The Education of Jane Addams/Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy

By Portwood, Shirley J. | Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

The Education of Jane Addams/Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy


Portwood, Shirley J., Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society


The Education of Jane Addams. By Victoria Bissell Brown (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004. Pp. viii, 421. Illus., notes, bib., index. Cloth $39.95).

Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy. By Louise W. Knight (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. Pp. xvi, 582. Illus., notes, bib, index. Cloth $35.00).

Victoria Bissell Brown, in The Education of Jane Addams, and Louise W. Knight, in Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy have provided two important scholarly biographies of Jane Addams that cover roughly the same time period. Brown examines Addams's life from her birth in 1860 until 1895; Knight covers an additional four years. Taken together, these two works provide rich discussion and analysis of the first half of Addams's life.

Both Brown's and Knight's sources include the secondary literature on Addams, her associates and other contemporaries, and the historical milieu in which she lived, as well as voluminous primary data. Knight's afterword provides a brief historiography of works on Addams. Both Brown and Knight extensively utilized the manuscript collections of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Swarthmore College, and Rockford College, and many others. Brown also searched in Addams's home town at the Cedarville (Illinois) Historical Society. And Knight examined the archives of many universities, including Southern Illinois University Carbondale (which she erroneously calls the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale).

Victoria Brown's work, the first of the two biographies to be published, focuses on Adams's education, both formal and informal, from her childhood in the 1860s until 1895, six years after she founded Hull House. Brown's work is a "coming-of-age story" (7) that reveals "how Jane Addams became Jane Addams." (6) Brown brilliantly analyzes the impact upon Addams of many experiences, spiritual, philosophical, and social, that prompted her to found Hull House and to undertake other socially conscious activities.

Brown's most important sources were Addams's autobiography, Twenty Years at Hull Hous,e and the Jane Addams Papers Project, which encompasses Addams's writings, newspaper clippings, correspondence, and Hull House records. Brown repeatedly shows, however, that Twenty Years at Hull House is an inaccurate picture of Addams's life, largely due to her frequent and deliberate reinvention of her own past to present an idealized version of her life. Brown expertly utilizes newspapers, speeches and writings by Addams, public records, correspondence, and other primary data.

Brown shows how Jane Addams's views were formed and transformed in her first thirty-five years due to experiences within her family, her community, and the larger society. Most important was her role as the youngest daughter of a wealthy family, which she repeatedly served as family caretaker and peacemaker. Born in Cedarville, Illinois, she spent most of her first three decades in that and other northern Illinois small towns. During her childhood and adolescence, her father, John Addams, a businessman and a state senator was the seminal figure. Anna Haldeman Addams, Jane's stepmother, also had a substantial impact on her stepdaughter, as did Jane's siblings, her two stepbrothers, and later their families.

Addams's education continued at the Rockford Female Seminary, where she gained attention for her academic excellence, her developing social conscience, and her diplomatic skills. At Rockford Jane Addams met Ellen Starr Gates, later a co-founder of Hull House and a life-long friend (and perhaps a lover), and many other women who helped to shape her views. Addams's informal education consisted of two extended trips to Europe, where she met people from diverse backgrounds and engaged the ideas of various European philosophers whose works she often had read earlier. For example, the works of Russian writer Leo Tolstoy on passive resistance, captivated her. …

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