On a recent trip to England, I was fortunate to make a side trip into London where I visited Toynbee Hall, the settlement house that inspired Jane Addams to found Hull House in Chicago in 1889. After graduating from Rockford Female Seminary, now Rockford University, Addams traveled to Europe, where she saw the extreme poverty of the East End of London, an area ridden with crime and a few years later the site of the Jack the Ripper murders.
Because I work with the Community-Based Learning program and the Jane Addams Center at Rockford University, I was keen on visiting Toynbee Hall. Today visitors can tour the original 19th century buildings, while the social services operate nearby. Entering the historic buildings, I was greeted by a statue of a standing woman and child holding hands, with the words “For Jane Addams” inscribed in the base. I had found Jane and found her quickly!
Today as it did in the 19th Century, Toynbee Hall works to break down barriers for those in poverty and against societal systems that keep people poor, and it provides economically stressed individuals with tools to be self-sufficient.
Like Addams’ Hull House, Toynbee Hall brings people together across divides. Visiting Toynbee was a reminder that many of the world’s social problems are ones that human beings have created because of our failure to empathize -- to cross the line between ourselves and others. Addams -- in her words -- reminds us of the necessity of crossing that divide: “The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”
I’m Mary Weaks-Baxter and that’s my perspective.