Always teaching: Nielsen attracts an audience for ‘After Thoughts’ lecture

An audience of nearly 100 campus and community women got a chance to see award-winning UW-Green Bay Prof. Kim Nielsen in her element Sept. 20 at the Weidner Center.

The Democracy and Justice Studies professor made a passionate presentation on the life of American community organizer and social reformer Jane Addams (1860-1935). It was the opening program of the 2011-12 “After Thoughts” series.

The series showcases UW-Green Bay’s faculty to the community, and for a $12 fee per program, offers after-work hors d’oeuvres and food for thought as participants network and consider issues both historic and contemporary.

UW-Green Bay Provost Julia Wallace, introducing the Sept. 20 program, described it as “gathering of remarkable women from the campus and community to learn from other remarkable women.”

In Nielsen, the audience got a glimpse of why she is a two-time winner of UW-Green Bay’s highest faculty honor: The Founders Association Award for Excellence. She has received awards for both her teaching (2005) and scholarship (2009).

Nielsen is widely known as an author and authority on the lives of Helen Keller and her teacher, Ann Sullivan Macy, but in her “After Thoughts” talk she chose to share insight regarding Addams, the founder of Hull House in Chicago and the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Addams, Nielsen noted, genuinely lived out her beliefs and wrestled with many of the same issues — poverty, public health and peace — that dominate headlines today. Hull House was her pioneering effort to enrich the lives of her city’s poorest residents. It provided food and shelter, bathing opportunities, and also culture, arts and physical activity to the poor in turn-of-the-century Chicago. It is said that 9,000 individuals per week were served, in some capacity, at its peak.

“She wrestled with questions such as ‘What do I want to be when I grow up?… How do we make social change happen?… How can we live democratically?… How can I balance the family clan and the social clan?’” Nielsen observed. She detailed Addams’ work on behalf of worker safety laws, social welfare, compulsory education and juvenile reform, and against sweatshops and child labor.

“Although some would have described her as a cheerful do-gooder, I think she was too fierce for that,” Nielsen said. “She said that everyone, regardless of wealth or social status, deserved both ‘bread and roses,’” meaning that all people deserved more than just the basics, but the things of life that inspire and create greater opportunities.

The UW-Green Bay “After Thoughts” series resumes when Humanistic Studies lecturer Susan Frost will present “The Lust to Shop: From Romanticism to Modernism in a Shoebox,” Nov. 1.

Event sponsor of After Thoughts is Green Bay area civic leader Billie Kress. Organizers of the event are UW-Green Bay’s Bev Carmichael, assistant chancellor, University Advancement; Julia Wallace, provost; Shannon Badura, administrative specialist, Advancement; Cathy Harden, wife of Chancellor Thomas Harden; and from the Green Bay community, Lise Lotte Gammeltoft and Suzy Pfeifer.

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Photos by Eric Miller, Marketing and University Communication