I just finished the book Citizen by Louise W. Knight. The subtitle is “Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy”. It’s basically a biography of Jane Addams. Honestly, I didn’t really know much about her, except that she founded Hull House and that there’s a grade school near where I grew up that was named after her. I knew Hull House was a settlement house, but didn’t really know what a settlement house was. The book was good in that it detailed the start of the settlement house and her life up to around 1899. The weird part was that Jane Addams died in 1935 or so. The years from the end of the book until she died were where she had become quite well-known and influential. I thought it weird that the author would end in the middle of her life. But I think she was trying to show how she went from wealthy little girl to one of the best-known social crusaders. I’ll have to find another biography about her to get the rest of the story.
Since I grew up just outside Chicago, I had heard of many of the people and places in the book. I’ve been by Hull House many times, just never knew what really happened there. One of these days I’ll have to go in. I’d also heard of George Pullman. In fact, I visited the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago over the summer. It was very interesting to hear the story of the strike and the different opinions that people had. The weirdest connection I found in the book was that Jane Addams father was a close associate of Luther Guiteau. Luther Guiteau was the father of Charles Julius Guiteau, the assassin of President James Garfield. I’m pretty sure that this was touched on in Sarah Vowell’s book Assassination Vacation, that I read years ago. John Addams (Jane’s father) took in the Guiteau family after the assassination to basically shield them from the press. It was an interesting connection to read about. Another was that Jane Addams and John Dewey were pretty good friends. This connection makes sense, as I can see that they were both interested in many of the same things. The book was full of interesting characters who were very involved in trying to make democracy work in Chicago.
The book was quite enjoyable, but I would have liked it better if it had covered her whole life. I think the next thing to read would be some of Jane Addams’ own writings, like 20 Years at Hull House and maybe some of her other speeches. And I really should visit Hull House itself one of these days.