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When They Were Girls

301 pages
Library of Alexandria
The Girl Who Became a Neighbor To the Needy “Why do people live in such horrid little houses so close together, Father?” asked seven-year-old Jane on a trip to the city. At home in the village, when she was tired of playing in the big roomy house, she could run across the green to the stream by her father’s mill. Here, in the city, instead of wide green slopes and the low hum of the sawmill were narrow, dirty alleys and the clatter of carts and street cars. When Mr. Addams explained that some people do not have money enough to choose pleasant places for their homes, Jane declared: “When I grow up, I shall have a large house, of course, but I shall not have it among other fine houses, but right in the midst of horrid little houses like these.” Now, strangely enough, when she grew up, she did that very thing. She went to live in a big house situated in the midst of poor Chicago tenements. Later, this little girl, who was Jane Addams, became known all over the world as the friend of the poor. Jane Addams was born at Cedarville, Illinois, September 6, 1860. Little Jane could not remember her mother, who died when she was a baby, but she thought that no little girl ever had a father like hers. She was proud of his imposing figure, and she loved him dearly. Though he was a very busy man he always had time to answer her questions. She had a great many to ask, too, for even as a small child she did a good deal of thinking. Jane’s father had been a state senator for sixteen years and could tell her interesting stories about the history of the country. He talked to her so often about Abraham Lincoln, who had been his friend, that Jane felt almost as if she herself had known the great-hearted man. One Sunday Jane appeared before her father dressed for Sunday school in a beautiful new coat. It was a finer coat than any other little girl in the village had. For this reason, Mr. Addams suggested that Jane wear her old coat to save the feelings of the other little girls. Jane consented to do so, although she was very much disappointed. As they walked to Sunday school, Jane wondered how the good things of life could be more evenly divided. Ever since she had first seen the “horrid little houses” about a year before, her young mind had been busy with this problem. Jane turned to her father and asked him how it could be solved. He explained that even though everything cannot be divided evenly, people should act and dress in such a way that those who are less fortunate will not be made to feel so. He told her that in school and church, at least, people should be able to feel that they belong to one family. Jane Addams attended the village school, and later, at seventeen years of age, entered Rockford Seminary, at Rockford, Illinois. Soon after she was graduated from this school it was declared a college, and she received the degree of B. A. She had intended after her graduation to study medicine and to help the poor, but she was urged to go abroad because she was in poor health. While in London and elsewhere, she was greatly distressed by the wretched condition of the poor. Now she was more determined than ever to go about the work of helping others. Miss Addams believed that it is better to show people how to help themselves than to give them gifts of money. “It is hard to help people one does not know,” she reasoned, “and how can one really know people without seeing them very often?” True to the decision she had made as a child, she resolved to live among the poor and be a real neighbor to them. With the help of some friends, Miss Addams opened Hull-House, which is located in a tenement section of Chicago. Here, she established a day nursery where mothers who had to go out to work could leave their babies in good care. A kindergarten was organized for the young children in the neighborhood.