Jane Addams (1860 – 1935) was the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and is recognized as the founder of the social work profession in the United States. She was also someone who never took the easy way out, in spite of being born into a prosperous and well-connected family. (Her father, a bank president and an Illinois State Senator, was a friend of Abraham Lincoln.)
Jane received a good education and had traveled, bringing away from her experiences dreams of helping the poor. She and her friend Ellen Gates Starr co-founded Hull House in Chicago to serve as a neighborhood center for those in need. This book for children gives the highlights of her experience with Hull House.
As the author writes:
“People who didn’t have enough to eat or had no shoes on their feet or had just lost a job began to find their way to Hull House.”
When Jane saw new problems in the neighborhood, she added on to Hull House to address them. She put in a public bath, and turned the lot next door into a playground. She started morning kindergarten and after-school clubs for kids whose parents had to work long days.
She kept adding buildings to the complex; by 1907, there were thirteen buildings, including a gym, coffee house, theater, and community kitchen. Residents of Hull House conducted research on conditions plaguing the lives of the poor, ranging from problems with housing, disease, garbage collection, to drugs.
Stone reports that by the early 1920’s:
“. . . more than nine thousand people a week visited Hull House. . . . It changed a bad neighborhood into a great and strong community. Hull House transformed the lies of all who stepped inside.”
Today, as Stone observes, every community center in America owes something to Jane Addams.
The ink and watercolor illustrations by Kathryn Brown feature muted tones that suggest a period in the past, and show plenty of images of the diverse groups of children helped by Hull House.
An Author’s Note at the end of the book has some additional information about Jane Addam’s life, including the fact that she was called “the most dangerous woman in the America” by the FBI, and about her work for women’s suffrage, civil rights, and pacifism. The back section also includes photos and a list of sources.
Discussion: This is a book about one woman who really did make a difference in the world around her. Often, stories about exceptional Americans have a subtle agenda, i.e., to make the point that what you make of yourself is entirely up to you and your failures are your own. This removal from a socioeconomic context allows the perpetuation of the American story that anyone can make it to the top in our society. But in fact, money, education, connections, neighborhood resources, and of course race, not to mention physical and psychological attributes, play a large role. Nevertheless, this does not mean it isn’t worthwhile to examine the lives of those who used the assets they had to change the world. Certainly it would have been easy enough for Jane Addams to live a life of comfort and leisure. Instead, she chose to change the world.
Evaluation: Jane Addams was an incredible woman who knew neither fear nor discouragement. Her inspirational story is one about which school children should be aware. It is recommended for readers ages six and older.
Published by Christy Ottaviano Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, 2015