A belated birthday greeting




Further evidence that my memory is fading with old age emerged today when I came across a note to myself that I should write something about the great Jane Addams when her 153rd birthday rolls around on Sept. 6.

But, of course, Sept. 6 was last Wednesday.

Oh, well, I don’t need any special occasion to sing the praises of Jane Addams. I’ve done it on numerous occasions, as regular readers of this blog may recall.

Still, I’ve been amazed over the years at how little Rockford has done to celebrate the legacy of perhaps its greatest former resident. Maybe it’s just me. I’m a huge fan of Jane Addams, and there probably aren’t enough available honors to bestow on her, even posthumously. In my book, and in the opinion of more than a few historians, Addams was no less than the greatest woman in American history.

A social reformer, educator, author, lecturer, feminist, pacifist, political radical, acquaintance of kings and presidents, and a servant of the powerless and dispossessed, Jane Addams truly was one of a kind. She also was alternately the most admired and most despised woman in America.

Laura Jane Addams was born in 1860 in Cedarville, Ill., a few miles north of my hometown of Freeport. She grew up amid wealth and privilege but lived most of her adult life among the poor. She attended what later became Rockford College and then Rockford University (and earned the school’s first academic degree), founded Hull House, the famed social settlement in Chicago, and forged a career in social reform that is unparalleled in our nation’s history.

Universally recognized as the godmother of modern social work, Addams was instrumental in the establishment of juvenile courts, child-labor laws, public-health reforms, the 8-hour workday and numerous other advances. She also was a founding member of both the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, among other organizations.

In a national poll in 1910, Addams was named the most admired woman in America. But barely 10 years later, because she was a pacifist who had tried to keep the country out of World War I, she was widely scorned as a dangerous radical.

The Daughters of the American Revolution canceled her lifetime membership and convicted her of treason in a mock trial. American Legionnaires stoned a train on which she was riding on her way to a speaking engagement. Numerous newspaper editorials denounced her.

The disapproval eventually softened, however, as the martial fever of the war years faded, and by 1929 Addams was again widely lauded for her work. She received countless honorary degrees and awards and, in 1931, became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Upon her death in 1935, Addams was eulogized in more than a thousand American newspapers and countless others around the world. Some editorials even characterized her as a saint. One said: ‘Lucky the man who dies on the day of Jane Addams’ death. The doors of heaven, on that day, will be open so wide that all may enter.′

In 1998, as the end of the second millennium drew near, Life magazine empaneled a group of historians to rank the 100 most influential people in the world over the previous 1,000 years. Jane Addams was ranked 66th, higher than any other American woman.

That’s exactly the way I think of her.


1 Comment

  1. Robert Hazz Geaunads

    Ive got nothing against woman as being equals to men if they want to be (and vice versa for that matter), but its stupid anti-male efforts by militant woman who are often times likely man-hating separatists lesbians, that irks many people. Not all lesbians hate men. In fact I’d bet most lesbians likes and dislikes are like most people, based on how you click with that person, male or female. It’s unfortunate that the extremist get the news coverage, but normality doesn’t sell or get clicks.

    These kinds of events, like is being planned at Duke University, are just another way of demonizing straight men.

    Just more pettiness from the far left that has taken over the democratic party.


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