether we do something adequate or whether we merely take it out in talk, the social problem to many of us remains a constant source of trouble.

We have learned to say almost calmly that the church has little hold upon the vast mass of the working people in America. If we say this, not meaning the Catholic Church, it is very largely true. When I first went to live at Hull House about twelve years ago, many ministers and other good people were always asking me, "What is the attitude of the workingmen toward the church? what do they say about it?" and I was constantly obliged to say: "They say nothing about it: it does not touch their lives. It exists in another part of the city. They do not rail against it; they do not blame it; they do not discuss it at all, unless it is noticed in some economic discussion, when it may be mentioned as one social factor."

Now the "settlement," which is a new word, a word which has been used in America but twelve years and in England but sixteen years, has come to be unexpectedly, and perhaps disastrously, popular. It meant, in the first place, a group of educated people, in the very first case university people who voluntarily settled in a working-class community, and who gave all their leisure to the social obligations of that community, who put in whatever citizenship or political activity they had, and who tried to live in this community of their own choice merely as good citizens. They were not paid philanthropists, and I hope they may never be. They were not people who had gone there after long special training. They were merely young men from the universities who had become so uncomfortable in regard to the working-class problems that they wanted to live where they could see those problems at first hand. They had no method then; and, in a sense, the settlement has no method now. They simply go into a community with no preconceived notions which they want to force upon that community. Canon [Barnett], who is responsible for the first settlement and for the use of the word, makes this distinction between a "mission" and a settlement. He says that the mission goes into a community for the sake of promoting a certain idea, for teaching a certain kind of doctrine, a certain sort of life. If they are temperance people, it is to push the temperance cause; if they hold a religious belief, they try to make [page 3] converts to that belief; if they believe in the theory of the single tax, they try to convert people to believe as they do in regard to taxation. They are committed before they go; and they can always tell how many they "have reached," how many they have induced to believe as they do. Canon [Barnett] says that the mission will always be necessary. There will always be people who believe so intensely in regard to some particular thing that they will be burning to make other people believe as they do. It may be a far finer thing than the settlement will ever become, but it is not a settlement. The settlement is a group of people not committed to any preconceived doctrine or theory of life. They say life is greater itself than any lesson it can teach. The residents of a settlement go there to find out what the people themselves want, what it is of which they are deprived, the things which they ought to have, those which belong to other elements of the community, and which are withheld from them. The lives of the residents rise and fall as the lives of that community rise and fall. They will not shut their minds to neighborhood fears and hopes, even though their minds be filled with the highest possible hopes, and the most brilliant theories of life. So you see that the attitude is an entirely different attitude from that of the mission; and its method, so far as it has one, must always be distinct from the mission method.

Now, when we ask, what have the settlements accomplished in the fifteen or sixteen years since they have been established, we are obliged to admit that the results are [meager]. We are obliged to say that we never cared a great deal for practical results; that, from the very nature of the situation, we could not hope for great changes or great results; that the life must always be greater than the work accomplished; that the situation itself must always be far larger than any activities which we can hope to command to adequately minister to it; that perhaps the chief value of the social settlement is the fact that a group of people study the situation not to confirm preconceived theories; that they study it through the medium of friendship, through the medium of pity, with a sense of identification with the neighborhood. They live there; they share with the public the discomforts of the neighborhood, the streets so ill paved and cared for, so badly lighted, and with the refuse improperly removed, so that in summer the air is stifling and the death-rate high. They share many discomforts of which they knew little till they were subjected [page 4] to them year after year. And the conviction comes to them that it is needless that these discomforts should exist; that they would not exist if one part of the city was as important as another part, and if citizens of spirit and public endeavor labored for one part of a town as much as for another.

The most notable contribution that the English settlements have made -- not toward the solution, but toward the mitigation of the social problem -- has been that the young men have been going so vigorously into politics for any kind of social amelioration, and have demonstrated how much can be done through county councils and other political organizations. Some of the young men in Toynbee Hall, as you know, have been elected to the London county council; and through their efforts some of the worse tenements in London have been torn down, and the county council is responsible for building improved tenements for the working people in the poorer quarters of London. They have seen that the refuse is promptly removed, that the streets are better lighted and cared for, and that the board schools are brought more nearly up to the ideals of public education with which free schools were first founded, -- a very humble record, and one that has no touch of philanthropy about it. It means that this group of young men in the first instance said, "We will live where there is some demand for us, some price upon our faculties, some genuine need for our activities."

When one comes to America, the achievement on the political side is perhaps less; but possible on the social and educational side we are not behind the English. The American need is greater; for we have a way of assuming that foreigners, and at least the first generation of immigrants, are somehow alien, and not to be taken into our American life, certainly not on the social side. We stand aside from the Italian immigrant, thinking him remote and never taking the trouble to find out what the Italian immigrant thinks of us. In the early days of Hull House we once gave a picture exhibit to the Italians. Much amazed, they said they did not know that Americans liked pictures. They thought they cared only for dollars, and they insisted that we could not be Americans and have a picture exhibit. They saw none of the better-class Americans, none even of the average Americans. They lived in a colony raided at election times by politicians. They saw saloon keepers and men whose duty it was to keep the precincts in order, but they saw absolutely nothing of the [page 5] rank and file of American citizens. There are women's clubs in Chicago who study Italian history, read Dante, go into the art of Italy, but fail to know that right at their door is this very interesting colony of ten thousand South Italians, reproducing their country's habits and manners, carrying on their transplanted life with a great deal of charm and a great deal of beauty; and yet these women's clubs know nothing about them. These immigrants have hard times. They cannot adapt themselves to the climate. They lose many of their children. The men work on the railroad and contract consumption, and many untoward things happen to them, which might be prevented by a body of good citizens, who knew the laws of household and municipal hygiene, who took the trouble to learn Italian, and who had some historic and literary interest in the colony. Many of those evils might be prevented by such a body of citizens. Certainly, it is not done; and one does not clearly know why. Perhaps the settlements, as little as they have accomplished in actual reform, have made a beginning toward showing that the Italian colony was interesting, that it was possible to get something of the charm there of life as it is seen on the streets of Naples or in the fields of Sicily.

If one would take the large Russian colony on the south, one would find the same thing. The men are more quickly Americanized than the women. They improve more rapidly, and are prone to desert their wives and children. They are ill adjusted to American conditions, and yet no one comes to make a suggestion that would help to make that adjustment. These colonies are just as interesting, just as well worth while making an effort to know as is village life in Italy or Russia. We lack imagination, we have got into certain habits in our social life, -- the sort of habit which induces us to invite to our houses the people who speak English, and who speak it in about the same way that we do, who have read about the same books, who have gone to the same schools, who have been to Europe about the same number of times that we have, who wear about the same clothes that we do. We change the color of our tablecloths and the shades of our candlesticks in order to get a variety in our social life; and yet here are these people full of color, charm, history, who with their new life would offer a genuine addition to our own life, and give us a type of social endeavor and stimulus. Perhaps the settlements have made a little beginning in that direction. [page 6]

When we come to the subject of education, we find a curious thing has happened to settlements. In the beginning, classes are formed in science, literature, etc.; and in a little while it is found that many of these things are not worth teaching. They might be worth teaching if the students were going to spend three years in a preparatory school and four years in college after that, but not when there is a class of men before you who have worked hard all day, and who have only a margin of time in the evening, and who, if they are to be helped at all, must have something which will lift their thoughts directly. Time presses so hard, and life is so narrow! So you recast not only your methods of teaching, but more or less you recast your curriculum as you go along. A new test comes to the settlement. You drop the class in more trivial literature. You find that plays and dramas which turn on a social trick or custom will not go, but the big things come out finally. We have had reading parties in many authors which have died out one after the other, but the Shakespeare Club has gone on for ten years; and we have heard lecturers say that they cannot find in Chicago people who are better read in Shakespeare than those belonging to the Shakespeare Club of Hull House. It has held on because the plays are vital, because they deal with actual life.

A settlement works along many methods, which, perhaps, could not be evolved if the residents sat down to think them out. We lay great stress on the drama. We have a [theater], and our young people are never tired of giving plays. You can teach manners and customs to young people in a way that would never be admitted unless you were training them for a play. Once, long ago, at Christmas, we gave Longfellow's "Golden Legend;" and for two or three years after the people talked about it. What was it? It was the old struggle of good and evil, nothing more or less than the struggle going on all about us; but the audience was cheered and helped to find it dramatized and put upon the stage. One wishes the church had never dropped the drama, but that it has been an orderly development from the old Miracle Play. A great mistake was made when it was concluded to turn it over to the devil, and to call the people to whom they turned it over devilish. The residents of a settlement have a personal acquaintance with all kinds of people, and at least learn not to be afraid of a name. Two weeks ago, in Chicago, as a result of the general panic and [page 7] misunderstanding which swept all over the country, a group of Anarchists were arrested and put under lock and key. It was discovered that the people living at two settlements knew personally six out of the ten men arrested. The settlement residents did not agree with these men in point of doctrine; but they did know them personally, and had some impression of their character. They were not frightened, they were not swept off their feet, because these men were called Anarchists at a moment when the word "Anarchist" was held up for the harshest public opprobrium.

These men belonged to no church. Certainly, none of the six had pastor who came to see if he could minister to him, no body of fellow-worshipers to whom he could turn or toward whom he even cared to look for help of sympathy. But these men did turn to the settlement with the simple request that they secure for them counsel, the right of attorney, which is the simplest right of any American citizen. We knew them, not because they were Anarchists; and we stood by them not because they were Anarchists, but because there was this basis of personal acquaintance. I am using this illustration quite conscious that it must be an unpopular illustration, as we are still so near the event to illustrate that in a crisis it is only the people who know the wretched, only the people who know the intellectually mistaken, only the people who know those who are going in the wrong way, who can be of any service to them. No matter how much you desire to be of service to a man in trouble, if you had not some previous personal acquaintance with him before the trouble, you are powerless to help then. He suspects you.

The settlement claims as one of its methods that it does throw its fortunes in with the fortunes of the men of its own community; that it does give tangible expression to the social needs of a great many people; that day after day, week after week, and year after year, it tries to know various phases of the social problem. It offers one common [center] where people of various sorts may meet and exchange views, where they may serve, not only each other, but the common purposes of the neighborhood and the common purposes of the city. Then, if one or the other is misunderstood, if the capitalist -- poor man, he gets his share of abuse -- is misunderstood, it is quite possible that the workingman who may have met him at the settlement may be able to stand up for him in the trades-union meeting. If the trades-union man is misunderstood, [page 8] -- and, surely, he has had a hard time lately, -- some scholar or citizen of repute, who has seen him and known him, may be able to interpret him, not under the name of a class, not one out of a mass of men, but as man to man.

The settlements break up the members of a class into little groups. The worse thing that can happen to an Anarchist, for instance, is to feel that all law and government are against him, for him to meet only a few men who are as bitter as he is himself. The way to keep him is to scatter him among sane and normal people, so that he shall see different aspects of life and meet people who are not [embittered].

I have been asked to say something about the Hull House Woman's Club; and, as it is a successful example of what the settlement is trying to do, it may be well to close with that. Two hundred and fifty women of the vicinity in which Hull House is situated are members of this club. It has been organized for years. They take pains to find out what they, as a club, can do, to be of service to that part of the city. They have decorated one of the public schools in the neighborhood, kalsomining the walls and hanging upon them really beautiful pictures. They have established a Mother's Club in one school, for which they regularly provide speakers, refreshment, and general social good cheer. One summer, when the ward was badly cleaned, they divided it into sections; and each one of the women went up and down the alleys, inspecting them, so that they sent in to the board of health in one month a thousand reports and complaints. Two inspectors were removed; and one member of the club, resident of Hull House, became the garbage inspector of that neighborhood. These women broke out in loud applause when they learned that, as a consequence of the efforts of this inspector and of their [cooperation], the death-rate had been reduced and was steadily being lowered. They have a Social Extension Committee. They invite to an occasional evening the people in the neighborhood who, they think, are not having the sort of social life they would like to have, people who are sad, people who do not speak English, people who cannot take hold of any formulated social life. It is not easy to do this. The Irish-American woman who can talk English perfectly well, when she invites the Italian woman, crosses a gulf, -- as much of a social gulf as one can find anywhere. Of course, the idea that the social gulf is one big gulf is absurd. But she [page 9] wades through her little gulf, and asks her Italian neighbor to come to the gathering because she is public-spirited and because she believes that, if social life is good for her, it should be extended to the Italian woman as well.

I recall one winter evening long ago when the Italian women did not come, but sent their husbands instead, for reasons best known to themselves. Perhaps they were afraid of being socially extended. It was not easy for the club to entertain a roomful of heavy Italian laborers; but they had refreshments, which [everyone] could understand. One of the Italians did a number of pretty tricks, such as one sees in the streets of Naples. Another sang rousing songs. And the evening went happily. At the close one of the women of the club said to me: "I am ashamed of the way I used to talk about Dagoes. I used to say that we must move off the street because there were so many Dagoes coming in. But they are just like other people, only you have to take more pains to find them out."

That was the result of cultivation, if we take the definition that is extended experience. It is exactly the thing we send our children to Europe for, the result we hope for when we read books about all kinds of people, -- to get over the differences raised by language and national barriers and traditions, that really we may be fair-minded and may know people as they really are. And, if we can do that in one's social life, as in one's intellectual life, or if we are without such intellectual life and can do it in our social life, it is a great achievement.

A distinct impression can be made upon a neighborhood when you can get a group of some hundreds of people, with this object in view, to work together for the common good. We have between three and four thousand people coming weekly to Hull House. Say one-third or one-fourth have the desire to extend the social relation, an interest in pulling all together to make things in the neighborhood better: you get a mass of warmth and kindliness out of the neighborhood itself which transforms and changes many things which were harsh before. That, too, is a settlement method. It is the church's method, save that the church is not in contact with the mass of working people. It has quite withdrawn from the mass of people who work with their hands. If it were to go back to the method of personal acquaintance with working-people, not with any ulterior object of trying to make men believe or disbelieve this or that it would be the same method. If you have a democratic aim you must have a democratic [page 10] method. Or you love the democracy of one because of the exclusiveness of the other.

People who live as friends and neighbors constantly find things which are alike to each other, and that those things are stronger than the things which make us different. They gradually forget the latter, and remember more and more those things which make us alike. That is what is meant when Charles Lamb says you cannot hate a man after you know him; and, if you do not know him, it is your own fault.