Happy Birthday Jane Addams!

(Hello! It’s nice to “meet” you. My name is Melanee and I’m a History major at the University of Michigan’s Flint campus. I’m very excited to begin a semester internship here at the Whaley Historic House. Please join me over the next few weeks as I learn about what makes the Whaley House and its original owners so vital to Flint’s past, present and future). Now on with our regularly scheduled blog post:


Born on this day in 1860, Jane Addams would become a pioneering force of the Gilded Age, and her influence reflected the rapidly changing ideals of the world in which the Whaleys lived.


If you were a working class man or woman in during the Gild Age, your life was not easy. Poverty, malnutrition, lack of education, societal divisions, and a physically demanding work load were things that you faced on a daily basis. The notion of maintaining an elite upper class left a majority of people at the bottom of society to toil and preserve this distinction. But it was not all doom and gloom for the fortunate people who met Ms. Addams at her Hull House.


Established in 1889, Hull House was patterned after similar Settlement Houses that Jane and her friends had visited in Europe. Meant as a haven for those less fortunate, Jane applied the principles of charity to a respectful acknowledgement that all people were of value to society – if only they had the means and opportunity to contribute. Hull House was not simply a soup kitchen or house for the poor. It focused on bettering a person’s life through continuing education, focusing on womens roles within the community, and recognizing that children would need to be educated as well. These principles of empowering members of the working class would change countless lives. Through literacy, marketable skills and a greater awareness of civic responsibility, a person would feel a greater sense of self and confidence as they were able to participate in the programs at Hull House.


This sense of empowering the lower classes was not the prevailing opinion of the Gilded Age. Many long established and wealthy families sought to preserve their sense of grandeur and oppress those below them. There is no direct evidence that the Whaleys were a changing force of social customs, however their charitable and philanthropic contributions can be seen in the creation of the Whaley Children’s Center, the McFarlan Home and by their numerous donations to those without means. (Such as a sizeable donation to a Detroit orphanage shortly after their own son died). They may not have been the driving force of change during the Gilded Area, but their own support of the lower classes and their sense of charity cannot be denied. It was people like Ms. Addams who were the public face of this very dear cause.


And even though the Hull House has ceased to operate in its original capacity, the lasting legacy of Ms. Addams continues to this day. Her kind disposition and determination to be more than just a wealthy lady of the era bettered the lives of countless men, women and children who desperately needed her help.


Cheers, Jane!


– Your Humble Intern Mellie


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