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Comparison And Differentiation Of Jane Addams’ And William Graham Sumner’S Views Of A Changing America, Their Claims For New Values, And Their Values Of Past Experiences Arguing Over America

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Jane Addams and William Sumner are two great Americans living near the same time with similar ideas. They both lived in times of great change and wanted to help society. They both see how as the poor move to the city, the wealthy move and group up away from the poor. Sumner believes that it’s the poor people’s fault and Addams thinks that it’s the rich’s. They both wish to help their communities but in different ways. Jane wishes to set an example and help raise up the poor out of poverty, and William explains how the working class can work with the rich to help everyone. They both appreciate the experiences of people. Jane sees how the past pushes people to work, and Sumner sees how people’s past work support them in the present. Both Jane Addams’ and William Sumner’s views of how America was changing are valid, have some things in common, but are still fundamentally separate. William and Jane both notice that as more people moved out of rural towns and into cities, the standard of living decreased, especially for the poor. However, William Graham Sumner says “They formulate their claims as rights against society […]. In their view they have a right, not only to pursue happiness, but to get it; and if they fail to get it, they think they have a claim to the aid of other men — that is, to the labor and self-denial of other men — to get it for them”.

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Sumner believes that sometimes the poor feel entitled to just as much wealth and prosperity as any of the top 1% of citizens and that those citizens that are more well off than they are should just give that prosperity to the poor if they are not able, or willing, to work for it themselves. This is a very sad observation but nonetheless still true even to this day. Some people are poor because they choose to be. Jane Addams, on the other hand, sees that the poor are not greedy like Sumner says, but the richer are just selfish. In her book Twenty Years at Hull-House, Jane says “The policy of the public authorities of never taking an initiative, and always waiting to be urged to do their duty, is obviously fatal in a neighborhood where there is little initiative among the citizens. […] The streets are inexpressibly dirty, the number of schools inadequate, sanitary legislation unenforced, the street lighting bad, the paving miserable and altogether lacking in the alleys and smaller streets, and the stables foul beyond description. Hundreds of houses are unconnected with the street sewer. The older and richer inhabitants seem anxious to move away as rapidly as they can afford it. They make room for newly arrived immigrants who are densely ignorant of civic duties”.

Jane describes how horrible the conditions were in the living areas for the poor. She also describes how the police don’t want to do their job unless explicitly asked to so that they do not have to go into the impoverished section of Chicago, and how the people rich enough to move away do so. This shows that the problem is the rich and how they refuse to help the poor at all. They don’t even want to live near them, so they move out and thus allow for more immigrants who are poor and do not know of their duties to help their neighbors and start a vicious cycle of the rich moving out and the poor immigrants who do not know their civic duties moving in and repeat. This directly contrasts with Sumner’s point of view. She sees how the rich refuse to help the poor and he sees how the poor refuse to work. William Sumner and Jane Addams both see the change in America and see the need for a change of values because of it. Sumner claims that people should, rather than limit the wealth of the rich, help them achieve it. In his book, he says “We are to see the development of the country pushed forward at an unprecedented rate by an aggregation of capital, and a systematic application of it under the direction of competent men. This development will be for the benefit of all, and it will enable each one of us, in his measure and way, to increase his wealth”.

He says that people are to help develop the country by using a lot of money wisely under the leadership of smart men. He is implying here, as he specifically said previously in his book, that these smart men are the rich who, with hard work and determination, achieved their wealth. These men should lead the way for the progress of the country. They achieved their wealth because they were smart enough the set up a company that was in demand. People should not limit the wealthy because they got rich off of their workers, people should help them get richer because it makes the workers richer and the whole country better. Without the smart rich man to lead, the workers would not have even had the opportunity to work. Jane, however, sees it differently. She sees how everyone avoids the impoverished, which causes them to become poorer. She claims that people should help raise the poor up and take care of the old. She says “an old woman of ninety who, because she was left alone all day while her daughter cooked in a restaurant, had formed such a persistent habit of picking the plaster off the walls that one landlord after another refused to have her for a tenant. It required but a few week’s time to teach her to make large paper chains, and gradually she was content to do it all day long, and in the end took quite as much pleasure in adorning the walls as she had formally taken in demolishing them”.

Jane notes on how no landlord would take the old woman due to her incessant habit of picking at the walls. These landlords saw that the old woman would lose them money and declined to rent to her. Jane saw a poor old woman in need and decided to help. She gave the woman a place to stay and something to do to keep her mind off picking the walls. Jane does exactly what she believes everyone should do. Help the old and poor, possibly as a cost to yourself, because it is the right thing to do and helps the community grow. Jane’s book Twenty Years at Hull-House is filled with anecdotes from her past experiences, and its main purpose is to share her past experiences in developing Hull-House. Jane values past experiences to a high degree. In her book, she recounts seeing a group of the poor in London “They were huddled into ill-fitting, cast-off clothing, the ragged finery which one sees only in East London. Their pale faces were dominated by that most unlovely of human expressions, the cunning and shrewdness of the bargain-hunter who starves if he cannot make a successful trade, and yet the final impression was not of ragged, tawdry clothing nor of pinched and sallow faces, but of myriads of hands, empty, pathetic, nerveless and workworn, showing white in the uncertain light of the street, and clutching forward for food which was already unfit to eat. […] For the following weeks I went about London almost furtively, afraid to look down narrow streets and alleys lest they disclose again this hideous human need and suffering”.

Jane is shocked by what she sees in east London. She becomes afraid of the poor, which later in her life manifests into a need to remedy it thus spurring her to help found Hull-House. Sumner also appreciates past experiences. As Sumner describes how hard it is to create a successful business in America he says “what obstacles must be overcome, what risks must be taken, what perseverance and courage are required, what foresight and sagacity are necessary. Especially in a new country, where many tasks are waiting, where resources are strained to the utmost all the time, the judgment, courage, and perseverance required to organize new enterprizes and carry them to success are sometimes heroic. Persons who possess the necessary qualifications obtain great rewards”.

He says that due to the risks of creating a successful business, one needs to persevere and be courageous, almost heroic. Sumner knows how hard it is to make a business and believes that the process of establishing one helps teach life lessons. These life lessons help with the success and wealth of the owner.

In conclusion, Jane Addams and William Sumner both have laudable goals and values, but in different ways. They both lived in times of great change and wished to help their society. They both see how as the poor move into the city, the wealthy move and group up away from the poor. Sumner believes that the poor here stay poor because they believe that the rich should hand them wealth and Addams thinks that the rich abandoned the poor. They both wish to help their communities but in different ways. Jane wishes to set an example and help raise up the old and poor out of poverty and work with them to get them so that they may make a living, and William explains how the working class should work with the rich to help everyone because the rich are the competent men who give the workers opportunities at wealth. They both appreciate the experiences of people. Jane sees how the past pushes people to work, and Sumner sees how people’s past work support them in the present.

11 February 2020

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