The good writer seems to be writing about himself, but has his eye always on that thread of the Universe which runs through himself and all things.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
This book covers Addams's life from birth to age 40. My goal was to understand her formative years, how she became the leader she became. Born in 1860 and raised in a upper-middle-class family in northern Illinois, she attended college at a time when a tiny percentage of women were able to do so. Ambitious to achieve something and troubled by industrial and immigrant urban poverty, Addams moved to Chicago and in 1889 co-founded, with her friend Ellen Gates Starr, the first settlement house in the United States.
The second half of the book covers her first ten years at Hull House, the settlement house she co-founded with her friend Ellen Gates Starr, in an industrial, immigrant neighborhood. Living among working class people, mostly immigrants, changed her ideas about democracy. She had always loved the idea, but it was life at Hull House that taught her what trusting the people really meant and what it meant to be a citizen in a democracy.
Those interested in the story of how Jane Addams became a great leader will want to read this book.
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This book is a full-life biography. While it draws on the insights I gained from writing Citizen, it is fresh writing, and carries the story across every decade of her life, from 1860 until her death in 1935.
It traces her emergence as a political leader and tells what she was able to accomplish in collaboration with many allies and the price she paid for her commitments. From child labor, to immigrant rights, to women's suffrage, to bringing warring nations to the negotiation table, Addams fought for issues that would benefit working people. She also joined their campaigns, as was a co-founder of a national trade union league for women.
We see her wrestling with the politicization of politics, trying to find her footing during a painful dispute within the rising suffrage movement, and feeling compelled by her conscience to take an anguished stand for peace during time of war. This book highlights the moral dilemmas created by her aspiring, Christian-infused integrity, which was always under construction. It focuses on her emergence as a political leader with a fierce democratic vision and shows what she was able to accomplish in collaboration with many allies and the price she paid for her commitments.
Those looking for a short introduction to her full life. will want to read this book. It was written because so many people do not know the story. When it was published it is the first full-life biography of Addams in 37 years and none has been published since.
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