Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Jane Jacobs Was No Upstart

In third grade, a tall, curious girl named Jane Butzner was expelled from school. A dentist had come to the school, George Washington in Dunmore, Penn., to talk to students about oral hygiene, and, at the end of his speech, he asked them to promise to brush their teeth, morning and night. Jane’s father, a doctor, had told her that a promise was a serious matter, not to be made lightly. So how could she and her classmates promise to brush their teeth twice a day for the rest of their lives?

The request put Jane in moral jeopardy. She would not raise her hand, and she made sure that the other students did not follow blindly. “Don’t do it,” she whispered. “Don’t do it.” Some of the children who had raised their hands put them down, sowing confusion. When Jane’s teacher found out what she had done, they argued, and Jane refused to back down. She knew she was right. “At her wits’ end, she expelled me,” Jane told an interviewer in 1992. “It came to me good and strong and fast that I was an outlaw.”