Amusement for the People, March 25, 1902 Also known as: Address to the Charity Organization Society, March 25, 1902




"When the theatre is handed over to those who present only plays of adventure and the ignoble side of life we lose of the greatest moral agents possible. Church, school and theatre should work together as educational forces," said Miss Jane Addams, of Hull House, Chicago, yesterday at the conference held under the auspices of the Charity Organization Society.

The subject for discussion was "Amusements for the People," and Miss Addams told how much good is being done by the theatre in Hull House. The dramatic company consists of amateurs from the class which the Settlement is designed to benefit, and the plays are "censored" by the Settlement workers, so that the entertainment is kept within discreet limits without being deprived of force and human interest.

"The dramas are often of a classical and historical nature," Miss Addams said," and plays of this character always attract large audiences. Once we gave a version of 'The Odysseus,' in which the players were largely Greek, and the interest was intense. All the actors had their lines thoroughly learned in three days, because they were so familiar with the story, having read it in the public schools. That was early in the history of the theatre, and since that time the other nationalities have seemed to have an increased respect for the Greeks on account of their classic origin. The company cleared $300 by the performance, after paying for the staging. We wanted them to give half to a Greek church and keep the remainder for future expenses. They refused, however, to keep any of it, saying that as Hull House had given them the opportunity to 'show forth the honor of Greece,' as they expressed it, they wanted Hull House to have the money."


The different nationalities represented in the company, which is large, are allowed to give plays in their own languages, and there are Italian, Bohemian and German plays, as well as Greek. The English plays are as well attended, however, Miss Addams stated, as the foreign, as all regard it as a help in acquiring English.

Miss Addams suggested that it is important to select plays that are comprehensible by the people composing the audience, illustrating her point by Howells's little farce that turns on the dilemma of a man invited to a dinner, who was unable to find his evening dress. "The audience sat there dumbly wondering why the man could not go to dinner in one coat as well as another," she said. "It was not in the least amusing to them, because they could not get the point of view."

The force of the theatre, in the speaker's opinion, lies in the fact that it furnishes the only opportunity in the life of the ordinary working boy or man to get away from himself and to see life as others live it.

"It is not quite as bad as it is painted," she declared." Usually the hero is noble and brave, and wins in the end. The heroine is good and gentle, and becomes happy eventually, and the villain is highly objectionable, and is generally foiled. The moral is all right, you see."

Miss Addams thinks it is a pity that the earliest use of the theatre, to convey moral teachings, should have been so lost sight of, and believes that there should be cheap playhouses in all the poor districts, where good plays could be given under the supervision of competent and conscientious persons.


A novel point brought out by Miss Addams was that these theatres should allow parents to bring the entire family, as a large proportion of the desertions in the lower class come after the birth of the third child.

"They can manage two," she said, "but even the kindhearted doorkeeper cannot make it possible for them to manage more than that in their two seats, so the husband begins to go alone, and when he is separated in his pleasures from the wife the most serious step to another separation is taken."

Mrs. Sarah J. Bird, of the "White Door" Mission, in Clinton-st., told how her Settlement tries to teach the children to amuse the parents by their little entertainments given at the Settlement. She has instituted neighborhood tea parties, that are a great success. The Settlement supplies tea and cakes, and some of the workers take violins or other musical instruments and provide amusement, while the hostess of the day invites her friends and gives them her best in the form of such cleanliness of surroundings as she can achieve.

Mrs. Bird spoke of the social conditions of the locality as being inexpressibly bad. "Behind every cigar and candy shop is a room where boys and girls are deliberately trained for the vicious life of the dance hall. We must provide innocent and uplifting diversions if we would save them."


Mrs. R. Y. Fitzgerald, of the West Side University Settlement, said that the long working hours of the tenement dwellers prevent them from having reasonable diversion at reasonable times. "The law 'permits' women and children to work ten hours a day, and you may be able to imagine how much energy of mind and body are left for enjoyment after ten hours of monotonous, grinding toll. A short time ago a bill was introduced in the Assembly permitting longer hours for women over twenty-one. We succeeded in having that thrown out, but two days ago another was presented that aims to introduce ten hours of day work and ten hours at night. Night work is utterly abominable, and should not be legalized, as its attendant dangers, morally and physically, to young women cannot be overestimated.

"Another bill that has passed the Assembly and only awaits action by the other house is an insidious attack upon the factory law. It provides [page 2] for the exemption of cheese and butter factories from the workings of that law, and has a strong up-State influence favoring it. It is easy to see the result if this bill is passed. If one set of factories is exempted this year, another set may be similarly favored next year, and the factory legislation, so earnestly striven for, will be rendered useless."

Referring to the question of amusements, Mrs. Fitzgerald said that in the Italian districts the greatest obstacle to providing amusement for the children lies in the avarice of the parents, who want them to work every minute. "The poor little things," she said, "are obliged to sit and stick pins in balls or make artificial flowers, or spend in some such enlivening occupation all their time as soon as they are old enough to do it."

Miss Kate Bond was chairman of the meeting. The conference in April will be held on the third Tuesday.

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