As I See Women, August 1915

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[image: JANE ADDAMS]
By Jane Addams
In an Informal Talk With a Friend

THE universal opinion is that women are more restless now than at any other time in the history of the world. But the woman who perhaps knows her sex better and has worked among them and for them more than any other woman in America, and who herself is the most efficient woman in America, Miss Jane Addams, the head of Hull-House, Chicago, says they are not a bit more restless.

"Really they are not," said Miss Addams; "they are simply more vocal. They are coming to the surface; they are expressing themselves more, and you confuse that with a sense of greater unrest. They have dropped their old policy of repression and are talking -- saying what they think and what they want."

"Talking more?" asked the friend.

"Yes," answered Miss Addams. "Don't the Chinese women have scolding places along the rivers where they go, when life is too much for them, and scold and scold until their troubles have evaporated, and then go home feeling better? Our women have no specified scolding places, and I don’t think they are even scolding, except when men who don't understand them refuse to give them what they are entitled to."

"But surely you think that women are more restless than men, don’t you?" was asked.

"Well, perhaps," thoughtfully answered the woman of Hull-House; "perhaps they are; but don’t forget that men, having more outlet for their energy, work it off. I will say this," continued Miss Addams: "I think the number of women who have reached self-expression is larger."

"To what do you attribute that fact? From what has that sprung?" asked the friend.

"It would really take a book to answer that," said Miss Addams. "But, broadly speaking, general forces are at work, resulting in a shifting of values."

"Are men in any way concerned in it?"

MISS ADDAMS smiled. "Well," she said, "I think there is a readjustment of domestic relations and a closer examination of them than before. There is more self-analysis."

"And you think this self-analysis to be wise?"

"Yes, provided it is not carried to an extreme. It can easily, of course, become excessive, and then naturally it is bad -- and becomes morbid."

"Do you think that danger exists now?"

"To an extent it does. It is a bit overdone, but that is always the case with any people who are emerging from a condition of repression or less freedom of expression. I think the women are overdoing it, but they will come to their senses and find the happy medium. I think there is going to come out of this shifting of relations the greater self-development of women, and in turn the development of others whose lives these freer women will touch. I go so far as to say that I think it will accelerate the progress of the world."

"You do not see any harm to the present girl in all this shifting?"

"No, unless it is misunderstood and overdone. The more vigorous-minded young women of today, with larger interests occupying their thought and attention, are, I believe, better than the girls of the past, whose lives were full of small, mean gossip and whose daylight hours were spent in embroidering. The only way, to my mind, to make a woman bigger and broader is to put bigger and broader subjects into her mind."

"Suffrage, for instance?" asked the friend.

"Well, suffrage, if you will; although to my mind there are other questions quite as vital and important as suffrage, nothing so quickly widens a woman's interests as the exercise of the franchise. Let me explain what I mean by this: The other day in Chicago an Irish woman came to call. Although she was an old woman before she obtained the right to vote, she talked about politics all the time. She was very much interested in the two Democratic candidates for Mayor of Chicago. She knew a great deal about both. She said that her younger son wanted her to vote for one candidate and her married son was trying to persuade her to vote for the other. 'Do you know,' said his woman, 'I haven't talked to my boys so much for five years?' So, you see, it gave mother and sons a mutual interest, and it gave her an entirely new interest. Such a woman would not be interested in abstractions, but if she has to make up her mind to vote, and if men, her sons and other people talk about her vote as of consequence, she wakes up and feels herself to be a factor in life as she never did before."

"You do not believe, then, that women will blindly follow their husbands' lead in voting?"

"Some, of course, will; some of them do; but an analysis of the vote in Chicago shows that many wives do not. Women have the same faculty for politics that men have."

"But don't women for the most part believe that the vote in their hands is going to cure all the economic evils?"

"I don't think they do. The vote is simply an instrument; a means toward securing a better social order through self-government. I think it will bring more wisdom to women; and when they pool such wisdom into a common fund they will have the opportunity to get it translated into politics. I think woman's vote will bring certain questions to the fore in politics that heretofore have never been there."

"For instance?" asked the friend.

"Questions that appeal to women, but because they are either overlooked or not understood by men and are now being neglected. As an example: One of the first public policy acts that women voted upon in Chicago was for an issue of bonds to build a contagious disease hospital. The women were enormously interested in it and talked a great deal about it. The men did not realize the difficulty of caring for sick children in crowded tenement houses and the way the spread of those diseases might be prevented. But the women did. They were interested as only mothers could be. And there are many similar things that cities are doing in which women are more naturally interested than men."

"BUT you don’t mean that women should work apart from men?"

"Oh, no," was the quick reply. "I am strong in the belief that men and women should work together on all questions of public interest. It has a better effect on both, and it is moreover the ideal condition that men and women shall do things together. One result of equal suffrage is that women and men work shoulder to shoulder and not apart."

"But are women enough interested in the vital things?" asked the friend. "For with the claim that women are progressing is the unpleasant fact that they are more amusement-loving and given over to dress than ever before."

"Well, are they?" mused Miss Addams. "I wonder. Are they the same women? I think there is a class of women availing themselves of the newer amusements and buying the cheap, showy clothes who have never had them before -- an element that has just come to the surface, just emerging from a sort of oblivion. This is their first experience with amusement and dress; they are like the jangling of bells to a child -- all new. They want something easy and strident, something that doesn’t make them think. I think the easy new dances and the 'movies' that ask nothing of the mind have brought an entirely new element to the surface."

"Not the same people then?"

"Not altogether. Of course, in some cases they are. And where they are the same people I think they are expressing themselves more truly and more naturally. They used to go to a [Shakespearean] play, perhaps, because they thought they should go. But they didn’t enjoy it. They sat solemnly, bored and unmoved. It was beyond them. Now they have a wider choice, and it is a more genuine expression of themselves and their tastes. Crude, yes, but real; genuine, just as the miracle play in its day was a genuine thing. You and I may not like it, but I think it is coming right out of the desires of the people and revealing them. We see them now in all their frivolity and in all their nearness to the earth, but at least it is genuine, and the beginning of better things."

"And you see no harm in all this to the girl of today?"

"I won't say that," smiled Miss Addams. "I confess I am sometimes a bit taken aback at the modern young woman; at the things she talks about and at her free and easy ways. But I think such girls are only the fringe of the whole. I think the vast majority of the girls of today are more simple and straightforward and modest than the girls of some time ago. They have cleaner thoughts, and the breakdown of prudery that has come has done them good."

"You believe, then, in the modern tendency to be franker with our girls on the subject of sex and self and personal hygiene?"

"Indeed I do," emphatically said Miss Addams. "But I think there should be a better and more dignified and natural instruction in such matters. I do not see occasion for much pride in the way the teaching has been done or is being done now. I believe sex matters should be taught less through biology and more through history and biography. The fact that many men and women have not only wrecked their own lives but the lives of others -- in fact, of nations -- because they lacked self-control, should be brought out. Biology is only one aspect of the matter; the lives of men and women afford the illustrations."

"You mean this should be taught in the home?"

"WELL," said Miss Addams thoughtfully, "we say 'Teach it in the home,' and then mothers don’t do it; and the result is that it is not taught at all."

"Then you would leave it to the schools to teach?"

"Where the teachers are first prepared and instructed to teach it, yes. There should be special teachers for it."

"What age would you fix for a child in such teaching?"

"I don’t think you can lay down a rule. For instance, the children in the tenements ought to be taught at an earlier age, because they do not go to the high schools. As a rule this teaching is confined to the high school, but it must be taught more naturally everywhere -- not as a dangerous subject that must be mysteriously and strangely treated."

"Now, when that girl leaves school and goes back home, what can she do to prove her sisterhood with other girls?"

"You mean," asked Miss Addams, "the girl who is sheltered in her parents' home?"

"Yes. What can such a sheltered girl do to prove her sisterhood with the girl who is not so fortunate, who has to go out to work?"

"She should, I think," answered Miss Addams thoughtfully, "join some club where they discuss such questions, or identify herself with some institution where she can meet working girls themselves." [page 2]

"But suppose she doesn’t want to join a club?"

"Work as an individual, you mean?" echoed Miss Addams. "Then let her follow the [clues] which are right in her own home. Her mother has maids; a milliner's apprentice may come to the house; she has a seamstress; the natural [clues] that enter into every home. Any one of these [clues] will lead her to the very heart of things and the questions outside. I have a girl friend who got interested in a shopgirl and took her place in the store for two weeks while the salesgirl had a much-needed vacation. Nobody knew anything about it. There are a great many lines in her parents' home that a girl can follow through the people employed there that will lead her straight into the problems that confront poor families."

"And you think every girl should do this?"

"I do, if only because it will mean so much for her own development. It isn’t what we do for the unfortunate that helps them half so much as it is what they do for us; they broaden our vision, they quicken our sympathies, they bring latent qualities within us to the surface. It is the greatest sort of self-education to help others."

"And she will be the better wife and mother for this work?"

"Most decidedly; the better she is as an individual, the better she is in all her relations: wife and mother."

"And what definite thing would you advise the girl who so works to strive to obtain for her working sister?" was asked.

HERE Miss Addams's eyes lighted up. Here she was on her favorite ground. "Higher wages and shorter hours," came the immediate answer. "Most of the working girls I know are exhausted. They are fearfully tired, and they often marry because they are tired and sick of it all. And that is wrong from the beginning. It may be some time before we can secure a universal eight-hour law for the working girl, but we should have it, except in exceptional occupations. Ten hours make a very long day, and, of course, more than ten hours is an outrage and inhuman."

"And you believe eight dollars a week should be the minimum wage?"

"Broadly speaking, yes, although I doubt if you can fix a flat rate for all industries. But a girl can't live on much less in these days."

"Do women as a whole realize this, do you think?"

"No," came the ready answer, "for if they did we should be farther along in our solution of the problems connected with the working girl's hours and wages."

"Why don't women realize it more? Is it inertia or indifference?"

"Both, I fear," sadly replied Miss Addams. "There are many who do, of course, and we should be thankful for those and the large, fine effort which they put forth. But, oh!" -- and here a veil of sadness came over the fine face of the woman who has worked so hard and so wonderfully successfully for her sex -- "so many women are so absorbed in their own personal affairs that sometimes it hurts!"

AND to see how it does hurt Jane Addams would arouse every woman in the land!

"And the remedy?" was quietly asked.

"A quickening," replied the most efficient woman in America; "a quickening of the mind to see the things to be done. The thing that makes one so discouraged is to see the working girl overworked -- I mean, working beyond her strength, until she becomes a sort of travesty of what she should be in health and vigor and strength; and then, on the other hand, to see a lot of women going to pieces through sheer idleness. Only the other day we wanted a certain hall for a public meeting for a much-needed discussion, but we couldn’t get it because eight hundred women had it engaged for a huge whist party!"

And Miss Addams smiled grimly.

"It isn’t that I don’t want women to have a good time and play. I like a good time myself too much to deny it to others. But --"

And the fine face became superbly fine as there was reflected upon it the dream of the potentiality of thousands of pleasure-loving women all joining hands and forces for the betterment of their sisters.

"Within reason, you think?" broke the silence.

"Yes," replied Jane Addams; "exactly. Within reason."

The smile returned to that wonderful face; there was a deep sign of the broken tension, and the femininity of this strong and competent woman asserted itself:

"I do love my four o'clock tea. Will you have a cup?"

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