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Celebrating a radical

Friday, August 27, 2010  
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By Lisa Pevtzow, Special to the Tribune

August 27, 2010


Angela Rinaldi remembers Jane Addams as a woman with outstretched arms.

"We children would run up to her, and she'd hug all of us," says Rinaldi, whose Italian immigrant family looked to Hull House, which Addams founded, for food, free medical and dental care and help finding work. She said children in her neighborhood also read books from the Hull House library and took dance and theater classes there.

Rinaldi, whose memories of Addams are among her earliest, said Addams' death on May 21, 1935, was felt deeply my many. "Even then, as a little girl, I realized what we lost. She meant that much to the neighborhood, to my family," said Rinaldi, now 80, who is compiling a memory book drawn from the recollections of people whose families were helped by Hull House.

Jane Addams was a pacifist, a suffragist and a leftist, who helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union. She created the first public kindergarten, the first playground and the first homeless shelter for women in Chicago.

In September, the Chicago area will note Addams' impact by celebrating the 150th anniversary of her birth with a party at Daley Plaza and a "People's Block Party" at the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois, where Hull House is located. Addams' alma mater, Rockford College, will also host a celebration.

Also in honor of the anniversary, Hull-House Museum is undergoing an $800,000 renovation to restore the building to its late 1800s appearance, said museum Director Lisa Lee. And an exhibit in early September will tell the story of the many thousands of West Siders who passed through Hull House and take a look at the artists, intellectuals, and movers and shakers Addams influenced.

Addams was born Sept. 6, 1860, to a wealthy family in Cedarville, Ill. Most people today think of Addams as the patron saint of social work, a Victorian do-gooder who helped the working poor of the industrial Near West Side, said Knight and several of Addams' advocates.

"We like to sanitize iconic heroes. Jane Addams was radical and fought against norms of the time," said Lee. "She believed in a common good, in which we all had a stake in each other's future.

"No one is more relevant than Jane Addams," Lee said.

Because of her pacifism and social activism, the FBI compiled a huge dossier on Addams and considered her one of the most dangerous women in America, Lee said.

"She was one of the most loved and hated women in America," said Evanston author Louise Knight, whose book "Jane Addams: Spirit in Action" will be published in September in conjunction with the anniversary.

In 1889, at age 29, Addams used her inheritance to open Hull House, the first settlement house in the United States, in a circa 1856 mansion at 800 S. Halsted St. It was a neighborhood community center — before there really were community centers, Knight said — that helped immigrants put down roots in a new country and sought to bridge the class divide.

Hull House eventually grew to a 13-building complex that housed cultural programs, like the dance classes Rinaldi attended as a girl, child care, English classes, job training programs, a dining room, free medical and dental clinics, and a bath house. Union workers were allowed to organize there, and Hull House was one of the few places in the country at the time that taught sex education, Lee said.

Within a few years, Hull House became internationally famous, as did its founder, drawing thinkers, authors, artists and political activists to its premises.

"What Addams faced in the late 1880s was not unlike what we are dealing with today," Lee said. It was a time when most of Chicago's population was born in other countries. "Some saw it as an immigrant problem, while Addams saw it in terms of the challenge and beauty of democracy," she said.

Clarence Wood, president and CEO of the Jane Addams Hull House Association, said Addams "is the very core of what we are as a city. This city should recognize her importance as a citizen and as a woman of valor."

Today Hull House is spread across the city, operating 163 programs at 42 sites, said Wood. In the early 1960s, Mayor Richard J. Daley wanted to bulldoze the Hull House buildings to make way for the new UIC campus. After a drawn-out and very public fight, supporters of Hull House managed to save the original mansion and a structure housing the dining room. The rest was demolished.

The organization still runs many of the same programs as it did in Addams' day: English and citizenship lessons, job training, child care and housing.

"While we can't do the job of Miss Addams, we are her legacy," Wood said. "We are trying to stay true to Addams' legacy, not just as a deliverer of services, but as an agent of change."

Fans of Jane Addams will throw a birthday party with a giant cake at noon Sept 8 at Daley Plaza. Later that afternoon, the Jane Addams Hull House Association and Jane Addams Hull-House Museum will host a "People's Block Party" from 4 to 6 p.m., on the UIC campus.

Hull House joins Rockford College for a celebration from 11 a.m. to noon Sept. 14 at the Belvidere Oasis on the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway.

This story appeared at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chicago/ct-x-c-jane-addams--20100827,0,3753898.story on August 27, 2010.

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