I love Jane Addams. When I first heard about her way back in 1980, I thought she was nothing more than a moneyed, “do-gooder” out to help the poor in order to make herself feel important. It took about five seconds to change my mind. Yes, she had some money (which she used to support herself and Hull House), but she was far from being your traditional “do-gooder.” Instead, she was a true revolutionary, a woman who looked deep into the people and society and world around her to determine how to make it better.
I would call Jane Addams a life-long learner, and the new article on my website (http://harrietalonso.com) titled, “Jane Addams, Hull House, and the Devil Baby,” is one example of how Addams used her own experiences to educate herself. (Click on the tab in the menu at the top of the page that says “Jane Addams, Hull House, and the Devil Baby” to reach the article.) I wrote this piece with learners in mind. Whether you are an undergraduate, a high school student, an educator, or a lover of learning, I hope you will read, enjoy, and gain something from it. The piece is divided into four sections. The first is a brief introduction. The second is the story of the Devil Baby. Briefly, in the autumn of 1913, thousands of people visited Hull House demanding to see the Devil Baby they were convinced Addams was hiding there. The settlement house workers had no luck convincing people that the baby was a myth built out of superstition. Jane Addams wrote several articles about the incident, in each explaining how the Devil Baby connected with the lives of the community, especially older women. The third section delves into the world of Chicagoans during the 1913 episode. To do this, I read through every issue of the Chicago Tribune (ten weeks in total) to try to see what specific happenings in the city could have produced such great tension that a Devil Baby hysteria seemed a logical outcome. The fourth section includes some suggestions for discussion and projects for a broader understanding of the incident.
Jane Addams’s ultimate goal was to understand people, get them to understand each other (not necessarily in a personal sense, but certainly in a cultural one), and then create ways which would help them to handle conflict through knowledge. If we learn to understand and accept people’s beliefs and life-styles. . . if we can identify the commonalities among us. . . if we can help each other achieve the basic needs of life (food, housing, jobs, etc.), then maybe we can achieve peace in our immediate environments and on our globe as well.
Please feel free to recommend others read the article, and for educators, to use it in your classes. There is no charge, but I would very much like to hear from anyone who adopts it for classroom use. Of course, it would be great if folks carried on a discussion in the space provided on this page or at the end of the article.