Author Archive - The History Chicks

Episode 112: Jane Addams Part 1

Posted 23 September 2018 by
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Library of Congress

Jane Addams is called the “Mother of Social Work”; which is impressive enough, but really doesn’t cover her whole story. You know what else won’t cover her whole story? One episode. Jane’s life was so packed that we decided to  break it into two parts to cover it thoroughly. (If you’re looking for the media recommendations, they’ll be on the shownotes for Part Two.)

Before Jane began her life’s work as an American settlement pioneer and social work reformer; before she gave her first speech, wrote her first book, or organized her first meeting to create social change, she was a little girl in a wealthy family who was developing the skills, character, and temperament to change the world.

Laura Jane Addams was born on September 6, 1860, the 8th of 9 children born to wealthy businessman, Illinois senator and good pal of Abraham Lincoln – John Huy and his hardworking and kind-hearted wife, Sarah Weber Addams. Sadly, only 5 of their children would live past the age of 2 and Mama Sarah would pass away while Jenny (she had to grow into “Jane”) was still a toddler.

The Addams family ( snap snap) homestead in Cedarville, IL today. (It’s a private residence, just look at the picture, don’t knock on the door.) wikicommons

John remarried a widow with two sons, coincidentally one the same age as Jenny–hijinx ensued. Jenny was smart and a big reader (you guys! She read and re-read Little Women–you like her already, don’t you?) and by the time she finished the school in Cedarville, she knew she wanted to go to college, get a degree and become a doctor. Solid plan! Papa swapped out Jenny’s preferred Smith College in Massachusetts for a more local Rockford Female Seminary in Illinois and she headed off to college to overachieve, make friends, write bad poetry, try opium, and get her education. She also dropped the childhood nickname and became Jane.

But then, she was finished. At 21, with no direction but not anxious to go the Mrs. route, Jane floundered. Making matters tougher, first her father died suddenly, then she enrolled then dropped out of medical school and got herself checked in to the hospital for neurasthenia. (Oh, yay! We get to talk about 1800’s women’s “medical care.” Here’s an article about her diagnosis from The Atlantic.)

Jane Addams, late 1800s, photo by Cox, Chicago

When she returned from a two year long Grand Tour therapy session she had her eyes wide open. She had seen poverty unlike anything she had been exposed to before…although she wasn’t sure what to do, she knew she wanted to- and could- do something.

The area Jane and Ellen chose to live in. Illustration from 20 Years at Hull House

It would take another couple of years, another tour of Europe and a bloody bullfight (there’s a story!) before Jane and her friend Ellen Gates Starr formed a plan based on settlement houses they had visited in England: Live in an impoverished area packed with immigrants, bring in women just like them- smart, educated, and unfulfilled-to not only become a part of the community, but to create community services and improved lives for all involved.

Hull House today wikicommons

The 19th Ward in Chicago gave them their neighborhood; a rented, run-down mansion gave them their home base, the generous women of Chicago gave them funds and their settlement house plans fell into place even better than Jane and Ellen had imagined: in their first year, 50,000 people passed through their doors and into their own lives of purpose.

And this is where we’re going to leave you. It’s 1891, Hull-House is up and running, programs are being created, lives are being changed, the community is forming…and Jane is just getting started.

The children of the 19th Ward were involved in the first programs in Jane’s settlement house (illustration from 20 Years in Hull House by Jane Addams)






Episode 111: Clara Barton Revisited and Refreshed

Posted 1 September 2018 by
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To end the summer we thought we would revisit and remaster our 2011 episode about the life of Clara Barton. Her story touched both of us when we recorded it but she’s come to our minds a lot since then. The lessons from her life, including strength, perseverance, bravery and compassion are ones that we can all use in our lives at any time.


Episode 110: Georgia O’Keeffe

Posted 12 August 2018 by
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The line between Georgia O’Keeffe’s childhood in Wisconsin to her death nearly 100 years later is as jagged, complex, colorful, unique, ever- changing and interesting as the vistas outside her final New Mexico homes.


Episode 109: Grace O’Malley

Posted 21 July 2018 by
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Gráinne Ui Mháille, Grainne, Granuaile, Gráinne MhaolGrace, That Irish Pirate Queen From the 16th Century…whatever you call her, her life and legacy as a strong, independent, bold, fearless (and yes, criminal) woman doesn’t change.

Statue at Westport House, Co Mayo, Ireland


Episode 108: The Statue of Liberty

Posted 30 June 2018 by
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She’s neither alive nor dead; she exists but has never taken a breath; her innards are as hard as steel, but just the sight of her has brought men to grateful, hopeful tears. The Statue of Liberty is a she, which makes her fair game for one of our conversations.



Episode 107: Mary Pickford

Posted 11 June 2018 by
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Mary Pickford was an actress, writer, director, producer, studio head and entrepreneur…but she’s often remembered as “that pretty girl with the curls in silent movies.”

Excuse us? Oh no, that just won’t do.

Library of Congress


Episode 106: Beatrix Potter Revisited and Refreshed

Posted 19 May 2018 by
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This week we’re taking a look back at one of the women who surprised us both, in the most delightful of ways-Beatrix Potter. As time and technology has allowed, we’ve gone back and quietly remastered the audio in a number of our older shows and Beatrix is the latest. When we know better, we do better! (more…)

Episode 105: Dowager Empress Cixi of China

Posted 30 April 2018 by
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The true story of a woman who, essentially, ruled China for almost 50 years is cloaked by years of inaccurate (read: fabricated) reporting and several sources muddled through translation. Sometimes it feels as if her history is behind the same silk screen where she ruled, a clear outline with veiled detail.

So this’ll be fun!

Yehenara Tsing was born on November 29, 1853. Her name changes several times through her life (and more through translated spellings): Tsing (some sources use her family name which appears first), Lan, Yi and finally the form that she is known to history: Cixi. (more…)

Episode 104: Louisa May Alcott

Posted 8 April 2018 by
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Louisa May Alcott is easily remembered as the author of the sweet coming of age novel about four sisters in Civil War era New England. It was based on her life and her family, but it left out a lot. Like poverty, consistent moving, a father with more lofty ideals than successful methods to deliver them, and writing a large body of work across many genres before she even sat down to write Little Women. Learning her story brings a deeper level of appreciation to all of her work and a good look into the era from a unique perspective.

Plus, it’s a great story of a determined, brilliant and brave woman. Lots to love. (more…)

Episode 103: Ada Lovelace

Posted 17 March 2018 by
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Countess Ada Lovelace’s mind was extraordinary in the truest sense, truthfully there was very little that was ordinary about her. She was the only legitimate daughter of the poet, Lord Byron and his only wife, Annabella (the 11th Baroness Wentworth thankyouverymuch.) She never met her wild and wildly popular father, was raised by a mother who protected her from the fame-by-association that came with having that kind of parent, educated in a manner that most girls of the time never experienced and, eventually, used that education along with her logical and creative brain to write the world’s first computer program. (more…)