Esteemed thinker: Jane Addams

garbage city In our diverse and independent lives men and women, regardless of ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, and economic demographics, in spite of our similarities, differences of opinion, or attitudes; we all own a common annoyance… that of garbage. Trash, waste, compost, rubbish, and even sewage; we produce and eventually must dispose of it. Just the mere mention of the word makes our nose wriggle with anticipation of a most unpleasant, if not putrid odor. It produces some of the most adversarial thoughts, so much so that entire towns have come together keep it at bay. And so; the elimination of our combined garbage can become a most problematic undertaking…what to do with it?

For many, we take our garbage for granted, walking it out to a bin or trash can …and for a nominal fee, often included as a tax, it is whisked away by the first light of the morning without us having to worry about its next resting place, or we flush it away where it becomes part of a larger entity known as “the sewer system”. Some of us take a more devoted interest in our refuse sorting it into categories; arranging assigned bins such as glass, paper, and plastic where we feel wholly satisfied that we are part of a solution. Though minimal in the enormity of our disposal problem, it is a help.

Yet garbage was and is not always as simple as ‘taking it out’ like one takes a dog out for a walk. Historically, garbage gradually become an increasing problem with the onslaught of higher density living. Those who resided in sparse settlements could manage its elimination more easily, though maybe not ecologically sound, they rid themselves of the “nasty stuff”. However, as towns grew into cities, lack of sanitation control manifested itself into random distribution of filth and the contamination of water supplies…creating such horrific epidemics for humanity such as the Bubonic Plague in the 18th century, and our own modern 21st century out breaks of cholera.

Even today we are still cleaning up the environmental mess that garbage and the thoughtless disposal of waste created in earlier decades; rivers are unfit to swim in, fish and wildlife have unhealthy habitats, and beaches are often closed due to encroachment of sewage by illegal dumping by ships or coastal communities. It was not until 1979 that the United States took sweeping steps to limit open dumping. However, on the more positive note, little by little we have made progress and new laws for the disposal of our trash along with an international consciousness and home-grown grass-root efforts are exerting a forward momentum.

Alas, we need not despair for garbage, as big a problem as it is, has a way of uniting us…after all, how else would you get to meet your neighbor if it wasn’t for the fact that sometime…at the exact moment… they too will be carrying a similar plastic tie-wrapped bag out from the house…for as we all know, everyone has their own form of “garbage”.

jane addams. Today’s blog bids you to take a few moments of your time for the esteemed thinker: Jane Addams (1860-1935) born in Cedarville, Illinois; she was a pioneer for social reform, insisting that the fullest possible good be required from public and social agencies for the poor. Her name is attached to Hull-House, a settlement house founded in 1889, Chicago, to improve the living standards for recently arriving European immigrants. Miss Addams became politically involved; she made speeches about the needs of the neighborhood, raised money, convinced young women of well-to-do families to help, took care of children, nursed the sick, and listened to outpourings from troubled people, and actively involved the suffragette movement. She was jointly awarded the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize 1931 on behalf of her work in diplomacy and peace.

I now bring you the words of this legendary change maker; from her essay of 1915, “Why Women Should Vote”.

“… A woman’s simplest duty, one would say, is to keep her house clean and wholesome and to feed her children properly. Yet if she lives in a tenement house, as so many of my neighbors do, she cannot fulfill these simple obligations by her own efforts because she is utterly dependent upon the city administration for the conditions which render decent living possible. Her basement will not be dry, her stairways will not be fireproof, her house will not be provided with sufficient windows to give light and air, nor will it be equipped with sanitary plumbing, unless the Public Works Department sends inspectors who constantly insist that these elementary decencies be provided. Women who live in the country sweep their own dooryards and may either feed the refuse of the table to a flock of chickens or allow it innocently to decay in the open air and sunshine. In a crowded city quarter, however, if the street is not cleaned by the city authorities-no amount of private sweeping will keep the tenement free from grime; if the garbage is not properly collected and destroyed a tenement house mother may see her children sicken and die of diseases from which she alone is powerless to shield them, although her tenderness and devotion are unbounded. She cannot even secure untainted meat for her household, she cannot provide fresh fruit, unless the meat has been inspected by city officials, and the decayed fruit, which is so often placed upon sale in the tenement districts, has been destroyed in the interests of public health. In short, if woman would keep on with her old business of caring for her house and rearing her children she will have to have some conscience in regard to public affairs lying quite outside of her immediate household. The individual conscience and devotion are no longer effective…”

Hull house

4 thoughts on “Esteemed thinker: Jane Addams

  1. And Ms. Addams’s remarks explain perfectly why we need effective governments that actually regulate many areas of our lives. In the absence of government regulation, the unscrupulous will always take every advantage that they can–and particularly of the poor.

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