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Jessie Binford discusses her life, Jane Addams, and the work they did together

BROADCAST: Aug. 1965 | DURATION: 00:53:01


Studs interviews Jessie Binford at her home at the Tall Corn Hotel in Marshalltown, Iowa. Ms. Binford reflects on growing up in Marshalltown and going to Hull House Chicago where she met Jane Addams. Ms. Binford talks to Studs about politics and the changes in technology. Includes an excerpt of a previous interview with Florence Scala.(1915178-3-1) Also, excerpts from 1963 interview with Ms. Binford(1851518-3-1, 3-2)


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Studs Terkel Came and saw some books on your desk.

Jesse Binford It's one of the, so-called "house boys," here in the hotel. He's the one who was always working, never letting anything interfere with what he's doing. He's very quiet. No one pays much attention to him. But I always liked him and uh, have talked to him now and then, and he has come up to my room for different things. The other day he came up here and he stood here talking and then he looked over and while I only have two rooms here, and uh, so few possessions, as I've always had around me. But there are quite a few books. And he looked over and he said, "you have lots of books haven't you?" I have only a very few compared to--I wish I had all my books here. And he said, "well, what are they all about?" And he went over and stood there looking at the titles. And uh, he said-- he took one book out and he said, "Well, now what's this book about?" And it happened to be Mr. Milton Mayor's book, "What Can a Man Do?" And, and Clarence read it and said, "what can a man do?" Well he said, "What--what does this mean? What can a man do?" Well I tried to explain very simply what I thought he meant and he put the book back. Uh, he didn't ask to take it, he could've if he'd wanted to. But I wasn't sure because he's somewhat retarded. I just wasn't sure whether he was equal to uh, reading a book of that kind. But the interesting thing was, of all the titles, that was the one thing that attracted him. And that seemed to mean something to him.

Studs Terkel What can a man do.

Jesse Binford Yes.

Studs Terkel And this almost, uh seems to be the question of our day, doesn't it. I mean as you sit here now in Marshalltown.

Jesse Binford I think so too. I think it--what, what can we all do today? I think that uh, somewhere or other when you get away from the busy lives that most people--most of us have to live, most people have to live, as I did coming out here and being alone more, uh, having time to think and to read. Having uh, voluminous correspondence with all kinds of people that I've known through my years at Hull House, that somewhere or do you get a perspective. And you get an understanding too that most people just don't have time to get anymore in the busy lives that almost everyone leads and the, uh, over- organization, one might say of everything, which uh, in some way discounts the individual more or less. Uh, it's been a great experience. I've often thought here about being in social work--as we were called, social workers--that [it'd be an?] awfully good thing if during our years of work, uh, if we could all of us get away at times back to a community like this. Or back to the country, back to the--what might say is really the normal life of most people. And, and, it, it gives you a perspective on the abnormal life and abnormal conditions which we face in a great city like Chicago. And the fact that there is so much that isn't at all what people generally have. On the other hand, you come to a smaller city and you have a feeling of depression at first that nobody cares about all the things that are--we feel are wrong--and all responsibility that we feel everybody should take. It, it's a curious feeling to me.

Studs Terkel Unconcerned.

Jesse Binford Yes. Uh, And you wonder today in the world, the whole world is so troubled about so many things and we get so very hopeless, you wonder, [coughs], most of all, uh, how are we ever going to get enough people concerned about it? And I've come to feel, especially out here, that our great hope is in the youth of today. I think our concern, they are confused. They're rebellious. Say--against they know not what. But they're getting a feeling of something that may affect the whole world in the end. I don't know.

Studs Terkel Can you cite examples of that recent, uh, observations of yours?

Jesse Binford What?

Studs Terkel Can you cite specific examples or recent observations of yours on some of the young boys and girls are--

Jesse Binford I think of, uh, of just my experience out here with the--I've come to know some of these through some of the staff here. I've come to know some of the boys and girls too who are in college today and who are awfully dissatisfied. They don't seem to be getting what they want, what they long for. Uh, they don't know how to get it in our colleges today. They, they complain about the huge classes. The fact that they, uh, never have a chance to really know, uh, the man whom they hope to get or women whom they get so much from. They have, uh, they have a feeling of sort of unreality about it.

Studs Terkel You talk about the boy with the Beatle haircut.

Jesse Binford Yes. A boy from the east comes from a family of educators, has been through college, brilliant student, who now is just wandering around. He, if he's going someplace, he would much rather hitchhike than he would to take a plane which he could easily do. I think he feels more comfortable. He, he hasn't any plans. He's, uh, like many of the young people today, he's restless. He uh, he just, uh, he's resentful about so many things that he feels that are wrong and are wrong. And here he is. And I think there are hundreds like him. Not all of them. Uh, some of them just give it up to something which doesn't offer them very much of what they really want. I don't mean in money, but in other ways. But, uh, to me he is representative of many of the things that everyone's complaining about today and our young people. That he's, he's resentful. He uh, he can't tell you again--just what, but it's something pretty big. And it's something which I think is going to involve more young people all, all the time.

Studs Terkel Something's there. There. What can a man do? He's asking that same question that--

Jesse Binford They're all.

Studs Terkel Clarence.

Jesse Binford Yes.

Studs Terkel Who works here asks too?

Jesse Binford Yes. They're all asking. Uh, and you wonder whether we've got to wait for these young people to grow up, or grow a little older before there will be enough of them and there will be enough understanding to waken up those of us who are older and those of us who are who are in control and who are making all the decisions and clarify the things once more which, which are just eternal truths but which I think America seems to have forgotten.

Studs Terkel Suppose we go back, why you're here in Marshalltown this is--city where you were born but you were so many years--most of your life-- in Chicago. I suppose reflections about the city. Of Chicago, even as you look back now that you first remember when you came and how it changed when you left.

Jesse Binford How it had changed?

Studs Terkel Yeah. Your first impressions of Chicago and memories of Chicago in 19-6--1970.

Jesse Binford Along there.

Studs Terkel When you joined Miss Addams and then the changes that occurred in your mind.

Jesse Binford Well, first when I went in to Chicago. I arrived there one Sunday afternoon on a hot August day or July day and uh.

Studs Terkel About 19-6?

Jesse Binford About that time. I'm not sure if it was last year or not. [pause] Filled with anticipation because I had met Miss Addams. Because she was Miss Addams, but you felt something about her that was different, there was something, you longed to, to know more. I, I arrived there one hot July or the first of August day. Awfully hot. One of those summer days the way they can be in a great city. And I don't, I can't seem to remember whether I took a cab from the station down Halsted street to Hull House or, or a street car. But anyway, we came down that street where, uh, everything was, uh, every other place, almost [was soon?] uh, the streets were dirty, the air was uh, just. uh, you could hardly breathe it. Not only from the heat, but from the odors from the stockyards which used to be so bad to all that territory just north of the stockyards. And then we arrived at Hull House and I was shown upstairs to a very small room. uh, which wasn't very attractive. Wasn't attractive at all, in fact. And I went to the window and stood looking out. And I looked across the street. The street wasn't paved. Everything was dirty. The vacant lots opposite were filled with stables. Children playing around there, living upstairs above the stables. There were so many stables then for the horses that were used and the air was so heavy. And, uh, I had left the beautiful Iowa country and I wondered if I hadn't made a mistake. And no one paid much attention to me. There wasn't anybody much around. And uh, I can't quite, uh. express how I felt that afternoon. But the next morning at breakfast--we all eat breakfast together--there weren't many residents there then. After break--or after breakfast, uh, Miss A-- I asked Miss Addams if I could--or she asked me to wait and talk to her a little while. And I told her, I said "Miss Addams, I want you to tell me how I can--what I am to do? That, uh, I don't want you to think I'm here as a sight-seer. That I really want to do what ever I can to be of help." And then Miss Addams said what seemed to me the most wonderful introduction for a young person, whether just doing what she wanted to do or whether she was taking a job someplace. Miss Addams [said?] to me--she said, "I wouldn't do anything for a while if I were you. I would just look around and get acquainted and perhaps you'll think of something to do that none of the rest of us have ever thought of before." And with that I began to live there. So many people--no one hardly realizes that Hull House was never an institution. It was Miss Addams' home, and that we lived there as residents. Everyone, even Miss Addams, paying her board and her room until the day she died.

Studs Terkel What was the city then, in 19-6-7 it was a challenge so you came there and there were the smells of the yards, and every other store front was that of a saloon, and there was a challenge here, was there not? There was something in the city. You stayed. You thought perhaps it was a mistake leaving the Iowa countryside but you decided to stay. Why?

Jesse Binford Well, because the moment--I think, uh, the next morning, and the moment I talked to Miss Addams, and the moment she said what she did to me, to just look around. Maybe you'll see something to do that none of the rest of us have thought of. Uh, I don't know. It gave you a feeling of freedom. A feeling of, uh, not having to, uh, conform to an organization right away--to a position so to speak. And then of course you did try [on things?] right away. It's indescribable almost, I think, to anyone who was never there. But I think the greatest thing of all was, uh, what I learned from Miss Addams. Uh, and I think that the greatest thing about Miss Addams-- someone asked me that question, I think two or three years--three or four years ago, when I spoke--was asked to speak at the--one of the big meetings of the social workers of Chicago about Hull House and Miss Addams and I hesitated very much to do it because it's a pretty critical group and much time had passed since Miss Addams began living at Hull House. But I remember I said that night to them, that the greatest, greatest thing about Miss Addams, to me, was her. uh, feeling that--or her--the fact that she never in all her life condemned anybody that she might not disagree with people. But there was never a condemnation. It was her tremendous understanding of, uh, why each person had become what he was. Whether it was some derelict or whether it was a man--the head of some big corporation. She understood so well and with no condemnation, uh, and because she understood and because she understands what life does to people for those who have everything and for those who have nothing. And I think that's one of the things young people need today more and more. Everybody needs it more than anything else. And that to me--and the reason you like to have young people, especially young people, but perhaps older people today need it more than young people do. You should really read her book.

Studs Terkel And there was no self righteous--

Jesse Binford Never.

Studs Terkel No self-right--no moralizing.

Jesse Binford Oh never. Never any moralizing. It was always, I understand, that's the way she accomplished what she did. With individuals and in great movements.

Studs Terkel Thinking about you, Miss Binford with Miss Adams and those 60 years or so, or almost many that--in the city of Chicago--the changes that you have sensed that [have?] taken place, both good and bad, since this is reflection here and back in Marshalltown. Uh, when you first came, even though you saw the job that needed to be done, the challenge of one sort or another. Yet there was a certain kind of city--community and in those years it has altered in many ways. Chicago.

Jesse Binford Well, I don't know. Uh, it seems today, of course that it's changed for the worse not better. I mean and fundamentally, uh, [I know?] lots of people I think could challenge that. They'd say, Well, we always have these changes and things may come and go. But it's become so, um--it's affected not only the cities, I think, but [it subjects?] the villages, the towns like this, the changes come in everything. And it is because we, I think, because we get further and further and further away from the eternal, uh, foundations on which individual lives and community lives must rest or else we will--can never go back to what we had in those early days. You think of--you think of Miss Addams, how when she was only four years old all she learned from her father about Lincoln, the day he died, and as her father taught her how she learned as she tells how for the first time, even as a child that age, she saw--realized that there was a whole world outside her own gate post and when Mazzini died how again her father's grief, and as he talked to her she realized that men didn't have to live close together or know each other to be really brothers in the things that matter the most in this world. She had all these experiences. What do our children get today in school, at home, in their communities? We think they get an awful lot. That progress is wrong. And of course it has brought lots of--lots of things. Lots of changes. But um, some or other. Most of them are not getting--they long to get, and they're trying to find those things on which life must be found. Built. Individually and, and community and that's what one feels so deeply today.

Studs Terkel There's an interesting dilemma you point out, in the days when Jane Addams was a small girl, 4, 5 years old--her father pointed out the oneness of man, that Mazzini--though thousands of miles away--was connected in Lincoln. Yet today because of technology, man is closer. That is, physically, the world is much tighter.

Jesse Binford Absolutely.

Studs Terkel Yet it seems more removed--

Jesse Binford I know.

Studs Terkel In the way that Jane Addams [unintelligible] and isn't this the crazy paradox?

Jesse Binford Yes it is. Yes it is. Well, what it all is, while all that's true. On the other hand, there's something else come that uh, is much stronger, I think. Whether it's power, pure power, whether it's not understanding as Miss Addams, uh, always understood everybody instead of condemning them. I often think about that when you think of what people feel today about communism. I suppose the commonest thing I hear today, in a town like this, and talking to people [in?] various positions in life. They don't try to understand communism. They don't try to understand, uh, what it could mean in relation to the rest of the world ,or I'm not arguing for it, but they've just got that one word, "communism." And, uh. you hear it here over and over again, "It's the communists." It's fear. Fear of the communists. They don't try to--they don't know what it means.

Studs Terkel It's fear of something unknown.

Jesse Binford Yes. The fear of something unknown. They know something's wrong and they, and they wonder what it is. Why do we fight over there in Vietnam? Why are we--why are we so worried about communism all over the world today? They're just scared to death. I don't know. Chicago. Political power has, of course, become much stronger [there?] today than when I went there. Corruption in politics is so much deeper. Uh, It's so much, uh--

Studs Terkel It's more subtle.

Jesse Binford There's such a foundation for it. There--it, it's just grown built build and build. Some of those changes that, uh--and, and we haven't built the other things that, uh, could, uh, change all that.

Studs Terkel What are these--what was the dream of Jane Addams? It was a dream, these other things. What was her dream? She came to Chicago and she had a dream.

Jesse Binford Well--

Studs Terkel [She knew?] Louis Sullivan, I assume, had a dream.

Jesse Binford She would make her home in a part of the city where she could learn of life from life itself. And that, that was the reason she went to Hull House. She wasn't going to build an institution or anything of the kind. She simply wanted to live there. As she said, where she could learn of life from life itself. And that, that, that explains Miss Addams. Explains why she went there, what--how she, how she learned it by doing all the things that, uh, we like to think, most of us, that we could do and would like to do. But in doing that she really learned of life. And, uh, I think also that, uh, I always think of how she'll also tell us of her how during the very first few days at Hull House, before she even had the whole house, they were living upstairs in a few rooms but somehow or other people soon knew that there was a new neighbor there and the children began coming in first. And she said it during the first few days and weeks at Hull House, as people came there and the doors were open to everybody--people of different nationalities and creeds and political beliefs. That, uh--and she saw how they were living peaceably together. They were good neighbors with all the poverty and all these things that were happening to them, but, they were living in peace together. And then came her dream of a world of peace which--which really was Miss Addams' goal all the rest of her life.

Studs Terkel So in this neighborhood indeed she saw a parable, did she not?

Jesse Binford Yes, yes.

Studs Terkel Saw the world.

Jesse Binford Yes. And really that--that was, from that moment on, with all the other things she did. Peace, world peace, was I think she thought the only--the only solution to all these--all that she was to learn about so much later. Uh, that, that, that's what she would look forward to.

Studs Terkel She paid a price for this didn't she?

Jesse Binford She paid a great price for it. A great price for it. But, uh, it all came back later. I mean, I think, uh, the understanding came later. She was even, uh--her name was even taken off the role of the little church she belonged to right next door to Hull House. They just struck it off. And of course she was criticized, she was, uh, misunderstood. And I think those were some of her saddest days.

Studs Terkel During World War One, wasn't it?

Jesse Binford Yes. It [didn't just?] change her. It didn't change her undying faith that peace could be possible and that that was the only, only solution to all these other things that she [saw?].

Studs Terkel Well, Miss Binford, naturally as we sit here in 19--it was a July day or early August day that you came to Chicago in 19-6 or 7. It is now an early September day in 1965. Your thoughts again of a city you left a couple of years ago. Chicago. What changes--you said for the worse, specifically, changes in the city. How the city has changed in the time you first came to it [and?] in the time you left.

Jesse Binford Well, I suppose I don't know all--I suppose there've been a great many changes in these last two years. But before that, well of course, you're speaking not so much about the physical changes-- although that has--that's very important too. In home life, city life, community life, everything. But I think the changes, whatever changes come there, are reflected everyplace. I think they're affected here at a small town in Iowa. Every place I think everybody feels.

Studs Terkel What are these changes? You mentioned Marshalltown. That it's different here now. Even though it is a town, it's a prosperous, small 23,000 midwestern American city, yet different--not only physically--but different. The city you left as a young girl who spoke with the fears they have, the word they use, fear the unknown. Wasn't this always--

Jesse Binford Well, I don't really, um--I don't know hardly, know how to put it because I think it's, it's, uh, it's part of--it's just part of life all over, all over, all over America. I don't think you--I don't think you'll find many places where all these things are eliminated or have never grown up. It's, uh, it's a--it's a sense of values don't you think has changed?

Studs Terkel What about these values? You say this, the sense--the sense of values has changed, Miss Binford. A sense of values. Perhaps we can just reflect on this a bit.

Jesse Binford Now of course the people who live here, I suppose, wouldn't agree with anything I would say about it because they would feel that, um, that I don't live here, that I don't know. But it's the sense of values that you feel all over the world. What--what is worthwhile in life? What's worthwhile in education? I just don't think you get the emphasis on the eternal values of life any place hardly in America today as you did a long time ago. As we were growing up. Well, I think we've lost them. Lost what you had here in so many places and I remember my, uh, one of my father's favorite stories was that, after he built this house up here, uh--and we we often wonder how he ever did it because, uh, it was built in 1874 after he and my mother had come out, out here without a cent, uh, about 10 years before that. Uh, but I was scared of money, except the gift of that, little--that lot with a little house on it [for those?] lots with a little house on it. Which his father gave him, and he--he began a law practice. First, first time he had begun to practice law. You just wonder how he ever did it. And yet here stands that house today as fundamentally strong as it was the day it was built. And beautiful! Beautiful woodwork, beautiful, uh, solid construction. And the story he used to tell us-- which we loved to hear--was that after it was all completed and they had moved from across the street, where another child had been born in a little house there, moved back to the new house. Uh, his father came out from Ohio to see him, and to see his house and he said that that evening he'd shown his father, with great pride over the house of course, they sat out on the steps talking and finally father said to his father, he said, "Father, it's getting late. I think we better get in bed." His father stood up and said, "Thaddeus,"--that was my father's name. He said, "I have never yet slept in a house with a mortgage over my head and I don't intend to tonight." Any wouldn't have. He was a Quaker. And father used often to tell us. He said [it was the?] proudest moment of his life or he thought that he would ever have. When he said, "Well, you don't--you don't have to tonight. The house is paid for." That's-- that kind of morality. That kind of, uh, uh, you hardly know how to express it.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking about that house, that house in which you're born-- we're looking at it now, in Marshalltown. And it stands firm. I'm thinking about a house that was destroyed not too long--which you lived for a great many years, Hull House. That too was a sturdy--I understand the construction or the demolition workers had a very tough time with the wrecking ball.

Jesse Binford They could hardly get it down. Now of course, in our long struggle there was just not--it wasn't just, save the Hull House buildings. It wasn't just, save Hull House itself--uh, Mr. Hull's old home which happened to be the place, which Miss Addams rented it first to live where she wanted to live, to learn of life and life itself. It wasn't, it wasn't all that, it was the utter, uh, demolition of thousands of families. It was the, uh, the corruption on the part of we're certain. Part of the government department. Mayor Daley with whom they worked. It was corruption on the part of corruption, or plans I perhaps should say, on the part of those who were most corrup--most responsible for Hull House as was operating today at that time. And when we had a meeting one evening--one day with the board of directors of Hull House to try to explain to them our neighbors, what this is going to do to them. And later I, uh, and some of the people on the board whom I had known for years and years, and who had done so much for Hull House, really. Believed in it. Uh, and later when one of them, I asked to try to explain. Uh, I never understand. Haven't--her least understand how we felt that day. As Florence and her brother Ernie and I appeared there to try to state our point of view and in answer she said to me, she said I couldn't do anything. We were sold down the river long ago.

Studs Terkel That moment is recalled too by Jesse Binford's colleague--like you became her closest friend during the latter days of her life-- Florence Scala. And, uh, she remembers that particular moment this way:

[begin recording]

Florence Scala One time we asked to meet with the board and this was the one meeting that hurt Miss Binford more than anything else. Um, when we went to the board meeting that afternoon we came with a plea and--a committee--our committee came. Uh, we reminded them of the past and the work that had gone into the program and what we meant to each other. [deep breath] From the moment we entered that room until we left, not one board member said a word to us. No one got up to greet Miss Binford or to speak to her--with her. No one asked her a question. The chairman came forward and, um, as a gentleman--and showed us where to sit and--

Studs Terkel [I?] Describe Miss Binford in the 80s, colleague of Jane Addams who lived in Hull House for years.

Florence Scala Yes. Um, small, you know, but--and birdlike in her appearance, but.

Studs Terkel Were you and she the two antagonists? You and she?

Florence Scala Yes. We, we we per--yeah, we were the antagonists. We personified it.

Studs Terkel You were the two. It was you two as against the board.

Florence Scala And--no, there were three other people with us. No, there were a businessman, a housewife and, uh, there several other people--three other people with us. But Miss Binford sat there listening to, uh, our--our plea. The neighborhood plea. And then she got up and reminded them of what it meant to be there at Hull House. What that board meant to the area. What their responsibility was. What, what she was looking for and reminding them to--that they should find and, and respond to , you know. And she went back. Uh, not going back in memory, in terms of sentimental things, she went back and talked about the responsibilities that never changed. The principles that must never waver. That didn't ever waver as far as she was concerned and she asked them to, uh, reconsider their position and not to remain silent through all this controversy and to join in with the people. And no one answered her or acknowledged her or in any way showed any recognition that what she was talking about--as though we talked to a stone wall or a mountain. It, it I do remember it vividly because it was a rainy day. It was pouring rain and we walked out of the room the way people walk out who feel, um, defeat. I mean we walked out trying to, uh, appear, um, secure but we didn't have much to say to each other when we walked out of the room and Miss Binford couldn't hardly speak at all. She, uh, we went into the coffee shop to have some coffee and the shock of not being able to have any kind of a conversation with the board members, uh, never really left her. She speaks of that as being one of the points--one of the low points in the whole experience there because she felt at that time completely rejected and she felt as though--and she knew, I think, she knew then but she never revealed it to us. She knew then that she was not going to be able to get help anywhere. She used to say to me, Studs, that when ever there was a serious problem in the juvenile court or any serious problem involving crime--in narcotics, or in alcohol, in the taverns-if she ever she felt that she needed the assistance of the mayor of the city. She could walk to the mayor's office and have a talk with the mayor--whoever he was. Kelly, for instance, or Kennelly--the most recent ones--and never fail to be able to get in and to get a commitment from them. Never. But she, she knew, she felt after this board meeting that she'd never be able to find that kind of response again. And sure enough, to test herself, she made the rounds and she never revealed this until afterwards--to meet all the people that she thought had any influence in this town. [Whether?] she had any contact--real contact. And everywhere she went was great sympathy expressed for her position. But, you know, it was the hands off. They were not going to get involved in this. And, um, so that the, the lack that she felt in the board's response. I mean their lack of coming in really crushed something in her. This really hurt her.

Studs Terkel It's as though the world had changed. As though that Chicago that she knew--when she spoke of responsibility being a permanent thing-- that Chicago as she knew had ended.

Florence Scala Yes.

[end recording]

Studs Terkel Florence Scala remembering. We're returning now to the conversation--the last conversation with Jesse Binford back in--at her motel, the Tallcorn in Marshalltown, Iowa--home town where yesterday she was buried. We continue the conversation. This was back in September 1965:

Studs Terkel Do you plan to, uh, ever take a trip back to visit--revisit Chicago?

Jesse Binford I would sort of dread to go back, I think. I, I think it'd be sort of sad to go back. You go back all the time in your memories and all it meant to you and all people meant to you but to go back? I don't think I would. You're not be able much longer to take joy in [our most?] beautiful city, are you? With the lake front. So many things are being, like. [pause] You wouldn't have thought, you know, you'd have thought there'd been enough people in Chicago--or the city itself--would not have let them cut down those trees on the south side just to, uh, well doesn't it make it--they changed the route, don't--it makes it a little bit faster. Save a few minutes.

Studs Terkel Causing a few more wrecks too.

Jesse Binford Yes. You would think wouldn't you, that the city. Well, I don't know.

Studs Terkel So there'd be no point in going back to a strange--what would be to you now--a strange--

Jesse Binford No.

Studs Terkel And alien land.

Jesse Binford No.

Studs Terkel Suppose--I'm going to ask you a funny question. This is the last one.

Jesse Binford Yeah.

Studs Terkel Suppose you were God.

Jesse Binford [laughs] Yeah.

Studs Terkel And you can recreate the world.

Jesse Binford I don't know.

Studs Terkel What would you do? [static]

Jesse Binford What kind of a world would you--?

Studs Terkel Yeah?

Jesse Binford Worlds--whatever kind of world, they do stay put, do they? I mean however well you begin. Certainly we began pretty well here in America. I mean after all when you think of, uh. all the promise of this country, why--you couldn't have had much greater promise for life for people. Development. I don't see how you could have found much greater promise. Or a greater beginning. I mean America had such great promise.

Studs Terkel You know, one last personal question about you, Miss Binford. We hear a great deal of retirement--a lot of people are worried about retiring--they don't know what to do. Yet you yourself--how do you find--now you're no longer at Hull House. You're here. How do you find your day? Do you find your days full?

Jesse Binford I find I get up very early. I always did. We always did. We had to get up. We, we, we had to be up for breakfast [laughs]. Uh, and, and I rarely go to bed before 12 o'clock at night because the day isn't long enough for all I want to do. I can't begin to tell you the new interest that I didn't expect to have. For instance, in many of the people in this hotel, the people who work here are very interesting people. They, they're interested in things. I've become acquainted with a good many of the college students from the little towns around here who come to see me and talk to me and, uh, I have a good many business interests that I have to look after and, uh, I have a tremendous correspondence. With not only the friends I had in Chicago and elsewhere, and the, uh--my associates here. But with so many of the people that I came to knew--know when I was in the juvenile protective association, perhaps 10 or 20 years ago, people don't forget. And, uh, I don't know. It just seems to me, and then there has been so much--I've done so much more reading and lots of thinking and some way the days really just are not long enough for all that I want to do.

Studs Terkel So it's with reading, with your correspondence, and we are interested in the people in the hotel.

Jesse Binford Yes.

Studs Terkel And the young and--you find your days full. How do you find the evenings? You don't go to bed before midnight. Uh, you're--

Jesse Binford I'm usually alone although people do come to--some people come to see me but I'm usually alone. Well, I read a good deal in the evening and I write a good many letters. My correspondence has come to be, uh, wonderful because I, because I think I said to you before that, uh, people if they really get to writing letters--not just to let you know how they are and all that--but to really [write?] letters you, you begin to know people you've known--thought you knew before a lots better than you ever had before. And as for myself writing, you have the time when it's uninterrupted and you write different kind of a letters too so that my correspondence, has, has, has been a great joy to me. A great joy to me.

Studs Terkel And you, you find--you said you like the twilight very much. You like after dinner very much.

Jesse Binford Yes. Very much. Those hours I think I like almost the best of all.

Studs Terkel Jesse Binford, September 1965, at the Tallcorn motel of Marshalltown, Iowa. I recall the conversation some two, two-and-a -half years before that. It was the day after she had, uh, left Hull House after having lived there for 60 years. She was staying at a downtown hotel and was speaking of Jane Addams' book, "The Spirit of Youth in the City Streets," and she was speaking of this nature of this book--what it meant to her.

Jesse Binford You have to read the book to, to know the marvelous understanding she had of the possibilities of youth. And how we're wasting the--wasting the possibilities of youth. Today.

Studs Terkel This theme, the wasting of youth, although wasting--

Jesse Binford Wasting of youth.

Studs Terkel What may be there are the lives of people--

Jesse Binford Yes.

Studs Terkel As always--I was about to say obsessed--possessed Jane Addams, did it not?

Jesse Binford I wish I had a copy of it here today. I think toward the end is that, "I am the spirit of youth. Through me, all things are possible." Uh, and, uh, it's exquisite. And while it keeps referring all the time through the book to the actual boys and girls that she knew through Hull House. But it is so much more than that. It's the, the spirit of youth. And the great possibilities.

Studs Terkel Did you find this to be the case today in the middle part of the 20th century? The last half of the 20th century in contrast, say, to the early part when you first moved into Hull House. Uh, the element of waste.

Jesse Binford Oh terrific waste, I think. I think we, we've forgotten, uh, sometimes the spirit of youth. And the things we let permit to happen to them. Today. And our lack of understanding of, uh, how the whole future depends on the youth of today, really. I mean if we're ever going to, uh, if we're go--if we're ever going to, uh, fulfill, the, the possibilities of life for all man--I don't in Chicago--but in America and in the world. Uh, the spirit of youth must not be neglected. It must not be killed or it must not be injured.

Studs Terkel I had asked Miss Binford one last question back in 1963 after 60 years that Hull House. What next?

Jesse Binford Someone asked me, uh, the other day. If I went back to [Marshalltown?] [I'd say if I wouldn't?] be bored. Well, I said I don't think I've ever been bored anyplace. I can't imagine being bored. Life is just too full of challenge wherever you are.