The Problem of Poverty, March 10, 1903 (excerpt)



Famous Chicago Woman Tells of Modern Benevolent Methods.

An audience which completely filled the assembly room at the court house Tuesday evening heard Miss Jane Addams, of Chicago, in an interesting talk upon "The Problem of Poverty," and despite the fact that there were some embarrassing annoyances connected with the meeting, the event was thoroughly successful and interesting. The lecture was given under the auspices of the Woman's Club league and ladies comprised a vast majority of the audience. Miss Addams, who was to have reached the city at 7:30, missed her train at Chicago and was compelled to resort to the limited, which did not arrive until after 9 o'clock. The audience gathered early, but it was nearly 8:30 o'clock before the announcement of Miss Addams' delay was made and Alexander Johnson was persuaded to speak during the interval pending her arrival. Mr. Johnson's task was not an easy one, but without previous preparation he undertook it, and for an hour kept the audience thoroughly interested in an informal talk on charitable work.

Miss Addams, famous throughout the country as the founder of Hull house at Chicago, was greeted with applause as she entered the room at 9:30 o'clock, stepped upon the platform and was at once presented by Mr. Johnson. Miss Addams in a few sentences apologized for her delay and expressed appreciation for the kindly greeting she had received, but launched at once into her address. "The problem of poverty," she said, is almost a new phrase. We have not long regarded it as a thing to be studied, but rather as a condition to be relieved as it came under our notice day by day. The old notion of poverty was that the cases were to be treated one by one; that we were to do the thing which was nearest our hand, giving aid as the cases presented themselves. This plan is moderately effective in village life, where one is likely to be familiar with all the conditions existing there, but in the cities it is different. You may live in a fairly prosperous street; there is perhaps no poverty exactly next door, and you cannot literally 'begin at home.' This is why the modern moral enterprise must be organized to do its most effective work."

Miss Addams cited three important phases in the treatment of poverty. It was necessary to find out, first, what is poverty; then how it exists, and, finally, why it exists. She expressed the belief that America has been somewhat behind Europe in taking an interest in such matters, but under the movement as it is growing today the finest minds of all the world are interested in the problem of poverty. Among the reasons for the existence of poverty Miss Addams spoke of the lack of industrial equipment. Many foreigners come to America with a skilled knowledge in some art that has been handed down to them from generation to generation, but they find no opportunity for the use of that knowledge and drift into the more menial class of labor. Still others are the victims of child labor -- of a system which placed them at toil in childhood and used up at that time the forces which should have carried them through industrial life. They are poor now because they have no skill and no energy; they were worn out in early life.

Another cause of poverty is the course followed in that critical time between when the child leaves school and when he becomes settled. This must be looked after if the problem of poverty is to be properly taken care of. Still other causes of poverty depend upon health and vigor, unsanitary diseases. To prevent it all needs a very close acquaintance with the poor -- not merely those who come with an appeal for charity, but those also who work but who just escape each year falling into the chasm of abject distress. Some stimulus is needed to lift men above the mere grind of life. The best way of giving a man a good house is to give him a proper idea of sanitation. In his development he will adopt the ideas to his own habitation. When life is a mere struggle to get money there is need of outside influences to change it. There must be an incentive to something better than this. He must be made to appreciate the fact that there is something in life above and beyond the mere grind of toll.

The growing boys often get into serious trouble because there is not an outlet for their natural forces. I think sometimes, continued Miss Addams, that we build our cities as though we never expected boys to be born. They must have opportunities for pleasure and enjoyment. Miss Addams then spoke at some length upon the work of Hull house in Chicago, that social settlement which has done so much to better the condition of the poorer classes of people in the Nineteenth ward of that great city. The speaker answered many questions propounded by ladies and gentlemen in the audience. Under such systems, she said, the problem of poverty was being attacked from various angles -- the cases one by one, then by neighborhoods, and finally by society as a whole. Miss Addams said that while the organizations similar to Hull house would undoubtedly aid in solving the problem of poverty, she could not claim that it would do more than that. It was not a panacea for all ills.

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