The Present and Future Echo the Past

It often seems like nothing gets done in Washington, D.C. Sometimes it just takes a very long time to accomplish great things, so long as we have visionary leaders at the local, regional, and national levels fighting for what is right for the greater good.

The first volume of Blanche Wiesen Cook’s biography of Eleanor Roosevelt suggests that everyone in the U.S. has a lot for which to thank Mrs. Roosevelt and her contemporaries. And there were more women (and men) that came before her that set the stage for what many of us now take for granted.

Theodore Roosevelt’s second run at the presidency in 1912 was done as a third-party candidate. One of his supporters was Jane Addams. She supported him because his platform contained everything for which she had been fighting for more than 10 years. All of us now benefit from her efforts:

  • Regulations to guarantee decent housing;
  • A law to end child labor;
  • Protection for women workers;
  • A National system of accident, old-age, and unemployment insurance; and
  • Equal suffrage (the right to women to vote and hold office).

Who was Jane Addams? Ms. Addams (1860-1935) was a leader in women’s suffrage and world peace. She was considered to be one of the most prominent reformers in the early decades of the 20th century. In 1931 she became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and is recognized as the founder of the social work profession in the U.S.

In 1920 and 1921, the League of Women’s Voters, led by other prescient women, including Eleanor Roosevelt, put forth a political platform that included many issues subsequent generations have benefited, and other issues for which we still need to fight:

  • National health insurance;
  • Unemployment insurance;
  • State and federally funded old-age pensions;
  • Expanded appropriations for the Women’s Bureau and Children’s Bureau;
  • An end to child labor;
  • Maximum-hour and minimum-wage legislation;
  • The Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infant Protection Act;
  • Pure-milk-and-food legislation;
  • Federal aid to education;
  • Civil-service reform;
  • Full citizenship for women (whether or not married to U.S. Nationals);
  • The participation of women at every level of national life;
  • The promotion of international peace; and
  • Membership in the League of Nations.

Have you ever heard of the Woman’s Peace Party? Jane Addams, with other outspoken women reformers and peace activists, formed the Women’s Peace Party (WPP) in 1915 after the start of World War I with the immodest goal of brokering permanent peace among warring nations. President Wilson, however, did not support their proposals. But that didn’t stop the WPP or the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM) from pursuing pacifist outcomes. Jane Addams and others were labeled unpatriotic traitors because they were against American entering the war.

“After the war, pacifists were hugely disappointed by the Treaty of Versailles and the failure of the United States to join the League of Nations. However, two important organizations did grow out of the women’s peace movement. With the support of Jane Addams, the AUAM developed into the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In 1919, the Women’s International Committee for Permanent Peace developed into the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Both the ACLU and the WILPF thrive today.”1

Seems we should have a day on the calendar dedicated to remembering Jane Addams and all that she attempted to do, and has done, for us.

1National Women’s History Museum

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