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Character Sketches

Character Sketches
Chapter 25: America Moves to the City, 1865 - 1900


Jane Addams (1860 - 1935)

Addams, the founder of Hull House and the profession of social work, was the leading female reformer of the progressive era.

Her father was a prominent Illinois businessman and politician who had served in the state legislature with Lincoln. Her mother died when she was two, and she remained deeply devoted to her father until he suddenly died when she was twenty-one.

For the next eight years, she underwent a prolonged personal crisis, marked by physical ailments and deep depression. Her decision to open Hull House with her friend Ellen Gates Starr came partly out of her growing awareness of urban problems, but it also ended her personal struggles and gave meaning to her life.

Addams first used her own money for Hull House but later became a highly skilled fund-raiser. Her opposition to World War I lost her considerable popularity in the 1920s. Addams was benevolent, thoughtful, and modest but somewhat cool, aloof, and formal in personal relations.

Quote: I found myselfwith high expectations and a certain belief that whatever perplexities and discouragement concerning the life of the poor were in store for me, I should at least know something at firsthand and have the solace of daily activity.I had at last finished with the ever-lasting preparation for life, however ill-prepared I might be.

REFERENCE: Allen F. Davis, American Heroine: The Life and Legend of Jane Addams (1973).


Dwight L. Moody (1837 - 1899)

Moody was the most prominent evangelical revivalist of the postCivil War era and the founder of Moody Bible Institute and other schools.

After growing up in rural New England, in 1856 he moved to Chicago and became a successful shoe salesman. He began taking slum dwellers to church with him and in 1858 organized a Sunday school for Chicago street kids.

He traveled to Britain to study evangelical methods and conducted spectacularly well received revivals there. His musician and choir leader, Ira D. Sankey, contributed greatly to Moodys success with his popular, sentimental hymns.

Never officially ordained, Moody spoke the plain language of the ordinary person. His organization was large and sophisticated but developed techniques like the conference room to give each convert a sense of personal concern.

Quote: Water runs down hill, and the highest hills are the great cities. If we can stir them, we can stir the whole nation.There is misery in the great city, but what is the cause of it? Why, the sufferers have become lost from the Shepherds care. (1876)

REFERENCE: Lyle Dorsett, A Passion for Souls: The Life of D.L. Moody (1997).


Booker T. Washington (1856 - 1915)

A former slave who became the dominant American black leader in the period from 1890 to 1910, Washington was popular with whites but extremely controversial among blacks.

He was born in Virginia; his father was a white man from a neighboring plantation. As a boy Washington lived in a one-room, floorless cabin and slept on the ground.

After emancipation he and his mother walked over a hundred miles to Charleston, West Virginia, so that he could go to school. He was taken under the wing of whites at Hampton Institute and eventually was sent to organize Tuskegee Institute.

His 1895 speech at the Atlanta Exposition accepting segregation made him a national figure, but many blacks disagreed strongly. He eventually built up a large machine in the black community and controlled newspapers, jobs, and substantial patronage. His famous autobiography, Up from Slavery, was ghostwritten by a journalist and excluded many harsh facts of his life, especially in relation to his treatment by whites.

Quote: The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremist folly.The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera house. (1895)

REFERENCES: Louis R. Harlan, Booker T. Washington: The Making of a Black Leader (1975); Booker T. Washington: The Wizard of Tuskegee, 1901 - 1915 (1986).


Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860 - 1935)

Gilman was the feminist theorist and writer whose work on economics influenced the early womens movement, and whose ideas and writings have attracted renewed attention since the revival of American feminism in the 1960s.

Gilman was a descendant of the famous Beecher family of American clergymen and writers. Her father abandoned the family, and her mother struggled to raise the family alone. Charlottes unhappy marriage to Charles Stetson, an artist, led to a nervous collapse and depression. This experience was eventually described in her short story, The Yellow Wall-Paper, published after her divorce from Stetson.

Gilmans major work, Women and Economics, differed from most progressive feminism in emphasizing the need for new communal social systems of child-rearing, cooking, and home maintenance, if women were ever to attain full economic and social equality. Her belief that women were morally superior to men was presented in her utopian novel Herland, in which she presented a perfect all-female society.

Quote: In the school [the child] learns something of social values, in the church something, in the street somethingbut in the home he learnsevery day and hour, that life, this deep, new, thrilling mystery of life consists mainly of eating and sleeping, of the making and wearing of clothes. (The Home, 1903)

REFERENCE: Mary A. Hill, Charlotte Perkins Gilman: The Making of a Radical Feminist (1980).



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