Kirkus Reviews QR Code
JANE ADDAMS by Louise W. Knight

JANE ADDAMS

Spirit in Action

By Louise W. Knight

Pub Date: Sept. 6th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-393-07165-8
Publisher: Norton

Biography of social reformer and peace activist Jane Addams (1860–1935).

Knight (Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy, 2005) begins with a speech the 72-year-old Addams, by then a Nobel laureate, made in 1933, which urged her audience to break free from conventional thinking. Knight uses Addams’s thesis as the key to understanding her life. Scarred by the early death of her mother, Addams grew up in a traditionally Christian home. Her father, a gender traditionalist, had only domestic ambitions for Jane and refused to send her to Smith College to study medicine. So she went to Rockford Female Seminary, where she encountered an influential teacher who inspired her with the writings of Margaret Fuller. Addams earned academic honors, and when her father died, leaving Addams financially secure, she went to Europe, where poverty depressed her but where Tolstoy’s religious writings and London’s Toynbee Hall, a settlement house, animated her. In 1889, she moved to Chicago, where she opened the country’s first settlement house, located in the former home of Charles Hull. Hull House, writes Knight, swiftly became—and remains—a powerful social-service agency in the city. While Addams assailed poverty and illness, she also addressed the related issues of gender, race and peace. Involved deeply in the women’s-suffrage movement, she was an early advocate for the new NAACP and fought tirelessly for peace, though during World War I she suffered from attacks on her patriotism. She wrote bestsellers, spoke all over the world and was without question the most celebrated woman in America. Knight is an enthusiastic Addams partisan—the writing is occasionally treacly—rarely finding anything negative to say, and is reluctant, even coy, about declaring that Addams’s decades-long relationship with Mary Rozert Smith was anything more than a friendship.

A sympathetic portrait of—and tribute to—a brave and committed human being.