Autobiographical Notes Upon Twenty Years at Hull-House: Echoes of the Russian Revolution, September 1910

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DURING twenty years at Hull-House the residents have seen many evidences of the Russian Revolution: a forlorn family of little children whose parents have been massacred at Kishinev are received and supported by their relatives in Chicago; or a Russian woman, her face streaming with tears of indignation and pity, asks you to look at the scarred back of her sister, a young girl, who has escaped with her life from the whips of the Cossack soldiers; or a studious young woman suddenly disappears from the Hull-House classes because she has returned to Kiev to be near her brother while he is in prison, that she may earn money for the nourishing food which alone will keep him from contracting tuberculosis; or you attend a protest meeting against the newest outrages of the Russian government, in which the speeches are interrupted by the groans of those whose sons have been sacrificed and by the hisses of others who cannot repress their indignation. At such moments I am filled with a sense of shock at our ignorance of this greatest tragedy of modern times, and at our indifference to the waste of perhaps the noblest human material among our contemporaries. Certain it is that the distinguished Russian revolutionists who have come to Chicago have impressed me, as no other class has done, as belonging to that noble company of martyrs who have ever and again poured forth blood that human progress might be advanced. Sometimes these men and women have addressed audiences gathered quite outside of the Russian Colony, and have filled to overflowing Chicago's largest halls with American citizens deeply touched by this message of martyrdom. One significant meeting was addressed by a member of the Russian Douma and by one of Russia's oldest and sanest revolutionists; another by Madame [Breshkovsky] on the very "red" Sunday when the news came of the massacre in the square of St. Petersburg of unarmed men, women and children who had gone to petition their Great White Father.

In this wonderful procession of revolutionists Prince Kropotkin, or, as he prefers to be called, Peter Kropotkin, was doubtless the most distinguished. When he came to America to lecture, he was heard throughout the country with great interest and respect, and [page 2] that he was a guest of Hull-House during his stay in Chicago attracted little attention at the time; but two years later, when the assassination of President McKinley occurred, the visit of this kindly scholar, who had always called himself an "anarchist" and had certainly written fiery tracts in his younger manhood, was made the basis of an attack upon Hull-House by a daily newspaper. We had doubtless laid ourselves open to this attack through an incident connected with the imprisonment of the editor of an anarchistic paper, who was arrested in Chicago immediately after the assassination of President McKinley. In the excitement following the national calamity and the avowal by the assassin of the influence of the anarchistic lecture to which he had listened, arrests were made in Chicago of everyone suspected of anarchy, in the belief that a widespread plot would be uncovered. The editor's house was searched for incriminating literature, his wife and daughter were taken to a police station, and his son and himself, with several other suspected anarchists, were placed for safe-keeping in the disused cells in the basement of the City Hall.

It is impossible to overstate the public excitement of the moment and the unfathomable sense of horror with which the community regards an attack upon the chief executive of the nation. The assassination of an official is of the essence of that which distinguishes anarchy from assassination. The crime against government itself compels an instinctive recoil in all law-abiding citizens, and both the horror and recoil have their roots deep down in human experience. The earliest forms of government implied a group which offered competent resistance to invasion or attack from outsiders, but assumed that no protection was necessary between any two of its own members. When, therefore, one member, who in all good faith had been taken into the privileges of the group, turned against another member, the offense was regarded as one of unpardonable treason promptly punishable with death.

When an anarchistic attack is made against an official representative of the national life, we have the baldest possible situation and an accredited basis, as it were, for unreasoning hatred and for prompt punishment. Both the hatred and the determination to punish reached the highest pitch in Chicago after the assassination of President McKinley, and the group of wretched men detained in the old-fashioned, scarcely habitable cells had not the least idea of their ultimate fate. They were not allowed to see an attorney and were kept "incommunicado," as their excited friends called it. I had seen the editor and his family only during Prince Kropotkin's stay at Hull-House, when they had come to visit him several times. The editor had impressed me as a quiet, scholarly man, challenging the social order by the philosophic touchstone of Bakunin and of Herbert Spencer, somewhat startled by the radicalism of his fiery young son, and much comforted by the German domesticity of his wife and daughter. Perhaps it was but my hysterical symptom of the universal excitement, but it certainly seemed to me more than I could bear when a group of his "individualistic" friends, who had come to ask for help, said: "You see what becomes of your boasted law. The authorities won't even allow an attorney, nor will they accept bail for these men, against whom nothing can be proved, although the veriest criminals are not denied such a right." Challenged by an anarchist, one is always sensitive for the honor of legally constituted society, and I replied that of course the men could have an attorney, that the assassin himself would eventually be furnished with one, that the fact that a man was an anarchist had nothing to do with his rights before the law! I was met with the retort that that might do for a theory but that the fact still remained that they had been absolutely isolated, seeing no one but policemen, who constantly frightened them with tales of public clamor and threatened lynching. It was unfortunately true that the police, under cover of protecting their prisoners, had subjected them to this tortured isolation, affording a spectacle which exactly fitted in with the anarchistic theory that the protectors of government have become the government itself.

This conversation took place on Saturday night, and, as the final police authority rests in the Mayor, a friend and myself repaired to his house on Sunday morning to appeal to him in the interest of a law and order that should not yield to panic. We contended that to the anarchist above all men must it be demonstrated that law is impartial and stands the test of every strain. The Mayor heard us through with the ready sympathy of the successful politician. He insisted, however, that the men thus far had merely been properly protected against lynching, and although it might now be safe to allow them to see someone, he would not yet take the responsibility of permitting an attorney, but if I myself chose to see them on the humanitarian errand of an assurance of fair play, he would write me a permit at once. I promptly fell into the trap, if trap it was, and within half an hour my friend and myself were in a corridor in the [page 3] City Hall basement, talking to the distracted editor and surrounded by a cordon of police who assured me that it was not safe to permit him out of his cell. The editor, who had grown thin and haggard under his suspense, asked immediately as to the whereabouts of his wife and daughter, concerning whom he had heard not a word since he had seen them arrested. Gradually he became composed as he learned, not that his testimony had been believed to the effect that he had never seen the assassin but once, and had then consiered him a foolish half-witted creature, but that the most thoroughgoing "drag-net" investigations on the part of the united police of the country had failed to discover a plot, and that the public was gradually becoming convinced that the dastardly act was that of a solitary man with no political or social affiliations.

The entire conversation was simple and did not seem to me unlike, in motive or character, interviews I had had with many another forlorn man who had fallen into prison. I had scarce returned to Hull-House, however, before it was filled with reporters, and I at once discovered that, whether or not I had helped a brother out of a pit, I had fallen into a deep one myself. A period of sharp public opprobrium followed, traces of which, I suppose, will always remain. And yet in the midst of the letters of protest which made my mail a horror every morning, came a few letters of another sort, one from a federal judge whom I had never seen and another from a distinguished professor in constitutional law, who congratulated me on what they called a sane attempt to uphold the law in time of panic. It seemed to me then that, in the millions of words uttered and written at that time, no one adequately urged that public-spirited citizens set themselves the task of patiently discovering how these sporadic acts of violence against government may be understood and averted. We do not know whether they occur among the discouraged and unassimilated immigrants who might be cared for in such a way as to enormously lessen the probability of these acts, or whether they are the result of anarchistic teaching. By hastily concluding that the latter is the sole explanation for them we make no attempt to heal and to cure the situation. Failure to make a proper diagnosis may mean treatment of a disease which does not exist, or it may furthermore mean that the dire malady from which the patient is suffering be permitted to develop unchecked. And yet as the details of the meager life of the President's assassin were disclosed, they were a challenge to the forces for social betterment in American cities. Was it not an indictment to all those whose business it is to interpret and solace the wretched that a boy should have grown up in an American city so uncared for, so untouched by higher issues, his wounds of life so unhealed by religion, that the first talk he ever heard dealing with life's wrongs, althoguh anarchistic and violent, should yet appear to point a way of relief? For after all there is no method by which any community can be guarded against sporadic efforts on the part of half-crazed, discouraged men, save by a sense of community right and security which will include the outcast of every land, drawing him in to the reassurance and warmth of a fellowship against which he could not strive if he would.

The Story of an Old German Cobbler

The conviction that a sense of fellowship is the only implement which will break into the locked purpose of a half-crazed creature bent upon destruction in the name of justice, came to me through an experience recited to me at this time by an old anarchist.

He was a German cobbler who, through all the changes in the manufacturing of shoes, had steadily clung to his little shop on a Chicago thoroughfare, partly as an expression of his individualism and partly because he preffered bitter poverty in a place of his own to good wages under a disciplinary foreman. The assassin of President McKinley, on his way through Chicago only a few days before he committed his dastardly deed, had visited all the anarchists whom he could find in the city, asking them for "the password," as he called it. They, of course, possessed no such thing, and had turned him away, some with disgust and all with a certain degree of impatience, as a type of the ill-balanced man who, as they put it, was always "hanging around the movement, without the slighest conception of its meaning." Among other people he visited the German cobbler, who treated him much as the others had done, but who, after the event had made clear the identity of his visitor, was filled with the most bitter remorse that he had failed to utilize his chance meeting with the assassin to deter him from his purpose. He knew as well as any psychologist who has read the solitary history of such men that the only possible way to break down such a persistent and secretive purpose was by the kindliness which might have induced confession, which might have restored the assassin into fellowship with normal men.

In the midst of his remorse, the cobbler told me a tale of his own youth; how years before, when an ardent young fellow in Germany, newly converted to the philosophy of anarchism, [page 4] [image  JANE ADDAMS AS SHE IS [TODAY]. FROM HER LATEST PHOTOGRAPH, TAKEN ESPRESSLY FOR THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE BY EVA WATSON SCH√úTZE] as he called it, he had made up his mind that the church, as much as the state, was responsible for human oppression, and that this fact could best be set forth "in the deed" by the public destruction of a clergyman or priest; that he had carried firearms for a year with this purpose in mind, but that one pleasant summer evening, in a moment of weakness, he had confided his intention to a friend, and that from that moment he had not only lost all desire to carry it out, but it had seemed to him the most preposterous thing imaginable. In concluding the story he also said: "That poor fellow sat just beside me on my bench -- if I had only put my hand on his shoulder and said, 'Now, look here, brother, what is on your mind? What makes you talk such nonsense? Tell me. I have seen much of life, and understand all kinds of men. I have been young and hot-headed and foolish myself.' If he had told me of his purpose then and there, he would never have carried it out. The whole nation would have been spared this horror." As he concluded he shook his gray head and sighed as if the whole incident were more than he could bear -- one of those terrible sins of omission; one of the things he "ought to have done," the memory of which is so hard to endure. [page 5] [image THROUGH THE WINDOWS AND PORTICO OF HULL-HOUSE LOOKING OUT ON HALSTED STREET] The attempt a Settlement makes to interpret American institutions to those who are bewildered concerning them, either because of their personal experience or because of preconceived theories, would seem to lie in the direct path of its public obligation, and yet it is apparently impossible for the overwrought community to distinguish between the excitement the Settlements are endeavoring to understand and to allay and the attitude of the Settlement itself. At such times, fervid denunciation is held to be the duty of every good citizen, and if a Settlement is convinced that the incident should be used to vindicate the law, and does not at the moment give all its strength to denunciation, its attitude is at once taken to imply a championship of anarchy itself.

The public mind at such a moment falls into the old medieval confusion -- he who feeds or shelters a heretic is upon prima facie evidence a heretic himself -- he who knows intimately people among whom anarchists arise is therefore an anarchist.

Whether or not Hull-House has accomplished anything by its method of meeting such a situation, or at least by attempting to treat it in a way which will not destroy confidence in the American institutions so adored by refugees from foreign governmental oppression, it is, of course, impossible for me to say.

Another Experience in a Time of
Public Panic

And yet it was in connection with an effort to pursue an intelligent policy in regard to a so-called "foreign anarchist" that Hull-House again became associated with that creed six years later. This again was an echo of the Russian revolution, but in connection with one of its humblest representatives. A young Russian Jew named Averbuch appeared in the [page 6] [image THE QUIET AND PEACE OF HULL HOUSE COURTYARD -- IN CONTRAST TO TH NOISE AND DIRT OF THE STREETS] early morning at the house of the Chicago Chief of Police upon an obscure errand. It was a moment of panic everywhere in regard to anarchists, because of a recent murder in Denver which had been charged to an Italian anarchist, and the Chief, assuming that the young man standing in his hallway was an anarchist bent on his assassination, hastily called for help, and, in a panic born of fear and self-defense, young Averbuch was fatally shot.

The members of the Russian-Jewish colony on the West Side of Chicago were thrown into a state of intense excitement as soon as the nationality of the young man became known. They were filled with dark forebodings from a swift prescience of what it would mean to them were the odium of anarchy rightly or wrongly attached to one of their members. It seemed to the residents of Hull-House most important that every effort should be made to ascertain just what did happen, that every means of securing information should be exhausted before a final opinion should be formed and this odium fastened upon a colony of law-abiding citizens. The police might be right or wrong in their assertion that the man was an anarchist and it was, to our minds, most unfortunate that the Chicago police in the determination to uncover an anarchistic plot should have subjected the Russian colony to the most drastic methods of search. The Russian-Jewish colony is largely made up of families only too familiar with the methods of the Russian police. Therefore, when the Chicago police ransacked all the printing offices they could locate in the colony, when they raided a restaurant which they regarded as suspicious because it had been supplying food at cost to the unemployed, when they searched through private houses for papers and photographs of revolutionaries, when they seized the library of the Edelstadt group and carried the books to the City Hall, when they [page 7] [4 images HULL-HOUSE NEIGHBORS] arrested two casual acquaintances of young Averbuch and kept them in the police station for forty-eight hours, when they mercilessly sweated the sister, Olga, that she might be startled into a confession, all these things so poignantly reminded the immigrants of Russian methods that indignation, fed both by old memory and bitter disappointment in America, swept over the entire colony. The older men asked whether constitutional rights gave no guarantee against such violent aggression of police power, and the hot-headed younger ones cried out at once that the only way to deal with the police was to defy them; that that was true of police the world over. It was said many times that those who are without influence and protection in a stange country fare exactly as hard as do the poor in Europe; that all the talk of guaranteed protection through political institutions is nonsense.

Teaching American Citizenship

Every Settlement has classes in citizenship in which the principles of American institutions are expounded and of these the community, as a whole, approves. But the Settlements know better than anyone else that, while these classes and lectures are useful, nothing can possibly give lessons in citizenship so effectively and make so clear the constitutional basis of a self-governing community as the current event itself. The treatment at a given moment of that foreign colony which feels itself outraged and misunderstood, either makes its constituonal rights clear to it, or forever confuses it on the subject. The only method by which a reasonable and loyal conception of government may be substituted for the one formed upon Russian experiences is that the actual experience of the refugees with government in America shall gradually demonstrate what a very different thing government means here. Such an event as the Averbuch affair affords an unprecedented opportunity to make clear this difference and to demonstrate beyond the possibility of misunderstanding that the guarantee of constitutional rights implies that officialism shall be restrained and guarded at every point, that the official represents, not the will of the entire people, and that methods therefore have been constituted by which official aggression may be restrained. The opportunity comes to demonstrate this to that very body of people who need it most; to those who have lived in Russia where autocratic officers represent autocratic power and where government is officialism. [page 8] [image ON THE STREET OUTSIDE HULL-HOUSE]

Something to Provoke Ironic Laughter

It seemed to those who lived in the Settlements nearest the Russian-Jewish colony that it was an obvious piece of public spirit at least to try out all the legal value involved, to insist that American institutions were stout enough not to break down in times of stress and public panic. The belief of many Russians that the Averbuch incident would be made a prelude to the constant use of the extradition treaty for the sake of terrorizing revolutionists, both at home and abroad, received a certain corroboration when an attempt was made in 1908 to extradite a Russian revolutionist named Rudovitz, who was living in Chicago. The first hearing before a United States Commissioner gave a verdict favorable to the Russian Government, although it was afterwards reversed by the Department of State in Washington. Partly to educate American sentiment, partly to express sympathy with the Russian refugees in their dire need, a series of public meetings was held in which the operations of the extradition treaty were discussed by many of us who had spoken at the first meeting held in protest against its ratification fifteen years before. It is impossible for anyone unacquainted with the Russian colony to realize the consternation produced by this attempted extradition. I acted as treasurer of the fund collected to defray the expenses of halls and printing in the campaign against the policy of extradition and had many opportunities to talk with members of the colony. One old man, tearing his hair and beard as he spoke, declared that all his sons and grandsons might thus be sent back to Russia; in fact, all the younger men in the colony were liable to extradition, for every high-spirited young Russian was, in a sense, a revolutionist.

Would it not provoke to ironic laughter that very Nemesis which presides over the destinies of nations, if the most autocratic government yet remaining in civilization should succeed in utilizing for its own autocratic methods the youngest and most daring experiment in democratic government which the world has ever seen? Stranger results have followed a course of stupidity and injustice resulting from blindness and panic! It is certainly true that if the decision of the federal officer in Chicago had not been reversed, the United States government would have been committed to return thousands of these spirited refugees to the punishments of the Russian autocracy.

Other Conclusions Born of Experience

This dependence upon the United States Department of State to allay a panic in a colony [page 9] of immigrants is but typical of other Settlement experiences. Many times at Hull-House we have discovered that it is impossible to secure the smallest of much needed improvements without an appeal to the public conscience and by attaching our efforts to those of organized bodies. Our attempts to secure justice and opportunity for immigrants are much more effective when combined with those of the Chicago League for the Protection of Immigrants, and when the Hull-House residents appear before a Congressional Committee in Washington to state the needs of Chicago Immigrants we represent the League as well as our neighbors. Whatever attempt Hull-House makes to secure better housing for its vicinity is best made through the City Homes Association; the unceasing effort to protect youth from the darker and coarser dangers of the city can be most advantageously carried forward in [cooperation] with the Juvenile Protective Association. On the same principle we find that agitation for adequate child labor legislation can be pushed much more effectively and advantageously when our efforts are joined with those of the National Child Labor Committee.

Thus the Settlement learns that the general discusssion and advancement of public movements maybe the shortest way of healing neighborhood ills, as it has formerly endeavored to improve neighborhood conditions through city control.

Certainly life in a Settlement discovers above all what has been called "the extraordinary pliability of human nature," and it seems impossible to set any bounds to the moral capabilities which might unfold under ideal civic and educational conditions.

The Settlement logically works for remedial legislation, for improvements in material conditions, for educational advancement, for all measures which tend to make a larger measure of rational life possible to the greater number.

The Settlement casts aside none of those things which cultivated men have come to consider reasonable and goodly, but it insists that those belong as well to that great body of people who, because of toilsome and underpaid labor, are unable to procure them for themselves. Added to this is a profound conviction that those best results of civilization, upon which depend the finer and freer aspects of living, must be incorporated into our common life and have free mobility through all elements of society, if we would have our democracy endure.


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