Jane Addams: A Voice for the Voiceless
I like to use Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, St. Mother Teresa, St. Katharine Drexel, and others as an example in class of Saints when talking to the youth. Youth are big with social justice issues and serving, so these Saints really hit the mark. However, I also like to use one "secular Saint" in particular as well. Her name is Jane Addams, and she changed the face of Chicago and America.
She may not have been of faith, but her whole life was dedicated to equality, community, opportunities, and the common good for people of all ages and backgrounds. She came from a wealthy family and saw the "slums" for the first time while traveling abroad. This experience stunned her whole being; she couldn't let it go. She came back to the States and her eyes were opened to the poor communities struggling right in her backyard. She decided that she wanted to do something about it.
Jane Addams lived in the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. There were a lot of transitions in Chicago during that time, and most of the focus during the late 1800s, when the Hull House opened, was on the World's Fair. The city could only gaze upon the extravagant structures and buildings that had to be built in record time so to outdo France's World Fair and to meet the deadline, which was the anniversary celebration for Christopher Columbus's landfall in the States hundreds of years earlier. Chicago was the chosen city of America to host this party, so it had to be grand. The architects and businessmen wanted to outdo France and outdo the Eiffel Tower. Because things had to be built in record time, thousands of men were given really long hours with little pay. There were other economical and social context of the time too; for instance, children were working in factories and women could only get "low status" jobs like sewing in factories.
Jane fought against these injustices. She created the Hull House in 1889 to help feed women and children, who couldn't afford a meal or a place to stay. She also gave them other resources and opportunities like education, job search help, and a community. While the women met in classes to learn, their children were cared for. The older kids would be at school or work, but the younger ones had nowhere to go. Jane created the first Kindergarten. She also saw the importance of fresh air and physical activity, so she created the first playground so the kids could take a break from studies to play outside.
She fought against child labor and poor conditions of factory work. Children would operate heavy machinery, and they were smaller so they were voted to stick their little hands into the machinery to fix problems. They had long hour shifts with little pay, and the conditions were so poor that a lot of children would get sick. These poor children slaved their days away while the company owner builds a Mansion outside of the city. Jane fought back against this, and there were other women from high-society families that were influenced and joined forces with Jane to create equality.
It is because of her that we have child labor laws, factory laws, the eight-hour work day law, lunch break law, other women's programs, playgrounds, Kindergarten, and so much more. I've only touched on a hair of Jane's impact on her community and our country as a whole. She was even the second woman to be awarded with the Nobel Peace prize in 1931 for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom she created. Because she gave a voice to the voiceless, fought for the marginalized, gave opportunities, and never gave up, she changed the course of the American workplace as we know it.
She may not have been Catholic, but she impacted so many Catholic and non-Catholic lives in Chicago and in the country. With her empathy, servitude, and dedication, Jane Addams is hands-down a "secular Saint" for the ages.