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Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy

A Life


Jean Bethke Elshtain (View Bio)
Hardcover: Basic Books, 2001; Paperback: Basic Books, 2002.

Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy

Jane Addams (1860–1935) was a social worker, co-founder of Chicago's influential Hull House, and a leader of the woman's suffrage and world peace movements. Winner of the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize and author of a number of important books, her life is both fascinating and inspiring. Jean Bethke Elshtain focuses on what Jane Addams learned, what she taught, how she thought, and hence how she lived.

A Washington Post Book World Best Book of 2002

"This is the book to savor the life of a very fine woman, a remarkable combination of earth mother and magnificent preacher." — St. Louis Post–Dispatch

"An extended, earnest meditation on Addams's moral imagination. This imagination was a fertile one, and Elshtain succeeds in conveying its power and disarming much of the crticism directed at Addams. Above all, she dismantles the portrait of Addams as a philanthropic 'do-gooder,' imposing bourgeois values on an immigrant clientele.... Elstain leaves no doubt of Addams's narrative gifts or moral wisdom." — Washington Post

"Aims to refurbish our regard for Addams, not only as an activist, but as an intellectual. Quoting her at great length throughout, Elshtain leaves no doubt of Addams's narrative gifts or moral wisdom." — Washington Post Book World

"A perspicious charting of the pilgrim's progress that was Jane Addams's hopeful, generous life. Social activists get buffeted aroudn more than most after they die both by their detractors and their champions. Elshtain works hard, and successfully, here to clarify Addams's goals in opening Hull House, the great settlement house in Chicago, and more generally in leading the life she chose. She persuasively establishers Addams's importance as a social theorist, though that aspect of her work has sustained the most consistent attacks, by deploying extensive passages from her writings and speeches to illustrate her freethinking approach and her frequent eloquence. Elshtain has no difficulty dismissing the specious accusations of condescention, cultural faschism, and racism that have been leveled at Addams. Nor is it difficult to understand why her defense of anarchists, her peace activities, and her defense of immigrants and aliens won her such calumny. But her account of the founding of Hull House — beginning with what influenced Addams's vision of it, from George Eliot to the social gospel — most decisively displays the great reformer's empathy and humilityand best explains how she could open the eyes of so many others to their abilities and possibilities. It is as difficult to imagine such an establishment now as it must have been wonderful to see it then: a place 'available to any and all citizens of a city, including bewildered newcomers,' where hospitality, education, art classes, avenues of debate, even a bath, could be found along with childcare, union organizing, theatrical performances — the whole political and civic life of Chicago. 'One is left nearly breathless,' Elshtain concludes. A gratifying, agenda-free story, effortlessly sweeping away tendentious criticisms of a first-rate American thinker and activist." — Kirkus Reviews

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