A progressive social activist and reformer, Jane Addams was at the forefront of the settlement house movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She later became internationally respected for peace activism that ultimately earned her a Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, the first American woman to receive this honor.
Born September 6, 1860, in the small farming town of Cedarville, Illinois, Addams was the eighth of nine children born to John Huy and Sarah Weber Addams. only five of the addams children survived infancy. his mother died giving birth to him when addams was only two years old. however, he grew up with privileges; his father was among the wealthiest citizens of the city. he owned a prosperous factory, fought in the civil war, was a local politician and counted abraham lincoln among his friends. Addams also grew up with liberal Christian values and a deep sense of social mission.
Addams graduated at the top of her class from Rockford Women’s Seminary in 1881. As part of a new generation of independent, college-educated women historians have called “new women,” she sought to put her knowledge to greater use. education. Although her religiosity waned under Rockford’s strong Christianity, her commitment to the greater good increased. For the next six years, she tried to study medicine, but her own ill health derailed her. Addams found her true calling while she was in London with her friend Ellen Gates Starr in 1888. The couple visited Toynbee Hall, a settlement house on the east end of the city that provided much-needed services to poor industrial workers. . Addams vowed to bring that model to the United States, which was in the early years of escalating industrialization and immigration.
in 1889, addams and starr founded hull house on chicago’s poor, industrial west side, the first settlement house in the united states. the goal was for educated women to share all kinds of knowledge, from basic skills to arts and literature, with the poorest people in the neighborhood. they also imagined women living in the community center, among the people they served. Addams and Starr were joined in this effort by women who would become leading progressive reformers: Florence Kelley, Julia Lathrop, Sophonisba Breckinridge, Alice Hamilton, and Grace and Edith Abbott. Under Addams’ direction, the Hull House team provided a variety of vital services to thousands of people each week: They established a kindergarten and daycare center for working mothers; provided job training; English, cooking and acculturation classes for immigrants; established a job placement office, a community center, a gym, and an art gallery.
In addition to writing articles and giving national speeches on Hull House, Addams expanded his efforts to better society. Along with other progressive women reformers, she was instrumental in successfully lobbying for the establishment of a juvenile court system, better urban sanitation and factory laws, protective labor laws for women, and more playgrounds and kindergartens throughout Chicago. . In 1907, Addams was a founding member of the National Child Labor Committee, which played an important role in passing a federal child labor law in 1916. Addams led an initiative to establish a school of social work at the University of Chicago, creating institutions support a new profession for women. Addams also served as president of the National Conference of Correctional and Charitable Organizations from 1909 to 1915, the first woman to hold that title, and was active in the women’s suffrage movement as an officer of the American National Women’s Suffrage Association and pro-voter columnist. She was also one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
During World War I, Addams found his second great calling: promoting international peace. A declared pacifist, she protested the entry into the First World War, which diminished her popularity and provoked harsh criticism in some newspapers. Addams, however, believed that human beings were capable of settling disputes without violence. she joined a group of women peace activists who toured nations at war, hoping to make peace. In 1915, she headed the Women’s Peace Party and shortly thereafter she also became President of the International Women’s Congress. Addams wrote articles and delivered speeches around the world promoting peace and helped found the International Women’s League for Peace and Freedom in 1919, serving as its president until 1929 and honorary president until her death in 1935. She received the Nobel Prize for her efforts in 1931, the first American woman to receive the award. she also wrote a book about her work at hull house, as well as other books promoting peace. a heart attack in 1926 took a toll on her health and, though she pushed on, she never fully recovered. Addams died on May 21, 1935.