What Jane Addams Found in the East, July 7, 1924




Miss Jane Addams recently returned from a trip in the Orient. She went "to visit Gandhi," just as years ago she had made a pilgrimage to [Tolstoy]. But the then British government (says an American paper), had been unkinder to Gandhi than the Tsarist government had been to [Tolstoy]. Gandhi was in gaol and she did not get to see him. But she caught the ferment of the social forces which he had partially unloosened. From India she went to China, Japan and the Philippines. There, too, the filaments of social changes stressed towards her magnetic flair for human progress.

"The general shake-up of the world has slightly aroused the Eastern women," she said, "in places here and there, and almost altogether only among the educated classes. The East is heavy and somnolent with customs and traditions which hedge and veil the women and keep them timid in walled homes and gardens. But now they are becoming somewhat active in political and probably even more so in educational life.

"The British, whose women at home cannot vote before the age of 30, granted the suffrage to all women over 21 in India and over 18 to Burma. When I was in Bombay, three Indian women and one Scotchwoman were running for the City Council; and the Scotch woman alone lost.

"But only the women who believe in the 'constitutional nationalist' movement, that is in working with the British towards liberal reforms, vote and run for office. The followers of Gandhi abstain from all participation with the British Government. Their influence is great, for Indian women exercise considerable moral control over their men. In fact, in some parts of India the matriarchal system still subjects. Their name and property and much social powers descend through the mother -- an echo of an old woman-made order of society. And in some parts of Northern India they even [practice] polyandry -- one woman has several husbands. These remnants of antiquity are, of course, not part of the modern woman's movement, but they do in a way reflect her hereditary power.

"In the larger [centers], as in Calcutta, the women have been in active educational and social work for five or six generations. [Today] some of them sit on the Board of Education. They are the leaders in public health. In the bigger cities there are many women's clubs and societies, patterned after the West, like our women city clubs, lobbying for social reforms and social legislation of all kinds."

Higher Education.

"Higher education is reaching more and more women in India. But all this new life still has to stir within the shell of ancient custom. The Indian girls are usually collected by the 'college bus' and after lectures just as secludedly taken home again. But between trips they absorb ideas which liquidate their restrictions.

"The medical education of the Indian women is probably higher developed than with us. They have many more women doctors, for an Indian woman will not be treated by a man. Their technical medical training is very good, I understand, and now they are beginning to be interested in the great social implications of medicine. In some maternity hospitals there are family wards, where the expectant mother comes with her husband and her children.

"But otherwise maternity and other protective legislation of women is backward in India. All [labor] there is incredibly cheap and its turn-over is rapid. And the welfare work carried on among the working women is still more palliative than remedial. It is mostly backed by the Y.W.C.A., which is doing splendid work throughout all the Eastern countries. All over India there are Social Service Leagues and Leagues of Women Workers and other such organizations with names which sound familiar to us, whose aims are definitely influenced by Western standards. The League of Women Workers is most active in Calcutta, where it is making research studies of all kinds. But, in fact, these leagues and all the other social organizations of the same type have still very little power.

"I spent less time in China. There as in India women [play] an ever present role in the hoary family culture. But now modern industry is beginning to whittle away this ancient heritage and the women and children face the new industrial order quite unprotected. Long hours, [meager] pay, night work! In Shanghai, which is controlled by the Western Powers, capital is not taxed even for elementary education. In India the movement for political independence has awakened a larger number of women than in China, which is probably less politically minded."

The College Woman's Part.

"In China the new attitude is still confined to the small number of women trained in Western, especially American colleges; or to the missionaries and to the Y.W.C.A. workers. The missionaries there are apparently doing really good work. They run girls' schools as well as boys' schools, and when the parents object to the education of their girl children, they threaten to close the boys' schools as well. And the threat usually works. Social work in the East must rise painfully slow, for it has to combat not merely the lethargy of custom but the greed of Western industry as well. And in China [page 2] Western imperialism is particularly menacing.

"The Y.W.C.A. has a [program] of recreational activities among the working women. But, unfortunately, it has not the power to institute more fundamental reforms, excepting toward the making of social opinion. I consider the Y.W.C.A. one of the most potent forces for good among the women in the Orient. Its leaders know the facts first hand; they are planning far ahead, and they understand how deep is the indifference of alien capital.

"In Japan I fell sick. But I did notice that there, as well as in Korea, the woman's movement has a resemblance to our own. The Japanese are great adapters, of course. Sometimes this seems a bit funny to us. Thus in one Japanese settlement they wanted to paint a picture of [Tolstoy] at his [plow] in their [theater], because they saw that picture at the Hull House [Theater]."

Women's Clubs in Japan.

"Not long ago there was a big convention of all the Japanese women's clubs that are scattered throughout the country. They had meetings on the care of children, dress, diet, on modern systems of education, the wiping out of slums, international peace. The Y.W.C.A. is also very active in Japan, but it is noticeable that a greater number of the secretaries, including the general secretary, are Japanese. The Japanese always prefer to run things themselves. The working conditions of the woman in Japan are possibly better than in India and China. But [labor] is unorganized throughout the Orient and hence quite helpless. And in a helpless [labor] movement the women and children are the most exploited.

"In the Philippine Islands things seem still more familiar. In Manila our party was met by a number of committees from different women's clubs. The Woman's City Club, the Women Doctors of Manila, the Professional Woman's Club, they were all represented. They took us through the social organizations of the city, and they seemed to try to keep us away from the American administration. They are proud of their own achievements.

"I do not think that the great masses of the women of the East are moving fast. But their leaders are well in front: hoping, studying hard and working, working all the time."

Miss Addams did not mention, and I believe she hardly saw, the changing [colors], the scenery, the ancient arts, the simple god-like confidence which so impressed Bertrand Russell in the East. Women made her think of women in industry. Children made her look into child [labor]. And if she saw any geisha in Japan, she no doubt wondered and thought sadly of "an Ancient Evil." For Miss Jane Addams lives entirely in terms of social movements. That is the secret of her moral genius. Miss Jane Addams is constitutionally incapable of troubling about Miss Jane Addams's happiness or your convenience or my feelings when they happen to stand in the way of free speech or the minimum wage or a maternity benefit.