Civic Cooperation

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Civic Cooperation

Book excerpt

By: Jane Addams

Date: 1912

Source: Addams, Jane.Twenty Years at Hull-House with Autobiographical Notes. New York: The MacMillan Co., 1912.

About the Author: Jane Addams was an active advocate for a variety of social causes. She co-founded Hull-House, a social settlement in Chicago. She helped launch the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and in 1931 became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.


As cities rapidly expanded during the late nineteenth century, a variety of social problems began to flourish within them. Many of these problems particularly afflicted the poor and their children, who often fended for themselves while their parents labored in the newly opened factories. In an era prior to the modern safety net of government aid programs and institutionalized assistance, little help was available for the working poor.

These problems of rapid growth were not limited to the United States; similar situations existed in most of the industrialized nations, and a variety of solutions were proposed and tried. In England, a unique approach was developed during the 1880s when a London vicar invited several university students to live with him and his wife in a poor urban neighborhood. Whereas other approaches to urban improvement centered on the quality and quantity of services offered, this method focused on the value of good citizens within a community. Toynbee Hall was founded in 1884, and its success led to similar settlements in other nations. Five years later, Jane Addams and Ellen Starr rented a large abandoned home on Chicago's West Side, which they named Hull-House after the home's builder.

The neighborhood surrounding Hull-House was fertile soil for the women's urban improvement efforts. Most of the area's residents were recent immigrants from more than a dozen nations in Europe. Richard Lindberg, describing the neighborhood around Hull-House, termed it "the darkest corner of Chicago," a place rife with crime, bribery, and corruption. Brothels and saloons lined the streets and opium was readily available. Criminals unable to make it in other parts of Chicago often drifted to the West Side, and the overcrowded neighborhood was among the most blighted in the country.

Addams was particularly moved by the plight of the children, who faced an uncertain and unsafe future with few opportunities. One of the first programs offered at Hull-House was a kindergarten and nursery school that quickly filled and had a lengthy waiting list. Mothers bringing their children to the school found a side room specifically set aside for them to sit and talk comfortably.

Older children were also cared for. Addams created a club for teenage boys who frequently found their way into crime. She also organized classes in sewing for teenage girls, many of whom would otherwise be recruited to work as prostitutes. Educational programs were offered free of charge, including appearances by such noted speakers as John Dewey, Susan B. Anthony, and Frank Lloyd Wright. The hungry were fed, and the homeless found a place to sleep. Hull-House became a model of social work in an area desperately needing assistance.


One of the first lessons we learned at Hull-House was that private beneficence is totally inadequate to deal with the vast numbers of the city's disinherited. We also quickly came to realize that there are certain types of wretchedness from which every private philanthropy shrinks and which are cared for only in those wards of the county hospital provided for the wrecks of vicious living or in the city's isolation hospital for smallpox patients.

I have heard a broken-hearted mother exclaim when her erring daughter came home at last too broken and diseased to be taken into the family she had disgraced, "There is no place for her but the top floor of the County Hospital; they will have to take her there," and this only after every possible expedient had been tried or suggested. This aspect of governmental responsibility was unforgettably borne in upon me during the smallpox epidemic following the World's Fair, when one of the residents, Mrs. Kelley, as State Factory Inspector, was much concerned in discovering and destroying clothing which was being finished in houses containing unreported cases of smallpox. The deputy most successful in locating such cases lived at Hull-House during the epidemic because he did not wish to expose his own family. Another resident, Miss Lathrop, as a member of the State Board of Charities, went back and forth to the crowded pest house which had been hastily constructed on a stretch of prairie west of the city. As Hull-House was already so exposed, it seemed best for the special smallpox inspectors from the Board of Health to take their meals and change their clothing there before they went to their respective homes. All of these officials had accepted without question and as implicit in public office the obligation to carry on the dangerous and difficult undertakings for which private philanthropy is unfitted, as if the commonalty of compassion represented by the State was more comprehending than that of any individual group.

Certainly the need for civic cooperation was obvious in many directions, and in none more strikingly than in that organized effort which must be carried on unceasingly if young people are to be protected from the darker and coarser dangers of the city. The cooperation between Hull-House and the Juvenile Protective Association came about gradually, and it seems now almost inevitably. From our earliest days we saw many boys constantly arrested, and I had a number of most enlightening experiences in the police station with an Irish lad whose mother upon her deathbed had begged me "to look after him." We were distressed by the gangs of very little boys who would sally forth with an enterprising leader in search of old brass and iron, sometimes breaking into empty houses for the sake of the faucets or lead pipe which they would sell for a good price to a junk dealer. With the money thus obtained they would buy cigarettes and beer or even candy, which could be conspicuously consumed in the alleys where they might enjoy the excitement of being seen and suspected by the "coppers." From the third year of Hull-House, one of the residents held a semiofficial position in the nearest police station; at least, the sergeant agreed to give her provisional charge of every boy and girl under arrest for a trivial offense.

Mrs. Stevens, who performed this work for several years, became the first probation officer of the Juvenile Court when it was established in Cook County in 1899. She was the sole probation officer at first, but at the time of her death, which occurred at Hull-House in 1900, she was the senior officer of a corps of six. Her entire experience had fitted her to deal wisely with wayward children. She had gone into a New England cotton mill at the age of thirteen, where she had promptly lost the index finger of her right hand, through "carelessness" she was told, and no one then seemed to understand that freedom from care was the prerogative of childhood. Later she became a typesetter and was one of the first women in America to become a member of the typographical union, retaining her "card" through all the later years of editorial work. As the Juvenile Court developed, the committee of public-spirited citizens who first supplied only Mrs. Stevens' salary later maintained a corps of twenty-two such officers; several of these were Hull-House residents who brought to the house for many years a sad little procession of children struggling against all sorts of handicaps. When legislation was secured which placed the probation officers upon the payroll of the county, it was a challenge to the efficiency of the civil service method of appointment to obtain by examination men and women fitted for this delicate human task. As one of five people asked by the civil service commission to conduct this first examination for probation officers, I became convinced that we were but at the beginning of the nonpolitical method of selecting public servants, but even stiff and unbending as the examination may be, it is still our hope of political salvation.

In 1907, the Juvenile Court was housed in a model court building of its own, containing a detention home and equipped with a competent staff. The committee of citizens largely responsible for this result thereupon turned their attention to the conditions which the records of the court indicated had led to the alarming amount of juvenile delinquency and crime. They organized the Juvenile Protective Association, whose twenty-two officers meet weekly at Hull-House with their executive committee to report what they have found and to discuss city conditions affecting the lives of children and young people.

The association discovers that there are certain temptations into which children so habitually fall that it is evident that the average child cannot withstand them. An overwhelming mass of data is accumulated showing the need of enforcing existing legislation and of securing new legislation, but it also indicates a hundred other directions in which the young people who so gaily walk our streets, often to their own destruction, need safeguarding and protection.

The effort of the association to treat the youth of the city with consideration and understanding has rallied the most unexpected forces to its standard. Quite as the basic needs of life are supplied solely by those who make money out of the business, so the modern city has assumed that the craving for pleasure must be ministered to only by the sordid. This assumption, however, in a large measure broke down as soon as the Juvenile Protective Association courageously put it to the test. After persistent prosecutions, but also after many friendly interviews, the Druggists' Association itself prosecutes those of its members who sell indecent postal cards; the Saloon Keepers' Protective Association not only declines to protect members who sell liquor to minors, but now takes drastic action to prevent such sales; the Retail Grocers' Association forbids the selling of tobacco to minors; the Association of Department Store Managers not only increased the vigilance in their waiting rooms by supplying more matrons, but as a body they have become regular contributors to the association; the special watchmen in all the railroad yards agree not to arrest trespassing boys but to report them to the association; the firms manufacturing moving picture films not only submit their films to a volunteer inspection committee, but ask for suggestions in regard to new matter; and the Five-Cent Theaters arrange for "stunts" which shall deal with the subject of public health and morals, when the lecturers provided are entertaining as well as instructive.

It is not difficult to arouse the impulse of protection for the young, which would doubtless dictate the daily acts of many a bartender and poolroom keeper if they could only indulge it without giving their rivals an advantage. When this difficulty is removed by an even-handed enforcement of the law, that simple kindliness which the innocent always evoke goes from one to another like a slowly spreading flame of good will. Doubtless the most rewarding experience in any such undertaking as that of the Juvenile Protective Association is the warm and intelligent cooperation coming from unexpected sources— official and commercial as well as philanthropic. Upon the suggestion of the association, social centers have been opened in various parts of the city, disused buildings turned into recreation rooms, vacant lots made into gardens, hiking parties organized for country excursions, bathing beaches established on the lake front, and public schools opened for social purposes. Through the efforts of public-spirited citizens a medical clinic and a Psychopathic Institute have become associated with the Juvenile Court of Chicago, in addition to which an exhaustive study of court-records has been completed. To this carefully collected data concerning the abnormal child, the Juvenile Protective Association hopes in time to add knowledge of the normal child who lives under the most adverse city conditions.


Hull-House gradually expanded over the years, eventually encompassing twelve buildings and most of a city block. In addition to direct services such as the kindergarten and other educational programs, it was also home to extensive research efforts. Investigators at the center painstakingly researched and chronicled the demographics of the surrounding neighborhoods. Their work, published as "The Hullhouse Maps and Papers," included extensive statistical analysis, including color-coded maps showing income levels on different blocks.

In addition to helping Hull-House in its local efforts, the research had other important effects; most significantly, it helped redefine poverty as an economic condition rather than a moral failure. This new perspective was instrumental in the birth of Sociology as a field of scientific study. A second important project was conducted by Dr. Bayard Holmes, who spent two years assessing the physical growth of children. Dr. Holmes was able to statistically demonstrate that children employed in factories had slower physical development than children in schools. This finding proved important in efforts to expand child labor laws.

Over time, Jane Addams' experiences at Hull-House brought her recognition as an expert in social work. She was asked to serve on the boards of numerous organizations and she became active in politics. President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed that her efforts had placed the scandal of the slums before the eyes of the entire nation, and she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. When Jane Addams died in 1935, mourners from around the world mourned her passing, and she was eulogized in the local press as "Saint Jane."

Hull-House remained open until 1963; the original building of the settlement has been preserved as a museum.



Bryan, Mary Lynn McCree. The Selected Papers of Jane Addams: Volume 1, Preparing to Lead, 1860–81. Champaign, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2003.

Dilberto, Gioia. A Useful Woman: The Early Life of Jane Adams. New York: Scribner, 1999.

Elshtain, Jean Bethke. Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy. New York: Basic Books, 2001.


Grace, Clement. "Embodied Care: Jane Addams, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Feminist Ethics."NWSA Journal18 (2006): 224–226.

Hamington, Maurice. "Public Pragmatism: Jane Addams and Ida B. Wells on Lynching."Journal of Speculative Philosophy19 (2005): 167–174.

Ross-Sheriff, Fariyal and Mary E. Swignoski. "Women, War, and Peace Building."Journal of Women and Social Work21 (2006): 129–132.

Web sites

National Association of Social Workers. <http://www.> (accessed June 11, 2006).

Jane Addams Hull House. < about.asp> (accessed June 11, 2006).

U.S. Department of Labor. "Social Workers." <http://www.> (accessed June 11, 2006).