Saturday was the 2014 AAUW Chicago’s Jane Addams Day Celebration. Jane Addams has commemorative day in Illinois on December 10th because she was a remarkable lady. We try to celebrate her on the following Saturday. It’s an important opportunity to celebrate a piece of women’s history. Few women have commemorative days; none have national holidays. So with great pleasure, I’ve been able to direct the American Association of University Women Chicago chapter’s celebration for the past two years.
The program centered around one of many historical events that Jane Addams partook in. We looked at the Pullman strike in 1894. Due to the snowfall last year, we put on the show again for the membership. Next year, we’ll tackle another historical event with Jane Addams.
The event was a historical reenactment of the strike, starting with George Pullman, played by Scott Priz, describing his vision for Pullmantown. He talked about how he had raised the city of Chicago from the swamps by raising the buildings with little interruption to the daily flow of life. Florence Kelly, a resident of Hull House and political activist who was played by Carron Little, gave a speech about her research of Pullmantown workers. Many workers had their wages cut by at least 50% and their rents had not been lowered as a result. Many workers had monthly earnings of $18 and had $16 in rent.
Then the workers, played by Catherine Jett and Sarah Crawford, talked to George Pullman. In the historical record, he didn’t actually meet with them; some manager did. But for the sake of drama, we had the conversation between Pullman and the workmen. They asked for three things: 1) wages increased 2) rents lowered and 3) investigation into the abuses by the foremen and other managers on the shop floor. Pullman rejected the first two but promised investigation into these allegations of abuse. He also pledged that none of the workers would be fired as a result of these demands. However, three workers were shortly let go because of their participation on the strike committee. That’s when the workers decided to strike. We staged a little protest with signs and chants.
The strike, however, got violent. Rail cars were burned and thirty people died. So we had a circus acrobatic fight to represent the violence. We did get a little anachronistic; Pullman tussled with the workers. Eventually, he stood on the shoulders of one of his strikebreakers, played by Jim Priz, and gave a speech to crush the workers spirits. Sure, there was no evidence that Pullman engaged physically with this employees but it made for some good theater. Eventually the strikebreaker wailed on a striker, dragging her body off stage. Yikes!
Next Jane Addams attempted to reason with the workers, asking them to consider negotiating with Pullman. They agreed but made no promises about what will be said. However, Pullman simply refused to meet with her. He then gave a monologue to justify his obstinate approach to his workers.
Jane Addams then gave a speech based on her essay “A Modern Lear.” In this speech, she compares King Lear to George Pullman and the workers to the daughters. She focuses much of her criticism on Pullman who was so confident in his benevolence that he became far removed from his own workmen. He failed to see his faults and was blind to their needs and desires, much like King Lear only saw the slight against him and failed to see Cordelia’s love for him. But Addams points out that Cordelia should not escape censure; her words are cold to her father. Addams advocates that workingmen have to be inclusive of their employers; no future can exist without both sides. It’s a powerful speech about the importance of conciliation. Her belief in peace and justice was a constant throughout her life.
To put things into historical context, we had our Historian, Paul Durica, talk about the history of the strike and Hull House. We learned about the connections between Hull House and Pullmantown. An architecture firm built Pullmantown and later an assistant to one of those architects would build the additional buildings for the Hull House. The purposes of the buildings were very different and reflected in the design. Moreover, we learned that our circus fight with Pullman and the workers was political burlesque and things like it would have been performed in halls during the late 19th century.
Then we closed the show with the song “Solidarity Forever.” It’s a song sung to the tune of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” played by pianist, John Gieger. It was actually first sung at Hull House before going to join a strike.
I was very pleased with the show and people seemed to have a great time. I feel very lucky to have this opportunity to celebrate women’s history. It’s really important to me. I thank AAUW for giving me this opportunity again this year.
Until next year!
That’s all for now!