Social reformer Jane Addams visits

Jane Addams. (Public domain photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

MARQUETTE — During the first week of July 1905, The Mining Journal ran daily advertisements which said only “Lecture by Miss Jane Addams at Presbyterian Church, Friday Evening June 9th All our (sic) welcome. Tickets 50 cents.”

No further introduction was needed. Although Addams was not yet as famous as she would ultimately become (she became known as the founder of social work and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931) she was already known as a fierce social reformer and as the founder of the settlement house movement in the United States. Hull House, which Addams founded on Chicago’s near west side in 1889, was home to approximately 25 well-educated progressive women who had chosen to live and work in the burgeoning immigrant community.

Hull House offered preschool and continuing education classes, an employment bureau, English and citizenship classes and theater, music, and art classes for children and adults, serving as many as 2000 people every week. As early as 1892 Addams had successfully advocated for the first child labor laws, resulting in being branded as a radical and a “threat to the very foundations of the free enterprise system.”

In 1901 she and her colleagues had founded the Juvenile Protective Association, beginning a long history of advocacy that led to the first juvenile courts and the first government agencies focused on the issues of children and families.

The Mining Journal article that ran the day after the speech was complimentary. “Miss Addams speaks in a direct, unaffected manner, and with a quiet confidence that conveys to her audience an impression of entire sincerity.” It also quoted, with admiration, her story about “first murderer I ever met” as a “steady, decent immigrant, defending his old father from hoodlums, and badgered by them into shooting.” The reporter continued, “Miss Addams’ influence to aid this unfortunate lay in understanding and in making others understand his confused, unhappy condition. It was her womanly compassion for an ignorant, helpless foreigner cast from a Russian farm into the bustle of a great alien city.”

Although the Marquette speech was sponsored by the Marquette Federation of Women’s Clubs, and was expected to focus on women’s issues, the newspaper coverage, at least, was dominated by a different topic–the ongoing clash in Chicago between labor unions, particularly the new Teamsters Union, and local businesses.

The strike had begun with garment workers in the fall of 1904, but the Teamsters unions joined in a sympathy strike in April 1905. Soon there were daily riots that ultimately resulted in hundreds of injuries and 21 deaths. The May 3rd headline on the Washington (D.C.) Times newspaper read “Riot-Ridden City Flows with Blood.”

As she had during the 1894 Pullman Strike, Addams was among a group of civic leaders appointed by the mayor to try to arbitrate a settlement. The Mining Journal reporter asserted that “in all Chicago there is perhaps no person better informed than Miss Addams regarding the situation” and during the presentation asked her “Is it true that there has been an irrational use of power on the part of the strike leaders in Chicago during the teamsters’ strike?”

Addams’ response is quoted at length. “It is undoubtedly true to some extent, and the charge is openly made that there is corrupt practice within some of the unions. However, the teamsters’ strike might have been settled on five or six different occasions had it not been for the stand taken by the express companies.

Any number of prominent Chicago men journeyed to New York for the sole purpose of trying to induce Senator Platt [a senator from New York and president of one of the express companies] to allow the express teamsters to return to work.

The Citizens’ committee conferred with all parties — the teamsters’ unions, the team owners and the employers. We held one session on a Sunday that lasted from 3 until 7 o’clock in the afternoon. That was shortly after the outbreak of the strike.

At first, nobody wanted to arbitrate, and when we finally succeeded in arranging details of a settlement, the position taken by the express companies nullified our efforts.” (The strike ultimately ended in July, but the violence set back public sympathy for labor unions for years to come.)

Although Addams was encouraged to spend a bit more time in Marquette, she declined, saying “I came here directly from Hull House. I must get back without delay. I will leave on the first train tomorrow.”


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