September 6, 1860– Jane Addams
Perfect for the week of Labor Day:
Unless our conception of patriotism is progressive, it cannot hope to embody the real affection and the real interest of the nation.”
When Jane Addams’ travels took her away from her very special close companion, Mary Rozet Smith, she took along a painting of Smith, even though the portrait was kept in a rather bulky piece of luggage.
Addams was a rather brilliant and an unusually accomplished gay woman for her era. She graduated from Rockford Female Seminary in 1881. She founded Chicago‘s Hull House in 1898, along with Rockford classmate Ellen Gates Star. Hull House was an experimental model of reform to help provide for the neighborhood’s neediest residents. Hull House sought to reduce poverty by offering social services and education to the poor immigrants and laborers of working-class Chicago. They had daycare for children of working mothers, an art gallery, libraries, music and art classes, and an employment counseling services. Hull House served over 2,000 residents every week and eventually it included a book bindery, a full gymnasium, a swimming pool, a residence for working women, a theater, labor museum, and a meeting hall for the trade unions.
Much of the early financial support for Hull House came from Addams’ girlfriend, Smith, who was one of the richest women in the USA at that time. Addams and Smith traveled the globe together whenever they could. Addams would demand a hotel room featuring a double bed, instead of a pair of singles. They also shared Smith’s summer home in Bar Harbor, Maine. They were a couple until Smith checked out for good in 1933.
As an compasionate, educated woman with a free spirit, along with the free time to pursue her own interests, Addams decided to dedicate her life to providing for the welfare of women and children in Chicago, and in locking in legislation for their protection. Addams was also involved in other social issues. Her social reform efforts included: housing for the poor, sanitation issues, factory inspections, immigrant rights, pacifism, and the eight-hour workday.
Addams publicly supported the Chicago City Council candidacy of attorney Pearl Hart, a champion of juvenile and women’s court cases and Gay Rights, appearing on behalf of victims of entrapment and harassment, often without a fee. She worked for issues having to do with the right to privacy. She was part of the founding of The Mattachine Society, one of the very first Gay Rights organizations. Hart would later become a well-known Civil Rights attorney in the McCarthy era.
Addams was a dedicated pacifist before WW I. She spoke out against Republican President William McKinley‘s decision to go to war after the sinking of the US Navy battleship Maine. In 1899, Addams joined Mark Twain, Chicago attorney Clarence Darrow and the gay novelist Henry Blake Fuller in formation of the Anti-Imperialist League to protest the USA’s war in Cuba and The Philippines. She viewed the USA’s involvement as a “Murderous Extension of American Capitalism”, and they were right. One of those trouble making lesbians, Addams was attacked by the Right-Wingers for her public opposition to the war and was kicked-out of the Daughters Of The American Revolution for her position. Isn’t it really interesting the way that Conservatives are isolationists until it is their war?
Addams was such a progressive; she was a charter member of the National Consumers League, the NAACP, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
She lived a life of commitment to making a difference in the lives of the disenfranchised. She received many honors during her lifetime, including the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize, the very first American woman to receive the prize.
Addams left this world in 1935, just days after attending a celebratory dinner hosted by another woman who preferred to share her life with a special female companion, Eleanor Roosevelt.
Don’t you think the life of Jane Addams would make an especially fine film? I think it should be one of those terrific HBO event movies, maybe the team that brought us the powerful The Normal Heart (2014), or the the sublime Angels In America. Angelina Jolie could star as Addams, write and direct it too, getting the green-light for the project after she signs me to play Eleanor Roosevelt.
“The essence of immorality is the tendency to make an exception of myself.”