Words That Men Live By
Jane Addams (1903)
|JANE ADDAMS READING TO YOUNG AUDIENCE|
CHICAGO, Ill., Feb. 23, 1903 - Members of the Union League Club, who invited Miss Jane Addams, co-founder of Hull House, to deliver the Washington's Birthday Address, today heard new definitions given to the words greatness and commemoration.
Greatness she defined as the character of one "who has looked through the confusion of the moment and has seen the moral issue involved." As for the meaning of commemoration, Miss Addams tossed into the discard the normal heaping of encomiums upon the past and said charmingly but forcefully, that nothing honors the past except present strivings to live up to its teachings.
It is 14 years since Miss Addams, now 43 years old, turned her back on the prosperous society in which she holds by birth an assured place, to found, in association with Miss Ellen Gates Stan, the famous settlement house patterned after the older English university settlements. Already it has made her a national figure, over-shadowing her otherwise distinguished labors in behalf of woman suffrage and various peace movements. Thus when Miss Addams cautions her auditors to displace what amounts to ancestor worship with present-doing she furnishes in herself an unparalleled example.
So today, while paying the highest tributes to George Washington, she made of him an example, not a dead figure of glory: a prime example of those who have "looked through the confusion of the moment."
Citing George Washington's examples as soldier, statesman, citizen, Miss Addams found in his career challenges to present activity through the whole sphere of modern activity-the fight for social equality, the elevation of ideals above material ambitions, and the avid desire for universal freedom that prompted the Father of His Country to order in his will that his former slaves be freed.
"A man who a century ago could do that," Miss Addams commented, "would he, do you think, be indifferent now to the great questions of social maladjustment which we feel all around us?"
Her words, in abridged form, follow:
We meet together upon these birthdays of our great men, not only to review their lives, but to revive and cherish our own patriotism. This matter is a difficult task. In the first place, we are prone to think that by merely reciting these great deeds we get a reflected glory, and that the future is secure to us because the past has been so fine.
In the second place, we are apt to think that we inherit the fine qualities of those great men, simply because we have had a common descent and are living in the same territory.
As for the latter, we know full well that the patriotism of common descent is the mere patriotism of the clan - the early patriotism of the tribe. We know that the possession of a like territory is merely an advance upon that, and that both of them are unworthy to be the patriotism of a great cosmopolitan nation whose patriotism must be large enough to obliterate racial distinction and to forget that there are such things as surveyor's lines. Then when we come to the study of great men it is easy to think only of their great deeds, and not to think enough of their spirit.
What is a great man who has made his mark upon history? Every time, if we think far enough, he is a man who has looked through the confusion of the moment and has seen the moral issue involved; he is a man who has refused to have his sense of justice distorted; he has listened to his conscience until conscience becomes a trumpet call to like-minded men, so that they gather about him and together, with mutual purpose and mutual aid, they make a new period in history . . .
If we go back to George Washington, and ask what he would be doing were he bearing our burdens now, and facing our problems at this moment, we would, of course, have to study his life bit by bit; his life as a soldier, as a statesman, and as a simple Virginia planter.
First, as a soldier. What is it that we admire about the soldier? It certainly is not that he goes into battle; what we admire about the soldier is that he has the power of losing his own life for the life of a larger cause; that he holds his personal suffering of no account; that he flings down in the gage of battle his all, and says, "I will stand or fall with this cause." That, it seems to me, is the glorious thing we most admire, and if we are going to preserve that same spirit of the soldier, we will have to found a similar spirit in the civil life of the people, the same pride in civil warfare, the spirit of courage, and the spirit of self-surrender which lies back of this. ...
Let us take, for a moment, George Washington as a statesman. What was it he did, during those days when they were framing a Constitution, when they were meeting together night after night, and trying to adjust the rights and privileges of every class in the community? What was it that sustained him during all those days, all those weeks, during all those months and years? It was the belief that they were founding a nation on the axiom that all men are created free and equal. What would George Washington say if he found that among us there were causes constantly operating against that equality? If he knew that any child which is thrust prematurely into industry has no chance in life with children who are preserved from that pain and sorrow; if he knew that every insanitary street, and every insanitary house, cripples a man so that he has no health and no vigor with which to carryon his life labor; if he knew that all about us are forces making against skill, making against the best manhood and womanhood, what would he say? He would say that if the spirit of equality means anything, it means like opportunity, and if we once lose like opportunity we lose the only chance we have toward equality throughout the nation.
Let us take George Washington as a citizen. What did he do when he retired from office, because he was afraid holding office any longer might bring a wrong to himself and harm to his beloved nation? ...What were his thoughts during the all too short days that he lived there? He thought of many possibilities, but, looking out over his country, did he fear that there should rise up a crowd of men who held office, not for their country's good, but for their own good? ...
He would tell us that anything which makes for better civic service, which makes for a merit system, which makes for fitness for office, is the only thing which will tell against this wrong, and that this course is the wisest patriotism. What did he write in his last correspondence? He wrote that he felt very unhappy on the subject of slavery, that there was, to his mind, a great menace in the holding of slaves. We know that he neither bought nor sold slaves himself, and that he freed his own slaves in his will. That was a century ago. A man who a century ago could do that, would he, do you think, be indifferent now to the great questions of social maladjustment which we feel all around us? ...
A wise patriotism, which will take hold of these questions by careful legal enactment, by constant and vigorous enforcement, because of the belief that if the meanest man in the Republic is deprived of his rights, then every man in the Republic is deprived of his rights, is the only patriotism by which public-spirited men and women, with a thoroughly aroused conscience, can worthily serve this Republic. Let us say again that the lessons of great men are lost unless they re-enforce upon our minds the highest demands which we make upon ourselves; that they are lost unless they drive our sluggish wills forward in the direction of their highest ideals.
~ Postlogue ~
It would be presumptuous to attempt to appraise the wide-ranging effect of the actions and expressed views of Jane Addams.
By the time she died in 1935, she was a world force and considered as the primary developer of the modern field of settlement house work. In Chicago, she also was credited with having originated an entirely new spirit of orientation among the foreign-born.
The wide range of her interests was such that in 1931 Miss Addams was chosen to share with Nicholas Murray Butler, President of Columbia University, the award of the Nobel Peace Prize.Printable version