Rand's Mention of a Woman Who Praised Soviet Union for Being 'Shabby': Is the Mention Accurate?

Stuart Hayashi's picture
Submitted by Stuart Hayashi on Sat, 2007-11-10 15:42

In her final speech, Ayn Rand said something that initially struck me as dubious, as she paraphrased someone saying something rather outrageous. And she didn't give the name of the person she paraphrased.

However, I have looked into the matter, and I would say that Miss Rand did characterize the meaning of this person's words quite correctly. I am referring to the "shabby" quotation.

This is from "The Sanction of the Victims," which Miss Rand delivered on November 21, 1981:

"In the early 1930s an assistant of Jane Addams, the famous social worker, went on a visit to Soviet Russia and wrote a book about her experience. The sentence I remember is: 'How wonderful it was to see everybody equally shabby!' If you think you should try to appease altruists, this is what you are appeasing." (From The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought, ed. Leonard Peikoff, [New York, NY: Meridian, 1990], p. 151.)

I found this a bit curious. Given that Ayn Rand was quoting from memory, and she did not identify who it was who said this, could she have been mistaken? Might she have misunderstood the context?

Well, I learned that Jane Addams did indeed have a protege who visited the Soviet Union and wrote about it in an autobiography -- Dr. Alice Hamilton. Dr. Hamilton went to Russia in 1924. That's six years off, but the details make it appear that Dr. Hamilton is the person whom Miss Rand referred to.

Well, this is what editor Barbara Sicherman writes in Alice Hamilton: A Life in Letters (Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2003), pp. 274-75:

"Alice Hamilton spent a month in the Soviet Union in 1924 as a guest of the Department of Health, which had asked her to survey the nation's industrial hygiene program. . . . [Ellipse Hayashi's.] She liked the apparent equality of female and male physicians, the absence of materialism, the uniform appearance of the people, 'plain and shabby, never ... [ellipse Sicherman's] a flapper or a woman with made-up face, ... [ellipse Sicherman's] no rich people and few absolutely poverty-stricken.' "

Sicherman writes that Dr. Hamilton then went on to criticize the Soviet system as "hideously wrong." However, Dr. Hamilton did praise Soviet society on account of people being "shabby," so I would say that Miss Rand accurately characterized Dr. Hamilton's reaction to the "shabbiness" she saw.

I should mention that Sicherman is not quoting from Dr. Hamilton's autobiography, Exploring the Dangerous Trades. Rather, she is quoting from the letters that Dr. Hamilton wrote to her family in November 1924. Dr. Hamilton's memoir is listed as "Missing from Shelf" in the Hawaii State Library system, so I do not have easy access to it. I am not aware if Dr. Hamilton once again used the word "shabby" in this context to describe what she considered the merits of communism.

Does anyone else find this interesting? I would think that there are other people who have been curious about the identity of the person Miss Rand alluded to.

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Alice Hamilton

li_kim's picture

I found a copy of Dr. Hamilton's autobiography in the Boson Public Library.  In describing her thoughts on being back in Paris after leaving the Soviet Union she says (chapter 18),  "I wrote to Miss Addams, 'though I love to see gayety again and to have comfort and ease, there are lot of things in Moscow that are finer.  It is fine to see people all alike plain and shabby, never to see a flapper or a woman with a made-up face...to see no rich people and few abjectly poor.'"   Dr. Hamilton wrote in the same chapter, "It seemed to me that a government that could hold its own only by denying the people all freedom, that made opinion a crime, was wrong no matter what its theoretical aims."  Although, to her credit, she finds this wrong, she apparently agrees with Soviet Russia's "theoretical aims".


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