A Sensitive and Fragile Threshold: Jane Addams’s A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil
Dr. Dawn Flood
A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil written at the turn of the twentieth century features Jane Addams, the founder of the socially and culturally philanthropic Hull-House, as the antagonistic narrator of a longstanding gender-based issue that augments with the growth of the “Windy City”. This “social evil”, as it is referred to, is promptly exorcised as Addams formats her thematic arguments around the traps and social snares of the city and the most desirable solutions for them. She critically reveals the modernity of the ancient social and economic evils within the web of “commercialized vice” in Chicago at a time when Addams was becoming the national voice for American women.
Addams rigorously exposes shocking and abhorrent in-detail accounts, narratives and statistics of Chicago’s exploited young females within the grasps of prostitution up until the book’s completion in the winter of 1912. Her message to readers may be more than a hairy and flagrant case of city-wide gender-trafficking. With all of prostitution’s ethically questionable motives, Addams inflates Chicago’s prostitution trade as a deadly and grotesque state-of-affairs, run within the broader context of the dark, manipulative world of surreptitious men who took advantage of women - especially girls under the age of eighteen.
Young girls between the ages of thirteen and eighteen were the primary range targeted for the “white slave trade”. Making lucrative profit by running brothels and “five cent theatres” was two-fold. Men profited, along with the entire city economy, and helped to expand the trade, while women were initially convinced that they were going to be making more money for themselves, or their families, and ultimately benefitting. Addams not only sheds light on these enticements, but also the “scars” of prostitution. Mental instability from traumatic experiences perniciously affected girls as they grew older and matured. Health problems that were associated with long term involvement also surfaced later in life. These outcomes of prostitution further provoked action and protection for young girls, as Addams argues proactively to reshape city-wide opportunities so that females of all ages can flourish in a moral and ethical manner. As Chicago grew to over 2.1 million by 1912, Addams argues, in context, of a formula which should be mandatory for helping to keep young women safe from commercialized vice. Included was increasing the city’s sanitary control and implementing a mandatory educational standard to inform urban youth of the dangers of the dark topic.
What is to be understood by this example is that there was many tricks-of-the-trade in prostitution. Fundamental is the selection process, targeting the most vulnerable young women. Those young enough who initially do not understand what entails the underground trade or are...