A Location-Based Analysis of Jane Addams' Exchanges of Letters and Documents

It is no surprise that most of the documents involving Jane Addams were based in Chicago, Illinois. 800 South Halsted Street, Chicago, Illinois is, to be more precise, the location of Hull House, co-founded by Jane Addams with Ellen Gates Starr, a world-famous settlement house that provided social services to the poor and mostly immigrant families. 

An analysis of the Jane Addams Papers Project data reveals that most of the conversations involving Jane Addams during the Woman Suffrage Movement happened in Chicago, Illinois, New York, New York, London, England, Boston, Massachusetts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and many other places all across the United States, Europe, and sparsely throughout the rest of the world. All this information is extracted from a dataset derived from Jane Addams’ exchange of letters, and documents that involved her and her work. 

The Women’s Suffrage movement emerged from a broader movement for women's rights and was established long before Jane Addams was involved in it. While the first national suffrage organizations were established in 1869 - the National Woman Suffrage Association and American Woman Suffrage Association -, Jane Addams only started becoming involved in the movement after the two organizations merged as the National American Women's Suffrage Association in 1906 at first and later served as vice president of the same organization between 1911 and 1914.  

The following pie chart shows the top twenty prominent locations from where the documents concerning the Woman’s Suffrage Movement and Jane Addams are written from. While map-based visualizations help us understand the spread of the location data points, the following analysis makes extensive use of pie charts to show proportions and compare frequencies of different locations from where most of the correspondence happened. 

Considering the fact that Jane Addams’s primary address was in Chicago, it is sensible that the majority of the transcribed documents involved Chicago, Illinois. In fact, more than 50% of the letters that Addams sent out to other people were from the Hull House located in Chicago. The following chart illustrating all the locations from where Jane Addams sent her letters during her involvement in the Women’s suffrage movement also shows that she also traveled decently all throughout the United States and across the globe to Hungary and Burma. 

The data collected by the Jane Addams Papers guides us toward the flow of letters in Addams’  inbox and outbox. This information is categorized by separating a large dataset into two datasets involving documents and letters. The letters are then separated into two datasets based on their creator - one being Jane Addams and the other being anyone who is not her. It can be seen that her inbox was much more crowded than her outbox. Encompassing 124 different locations all over the United States and all across the globe, the following chart depicts an interesting illustration of all the locations from which Jane Addams received letters.

To compare Addams’ inbox and outbox even further, the following map depicts the location that Addams’s received her letters from and sent them to - with a green popup representing her outbox, red her inbox, and a blue popup that involved two locations with two-way communication.

As the woman’s suffrage movement was largely based in New York, it is no surprise that she received her letters from there. Most of the letters that Addams received from New York were related to the National American Woman Suffrage Association where Addams served as a Vice President for 3 years and the headquarters of which was at 505 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY.   It is also foreseeable why Addams received the most letters from New York, NY, Bryn Mawr, PA, and Milwaukee, WI. The Wisconsin Women's Suffrage Movement was a huge campaign with different women’s rights groups working in the state. The effort of which made Wisconsin the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment - The Women's Right to Vote. Nearly all letters for Addams from Milwaukee and Bryn Mawr - Bryn Mawr College, specifically - were an invitation to talk about the suffrage movement. 

From a historical perspective, geographical space is more than just a “location”. A historical person resides in a “location”, an organization is based on a “location”, a movement originated and spread across a “location”. In a historical context, location translates much beyond simple coordinates and forms nodes in a network that provides valuable information about any historical topic. In a similar way, the following chart shows the most frequent locations of individual persons involved in Jane Addams’s documents.  

Interpreting the above figure, we can see the extent of the suffrage campaign and Jane Addams’ associates throughout the United States and around the world. Since the data set was related to the women’s suffrage movement, we can also interpret how the movement was evolving in certain places. Delving further into individual people Jane Addams corresponded with regarding the movement, we can see how most of them were woman suffrage activists. Considering the data set that was picked for this analysis was through the tag “Woman Suffrage,” the result is of no surprise. The following diagram illustrates the occupation of people Jane Addams communicated with regarding the Woman’s Suffrage movement. 

Removing any form of activism from people’s occupations gives us the following pie chart. It can be seen that women that were involved in the suffrage movement employed a broad range of jobs, mostly skilled ones. There are also some who are homemakers, or settlement house residents that are actively involved in activism.

While the data collected from Jane Addams Papers Project tell us valuable information about Jane Addams’s works, the organizations she was involved in, and also about her associates, it is not perfect when it comes to giving all the information. Even after rigorous cleaning of the HTML encoded information, there are still discrepancies and challenges invited by the Text-Based Data. The unstructured nature of text-based data, that is, the lack of any sort of predetermined format makes it difficult to analyze and process compared to structured data, which is organized into a predetermined format. Additionally, text data can be noisy and contain errors, and typos that can make it even more difficult to analyze. In this particular case, the random use of abbreviations on names of states, randomly misspelled words, and random use of spacing made it arduous to extract meaning from the data. Despite these challenges, text data can be very valuable and can provide insights that are difficult to obtain from other types of data. As long as you have all the necessary tools, knowledge, and resources to work with text data, it is often worth the effort. 

By looking at all the information about locations, we open the archive of Jane Addams’ world and reimagine her association all across the world. Sorting and analyzing the addresses illuminates the scope of the women's rights movement revealing an array of intellectual affiliations which are not likely to be interpreted without digital tools. 

Further readings on the project:

This blog post was composed in the Fall of 2022 by Anushka Acharya, a senior Computer Science major at Ramapo College of New Jersey