Last winter Hull House shut its doors.
The closing of Jane Addams’ experiment in peacemaking haunts my thoughts, even while attending to the immediate issues of supermax prisons and of drones dropping from the skies on unsuspecting families. Little public notice seems to have been given this closing. Are we forgetting Jane Addams? Somehow, I am feeling that remembering our peacemakers, not just Addams but so many others in our communities, is vital to our civic lives. Addams teaches what it means to live the life of a peacemaker.
One time, she taught me by her works as a builder of institutions and a doer of good deeds. Twenty Years at Hull House remains a classic in our peacemaking tradition. In time I have found myself attending to the less pronounced, often illusive, facets of her interior life where I think I glimpse meanings in her calling as peacemaker. Her connections with Quakers, while seemingly incidental, are revealing. Although her father forsook the Quaker meeting for the Presbyterian church and she kept her father’s faith, Jane felt an affinity with Friends in particular by way of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. And yet on reflection she chose not to become a Quaker. This Quaker connection, however tenuous it may seem, points to common sensibilities that guide the lives of peacemakers no matter their specific faith affiliation.
Respectful listening, patient reflection, and quiet courage—these habits of mind shaped her calling. While guided by her beloved father’s principle of service, she came to wonder whether the truths she had learned from a privileged, Protestant, and Anglo-Saxon childhood could guide her work with poor, Eastern-European, and Catholic immigrants. Or could those inherited verities, for example the explanation for poverty’s causes, carry the patronizing attitudes of the missionary? As she listened to her new neighbors, she turned inward. Sometimes the work was difficult. While bearing witness against racial violence, she listened to painful lessons from her associates who reminded her that she too harbored racist attitudes similar to those that sparked the lyncher. Democracy, she came to see, was something larger than legal forms guaranteeing the citizen’s rights. It lay in the ability to listen to others, to reflect, and to realize that the truths passed down from past generations could easily become impediments to service in the present. This quiet habit of listening, of opening oneself to others’ voices, and of reflection led Addams through long years of evolution.
As I read Newer Ideals of Peace, I discover a quiet courage to challenge the conventional and to risk the unconventional. Writing at midcourse in her thinking, she was reconsidering time honored truths and unquestioned patterns of authority. Reverence for the Founding Fathers and their constitution might blind oneself to the changing times and to needs once unimagined. Prescriptive truths, as if written in stone, work to prevent the democracy from attending to different voices in the neighborhood. Truth is unfolding. Each generation finds it in the changing contexts of community life. Militarism, she speculated, becomes more than the application of organized force but a manifestation of pervasive authoritarian impulses deeply embedded in the culture. Militarism, she ventured to propose, included habits of mind that twisted relations with neighbors as well as with peoples abroad. As she wrote, she sometimes stumbled in her effort to fashion new vocabularies to guide her thinking. Yet she continued and in her steadfast, patient, spiritual quest demonstrated a remarkable and exemplary resolve and courage. Later in life, as she watched the flapper generation of the 1920s, she felt bewildered, even troubled. But she advised her associates to attend to young people and to beware imposing verities on them lest creative thought be stifled.
And so we return to Addams and the Quakers. The affinity seems to run deeper than her public work against militarism. It reveals itself in habits of listening and reflection, of attending to truth emerging from the present, and of reconsidering prescriptions inherited by generations past. Let me return to what seems contradiction: her affinity with the Society of Friends and her hesitancy to join that circle. Clearness came to her when she was asked how public association with Quakers might affect her relationship with her neighbors—Catholic, Jew, Eastern Orthodox—in the Hull House community. Would she create distances and stifle her ability to speak with them?
And so I ask myself: how do we understand peacemaking? Is the peacemaker identified by the deeds well done? A resume such as of Jane Addams would meet that standard. Founder of Hull House, charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, outspoken opponent of the First World War, leading light in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom—her works earned her a worldwide reputation in the peace community. Her persistence is also worthy of recognition. While vilified for resistance to American entrance into the Great War and branded “the most dangerous woman in America,” she continued steadfast, though sometimes disheartened, to her calling.
But what if she had not done these deeds? Is her inner quest for understanding the way to peace worthy of notice? With this question I find myself turning to Rufus Jones and his reflections on the spiritual life. Sometimes, he counseled, we are tempted to look to spiritual heroics, inspiring moments, for example and guidance. Yet by so doing we overlook the quiet searchers. We cannot all be Saul on the Road to Damascus. Nor can many of us be a George Fox atop Pendle Hill. Those dazzling moments may distract us from attending to the less visible, less eye catching, workers for peace. And so who is the peacemaker? To paraphrase William James who deeply admired Addams’ Newer Ideals and who inspired Jones’ writing we need to be alert to the varieties of the peacemaking experience.
Finally–remembering seems important for peacemaking. This is why I am concerned that Jane Addams may be forgotten, even by today’s workers for peace. Peacemaking can be lonely work, as Addams felt. Forgetting can cut the young witness for peace adrift in time without a sense of an anchoring tradition and without awareness of others who endured and thereby teach and invigorate by example. To be aware of a tradition of people who persevered and, perhaps most important, lived fulfilled lives may be essential to maintaining that spirit. The drones will continue to kill, prisoners in our midst will be mistreated. And continuing to keep courage may come, in part, from stopping to remember.