AAUW’s Jane Addams Day 2015 was wondrous. I couldn’t be happier with the event. This year, we decided to have the incredible singer and songwriter Kristin Lems as the star of the show. Kristin Lems has a play with songs (as she would put it) about the life of Jane Addams. She and her mother, Carol Silver, reflected on the role that Jane Addams played in their family’s history and the lives of many other women in Chicago. It was an honor to have them both share their songs and stories with us at the event.
The theme of the event was on hope and stories. Or as some may suggest, the event featured the famous story of the Devil Baby. We started with a wonderful history of Jane Addams, AAUW and its role in helping to found Jane Addams Day on December 10th by Lori Switzer. Than we had Ruth Holst read “Hope” by Emily Dickinson to start off the event. In November, at an event in the very same room, I learned that HUll House events would begin with a poem. So I felt it was important to continue the tradition.
Then we had the local historian, my husband Scott Priz, give an overview of the Devil Baby, the one of the first fairy tale or urban legends of Chicago. There’s a lot of variation about the story. Some stories have it in a Catholic household while others in Jewish household. THe common theme is that the husband swears an oath against religion or children that he would rather have the devil himself. His poor wife then ended up bearing a devil child who was said to speak languages, Latin or Greek, dance and swear. For weeks women all over Chicago came to the Hull House and demanded to see the baby.
Later on, Jane Addams would write extensively about the Devil Baby, trying to understand how the tale became so popular so fast and how it seemed to appeal to so many women. As Jane, I presented one of the essays, “Women’s Memories – Reaction on Life, as Illustrated By The Story of the Devil Baby.” In the essay, Jane Addams considers that the story may be a fairy tale that helps people (women) make sense of hte world and see a glimmer of justice. She talked about how the story caused many women to open up themselves to Jane and tell her their often sad stories of wayward sons and husbands. One line from the text speaks to me:
“The story of the Devil Baby may have incited these women to put their experiences more vividly than they had hitherto been able to do. It may have been because they were unconsciously spurred by the hope that a supernatural retribution might intervene even for them, or because they were merely comforted by the knowledge that it had once done so for someone else that they spoke with more confidence that they had had ever done before.”
The Devil Baby story causes women to open themselves up and share their lives with Jane (and presumably other residents). They speak of hope in often hopeless and dire situations. It’s an amazing consideration of the meaning of it all by Jane Addams.
After my speech, Kristin Lems and her mother shared their songs and experiences. Kristin Lems sang about Jane’s call to action to do somsething proactive instead of continuing on the Grand Tour of Europe by talking about her moment of awakening at a bullfight in Spain. This is what Jane called the “Snare of Preparation.” She also shared a wonderful song about Jane Addams’ reaction to Tolstoy after his rather rude interaction with her.
Her mother, Carol Silver, shared several passages from memoirs of the family who had been positively impacted by JAne Addams. The family lived across the street from Hull House and the place and its inhabitants featured in their lives. Jane and her fellow residents saved the life of Carol’s grandmother! And they have a family photo of Carol Silver when she was 2 months old in a sweater knitted by Jane Addams. It was quite moving to hear these stories about people personally impacted by Jane Addams and the Hull House.
Kristin Lems continued with a wonderful Hull House Rag and a delightful song on the Devil Baby as well. She ended the show with a moving song from her recent CD You, Me and All of the Above called “Oh Little Bird” that reflected on the lives of refugees and immigrants who came to the US for a better life. These are the people that Jane Addams tried to help.
What a wonderful event! Thank you again to everyone who came. Thank you to Kristin Lems and Carol Silver for making it a truly fantastic occasion! Thanks to AAUW for hosting the event.
And thank you to Jan Lisa Huttner for inspiring and recommending that I do this in the very beginning!