Jane Addams in Action

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Action is inherent in the tasks of a social activist. Ideas alone are not enough. Though the development of philosophies and manifestos is the basis for every social movement and every stride toward social justice, without social action and the social activist, little can ever be accomplished. The great social activist must, by definition, be the great social action taker. Jane Addams was the epitome of such an action taker.

Addams herself believed that ideas were not enough. She was not satisfied to live a life of ideological morality. Instead, she felt that true moral living could only be accomplished through action (“Dream” 84). Embodying the very vision she stood for, Addams put her convictions into action. Over the course of 46 years, from 1889 to her death in 1935, Jane Addams was involved in nearly every major social movement of the time. When put into action, her understanding of the Christian mission and of democracy resulted in unparalleled innovations in social work and an unwavering commitment to peace, making Addams one of the most important social activists of the 20th century.

Addams’ life was guided by a kind of Christian-democratic ideal, in which her interpretation of democracy was influenced by her understanding of Christianity, and vice-versa. Her motivation to act on democratic and Christian values was a Tolstoyan understanding of the demand for action as a result of conviction. In fact, it was Tolstoy’s total commitment to his philosophical conclusions, rather than his philosophical ideas themselves, that Addams most admired (“Dream” 214).

As a girl and young woman, Jane Addams was deeply influenced by her father, John Huy Addams. Mr. Addams was a Hicksite Quaker and an outspoken abolitionist (“Dream” 2...

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