RU in Hindsight: “Cassandra,” by Jane Addams


Jane Addams, ’81

Upon the broad Trojan plain for ten years the mighty warriors of Greece and Troy fought hand to hand for honor and justice. Safe within the city walls the stately Trojan dames ever wove with golden threads the history of the conflict. To one of these beautiful women, to Cassandra, daughter of Priam, suddenly came the power of prophecy. Cassandra fearlessly received the power, with clear judgment and unerring instinct she predicted the victory of the Greeks and the destruction of her father’s city. But the brave warriors laughed to scorn the beautiful prophetess and called her mad. The frail girl stood conscious of Truth but she had no logic to convince the impatient defeated warriors, and no facts to gain their confidence, she could only assert and proclaim until at last in sooth she becomes mad.

Jane Addams portrait. Swarthmore College Peace Collection

This was the tragic fate of Cassandra—always to be in the right, and always to be disbelieved and rejected. Three-thousand-years ago this Trojan woman represented pure intuition, powerful and God-given in itself but failing to accomplish. She, who might have changed the entire destiny of the ancient world, becomes only a curse and a thorn to her brethren. I would call this a feminine trait of mind—an accurate perception of Truth and Justice which rests contented in itself, and will make no effort to confirm itself, or to organize through existing knowledge. Permit me to repeat my subject; a mighty intuitive perception of Truth which yet counts nothing in the force of the world.

The nineteenth century is distinguished by the sudden acquisition of much physical knowledge. The nineteenth century has proclaimed the duty of labor and the bond of brotherhood. These acquisitions and high thoughts of the century have increased each man’s responsibility, but as yet have added nothing to the vitality and spontaneous motives of mankind. With increasing demands, the force of society tends to be mechanical and conscious, rather than vital. In other words, while men with hard research into science, with sturdy and unremitting toil, have shown the power and magnificence of knowledge, somewhere, someone has shirked to perform for intuition the same hard labor.

Knowledge is reverenced, and the old beautiful force which Plato taught is treated with contempt. Intuition is not telling on the world. Occasionally a weak woman, striving to use her high gift, will verge out into spiritualism and clairvoyance, others will become sentimentalist or those women who bear through life a high discontent, because of their very keen-sightedness, yet have not power to help those around them. The world looks upon such women with mingled pity and contempt; they continually reinact the fate of the fearless, unfortunate Cassandra, because they failed to make themselves intelligible; they have not gained what the ancients called auctoritas, right of speaker to make themselves heard, and prove to the world that an intuition is a force in the universe, and a part of nature; that an intuitive perception committed to a woman’s charge is not a prejudice or a fancy, but one of the holy means given to mankind in their search for truth.

I will make one exception—there is one means which has hitherto saved this force from complete loss and contempt. The divine force of love which ever exalts talent and cultivates woman’s insight. A loving woman believes in ministering spirits; the belief comes to her that her child’s every footstep is tenderly protected by a guardian angel. Let her not sit and dreamily watch her child; let her work her way to a sentient idea that shall sway and ennoble those around her. All that subtile force among women which is now dreaming fancy, might be changed into creative genius.

There is a way opened, women of the nineteenth century, to convert this wasted force to the highest use, and under the feminine mind, firm and joyous in its intuitions; a way opened by the scientific ideal of culture; only by the accurate study of at least one branch of physical science can the intuitive mind gain that life which the strong passion of science and study, feeds and forms, more self-dependent than love, confident in errorless purpose. With eyes accustomed to the search for Truth, she will readily detect all self-deceit and fancy in herself; she will test whether her intuition is genuine and a part of nature, or merely a belief of her own. She will learn silence and self-denial, to express herself not by dogmatism, but by quiet, progressive development. And besides this training, there is certainly a place in science reserved for this stamp of mind; there are discoveries to be made which cannot come by induction, only through perception, such as the mental laws which govern suggestion, or the place that rythm holds in nature’s movements. These laws have remained undiscovered for lack of the needed intuitive minds. Could an intuitive mind gain this scholarly training, or discover one of these laws, then she would attain her auctoritas. Men would see that while the searching for Truth, the patient adding one to one is the highest and noblest employment of the human faculties. Higher and nobler than even this, and infinitely more difficult, is the intuitive seeing of Truth, the quick recognition of the true and genuine wherever it appears.

Having gained accuracy, would woman bring this force to bear throughout morals and justice, then she must take the active, busy world as a test for the genuineness of her intuition. In active labor she will be ready to accept the promptings that come from growing insight, and when her sympathies are so enlarged that she can weep as easily over a famine in India as a pale child at her door, then she can face social ills and social problems as tenderly and as intuitively as she can now care for and understand a crippled factory child.

The actual Justice must be established in the world by trained intelligence; by broadened sympathies toward the individual man and woman who crosses one path, only an intuitive mind has a grasp comprehensive enough to embrace the opposing facts and forces.

The opening of the ages has long been waiting for this type of womanhood. The Egyptians called her Neith; the Hebrews, Sophia, or Wisdom; the Greeks, Athene; the Romans: Justitia, holding in her hands the scale pans of the world; the Germans called her the Wise-woman, who was not all knowing, but had a power deeper and more primordial than knowledge. Now is the time for a faint realization of this type, with her faculties clear and acute, from the study of science, and with her hand upon the magnetic chain of humanity. Then the story of Cassandra will be forgotten, which now constantly meets and stirs us with its proud pathos.

From: Addams, Jane. “Cassandra (Valedictory Speech)”. Rockford Seminary Magazine, July, 1881, pp. 36-39.


Visit the Jane Addams Center for Civic Engagement at RU.

Visit the Jane Addams and Hull-House Collection at RU.

Jane Addams about 1889, 29 years. Swarthmore College Peace Collection

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s