Address to the Illinois State Conference of Charities and Corrections, October 24, 1919 (excerpts)



Foremost Social Worker Tells of Conditions in Europe, of Homeless Families and Starving Children.

The seriousness of the housing situation which all Europe is facing and its rows and rows of under nourished children were the two big things about which Miss Jane Addams talked to a capacity audience in First Methodist church Friday evening. Appearing on the program of the Charities and Corrections association convention, Miss Addams was a drawing card. Those who had never heard her were anxious to hear her. Those who had heard were only more anxious to hear her again.

Two Big Problems.

"After all, America more than ever must reflect socially and in its charitable activities what the rest of the world is doing and thinking" said Miss Addams. "I want to give you some of the impressions I received during my few months' visit in Europe recently. The feeding of people and the housing of people both results of the war are the big problems [just] now.

"England was shocked to discover so many of her young men unfit for military service as a result of malnutrition, etc. The nation as a whole felt the revelation as a challenge to its resources. It found millions of families so improperly housed that they did not even meet Government requirements. The housing problem in England is the housing problem everywhere else."

Houses Demolished.

"In France," said Miss Addams "there are miles and miles where there are no houses at all. There will be strips 250 feet wide where scarcely any houses will be found. They are beaten down to the very earth. Even the foundation stones have been used. I knew of one woman who desired to build her home on the same spot in which she lived and where her mother had been born. She could not even find a trace of the foundation of her home. Finally she located the stump of a pear tree which she remembered had stood in her neighbor's garden. By counting off the steps and remembering bit by bit the ground as it used to be, she was able to start her home in practically the same spot it had been before the war.

"One difficulty in rebuilding the devastated region of France is the [objection] of the villagers. They want homes exactly as they were so that when the restitution commission comes around they may obtain their money. This is being overcome in some instances by building shell houses now, and after the commission has made settlements rebuilding about this shell.

"But houses are going up, more beautiful and more commodious than before. Houses are too expensive to up uncomfortable ones."

Children Had Appeal

That the starving children which Miss Addams saw in Europe made a profound impression on her was shown in the vivid pictures which she painted for her hearers. She said that under the United [States] food administration the children of Belgium had had less illness during the last year, in spite of the fact that they had been moved about more.

"There is still a large amount of tuberculosis and rickets in children between the ages of 13 and 16 years. But they are carefully giving these children an extra meal -- a thing our children generally take care of themselves -- and are bettering conditions.

"I saw some children in May, six months after the armistice was signed, whose little bodies were so emaciated that you could count all their ribs. Their shoulder bones stuck out like wings. The doctor who was examining the long procession of them the morning we were visitors there had lost his voice as a result of shell shock. As he examined the children he would speak to them in a whisper and they would answer the same way, thinking it a game. The long line of little, thin, whispering children is a sight I cannot soon forget."

Too Tired to Play.

Miss Addams told how Switzerland had cared for starving children of France on one side and of Serbia and Austria on the other. "I saw 600 children in Vienna absolutely too listless, too worn out to play. They showed no interest in any thing. Many of them had to be put to bed in order that they might not become deformed from standing on bones not nourished enough to bear their weight."

The speaker told of an officer who carelessly proffered a sandwich to a child. In a few minutes children were swarming on him from all sides. Two hundred were clawing at him, tearing his clothes in a vain attempt for another sandwich. He was injured so that he had to be taken to a hospital.

"It is queer, but all time I was in Europe, I thought of frogs" said the speaker. She told of a summer spent in the University of Wisconsin where she was giving a course of lectures. A man giving a course of lectures on biology showed her some experiments he was performing on frogs.

"In one jar he had little frogs, pollywogs, we called them as children, which he was stuffing. In another jar he had frogs of the same age, which he was starving. In a short time after they were full grown he reversed the order. The stuffed frogs were starved, but no matter how he held down their food, they remained jolly and frisky. The starved frogs he attempted to stuff. But no matter how much he fed them he could not induce them to frisk about and act like normal healthy frogs should.

"When I was seeing those rows of under nourished children I found myself wondering if they could ever be brought up to normal, if the results of these years of malnutrition could ever be over come."

Nationality Doesn't Count.

Miss Addams touched briefly on conditions in Germany. "Germany is not worse, nor as bad as Austria," she said. "Starved children in Germany seemed typical of starved children throughout Europe. When one sees a starved child one cannot remember or think of his nationality."

She told of the lamentable conditions existing in the Saxony province where before the war chief living consisted in making toys. She told too of the conditions existing in the industrial cities where there was no work. "I saw long lines of women waiting at the kitchens established by the city, waiting to get food for their children -- always for their children. They told me that the hardest time of all was when the children went to sleep at night. Before they slept they cried and whimpered fretfully because they were not satisfied. Even after they slept they continued to whimper like a sick child in its sleep, all because there was not food."

The end of the war to the children, as Miss Addams found, was a time for food. They were always told that after the war they would have chocolate, ice cream and all the things their growing bodies craved. "I imagine they came down the morning after the armistice was signed, expecting to see the breakfast table loaded with ice cream and other delicacies, they had done without for so long."

Send to Europe.

In closing Miss Addams urged that America see to it that her own children are always properly fed and secondly that she send all the food possible to the starving children of Europe.

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