- Mass Market Paperback: 308 pages
- Publisher: Signet; Reprint edition (September 1, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0451527399
- ISBN-13: 978-0451527394
- Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.8 x 6.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #257,224 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Twenty Years at Hull-House (Signet Classics) Reprint Edition
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While on a trip to East London in 1883, Jane Addams witnessed a distressing scene late one night: masses of poor people were bidding on rotten vegetables that were unsalable anywhere else.
Their pale faces were dominated by that most unlovely of human expressions, the cunning and shrewdness of the bargain-hunter who starves if he cannot make a successful trade, and yet the final impression was not of ragged, tawdry clothing nor of pinched and sallow faces, but of myriads of hands, empty, pathetic, nerveless, and workworn, showing white in the uncertain light of the street, and clutching forward for food which was already unfit to eat.
This scene haunted Addams for the next two years as she traveled through Europe, and she hoped to find a way to ease such suffering. Five years later, she visited Toynbee Hall, a London settlement house, and resolved to replicate the experiment in the U.S. On September 18, 1889, Jane Addams and her friend Ellen Starr moved into the second floor of a rundown mansion in Chicago's West Side. From the outset, they imagined Hull-House as a "center for a higher civic and social life" in the industrial districts of the city. Addams, Starr, and several like-minded individuals lived and worked among the poor, establishing (among other things) art classes, discussion groups, cooperatives, a kindergarten, a coffee house, a lending library, and a gymnasium. In a time when many well-to-do Americans were beginning to feel threatened by immigrants, Hull-House embraced them, showed them the true meaning of democracy, and served as a center for philanthropic efforts throughout Chicago.
Hull-House also provided an outlet for the energies of the first generation of female college graduates, who were educated for work yet prevented from doing it. In some respects, however, Addams's impressive work, often hailed by historians as "revolutionary," was nothing of the sort. She embraced the sexual stereotypes of her day, and, though she was clearly an independent woman, soothed public fears by acting primarily in the traditional roles of nurturer and caregiver. Hull-House was a rousing success, and it inspired others to follow in Addams's footsteps.
Though Twenty Years at Hull-House is meant to be an autobiography, it is Hull-House itself that stands in the spotlight. Addams devotes the first third of the book to her upbringing and influences, but the remainder focuses on the organization she built--and the benefits accruing to those who work with the poor as well as to the poor themselves. At times Addams's prose is difficult to follow, but her ideals and her actions are truly inspiring. A classic work of history--and a model for today's would-be philanthropists. --Sunny Delaney
At heart, Twenty Years is deeply optimistic: a book about hope and courage, about the yearning for equality and the yearning for peace. To a remarkable extent, Jane Addams' dreams were the same as our own. -- The Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review, Gioia Diliberto --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
I give the book less than five stars only because the edition does not do full justice to the book. There is no introduction to the text, and nothing to provide biographical background on the extraordinary woman who wrote it, Jane Addams. Happily, the typeface is readable, and the illustrations, reprinted from the original edition, are large enough to add value to the book. But a great text like this one, written in a late Victorian style, and containing allusions to events of its day that are no longer familiar to readers, could use a few footnotes. However, there are biographies of Addams and online websites that can supply this need. One should not fear to read the book--there's plenty here to think about and learn from, even if some of the facts remain a little unclear.
Hull-House started out literally as an old if large residence, and would grow into quite a complex of adjacent and nearby buildings covering parts of several blocks. Settlement residents were largely, like Jane Addams, educated professionals who where either independently wealthy (like Addams herself, though modestly so) or who supported themselves in their professions—law, education, medicine, business, etc.—and did their “settlement work” in their off-duty hours. And that settlement work was varied, to say the least. The residents and volunteers engaged in a dizzying array of activities. They did child-care, taught English to immigrants from all over the European world, engaged in training for various trades, taught former rural peasants basics like cooking and sewing, taught classes at almost every level from kindergarten through graduate school, and they served the city, county, and state in many different capacities, including ground-breaking work as social workers, probation officers, health inspectors, and more. Because they understood something lots of people today seem to have forgotten or never learned—that humans are more than just what they do for a living, more than the sum or the lack of a bank account—they took a very holistic approach to living. In other words, they had lots of clubs and made sure their were lots of activities for people of every age and interest. To make that possible, they built spaces for gymnastics, plays, concerts, and other kinds of activities, including spaces both for art production and display. Their clubs covered every possible interest from sewing to debating to science, folklore, and almost anything else you can think of; they took field trips to local and regional museums and even did excursions on the Rock River and other nature settings.
And because they were in the neighborhood they were, they did it in an almost unbelievable variety of languages and dialects. From our vantage point today, most Americans think of immigrants as “Italian” or “German” or “Spanish.” In fact, each of these countries had different dialects or even languages, so there was no guarantee that two people that Americans saw as “Italians” could understand each others' speech. Chicago was a veritable Babel! What a place and time.
The same year that Jane Addams opened Hull-House, the pioneering photojournalist Jacob Riis published another one of the landmark studies of that age, _How the Other Half Lives_, which told and showed what life was like in the tenements of New York City. _Twenty Years at Hull-House_ takes a different angle, but does indeed help us to learn about “the other” in important ways. Yes, Industrialization and its effects, including urbanization, led to improved lives for lots of Americans. But it had its dark underbelly too, and those should not be ignored. The people who helped us to see that dark underbelly should be better-known than they are.
Reading this book a hundred years after it was first published, I can't help but be struck by a strong and very sad feeling of deja vu. Within a few decades of this book's publication many of the terrible things wrong with society that were cataloged in this remarkable memoir either improved significantly or even largely disappeared because of the concerted efforts of people like Jane Addams. The country experienced terrible calamities, hardships, and two world wars, but out of these Franklin Roosevelt and so many who had been admirers and supporters of Jane Addams fashioned the New Deal. Addams died before that work was done, but it began to right so many of the wrongs that she wrote about so forcefully in this book and other writings and speeches.
Folk wisdom warns us that good times and success are not always ultimately good for us. Post-war success eventually, too put it baldly, took us from Franklin Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan and the rolling back of so much of the New Deal and its successor, the Great Society. And then, of course, came more wars, and then the great crash of 2007. Reading _Twenty Years at Hull-House_ today is a very different experience than it would have been in 1957, 1967, or 2007. It is sobering to see how much of what she says about economic, political, and intellectual realities from 1890 to 1910 sound like they are hot off the press, or, more likely in our time, the internet.
Today we often hear that one person or even a group of people just can't make a difference, and shouldn't even try. Jane Addams and the others who took up residence at Hull-House, and all the people in Chicago, and across the county, and around the world who supported the work of Hull-House proved just how wrong that kind of thinking is. This book is not only a valuable glimpse into the lives of our long-ago ancestors, it is also a place for us to look for good ideas about how to deal with the problems so many are facing today.
I haven't mentioned anything about Jane Addams personally, but she was an inspiring individual in so many ways, and she tells us enough of her life story for glimpses of it to shine through. Her father was a friend and political ally of Abraham Lincoln during the creation of the Republican Party. Her mother died when she was young, and she suffered from curvature of the spine. She grew up non-denominational but in the Quaker tradition, which influenced her in profound ways. Her love for learning and experiences in the kind of schools and education available to females of her age and social class are very interesting to learn about, as well as how that was changing during her young adulthood and later. Because of her socioeconomic status she was able to travel across the country and Europe, also interesting. And I'll let the curious reader discover on her or his own how interesting her private life was by reading this book, and hopefully more about her.
In trying times and places for so many, Jane Addams was part of the solution, not the problem. Her life and work deserve to be better-known and emulated. This book is as important today as it was when it was published.
And I personally was not a fan of her verbosely eloquent writing style, though I definitely think it is highly effitive in recounting the history of hull-house from a first person point of view.