The Church and the Social Evil, April 23, 1912


New York, April 23. -- Jane Addams, of Hull House, Chicago, created the sensation of today's session of the Men and Religion Forward Congress here.

Miss Addams chose as the title of her address, "The Church and the Social Evil."

She said the test of our religion, of our civilization, of our social advancement, lay only in our attitude toward prostitution.

Then she went on to denounce, in bitter words, the manner in which modern society deals with that problem of the ages.

"The supreme religious test of our social order," said Miss Addams, "is the hideous commerce of prostitution, and the sorry results of that test today are shown in the hypocrisy and hardness of heart of the average 'good citizen' toward the so-called fallen woman.

"May we not say that in consequence of this irreligious attitude, prostitution today remains a hard, unresolved mass in the midst of so-called Christian civilization, until it has become a vice which cannot be eradicated, a sin which cannot be forgiven, a social disease that cannot be cured. 

"The modern way of treating the social evil as a matter for contemptuous indifference has laid the foundation of all political corruption.

"Prostitution, protected by a thick hedge of secrecy, imperceptibly renewing itself through changing administrations, has become the one fixed point of graft, the unbreakable bank to which the corrupt politicians may, go when in need of funds.

"The corruption spreads, as all bad things spread until the brothel, the saloon and the gambling den are the real rulers of our cities.

"Surely the harlot has been avenged upon the city which despises her.

"The men who consider her a legitimate source of revenue prey upon and fleece the decent tax-payer who refuse to acknowledge her existence, and she abides -- through one administration after another to the confusion of all movements for civic reform.

"If we are to solve the problem of modern city government, if we are to advance our civilization, there is one thing with which we must begin.

"The men who call themselves decent must adopt a more charitable, more Christ-like attitude toward the fallen woman.

"They must cast aside their cloaks of hypocrisy, and pretense, and shallow self-righteousness.

"The success of this business, which, in Chicago alone, pays its protectors $15,000,000 a year, is founded on the hypocrisy and self-righteousness of the decent citizen.

"And that business, with its enormous revenues, goes on, capturing young girls, debauching young men, spreading disease and corrupting city politics, only [Page 2] because men who call themselves good do not consider it a part of their religious obligation to face it openly and to undertake its abolition."

Miss Addams spoke to an audience made up almost entirely of men.

The Rev. Herbert Gray, of Glasgow, Scotland, followed Miss Addams.

"The only ideal for Christian social service," he said, "is the introduction of a social industrial and commercial order expressive of brotherhood -- an order in which every man's daily calling shall be a serving of the human family and not a struggle with his brethren.

"This does not mean socialism, nor anything like it. It means the adoption of a different attitude toward life, a greater kindliness, and the banishment of envy, and malice, and hatred, and greed. It means what Christ meant Christianity to mean."