The common temptation to perceive greatness as imprinted at birth, however, is skillfully disabused in Louise Knight’s meticulous, insightful,and often poignant biography, Jane Addams: Spirit in Action, which traces the complicated odyssey of a well-heeled idealist—initially conflicted by her material privilege, disappointed by gender-codes confining her ambitions, and haunted by familial ghosts and duties—into the pantheon of U.S. political idols. Of particular interest to rhetorical scholars, Knight weaves into Addams’s arresting tale her early baptism into public speaking, writings that shaped her expression in public forums, rhetorical strategies she employed, and platform failures as well as successes. A prolific speaker, Addams penned ten books despite an exhausting schedule and the pressures of persistent ill health and complex familial duties. Knight’s biography is a tour de force and merits space on the shelves of anyone, scholar and citizen alike, interested in mining national progress and identity through tales of individuals who devoted their lives to charting a new national course.

Document Type

Book Review

Publication Date


Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2011 Michigan State University Press. This article first appeared in Rhetoric & Public Affairs 14:3 (2011), 552-555.

Please note that downloads of the article are for private/personal use only.