The study of leadership and leaders has a long and multifaceted history rich in rituals, metaphors, symbols, and stories. As a field of scientific inquiry, leadership has intrigued scholars and practitioners from nay disciplines, as diverse as religion and political science, psychology and economics.
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In our everyday conversation, we talk about the lack of sound leadership, and the need for more effective leadership in the family, our organizations, communities, and nations (Fradin and Fradin). On the other hand, some of our greatest cultural, social, political, and artistic accomplishments are attributed to leadership, as have many political catastrophes and social ills. Leadership has been and is a cause and effect of greatness and success as well as insignificance and failure.
Since recorded in history, ideas of leadership have been found in every culture and the literature of the oldest civilizations around the world. They are embedded in mythology, legends, sagas, religions, and social life of early and contemporary societies, in the past as well as in the present. Leadership has been vital in every historical period and in every culture. Historically, leadership has been conceptualized as the “man on the white horse,” that is, the study of leadership has been seen as the study of “great men.”
Moreover, it has been primarily the study of political leadership exercised by privileged group of “great men” who defined power, authority, and knowledge. Although history has produced some great men, it has also produced great female leaders who have played a critical role in the well being of the human beings. Key among the lady leaders is Jane Addams.
Today little is known about Jane Addams, however, in the early 1900s, Jane Addams was not only one of the two or three most famous women in the United States she was one of the most beloved Americans in the world. The young woman who emerges from these pages was not raised for female idleness but for community service; her nascent talent was less for friendship than for leadership and her first interest was less in plight of the downtrodden than in the potential powers of the elite (Addams).
Her journey from that youth to Hull- House involved less invalidism and more religious questioning than the standard story allows, and much softening as toughening. Addams first gained fame as the head of Hull House – an institution offering educational, recreational, and other services to the needy people whom she and a friend founded in Chicago in 1889.
During the nearly fifty years that she ran Hull House, Jane Addams improved life for thousands of Chicagoans, mostly poor and immigrant families, for her achievements at Hull House she was hailed as the “Angel of Democracy”. Jane also dedicated herself to another cause, which stirred up strong feelings both for and against her. She became a pacifist – a person strongly opposed to war.
As the head of the women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, she criticized America’s entry into World War I. Addams was regarded as one who could speak with authority on the distinction between being good “to” people and being good “with” them because she had demonstrated her capacity for cross – class cooperation in her daily conduct among her immigrant neighbors (Fradin and Fradin).
Every week, a thousand of those neighbors visited Hull House for one activity or another, and that level of voluntary participation in clubs, classes and social events convinced sympathetic observers in the press and public that “the gentle, the earnest, the noble woman” who presided over the Hull House must have been doing some great work. Essentially, the Hull House, which was Chicago’s first settlement, was established in September, 1889.
It represented no association, but was opened by two women, backed by many friends, in the belief that the mere foothold of a house, easily accessible, ample in space, hospitable and tolerant in spirit, situated in the midst of the large foreign colonies which so easily situated in the midst of the large foreign colonies which so easily isolate themselves in the American cities, would so easily isolate themselves in American cities, would be in itself a serviceable thing for Chicago (Fradin and Fradin).
Hull House endeavored to make social intercourse express the growing sense of the economic unity of society. It was an effort to add the social function to democracy. It was opened on the theory that the dependence of classes on each other is reciprocal; and that as the social relation was essentially a reciprocal relation, it gave a form of expression that had a peculiar value.
Addams and Starr moved into Hull – House in 1889 and by 1891, they had added an art gallery, by 1893 a coffee house and a gymnasium. In 1907, 70 people lived there full time and by 1910, there were 1500 boys who were members of the Hull – house boys club and the house and its programs saw approximately 2000 guests.
The first community need that she perceived once ‘settled’ into the house was the need for day care for young mothers and for structured educational opportunities for preschool age children. Jane Addams appeared on the Chicago scene in 1889, at the end of a decade in the city’s history marked by labor protests against employers’ exploitation and working class hostility to patronizing Protestant philanthropy.
Addams introduced the British settlement scheme to Chicago labor activists, women reformers, and liberal clergy, who were hungry for practical, productive alternatives to the class alienation borne of laissez-faire capitalism and condescending charity.
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Those who became Addams allies in Chicago represented that vanguard of urban Americans coming to the fore in every major city, ready to challenge the economic and political rules that had dominated the landscape since the triumph of northern industrial capitalism in the Civil War.
Addams described the ethnic makeup of the neighborhood around Hull – House in her autobiography, noting the gradual outmigration of the more prosperous Irish and German immigrants, and the slow influx of Russian Jews, Italians, and Greeks in their place. In the forty years that passed between her speech at New York’s United Charities Building and her death from cancer in May 1935, Jane Addams managed the ever expanding, always esteemed program at Hull – House.
By 1910, when she published her enormously successful autobiography, Twenty years at Hull-House, the settlement comprised thirteen buildings encircling an entire square block at Halsted and Polk Streets and served several thousand visitors a week, hull house operated as a meeting ground for working class neighbors, labor artists, ethnic club members, intellectuals, religions liberals, teenage athletes, and children in search of a music class, jungle gym, or free bath.
It served, as well as a catalyst for social legislation, political reform, social science theory, and labor organizing at the city, state, and national levels. Addams was the steady arms at the helm of Hull House, attracting extraordinarily gifted, innovative women and men around her and adroitly leading them in the development of the social service programs and legislative agenda.
Addams, Jane. Twenty years at Hull-House with autobiographical notes. Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1990 .
Fradin, Judith Bloom and Dennis B. Fradin. Jane Addams: champion of democracy. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006 .