WMU News

Joslin book focuses on Jane Addams the writer

Sept. 27, 2004

KALAMAZOO--Jane Addams is best known for her groundbreaking social work in Chicago and as an international crusader for peace, earning her a Nobel Peace Prize. A Western Michigan University professor has taken a new approach to her as an imaginative writer.

Dr. Katherine Joslin, a WMU professor of English and American Studies, has written "Jane Addams, A Writer's Life," presenting the famous pacifist and social activist as a literary figure. Published by the University of Illinois Press, the book's official release date is Oct. 11. Joslin will give a local audience a preview of her research in a talk from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 29, at the Portage District Library as part of its Learning Out Loud program. Subsequent readings also are being planned.

Joslin researched Addams' letters, manuscript fragments, abandoned drafts and personal papers along with the dozen books she wrote to present her in a new light. Joslin's study was aided by "The Jane Addams Papers," an 82-reel microfilm archive that is available in Waldo Library.

Joslin was first introduced to Addams by her dissertation director, Harrison Hayford, when she was a doctoral candidate at Northwestern University. She has dedicated the book to Hayford and credits him with showing her how literary arguments should go beyond a figure's more well-known books to include papers and manuscripts of all sorts. Hayford took Joslin to the University of Illinois at Chicago, introducing her to Mary Lynn McCree Bryant, the editor of The Jane Addams Papers.

Joslin says Addams was perhaps the best-known woman in America before Eleanor Roosevelt. She first came to public attention for her work at Hull-House, the Chicago social settlement she co-founded in 1889 on Halsted Street.

"It was in a working-class and poor immigrant neighborhood," Joslin says. "When she was 29, she went with a former Rockford Female Seminary classmate of hers, Ellen Gates Starr, and the two of them founded Hull-House. It was a radical idea."

Interested in finding out how people in different socio-economic groups could live together and form a cohesive community, Addams became one of the early architects of social work. The enduring achievement of her social work is expressed in her books and essays, Joslin says.

"She was intrigued by the kind of synergy you get from having various groups and types of people live in the same neighborhood and how from that neighborhood you create the kind of urban community that could become a model for the 20th century."

Addams became involved in many social issues, from fair labor practices and child labor laws to "white slavery" and a fair court system for juveniles.

"There was a yoking together of social justice issues that would sound familiar to us today," Joslin points out. In her talk at the Portage District Library, titled "Jane Addams: Still at Issue," Joslin will argue that the books Addams wrote a hundred years ago are relevant today.

Up until World War I, Addams was considered almost saintly, Joslin says. As war loomed, however, Addams was drawn into the pacifist movement and, consequently, was vilified for speaking out against the war. She became the first president of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, meeting with leaders on all sides of the conflict in 1915 in order to bring an early end to the conflict. For her efforts, she eventually became the first woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

Various biographers have struggled to tell her life. Joslin hopes, by taking a literary approach to a biography on Addams, to tell the story of her private and imaginative life.

"Everyone who writes about her talks about the brilliance of her prose style," Joslin explains. "They all note her literary seriousness, sensitivity to language, intense interest in storytelling and lyrical style, all signs of the literary nature of her writing."

Joslin documents Addam's rejection of scholarly writing in favor of storytelling and traces her development from such early works as "Hull-House Maps and Papers," "Democracy and Social Ethics" and "Newer Ideals of Peace" to her later books, "Peace and Bread in Time of War," "The Second Twenty Years at Hull-House" and "My Friend, Julia Lathrop." Joslin says Addams should be placed in the same context as such other Chicago writers, including Theodore Dreiser, Upton Sinclair and Harriet Monroe.

Joslin's interdisciplinary study makes the claim that Addams is a major American writer and should be considered along with other writers of her day.

"Jane Addams, A Writer's Life" is available through amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and other major Web bookstores, as well as Kalamazoo-area retailers, including Athena Book Store.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 269 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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