THE SPIRIT OF SOCIAL SERVICE
Jane Addams, Hull-House, Chicago
It is quite impossible for anyone who has been abroad recently not to tell of that experience. I was in Europe trying to find out as accurately as possible the condition of the children throughout several countries. It seems to me too that there is for us from over there a direct message in regard to the spirit of social service. I should like to speak this afternoon as to my colleagues in the same profession and to state frankly that I thought many times, that unless as social workers we comprehend this situation and take hold of it and cease not until it was rectified, we are not worth our salt. After all, what is the spirit of social work? It was founded upon genuine, human pity, upon the desire to relieve suffering, to give food to the hungry and shelter to the homeless; unless we can get back to that, underlying as it does, all the subdivisions and subtleties into which we have developed our activities, and take hold of this great world-situation, [page 2] we will fail in an essential obligation, in a sense we will be traitors to our original purpose. Whether we see groups of long-neglected little children returning to the devastated regions of northern France; whether we are told of the starved children of Armenia going to the graveyards to find bones from which they may extract the marrow for food; whether you see, as I did, crowds of malnourished children waiting to be transported to Switzerland to be rescued from actual starvation -- how can we fail to regard the situation as a challenge so imperious and so overwhelming that everything else must be put aside? Surely, we have not forgotten that social work must be based upon sheer survival. After all, how did human ethics start? We are told that the basis of family life came from the insistence of the woman that her child must be fed. For that reason she refused constantly to follow the tribe from one place to another. Sometimes when the tribe had decided to move on she said, "I will not move from this spot until the crop is ripened, so that my children may have food." Such we are told, was the humble beginning of family ethics: the man went abroad to fish and to hunt, but he kept coming back to the cave or the hut which she had selected, near the field. Insisting that the life of her child was of more importance than the wanderings of the tribe, she gradually changed the habits of the tribe from nomadic to a more settled type.
It is said that commercial relations were established when one starving tribe was forced to seek food from another which it was not strong enough to fight. In substituting the process of barter for that of plunder a long step was taken forward, although the progress was based upon starvation. But if the institution of the family arose from the feeding of children, if the beginning of our commercial order came from the effort to keep the tribe alive, it might also be true that new international relationships might be founded upon the determination to keep the childhood of the race from destruction, to feed the peoples of the world. And shall we not say in this dark moment of distress and reaction that in an unusual sense, the hour of the social worker has come, if we but have the insight and the courage to measure up to its opportunities? How can we insist that the children of the United States be adequately fed -- and we are trying to do it through many new organizations as well as through the old ones -- unless at the same time we concern ourselves with the children across the sea?
By entering the world-war, the United States gave up her former isolation and assumed responsible relationships with the government of Europe. The very people for whom the war for democracy was fought, the people of whom we are demanding that they change from monarchial to republican forms of government; those very people are starving, and have no energy, no mental vigor with which to consider and adjust the delicate political and industrial questions that confront them.
Mr. Hoover has made a recent estimate that $150,000,000 worth of food is needed in Europe before the harvest of 1920 will be available. Congress has appropriated one-third of the amount -- the money to be spent for wheat in the United States -- but now it holds back, not because the country does not possess the food, but because of lack of imagination and because we are not widely humanitarian enough to bring the situation before all the people of the United States in such wise that Congress, yielding to an irresistible pressure, shall send the food speedily. In every country during and after the war the greatest amount of suffering was felt in the late winter and early spring, after the potato crop had been consumed as well as the grain harvest [page 3] of the previous year, and before anything new could come from the ground. For months all that the people in certain districts of Saxony, for instance, had to eat, was a certain coarse kind of turnip. Inevitably many old people died as well as little children. People cannot live upon such food for long stretches of time, unless they are strong and healthy.
What, therefore, does this challenge from Europe mean? That the primitive human relations are the basis of social work, the sanction for all we do. If we cut away from those and say that it is not our business to feed the hungry in Armenia; that, of course, we are sorry for [Serbia], but that we in America can do nothing for its typhus, we may quite easily so injure and cripple the spirit of social service that all our efforts for many years may fail to make good the lost opportunity. The statisticians tell us that the United States has a surplus of wheat and pork. A little later on, the farmers may ask for larger opportunities to ship it out of the country. Let us not wait for the financial pinch, for the commercial motive, but let us act upon the humanitarian aspect of the situation.
Every social worker, brought close day by day, to the anxiety of the immigrants in his own community, may well say not only that it is our solemn obligation to respond to this world-need, and that unless we do so respond we are in a very real sense unworthy of the professions we make, but also that such action on the part of America would become a great reconciling act, a gigantic expression of good will to our immigrant populations and to their kinsfolk across the sea. The need is world-wide, including nations who are not in the least responsible for the war, as well as the allied countries and the Central Powers. In all of them starving children must be fed and that quickly. Upon the adults in each generation rests the responsibility of the survival of the next generation. Shall social workers who have assumed additional responsibility be worthy of their calling until this humanitarian purpose be fulfilled?