Sample Documents: Jane Addams to John Weber Addams, 29 Oct. 1883
Jane Addams to John Weber Addams
On 29 October 1883, Jane Addams wrote to her brother, John Weber Addams, describing her activities in London near the beginning of her nearly two year European trip. Having spent weeks in Ireland and Scotland, Addams was now making the rounds of famous British landmarks—the old “Knights Templar” church where Oliver Goldsmith was buried, Parliament and the House of Commons, the British Museum, and Madame Tussaud’s Waxworks. This excerpt from that letter is the most complete description by Jane Addams close to the time of her sightseeing “adventure” to the East End of London.
A quarter of a century later in the first volume of her autobiography, Twenty Years at Hull-House, Jane Addams embellished her description of the occasion and elevated it to a watershed event in her young life. Recalling it as an experience that gripped her with “despair and resentment,” she indicated that she found “all huge London . . . unreal save the poverty in its East End.” 1
32. Dorset Square, London. [England] Oct 29, 1883.
My dear Web–
We have been devoting our energies so thoroughly to London for the last two weeks–that journalistic letter writing has rather dropped into the back ground. We leave the big town with the comfort of saying–that we will certainly come back on our way home, for it seems otherwise impossible to go away. We bought our tickets this morning for Dresden. We will go by the way of Rotterdam & take about a week of sight seeing in Holland. We had quite an adventure last Saturday evening, Miss Warner the lady of the house took nine of the guests down into the "East End" to see the Saturday night marketing. The poorest people wait until very late Saturday night as meats & vegetables which cannot be kept over Sunday are sold cheaper. We reached the neighborhood by the underground railway & then rode on top of a street car for five miles through mobs of booths and stalls, and swarming thousands of people. At one time we found ourselves in a Dickens neighborhood past Mrs Bardell's house, the old debtor's prison, & Louis all alone.2 We took a look down into dingy old Grubb St. 3] It was simply an outside superficial survey of the misery & wretchedness, but it was enough to make one thoroughly sad and perplexed.4
. . . We have had some steady museum work this week. The British Museum fairly overpowered us, and we did not try to see more than a room or two. I think I must have written about the Parliament Houses, the great handsome buildings extend along the Thames and are very handsome from the outside, but we were rather disappointed upon going through them. The House of Commons looks dingy and crowded and there seemed to be more space given to lunch & smoking rooms than to actual work. We go to Westminster Abbey whenever we are any where near it, the great arches and isles are filled with the memories of the great men buried below until you hardly know which it is produces the effect upon you. We had a funny time the other evening, what Mary Ellwood called "The first real lark" we've had. A party from the house went to see Madame Tousaud's 5 wax works. A long magnificent looking room filled with famous & infamous persons. Four of our party did not recognize "George Washington" so you can judge of the correctness. The figures are standing and sitting around in the most natural manner, and where you least expect them. Mrs Penfield 6 watched a policeman a long time in great uncertainty and finally asked "Are you wax too?" To her surprise the figure replied, "I wish I was, may be I wouldn't be so hot." . . . Ever your loving sister
HLSr in hand of Sarah Alice Addams Haldeman (University of Illinois at Chicago, Jane Addams Memorial Collection, Microfilm of the Journals of Jane Addams prepared by Sarah Alice Addams Haldeman; JAPM, 1:1232-35; JAP, 2:270-73).
1. For Jane Addams’s retelling of this experience see Twenty Years at Hull-House, 66-71. The quotes appear on pages 68 and 69.
2. Addams is referring to people and settings mentioned in Charles Dickens’s (1812-70) first novel The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (1837). Dickens had been a child of poverty in Camden Town, the site of Mrs. Bardell’s house. The old debtor’s prison was the Marshalson.
3. According to lexicographer Samuel Johnson (1709-84), Grub St. was “much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries, and temporary poems; whence any mean production is called ‘Grub Street.’” Grub St. was renamed Milton St. after the poet John Milton (1608-74) who lived in the neighborhood and was buried in nearby St. Giles Church.
4. Her diary entry for 27 Oct. 1883 reads: “Warner took a party of nine to the ‘east end.’ . . . The thousands of poor people who were marketing at the booths & market stalls along the streets” (29 Aug.-1 Nov. 1883, 27 Oct.; University of Illinois at Chicago, Jane Addams Memorial Collection; JAPM, 28: 1721).
5. Madam Tussaud fled to London in 1802 from the French Revolution, taking with her models from the heads of victims of the guillotine. Before her death in 1850, she opened her waxworks to public display.
6. Mary Hodges Penfield (1820-1908), the widow of banker David Sturges Penfield (1812-73) of Rockford, Illinois, and her daughter, Mary “Molly” Fuller Penfield (Norton), joined the Addams-Ellwood party of northern Illinois women in sightseeing in London. The Penfields continued with the Addams and Ellwood women on their travels from Holland into Italy.