U.S. citizens are lucky. We have freedom of speech, freedom of religion and many more rights. Citizenship can mean different things to different people. Who a country defines as its citizens may differ in different times and different places. In general, we know that citizenship belongs to a person who lives in a certain country and has certain rights. Yet, I believe that the true essence of citizenship lies in the duty to help solve problems.
In the United States, the idea of citizenship has evolved over time. For instance, in 1776, most blacks, Indians and white women had no right to vote. They had to struggle to become full citizens. The right and responsibility to vote came after a long and hard fight.
Studying history is a key part of effective citizenship because from people in the past, we learn examples of good citizenship.
One very good example of good citizenship was that shown by Jane Addams. Even at age six in 1866, she was an initiator and she wanted to change her world. During that time, she got this remark from Theodore Roosevelt, president from 1901 to 1909, that Addams became “the most useful citizen.” When she was 29 years old, Addams bought a large, old house called the Hull House in a poor immigrant area of Chicago.
They soon learned that Addams wanted to help poor people solve the problems they faced. At Hull House, immigrants could learn English. Working parents could even leave their babies there during the day and the children were encouraged to take art classes. She also made the house available for family gatherings, weddings and other events.
Addams raised money herself to pay for these programs. She also tried to change the government and often she worked in campaigns for people running for office whom she believed had honest intentions. She also wrote letters to members of Congress. She went to meetings to support giving women the right to vote. She lead marches to support laws ending the use of child labor in factories. She also tried to influence the government. In fact, people today can still petition, or try to influence the policies of government. Petitioning is one of the basic rights of all citizens protected by the United States Constitution.
When garbage filled up the alleys near Hull House, she was worried that the piles of trash may cause disease and death among the children in the neighborhood. So, she did something none of us would ever think of—she applied a job as a garbage inspector. Thus, she was able to follow those garbage wagons all the way to the dumping site just to be sure that garbage is properly disposed.
Addams was good citizenship personified. In my own way, I want to do the same thing as Addams did. Starting from my own home, I can begin helping my parents in cleaning our surroundings. I can also do some volunteer work in our community during weekends when there are no exams in school.
Volunteer work can be fun especially when I mobilize my other friends to join in. I am sure they will be open to make themselves useful, in our own small way, in making a difference to the world out there. In my own small way, I can learn from people of the past how it is to exercise good citizenship. Making the community look good is a part of good citizenship. In fact, the community is a setting that provides much potential for helping and learning at the same time. Libraries, museums, and many places are rich sources of exercising good citizenship.
For afterall, citizenship requires initiative, courage and sacrifice. As Jane Addams said, “Progress is not automatic; the world grows better because people wish that it should and take the right steps to make it better.”
Jane Addams 1860-1935. Retrieved Oct. 10, 2006 at:
Wikipedia. Jane Addams. Retrieved Oct. 10, 2006 at:
Women Working. Jane Addams. Retrieved Oct. 10, 2006 at: