Beggars were dying on city streets in the nineteenth century while others, like William Vanderbilt, lived like emperors. Why? Some people blamed the problems of poverty on immigrants. Many of them came to this country without money. Most couldn't even speak English. Some said it wasn't worth the effort to absorb them. They said that the American dream should be just for those who were already here. Or those with a certain color skin. Or a certain religion. But the newcomers and the old-timers shared something. It was the American dream of freedom and democracy and fairness to all. Could there be equal opportunities? It wouldn't be easy, but some people tried to make it happen. One of them was a woman named Jane Addams. She once said, "The struggle for existence is so much harsher among people near the edge of pauperism."
Jane Addams's ancestors arrived in Pennsylvania in the days of William Penn. By the time Jane was born, they were living in Illinois and were wealthy. But that didn't mean Jane had an easy childhood. Jane's mother died when she was two. Then Jane got tuberculosis, a common disease in those days. It left her with a crooked spine that bothered her all her life. Jane went on to become a college graduate. Then she visited a house for the poor in London, England, and her life was transformed. Determined to make her life count, she decided to open her own settlement house in the slums of Chicago. She bought a red brick house, with white columns on the porch. It had been built by a Mr. Hull, so she named it Hull House. She soon was the best-known reformer of her day. One Hull House visitor said this after meeting her: "She is the only saint the United States has produced."