A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil

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Published in 1912 on the heels of Twenty Years at Hull-House and at the height of Jane Addams's popularity, A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil assesses the vulnerability of the rural and immigrant working-class girls who moved to Chicago and fell prey to the sexual bartering of what was known as the white slave trade.
 
Addams offers lurid accounts–-drawn from the records of Chicago's Juvenile Protection Association–-of young women coerced into lives of prostitution by men who lurked outside hotels and sweatshops. Because they lacked funds for proper recreation, Addams argues, poor and socially marginalized women were susceptible to sexual slavery, and without radical social change they would perhaps be "almost as free" as young men. In addition to promoting higher wages and better living conditions, Addams suggests that a longer period of public education for young women would deter them from the dangers of city life.
 
Despite its appeal to middle–class readers eager for tales of sexual excess and the rape of innocence, the press and prominent intellectuals criticized A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil for being disproportionately hysterical to its philosophical weight. Katherine Joslin's introduction considers the controversial reactions to the book and the circumstances of its publication. Behind the sensationalism of the narratives, Joslin locates themes including the commodification of sex and the importance of marriage for young women.
 

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About the Author:

Jane Addams (1860 – 1935) was a pioneer settlement worker, founder of Hull House in Chicago, public philosopher, sociologist, author, and leader in woman suffrage and world peace. Beside presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, she was the most prominent reformer of the Progressive Era and helped turn the nation to issues of concern to mothers, such as the needs of children, public health, and world peace. She said that if women were to be responsible for cleaning up their communities and making them better places to live, they needed the vote to be effective in doing so. Addams became a role model for middle-class women who volunteered to uplift their communities. She is increasingly recognized as a member of the American pragmatist school of philosophy. In 1931 she became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

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