- by JANE ADDAMS
- Featured on: The Best American Essays of the Century
- Read it: https://mn.gov/mnddc/parallels2/pdf/10s/11/11-the-handicapped-bourne.pdf
In "The Devil Baby at Hull-House," Jane Addams offers a compelling reflection on the intersection of superstition, poverty, and immigration in American society at the turn of the 20th century. The essay tells the story of a poor immigrant family who believe that their newborn baby is possessed by the devil, and the ways in which this belief highlights the profound challenges facing new immigrants in America.
Addams begins the essay by describing the arrival of the distressed family at Hull-House, the settlement house in Chicago that she co-founded. The family is convinced that their baby is a devil, and they are seeking help to exorcise the evil spirit. Addams reflects on the cultural divide between the educated, middle-class staff at Hull-House and the poor, uneducated immigrant family. She notes that the family's belief in the devil baby is rooted in superstition, but that this belief is also a reflection of the profound isolation and marginalization that many new immigrants experienced in America.
Addams argues that the story of the devil baby is emblematic of the broader challenges facing new immigrants in America at the time. She notes that many immigrants came to America in search of a better life, but that they often found themselves living in squalid conditions with little support or resources. Addams suggests that the lack of social support for immigrants created a fertile ground for superstition and irrational beliefs to take root, and that this further contributed to their marginalization and isolation.
The essay also reflects on the role of Hull-House in helping to address the challenges facing new immigrants. Addams describes the efforts of the staff at Hull-House to provide social services, education, and support to new immigrants, and notes that these efforts were essential in helping to bridge the cultural divide between immigrants and the broader American society.
In conclusion, "The Devil Baby at Hull-House" is a powerful essay that offers a poignant reflection on the intersection of superstition, poverty, and immigration in American society at the turn of the 20th century. The essay highlights the challenges facing new immigrants in America, and the ways in which social support and cultural understanding can help to bridge the divide between immigrants and the broader American society. Addams' essay serves as a call to action for all members of society to work towards greater empathy, understanding, and support for those who are marginalized and isolated.