The early chapters of Twenty Years at Hull-House are filled with Jane Addams's childhood delight with heroes of a certain kind. Caught up in the enthusiasms of her day, she was fascinated by political heroes. In the realm of civic life, the confident, persuasive orator of the legislature and lecture circuit, like the self-made man in the realms of morality and economics, was much admired. He took responsibility; he pushed for what needed fixing and trusted in his ability to judge matters for himself. Political heroes were heavily featured in the books John Addams paid Jane to read. Indeed, his own political career brought the ideal to life. These were reasons enough for Jane's fascination. Deeper reasons are hinted at in the wheel dream.
There was, of course, the problem that most of the political heroes she knew about, whether real or fictitious, were male and she was female. Beneath this gender difference, but linked to it, was the question of whether heroism could only be pursued in the (male) public realm or whether women's private lot of suffering and self-sacrifice was also heroic. Negotiating these complexities was the task of Jane Addams's adolescence. In her day-to-day existence she was trained in the obedient, self-effacing feminine ideal; in her large imaginary life, she dwelt mostly among defiant, proud male heroes. In these years she formed grand dreams—and did her best to ignore her doubts about her right to dream them.
Jane Addams understood her interest in heroes to be generational. That is, she felt it had been sparked by the experience of growing up in the shadow of the Civil War. She was speaking of herself when she wrote, “Thousands of children in the sixties and seventies … caught a notion of imperishable heroism when they were told that brave men had lost their lives that the slaves might be free.” She was surrounded at home by reminders of the war. Cedarville had sent its own unit to the front, financed by her father. A roster of the members of “Addams's Guard” and a portrait