How is it that I have gone my whole life without knowing who Jane Addams, the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize was? Yet, like so many books that cross my desk, Dangerous Jane, written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Alice Ratterree, made it into my hands at just the right time.
Born in Illinois in 1860, Jane Addams was witness to suffering and poverty. At the age of three, the same year her mother died, she contracted tuberculosis of the spine (enduring pneumonia, kidney problems, a heart attack, cancer and more illnesses throughout her seventy-five years of life). And, while she was born into a prosperous family, a business trip with her father exposed Jane to the effects of poverty as they passed through the poor side of a town. Slade writes,
Jane's heart ached, a strong, familiar ache. She knew what it felt to be sad, rejected, without hope. Jane wanted to help those families. But their problems were too big for a small girl to fix. So Jane promised herself - when she grew up, she would buy a big house to share with people in need.
Rather than marry and start a family of her own, Jane attended college, graduating in the top of her class, then traveled through Europe where she visited Toynbee Hall, a "settlement house in London that helped poor people help themselves by providing skills, confidence, dignity." Inspired, Jane and a college friend found Hull House in Chicago in 1889, providing whatever her neighbors, mostly immigrant families, needed. Childcare, English lessons, washtubs, steady work and, most importantly, "friendship, dignity and hope." Developing ethical principals for Hull House, she came to be known as Saint Jane, with President Roosevelt acknowledging her efforts. One newspaper even called for Jane to run for president!
With the start of WWI, Jane knew that pain and suffering would increase and she was driven to act. She formed the Women's Peace Party and was, at a meeting three thousand strong in 1915 in Washington DC, elected president. Traveling overseas and through war zones, Jane led 1,500 women from twelve countries at the International Congress of Women in the Netherlands where twenty resolutions, including the "Conference of Neutrals," were passed. Jane and the other leaders then took their resolutions to the leaders of the countries at war.
Jane returned to an America that begun to see her as suspicious and a traitor for helping raise money for starving children overseas as well as for her pacifist, anti-war stance. In 1919, the FBI named her "the Most Dangerous Woman in America." Twelve years later, she became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Slade begins the back matter on Addams with this quote:
Nothing could be worse than the fear that one has given up too soon, and had left one effort unexpended which might have saved the world.
After working in public education for four years, with a student population where 2/3 of children live in poverty, are immigrants and are English language learners, it is hard to feel hopeful for their futures, and sometimes even their presents - especially in the current political climate. And, while I work with a passionate, dedicated group of people, the leadership in our district has been very slow to recognize the needs of our actual student population, instead focusing money and energy on researching why families are leaving the district and attempting to lure them back. It's hard to feel like change is possible when the decision making - and money - is in the hands of these people, but Dangerous Jane and Jane Addams has inspired to create my own Hull House! I don't have money to help my students, but I do have books and knowledge and a safe place for them to be and, while, as much as it saddens me, I don't think I can save the world, I will find a way to make sure I don't leave that "one effort unexpended."
Source: Review Copy