GENDER AND CHICAGO SOCIOLOGY
Abbott (1999: 24) contrasts the ‘profound’ impact that the literatures on urban issues and on ‘race-ethnicity’ have had on the history of Chicago sociology with the lack of impact made by encounters with feminism. In the main part of this chapter it is that lack of impact that I am going to
address. Noticeably, Abbott himself ignores the feminist work on Chicago in its first golden age by Rosenberg (1982), Rossiter (1982), Gordon (1990) and me (Delamont, 1992a), dealing only with Deegan (1988, 1995).
Before plunging into the argument offered by Deegan, it is important to understand the Zeitgeist of Hull-House. The idea of settlement houses, in which white intellectuals from the upper middle classes chose to live in slums, conducting adult education classes, providing community leadership, being the role models of a Christian, celibate, literature, orderly lifestyle including temperance, is now a very alien one. In the nineteenth century it was popular in Britain and the USA. Feminists were keen on the idea of leaving their stifling Victorian families to live communally with other like-minded ladies and build celibate career-centred lives (Walkowitz, 1992). Vicinus (1985) has an excellent account of their desirability for British First Wave feminists. In Chicago, Jane Addams founded and championed Hull-House for 40 years, and it was America’s most famous settlement. It was modelled on Toynbee Hall in London, and provided a home for many of the women staff of Chicago University and some men. There was a communal dining hall, and women could live there cheaply, respectably, and provide social and educational services to the neighbourhood. For many years Hull-House was an annexe of the university, especially of the sociology department, because it was the centre from which empirical research on its neighbourhood was conducted. In 1895 the earliest empirical research on Chicago, modelled on Booth’s Life and Labour of the London Poor was produced as Hull – House Maps and Papers.
Deegan’s (1988) Jane Addams and the Men of the Chicago School was an attempt to rewrite the orthodox histories of Chicago Sociology to re-centre Hull-House in the departmental chronicle, and the sociological identities of at least 15 women scholars and feminist activists of the period 1892-1920. As well as (re-)claiming these women for sociology, she also stressed that their research topics are recognisably sociological today, even if they were deemed to be not sociological between 1920 and 1980. Lengermann and Niebrugge-Brantley (1998) draw essentially similar conclusions, and, for an essentially similar argument, see also Bernard, (1987). The story of Chicago is told, contested, retold, recontested. Like any origin legend, any powerful myth, it is endlessly fascinating. There is no consensus, only controversy. Scholars dispute membership, influence, love and hate, power and impotence, and the relative importance of different research methods, theories and epistemologies. For the purpose of this chapter, only two issues are important: women as researchers and gender as a topic. There is no attempt to deal with any other aspects of the myths of Chicago sociology.
There are 14 women who were active in Chicago sociology in the 1892-1920 era, whose publications, research, teaching and even existence are not acknowledged in the malestream histories before Abbott (1999). I have selected these 14 from the accounts of Abbott (1999), Deegan (1988), Lengermann and Niebrugge-Brantley (1998) and Rosenberg (1982). They are:
• Edith Abbott
• Grace Abbott
• Jane Addams
• Sophonisba Breckinridge
• Alice Chapman Dewey
• Charlotte Perkins Gilman
• Florence Kelley
• Frances Kellor
• Julia Lathrop
• Annie Marion McLean
• Helen Castle Mead
• Marion Talbot
• Dorothy Swaine Thomas
• Helen Bradford Thompson Woolley
It is not appropriate to describe all these women’s lives and work in any detail, even if the research on them had been done and was available. Rosenberg (1982) discusses Helen Woolley at some length; Fish (1981) has written on Annie Marion McLean, and Marion Talbot (1936) published a readable autobiography; Lengermann and Niebrugge-Brantley (1998: 229) draw on a biography of Florence Kelley by Blumberg (1966), of the Abbott sisters by Costin (1983), of Florence Kelley by Sklar (1995) and of Julia Lathrop by Wade (1977), as well as two histories of women and reform in that era by Muncy (1991) and Gordon (1994). I have discussed some of the 14 in more detail to draw out the lessons about the fate of founding mothers.
Edith Abbott had a PhD in political economy from Chicago, studied with the Webbs at LSE, taught sociology at Wellesley, and was then a Chicago staff member in sociology from 1908 to 1920. She published books on Women in Industry and on truancy from school in 1916. Her specialism was statistics: her post was ‘Lecturer in Methods of Social Investigation’.
Jane Addams is the most famous woman on the list, although she is much less known outwith the USA. She is remembered in the USA as a pacifist, a settlement worker, a feminist, and a social worker, not a sociologist. However, she taught sociology, was a member of the ASA, published in the AJS, and identified herself as a sociologist. She edited
one of the pioneering empirical studies of urban Chicago, Hull-House Maps and Papers (1895).
Sophonisba Breckinridge was the first woman to qualify as a lawyer in the state of Kentucky in 1894. She moved to Chicago to become Assistant Dean of Women: a pioneering feminist post combining administration and pastoral care. Once in Chicago she completed two PhD degrees, in law and in political economy. Her law doctorate was the first Chicago awarded to a woman. Breckinridge taught sociology in the sub-department of home economics, which was a sub-division of sociology. She published The Delinquent Child in the Home in 1912, and with Edith Abbott, in 1916, a book on truancy. After 1904 Breckinridge and Julia Lathrop concentrated on establishing the School of Social Service Administration (SSA) which was a professional training centre for social workers.
Marion Talbot was the first Dean of Women at Chicago. If she is remembered at all today, it is as the founder of the American Association of University Women, not as a sociologist. However, she taught in the sociology department before she created her sub-department of home economics. Her intellectual interests were in the area of overlap between urban studies, town planning and home economics. However, many of the topics considered to be part of the sociology of everyday/everynight life today; such as housework, food and drink, and use of space in homes, were within Talbot’s scope. Deegan (1996) has explored her passionate friendship with Breckinridge.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman came to Chicago from California in 1895, and wrote the feminist book Women and Economics (1898). She is remembered as a feminist, but not as a sociologist. However, she published in the AJS, spoke at the ASA, and worked with Lester Ward, who is seen as a founder of American sociology.
Florence Kelley was born in 1853, and moved to Chicago in 1891 as a divorcee with three children. She had done a PhD in Zurich, had known Engels, and had translated his works into English. She was the leading force in compiling the Hull-House Maps and Papers. This was an American attempt to emulate Booth’s Life and Labour of the London Poor.
Frances Kellor was born in 1873, lived in Hull-House intermittently between 1898 and 1905, studied crime, and became head of the New York Bureau of Industries and Immigration in 1910.
Helen Mead, Alice Dewey and Dorothy Thomas were the wives of three of Chicago’s most famous pioneer scholars. Deegan (1988) argues that they have been eclipsed because they were wives (as, in a later generation Helen McGill Hughes was eclipsed by her husband). Deegan highlights Helen Mead and Alice Dewey’s active campaigning for female suffrage: a social reform goal intertwined with social science in
the nineteenth century (Delamont, 1989b). Dorothy Thomas (W. I. Thomas’s second wife) wrote The Child in America with him in 1928. Alice Dewey was an enthusiast for the fiction of Zola. Zola’s fiction was influential on the style of Chicago urban sociology, and Deegan suggests Alice Dewey may have brought Zola’s novels to the attention of the male sociologists.
Helen Woolley grew up in Chicago, and entered the university in 1893. She completed her PhD there in 1900. Her research was on the psychology of sex differences, and challenged the dominant ideology that men and women had very different mental abilities. Rosenberg (1982) documents how convincing her findings were. W. I. Thomas had believed that men and women had biologically determined mental abilities that differed sharply. After Woolley’s research he changed his position in print, citing her experiments as evidence that socialisation and environment separated males and females and that produced differential mental abilities.
Deegan (1988) claimed that these women had been expunged from the history of Chicago sociology, unjustly and because of the active misogyny of Park. The process she describes is explored by Rossiter (1982), in her history of the professionalisation of American science, a process which involved clearing out all amateurs, all school teachers, and all women. Lengermann and Niebrugge-Brantley (1998) plot the links, both academic and emotional, between eight of these women (the Abbott sisters, Breckinridge, Kelley, Kellor, Lathrop, McLean and Talbot) in detail, as well as confirming their sociological credentials. They devote whole chapters to Jane Addams and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. They also describe the different research methods the women deployed, and list some reasons why they should be considered as founding mothers of contemporary sociology.