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Saint Jane And The Ward Boss
When Jane Addams opened Hull House for Chicago’s immigrants, she began asking questions a local politician preferred not to answer
December 1960 | Volume 12, Issue 1
His first move was an attack on Amanda Johnson, a Hull-House resident who had succeeded Miss Addams as garbage inspector. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin and described by the papers as blond, blueeyed, and beautiful, she had taken the civil service examination and duly qualified for the position. Alderman Powers announced to the world that Miss Johnson, shielded by her civil service status, was telling his constituents not to vote for him. The Chicago Record dropped a crocodile tear at the sad picture of the martyred alderman: General sympathy should go out to Mr. Powers in this, his latest affliction. Heretofore he has been persecuted often by people opposed to bad franchise ordinances. He has been hounded by the upholders of civil service reform. He has suffered the shafts of criticism directed at his career by disinterested citizens. A grand jury has been cruel to him. Invidious comments have been made in his hearing as to the ethical impropriety of gambling institutions. … It is even believed that Miss Johnson in her relentless cruelty may go so far as to insinuate that Mr. Powers’ electioneering methods are no better than those attributed to her—that, indeed, when he has votes to win, the distinctions of the civil service law do not deter him from going after those votes in many ways.
Powers’ next move was to attempt a redistricting that would cut off the eastern, or Italian, end of his ward, which he took to be most seriously under HullHouse influence. It was reported that he also felt this area had been a “large source of expense to him through the necessity of assisting the poor that are crowded into that district.” “These people,” the Chicago Record reported, “formerly tied to him by his charities are said to be turning toward Hull-House and will vote solidly against him next spring.”
Neither of Powers’ first efforts was notably successful. A few days after his attack on Miss Johnson the Tribune reported: Trouble sizzled and boiled for Alderman John Powers in his own bailiwick last night. The Nineteenth Ward Independent club raked over the Alderman’s sins … and … much indignation was occasioned by Alderman Powers’ opposition to Miss Amanda Johnson. One Irish speaker says Johnny is a disgrace to the Irish race now that he has descended to fighting “poor working girls.”
Meantime, Powers’ colleagues on the council redistricting committee had no intention of saving his skin at the expense of their own, and stood solidly against his gerrymandering effort. Now the shaken boss began to show signs of losing his temper. He told reporters that if Miss Addams didn’t like the nineteenth ward she should move out. Later, still more infuriated, he announced that Hull-House should be driven out. “A year from now there will be no such institution,” he said flatly, adding that the women at Hull-House were obviously jealous of his charities. The Record published a cartoon showing Powers pushing vainly against the wall of a very substantial house.
The news of the campaign soon spread beyond the bounds of Chicago. The New York Tribune commented that Powers wouldn’t mind Miss Addams saying all those things about him if he didn’t begin to fear that she may succeed in making some of his well-meaning but misled constituents believe them. She is a very practical person, and has behind her a large volunteer staff of other practical persons who do not confine their efforts to “gassin’ in the parlors,” but are going about to prove to the plain people of the nineteenth ward that a corrupt and dishonest man does not necessarily become a saint by giving a moiety of his ill-gotten gains to the poor.
By March the campaign was waxing warm, and Powers resorted to an attempt to stir up the Catholic clergy against Miss Addams and the reform candidate. One of the Hull-House residents, a deputy factory inspector and a Catholic herself, went directly to the priests to find out why they were supporting Powers. When she reported, Jane Addams wrote to a friend: As nearly as I can make out, the opposition comes from the Jesuits, headed by Father Lambert, and the parish priests are not in it, and do not like it. Mary talked for a long time to Father Lambert and is sure it is jealousy of Hull-House and money obligations to Powers, that he does not believe the charges himself. She cried when she came back.
In another letter written about the same time, Miss Addams said that Powers had given a thousand dollars to the Jesuit “temperance cadets,” who had returned the favor with a fine procession supporting Powers’ candidacy. “There was a picture of your humble servant on a transparency and others such as ‘No petticoat government for us …’ We all went out on the corner to see it, Mr. Hinsdale carefully shielding me from the public view.”