Jane Addams

Community and social workers are an essential part of our society. It is work that many shy away from because it is notoriously fraught both financially and emotionally for the worker. You work non-stop towards a goal that is unachievable (whether that be the eradication of poverty, the elimination of untreated mental health disorders in the community or something equally as fraught) and you are constantly thrown hurdles along the way to leap with vigour and passion. Those people who are willing to get in there and become engage with the most disadvantaged members of our community possess an inner grit that is unique and awe-inspiring.

Jane Addams chose to work with immigrants seeking education in the 1880s in America. She moved away from the life of physician to a life of philanthropic, community-driven aid that makes her quite an inspiring person.

A few short points about the woman who opened the first “settlement home” in America in 1889:

  • Ms Addams was born with a spinal defect that was operated on and corrected as a child. However, she suffered ongoing ill-health through her life which impacted her decisions around her career and life.
  • Ms Addams came from wealth. This means she possessed the rare ability for the time of travelling to be influenced and inspired by a settlement house (Toynbee House) she visited in London.
  • Ms Addams adapted the concept of Hull House following feedback from those accessing her services. The model moved from working-class targeted education opportunities to more community-driven child care and language skills classes.
  • Ms Addams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 for her work.
  • Ms Addams was the first female president of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections.

But what is a settlement home? Hull House was created “to provide a center for a higher civic and social life; to institute and maintain educational and philanthropic enterprises, and to investigate and improve the conditions in the industrial districts of Chicago.”… Hull House offered a broad range of services and programs for the neighborhood residents. Services and programs were developed in response to the emerging needs identified by residents. (source)

The target clientele were immigrants seeking access to the arts and education. Generous with her own wealth and ahead of her time in encouraging acceptance and seeing the value in education, Ms Addams contributed to the integration of scores of immigrants into her community.

Ms Addams was essentially stopping groups within the community from falling off the social cliff into poverty. There is so much research behind the importance of education these days but in the 1880s for Ms Addams and her team to pursue this goal is entirely exciting and inspiring to read about.

A passion to create parity in the lived experience of all people takes its toll. Ms Addams didn’t stop there though. She was influential in legislation, reform and social change across her lifetime. Ms Addams held political influence and suffered at the hands of vitriolic press during the war, when it was easier to vilify a woman than to reflect on the States actions.

I strongly recommend you have a play on this Guardian page… It is important to see the way that a person’s actions from a long time before our own can still hold relevance. There are currently over 900 settlement houses in the United States. Jane Addams has made a lasting impact on her community and her country that will stand the test of time, because there will always be men and women out there who wish to see the betterment of every member of society, and who are willing to fight for that outcome.

“Jane Addams was an ardent feminist by philosophy. In those days before women’s suffrage she believed that women should make their voices heard in legislation and therefore should have the right to vote, but more comprehensively, she thought that women should generate aspirations and search out opportunities to realize them.”

https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1931/addams/biographical/

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