RSG: At the turn of the century, Henry Mitchell MacCracken, a Presbyterian minister and Chancellor of New York University, bought a parcel of land on which to build not only a campus but a pantheon - the Hall of Fame for Great Americans. It was an open-air colonnade with niches for busts and tablets. A board of electors was chosen to nominate inductees, who must have been dead for 25 years. It was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1901. 98 Americans have been inducted.
RSG: Spin-offs were almost inevitable. Halls of Fame have proliferated - for baseball, football, basketball, bowling and boxing, and, of course, the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. There are hundreds of these commercial ventures which have been collectively and somewhat derisively called "The Mall of Fame."
RSG: Fame for some lasting universal contribution to humanity has been replaced by celebrity. The original Hall of Fame, meanwhile, has fallen into disrepair, and today is essentially forgotten, too poor to hold new elections or commission new busts of people it elected two decades ago, including Louis Brandeis, Clara Barton, Luther Burbank and Andrew Carnegie. It took 19 years to raise the $25,000 to commission the bust of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
RSG: As one observer queries, "No one is quite sure why the public has abandoned the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, but it most definitely has. (It is) less a shrine than a tomb, the last repository of a seemingly defunct kind of American idealism and dignified self-respect."
RSG: And yet this week millions of people (not including me) will watch the final episode of "Seinfeld," a self-admitted sit-com about nothing. One happy exception to this precipitous decline in American culture is the Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, which yet reminds us of greatness in our history.
RSG: On this Mother's Day when we celebrate Women and Religion Sunday, we remember great women who have made that "lasting universal contribution." One among them is Jane Addams, whose bust resides in the original Hall of Fame. Of her, writer Walter Lippman said, "...those who have known her say that she was not only good but great."
(Jane Addams comes to stage)
RSG: She was born in 1860 in Cedarville, Illinois. Her mother Sarah died at an early age, and Jane grew up virtually worshipping her father - a Quaker by persuasion but never a member in the Society of Friends. In fact he supported all four churches in the town. Thus she was always theologically confused.
JA: "I am a Quaker, " he would say, and, when pressed, "I am a Hicksite Quaker," and not another word on the weighty subject. could I induce him to utter.
RSG: John Addams was a prosperous mill owner and successful businessman, respected citizen, State Senator and friend of Abraham Lincoln. He helped found the Republican Party of Illinois. Early on she learned from him the "sermon of the deed," religion had to do more with practice than belief. Her first view of poverty was in the back streets of nearby Freeport. With that observation came a rumbling of social conscience. At six she wrote,
JA: I dreamed night after night that everyone in the world was dead except myself, and that upon me rested the responsibility of making a wagon-wheel ... I always stood in the same spot in the deserted blacksmith shop, darkly pondering how to begin, and never once did I know how, although I fully realized that the affairs of the world could not be resumed until at least one wheel should be made and something started ... The next morning would often find me standing the doorway of the village blacksmith shop, anxiously watching the blacksmith at work. I would store my mind with such details of the process as I could observe ... then sigh heavily and walk away, bearing my responsibility as best I could, and of course, confiding it to no one.
RSG: Despite the fact she doubted orthodox religion and wanted to go to Smith College, her father enrolled her at nearby Rockford Seminary, a women's college, religiously evangelical, which specialized in training foreign missionaries. Though she shone there as class president, editor of the college magazine and valedictorian, she was not satisfied.
JA: So much of our time is spent in preparation, so much in routine, and so much in sleep, we find it difficult to have any experience at all. .... We stand united today in a belief in beauty, genius and courage, and that these expressed through truest womanhood can yet transform the world."
RSG: Jane Addams refused a proposal of marriage from her opposite number, the class valedictorian at Beloit, a nearby men's college. Rollin Salisbury was so crushed that he remained forever a bachelor and never crossed the doorstep of Hull House, which was to be her legacy. Seemingly successful, she lacked a sense of direction. She had a Cassandra-like intuition that her fate was....
JA: always to be in the right, and always to be disbelieved and rejected.... During most of that time I was absolutely at sea so far as any moral purpose was concerned, clinging only to the desire to live in a really living world and refusing to be content with a shadowy intellectual or aesthetic reflection of it."
RSG: Then in August 1881 a shattering event: Quite suddenly her father became violently ill and in 36 hours was dead of a burst appendix - at age 59. Shortly thereafter came the assassination of President Garfield by an Addams family friend. These events nearly destroyed her faith in the benign purposes of life.
RSG: Jane Addams had a life-long struggle with religion - an issue in her life she wanted settled.
JA: Could I but determine that and have it for a sure basis, with time and space to work in I could train my powers to anything, it would only remain to choose what.
RSG: To her dear friend Ellen Starr, equally frustrated with religion, she wrote....
JA: Don't you see what I mean. If you have a God you are a Deist, if you more clearly comprehend that God through Christ then you are a Christian.... Christ doesn't help me in the least .... I feel a little as I do when I hear very fine music - that I am incapable of understanding.... Every time I talk about religion, I vow a great vow never to do it again. My creed is, ever be sincere and don't fuss.
RSG: Then Jane embarked on "an awful experiment," For three months she did not pray. The worst of it is that she feels....
JA: no worse for it. I feel happy and unconcerned and not in the least morbid.
RSG: At last she determined on a career in medicine - she would live and work among the urban poor. She enrolled in the Women's Medical College of Philadelphia. There began health problems which were to plague her until the day she died. She had spinal trouble, was bedridden and required surgery which resulted in her inability to have children. Her heart was not in her studies - and so - like many unfocused young middle-class women of the time, she took a trip to Europe with her step-mother, who was the very epitome of a cultured lady, but lacked Jane's passion for service. Jane didn't want a life of whist, a popular card game among the elite. She experienced the picturesque squalor of the Irish countryside, but was more appalled by the urban poverty of London.
JA: On Mile End Road, from the top of an omnibus which paused at the end of a dingy street lighted by only occasional flares of gas, we saw two huge masses of ill-clad people clamoring around two hucksters' carts. They were bidding their farthings and ha-pennie for a vegetable held up by the auctioneer, which he as last scornfully flung, with a gibe for its cheapness, to the successful bidder. In the momentary pause, only one man detached himself from the groups. He had bid on a cabbage, and when it struck his hand, he instantly sat down on the curb, tore it with his teeth, and hastily devoured it, unwashed and uncooked as it was."
RSG: Returning home, she withdrew her investment in "chattel mortgages" of hog farmers in Kansas after she saw their poverty. She took a second trip to Europe funded by inheritance from her father, this time with a school friend, Ellen Starr. At the magnificent church at Ulm, Germany, she had a vision of what she called a "cathedral of humanity." Illness struck again - sciatic rheumatism. But on Easter of 1888, at 23, after watching a bull fight in Madrid, she had a dream of a house in the city for young women. She went to London where she studied socialism with Sidney and Beatrice Webb and George Bernard Shaw. Though she accepted its goals, she rejected its dogma. Most important she observed Toynbee Hall, a settlement house. She had her model.
RSG: Returning to the states she determined on Chicago as locale for her great experiment in social work. She found a large house on Halsted Street in the slums named in memory of the pioneer citizen Charles J. Hull, who had built it for his home some 30 years before. It had been a factory, a furniture warehouse and a home for the aged. The house stood quite literally between drink and death - on one side a funeral home and on the other a saloon. Using her own savings, with nothing but a college education, she moved in with Ellen Starr and a housekeeper in September 1889 with a free lease until 1920. There were in the 19th ward an abundance of sweatshops, 7 churches, 2 missions and 255 saloons, one for every 28 voters. Here was the great crucible for her experiment:
JA: The streets are inexpressibly dirty, the number of schools inadequate, sanitary legislation unenforced, the street lighting bad, the paving miserable and altogether lacking in the alleys and smaller streets, and the stables foul beyond description ... Rear tenements flourish; many houses have no water supply save the faucet in the back yard, there are no fire-escapes, the garbage and ashes are placed in wooden boxes which are fastened to the street pavement."
RSG: In ten years she developed a living laboratory for social work. Hull House was more a home than an institution, providing an art gallery, choirs, social clubs, a public kitchen, a coffee house, and the first public playground (given by man converted by one of her speeches).
RSG: But Jane Addams discovered that this kind of social service work was not enough to lift these impoverished people to prosperity.
JA: Private beneficence is totally inadequate to deal with the vast numbers of the city's disinherited.
JA: I once refused a contribution of $50,000 for Hull House if we would "drop this nonsense about a sweat-shop bill." Some said I had "an exaggerated moral conscience."
RSG: Chicago was a city composed of garbage, graft and gangsters. As Lincoln Steffans said, "It is first in violence, deepest in dirt; loud, lawless, unloved, ill-smelling, new ... Criminally it was wide open, commercially it was brazen, and socially it was thoughtless and raw ... everybody was for himself and none was for Chicago."
RSG: But Jane Addams was for Chicago. She took inspiration from Russia's Count Leo Tolstoy, who had forsaken his prosperity to identify with the peasants. On one trip abroad she visited him.
JA: I wanted to discover how this social experiment was working. Our visit was a strange one. The meeting got off to a bad start, with Tolstoy commenting that there was enough material in one of my sleeves to make a child's smock. He was even more upset to learn that I had been an "absentee landlord." Tolstoy's daughter, straight from a hard day's harvesting, came in, an example of Tolstoy's "bread labor." I wondered if Tolstoy might be "more logical than life," and I resolved to try to spend two hours each day baking bread as an expression of my "bread labor." I was embarrassed because he was sharing the lot of the poor, while I lived in comfort. But I eventually concluded that compassion was different in Russia and the U.S.
RSG: Jane Addams' decision to become a volunteer also forced her to become an advocate for social justice. The reason she could not follow Tolstoy's example of bread labor was not simply that she was busy organizing tea parties for her neighbors in the slums. She was busy lobbying for social justice." Tolstoy later gave Hull House $250.
RSG: Jane Addams organized women to work for better pay and an 8-hour day; she served on Chicago's Board of Education; she unsuccessfully tried to oust a corrupt alderman who was said to pave her district with $10 bills; she was appointed garbage inspector for the 19th ward, once shoveling off 8 inches of the foot and a half of refuse on the pavement thus demonstrating her point about inept city services; she was actively engaged in settling the infamous Haymarket Riot of 1886 and the Pullman Strike of 1894. Hull House established a labor museum in its growing urban complex. Even so she maintained contact with the establishment - often mediating between radical reformers, public officials and business leaders.
RSG: Jane Addams had become a household word and a popular figure up until the First World War, when her pacifism began to erode her public acclaim. She prophetically said....
JA: Woe unto you when all men speak well of you. A homely incident indicates how powerful non-violent resistance was in my life. A British visitor, Dame Henrietta Barnett, described the tiresome habit of small boys ringing the doorbell and then running away. "As a good Christian citizen, she felt moved to reprimand them; but ... her intervention was not gratefully received by the boys - or me. My eyes filled with tears and I told her gently, but firmly, 'You have put my work back, perhaps years. I was teaching them what is meant by 'resist not evil'.
RSG: She had grown up on Civil War heroism. Her first phase of life was to develop a social ethic in the slums. Her second phase was to find a "moral equivalent for war," and that was much more controversial. She founded the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and lobbied heads of state around the globe to avoid the First World War - then to protest American involvement against the will of her friend Woodrow Wilson, at whose inauguration she had been a guest. She was a founding member of the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Addams strongly supported the Russian Revolution and harbored aliens at Hull House, much to the displeasure of the politicians and the public. She worked for Herbert Hoover in the Department of Food Administration bringing relief to war-torn Europe. Following the war she continued to meld her work for justice and peace:
JA: One received the impression everywhere in that moment when nationalism was so tremendously stressed, that the nation was demanding worship and devotion for its own sake similar to that of the mediaeval church, as if it existed for its own ends of growth and power irrespective of the tests of reality.
RSG: In 1931 she was the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize with Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, President of Columbia University, who as some pointed out had suspended his convictions for the duration of the world war. Her $16,000 prize went to WILPF for its Geneva office. She was too ill to attend the ceremony. That same year she became the first women to give the prestigious Ware Lecture at the annual meeting of the American Unitarian Association.
RSG: Theologian James Luther Adams well remembers a portion of that lecture in which she recalled that....
JA: Horace Greeley, the famous Universalist, when challenged as to the tenets of his church, said, 'Yes it is true that the Unitarians consider themselves too good ever to be sent to hell, whereas the Universalists think God is too good to send anybody there.' This Universalist view is in sharp contrast to that of the pioneer women and men living in the great stretches of the country. Their state of mind was not unlike that of the vagrant who envied his faithful dog, not only that he grew his own canine clothing and was fashioned to forage easily for his own food, but that his luck was that when he died he would be dead. Here he was unlike his disconsolate master who said, He had to go to hell yet.
RSG: Jane Addams had a kind of love/hate relationship with religion. Her father was a Hicksite Quaker, she allowed herself to be baptized once in the Presbyterian Church, but it meant little to her. In later days her name was removed from a local Protestant church for lack of attendance, possibly because for many years she attended Jenkin Lloyd Jones' All Souls Unitarian Church in Chicago and later worked with him while he was director of another settlement house, the Abraham Lincoln Center. She never joined that church, however: she was evidently content to be a fellow traveler.
RSG: It was her ethics that was her religion. She was a pragmatist.
JA: A situation does not really become moral until we are confronted with the question of what shall he done in a concrete case.
RSG: John Haynes Holmes, Unitarian preacher and a friend, provides this moving portrait of her: "I first saw Miss Addams in a stray picture which chanced to come my way. It was a portrait in profile—a gentle, tender, serene countenance looking down upon a book. What was remarkable about this picture was a certain sadness pervading its quiet atmosphere. It had a beauty all its own, but deeper than all beauty was this sadness, which showed thus early in her youthful years that the sorrows of the world had touched her heart. As the best-known woman of her time, Miss Addams had many pictures, most of them in this Madonna-like pose. They changed little as time went on, save only as the sadness deepened and darkened with the years. At the end, her face had become as it were a mask of tragedy. As one gazed upon it, through welling tears, one knew that there had come the time when this saint had found those things that were 'too deep for tears.'"
JA: Ideas operate upon the popular mind only through will and character, and goodness has been dramatized before it reaches the mass of men. Ethics and political opinions can come to the common people only through example, - through a personality which seizes the imagination.
RSG: She was that personality - both great and good. In an April 1935 speech at a Peace Congress reunion, she departed from text to say:
JA: Nothing could be worse than the fear that one had given up too soon and had left one effort unexpended which might have saved the world.
RSG: "It was the voice again of the little girl in Cedarville, bearing the sorrows of humanity and oppressed with the realization that 'the affairs of the world could not be resumed until at least one wheel should be made and something started. Now the wheel had come full circle; and the work must be left unfinished." If you ever get to New York and have a chance to visit the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, take time to walk the untended grounds and find the bust of Jane Addams. She'll be waiting for you.