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Knight reviews author’s life

Miranda Peretti | Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Author and Historian Louise W. Knight spoke about her newest book, “Jane Addams: Sprit in Action,” at Saint Mary’s Tuesday. She led an engaging discussion on the life of Addams and her accomplishments in Stapleton Lounge.

Sister Kathleen Dolphin, head of the Center for Spirituality, introduced Knight.

“She engages the general reader,” Dolphin said. “This is not an easy task. However, she does it well.”

Knight’s second book on Addams includes a full biography as well as her “secret side” growing up in Cedar Town, Ill., and being the youngest of five. Addams co-founded the Hull House in Chicago and is the author of 10 books, Knight said.

“She knew she wanted to be a medical doctor and live among the poor,” Knight said.

Addams attended Rockford College in Illinois — a small women’s college for girls of wealthy families — in hopes of becoming a doctor.

According to Knight, two months after graduation, her father died leaving her in a haze. After one year of medical school she had a nervous breakdown partly due to her father’s death and the realization that the medical career was not for her.

The images of joy among the catacombs in Rome “took her breath away,” Knight said.

Visiting Rome instilled a new drive in Addams and inspired her to develop the Hull House in Chicago, she said. After convincing a friend to help, the two acquired a property in an immigration neighborhood.

“The settlement house was a social effort to take college educated men and women and place them in a working class neighborhood,” Knight said.

The idea was to cross class lines, as well as to fulfill her lifelong dream of living among the poor, she said. The settlement house transformed her life.

According to Knight, she learned that poverty affects the soul just as much as materialism. She herself was ferociously anti-materialistic, even though she came from a wealthy family, she said.

Addams wrote, “The best teacher of life is life itself.”

She was committed to social action and embraced union reforms, Knight said. Jane Addams can be described as a “visionary and profit,” according to Knight. She was hated by many but loved by many more.

This was Knight’s third and final lecture at Saint Mary’s.