Ida Minerva Tarbell to Jane Addams, January 26, 1917


January 26, 1917

Dear Miss [Addams]: --

Your letter of January 18th reached me just as I was leaving New York to do a little speaking in this part of the world. I should have been glad to have talked over the matter of my going on the Tariff Board with you. I should like to have tried to make you understand my point of view. I of course gave the offer very careful consideration. There were several reasons why I declined. The one which clinched the matter with the president and his advisors was that I did not feel that I had the physical strength to undertake the work which the position involved. I felt as if I knew what I would be going in to and I did not feel that I was physically fit to meet the demand. There is a great bulk of the most confining kind of statistical work to be done by that Commission before it will be fit to speak with any kind of authority. The [Interstate] Commerce Commission has had a hard job but this Tariff Commission is going to have one much more involved because it covers all industries and all their relations must be considered. The people who go on to it must be educate themselves for it by several years of close study. The Commission itself is not going to be able to do much for Congress or to deserve much attention from the Country until it is a thoroughly educated body. I possibly know a little [page 2] about the subject but nobody knows how little it is compared with what there is to <I should> know before one can <I could> speak with real authority. For the last three or four years particularly I have been realizing that it was going to be necessary for me to change my work for a few months of each year, that is get away from the desk. That has been one reason that I have given up all editorial work and have taken up a certain amount of Chautauqua and lyceum speaking. What little usefulness I have I do not mean to destroy if I can help it by breaking down and I know that that is what would happen if I went on this commission. I could not stand the continuous confinement that is involved.

But there are other reasons; I should feel that I was running away from very compelling personal obligations if I undertook it and I have always felt that the way of usefulness began at home. I suppose that is an old fashioned way to look at it but I have never been able to see it otherwise. I simply could not accept the position feeling as I do about my health and these personal obligations. I feel, my dear Miss [Addams], and I have so told the President, that I can be of more service [through] the exercise of my profession than I can by devoting the few years that I have left for hard work to a technical task as this must be, at least for some time. The human bearing of the Tariff Commission I think I may be able to help interpret from time to time. I already have in mind the preparation of a popular talk [page 3] to be called “Our Tariff”. The people who are rash enough to book me are very much in favor of it. I have talked a little with Colonel House about it and he approves it. I am probably trying to do something of this kind to salve my conscience for not doing what the President asked. Of course I know with a thing of this sort there is a public obligation involved and it is the fear that I might be shirking that that has been the hardest for me in making my decision. The more I think of it, however, the more I am convinced that I am right. I can do more outside. These are some of the things that I should have said to you if I had seen you in New York. If they seem unsound to you, when you have the time and strength tell me so.

I hope that you are as thankful for the President's message as I am. It seems to me the highest call that this Country has had from any man since Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It is the most powerful expression of the idea of universal peace which the world has heard.

Most faithfully and affectionately yours,

Ida M. Tarbell [signed]

Miss Jane [Addams],
Chicago, Illinois
<Pray pardon the looks of this
letter and the missing 'd'
in your name. The little girl
had to hurry -- and she has
much to learn!>