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Jane Addams, a giver of many gifts

Updated on January 25, 2012

My fifth grade history lesson

When I was a child I lived in Albany, N.Y. Although there were many nice neighborhoods in New York's capital city, few of the families I knew owned their own homes. Some did. However, many families were very, very poor. I knew children who survived terrible house fires and others who grew up moving from one rented apartment to another. There were kids with new bikes who lived in neighborhoods with swimming pools and nice cars and kids who's family never owned a car let alone a house. Some of the kids grew up in homes where an alcoholic yelled all day. Other kids lived in rented apartments that were loaded with roaches back in the day when nobody did a thing about it. I was somewhere ...lets say, in the middle. My house was spotless even though we had very little. Rich or poor, we all went to school together.

I learned about Jane Addams in my fifth grade history book. Jane Addams was born in Cedarville, Illinois on September 6, 1860. She was the daughter of the well-to-do Illinois Senator named John Addams. For some reason I became facinated by the story of a woman Nobel Peace Prize winner. Jane Addams became the model for who I wanted to be in my own life. On the most part, I feel I may have come up short of her gace and many accomplishments but, somehow I know my heart is in the right place.

I began to collect books about Jane Addams, (who often I refer to Jane Hull by mistake) and read all about her life. I read every book available at the school library and the City Public Library. The librarian at school thought I was doing a project on Jane Adams but, I wasn't. I just wanted to be like her. I loved the sketches of her in her 19th century outfits and bundled hair. She was always pretty in the children's books. She was drawn as a victorian age young lady wearing a long dress and riding in a carriage with her father. Her hands were always hidden in a warm fur muff. I thought, ' here was a girl who had it all and could have looked away when poor people walked past'. For some reason, she did not. She wanted to be a help to them instead. I guess I admired her the most because I wanted so much to help the poor myself.

Jane's story was that while riding in her father's lovely carriage she was saddened by the poor in Chicago's dirty Streets. She became overwhelmed with compassion for the impoverished souls she saw and wanted to do something to make life better for those poor hungry people. I learned from these books quickly that Jane never felt like the pretty little girl the picture books sketched her to be. Her mother died when she was only two years old and she contracted tuberculosis of the spine at age four. She developed Pott's Disease and was left with a crooked spine and a painful walk. After graduating from college she bought a old historic mansion in the heart of Chicago on Halsted Street. The mansion was previously owned by the Hull family of Illinois. The mansion became Jane's headquarters for her charity work. She hired an assistant named Ellen Gates Starr and together they got right to work on feeding people and giving hope to the poor.

Jane felt laws needed to be put into place in order for there to be a real change in her community. She began to lobby the government for social and political change. She worked to improve laws to protect women and children in the factories. She pushed for an 8 hour work day for women and to enact child labor laws in America. Jane earned money lecturing and used these funds to impliment many programs that the Hull House initiated. She started a Kindergarten and opened a public gymnasium. She even began a series of classes teaching the arts. In 1910 she became an author, publishing 'Twenty Years at the Hull House'. She wrote other books as well and the sale of these publications helped fund more social programs.

In 1915 she would help found the International League For Peace and Freedom. Jane spent her entire life helping the poor and crusading for social justice. She earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. She has always been a true hero in my eyes because Jane Addams was one person who really understood that life was about other people. It may be the case that we are all here with a purpose to give great gifts to others and think of ourselves last.

By Joanne Kathleen Farrell, author of Liberty for the Lion Shield

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