Monday, July 27, 2009

Twenty Years at Hull House by Jane Addams

The book is not light reading, but is not a difficult read, either. I found the material extremely informative and enlightening, especially since I have spent more than 20 years as a State PTA leader. The events of this book overlap and deal with many of the same issues as why the National PTA was founded...child labor issues, poor public education, the importance of the arts, an understanding of other cultures, etc. Jane Addams has long been one of my socio-political heroines. She put into action her concerns with society...making her a true hero in my estimation!

One intersting thing about the book is to see how much things stay the same the more that we change. Does this situation sound at all vaguely familiar?...The situation is that President McKinley has been assassinated by a foreigner with anarchical leanings. A newspaper man of foreign origins in Chicago had been writing a lot of pieces that were antagonistic to the way government was running and had some anarchist leanings. He, along with many other foreigners were arrested immediately following the assassination. Here is Jane Addams description of the situation:'Perhaps it was but my hysterical symptom of the universal excitement, but it certainly seemed to me more than I could bear when a group of individualistic friends, who had come to ask for help, said: "You see what comes of your boasted law; the authorities won't even allow an attorney, nor will they accept bail for these men, against whom nothing can be proved, although the veriest criminals are not denied such a right." Challenged by an anarchist, one is always sensitive for the honor of legally constituted society, and I replied that of course then men could have an attorney, that the assassin himself would eventually be furnished with one, that the fact that a man was an anarchist had nothing to do with his rights before the law! I was met with the retort that that might do for a theory, but that the fact still remained that these men had been absolutely isolated, seeing no one but policemen, who constantly frightened them with tales of public clamor and threatened lynching.'(Addams, Jane. Twenty Years at Hull-House. 1910. New York: Penguin Books Ltd. 279-280.)

It is a sad statement about a government who upholds the Constitution of the United States with its Bill of Rights as the greatest, most imspired document for governing a people (and I firmly believe that it is), and yet fundamental civil liberties can be so disregarded by those in power in out nation. What a shame!

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