Jane Addams, Pioneer in Social Reform, Founder of Hull House and First American Woman to be Awarded a Nobel Peace Prize
Mini Biography of Jane Addams – Your Invisible Mentor
Jane Addams was a pacifist and strongly believed that war was not an appropriate solution to disputes – her family followed the Quaker faith which valued hard work and change through peaceful efforts. She worked tirelessly to promote peace by mobilizing people to form groups to advocate for peace. Addams’ efforts resulted in receiving a Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, the first woman in the US to be awarded that prize. She was also a social reformer and in 1889, co-founded Hull House, the first settlement agency to serve immigrant families, which is still operating today. Addams helped to launch the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 and served on its executive committee.
Name: Jane Addams
Birth Date: September 1860 – May 1935
Job Functions: Social Worker
Fields: Social Work
Known For: Cofounder of Hull House
Jane Addams was the eighth child of John Huy Addams, who was a very successful miller, banker and landowner. At six years old while on a trip with her father through Freeport, Illinois, Addams asked her father why the people lived in such horrid conditions, he remarked that it was because they were poor. At that tender age, Addams declared that when she became an adult she would buy a large house where poor children could come and play as they liked.
She attended Rockford Seminary in Illinois and was an exemplary student, graduating at the top of her class. Addams was class president for four years and the editor of the school magazine. After graduating in 1881, Addams pursued further education at Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia, but her study was cut short because of a spinal operation – she suffered throughout her life from a painful curved spine. The recovery took a long time and she became deeply depressed, not only because of the operation, but also because of the sudden death of her beloved father. Though middle class women like Addams were expected to assume the role of the dutiful wife and mother, they were also expected to be very well educated.
To find solace and her place in the world, Addams looked to religion, but did not find what she was looking for. During her lengthy recovery, she traveled to Europe between 1883 and 1885 with her stepmother Anna Haldeman Addams, but still could not find what she was seeking. On her second trip to Europe in 1887, this time with her a long-time friend from Rockford Seminary in Illinois, she visited Tonybee Hall, a famous settlement house in the slums of the East End of London, England, where “Educated young men had moved into the area and were offering literacy classes, art lessons, and other activities to residents. Because the men actually settled in the area and lived with the residents.” Addams thought she would transport the idea to the US and use Toynbee Hall as a model.
Along with Ellen Starr, they rented Charles J. Hull’s large abandoned home and established Hull House – which is still around today – in one of the poorest slums in Chicago. Eventually, Charles Hull’s daughter and heir, Helen Culver donated the house and some of the surrounding land. Hull House was a great center for the poor in the neighbourhood, an area filled with recent immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Sweden, Italy, Russia, Greece, and many other countries. Hull House established a boarding house for working girls, a theatre group (Shakespeare and Sophocles plays), club for teenage boys, sewing classes for teenage girls, kindergarten and day nursery and many other services. And they offered evening college extension courses, English and art classes, political discussion groups, and books and magazines for children and adults.
Hull House was furnished like a middle class home with fine art and fashionable furniture. Addams brought in speakers such as John Dewey (trustee of Hull House), Susan B. Anthony, Henry Demarest Lloyd, W E B Du Bois and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Very often the city garbage collectors ignored overflowing garbage bins in the area so Addams applied for and was appointed to the position of ward garbage inspector, and forced the trash collectors to remove the filth. Hull House was a remarkable success and soon other settlement houses were doing the same things.
Addams became known throughout the United States, and used her fame to help to reform Chicago’s corrupt politicians, as well as help to resolve the Pullman railway strike in 1894. She was a social activist, pursuing social reforms in the United States, including abolition of child labour and sweat shops; immigrant protection and education; women’s right to vote and the need for peace. Some of the volunteers at Hull House later brought social reform.
For instance, Julia C. Lathrop helped establish Chicago’s first juvenile court; Dr. Alice Hamilton worked in industrial medicine and conducted studies that helped improve factory conditions; and Florence Kelley investigated sweatshops for the Illinois State Bureau of Labor and helped establish Child Labor Laws. Other notable volunteers were: Florence Kelly, who later became the president of the National Consumers’ League; Frances Perkins, who became US secretary of labor; and Mary Eliza McDowell who became the first director of the University of Chicago Settlement House.
Addams was a pacifist and worked tirelessly to keep America neutral and out of World War I. She felt that war was not an appropriate resolution to disputes. During 1914, Addams served as chair of the Chicago Emergency Peace Federation and as a member of the Round Table Conference on War. In January 1915, Addams and Carrie Chapman convened a group in Washington, DC, which resulted in the Woman’s Peace Party with Addams as the chair.
Addams served as an officer in the Progressive Political Party and the Women’s International League for Peace, serving as president in 1915. Addams was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 for her efforts, and the first American Woman to be awarded. She was also an adviser to several American presidents. Addams received 14 honorary degrees – one from Yale University, the first honorary degree that the school had ever awarded to a woman. She died in May 1935 from cancer.
Jane Addams became a prolific writer, publishing the following works:
- Democracy and Social Ethics (1902)
- Newer Ideals for Peace (1907)
- The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets (1909)
- The best-selling first volume of her autobiography, Twenty Years at Hull House (1910)
- The Second Twenty Years at Hull House (1930)
Jane Addams’ Steps to Success
- At six years old when Addams saw the deplorable conditions in which people in Freeport, Illinois live, she announced that she would buy a big house when she was grown, where poor children could come and play whenever they liked.
- Addams suffered throughout her life from a painful curved spine that caused her to walk pigeon-toed, but didn’t let it stop her.
- Addams used Tonybee Hall, a successful model for settlement houses in the London, England instead of reinventing the wheel.
- Addams was a talented fundraiser.
- Strove to respect and preserve the immigrants’ cultures, and the holidays of their various nations have been always celebrated at Hull House. She created the Hull-House Labor Museum in which immigrants were given the opportunity to practice the handicrafts they had learned in their home countries, demonstrating to their children the skills they retained.
Why Jane Addams’ Contribution Matters
For nearly 50 years, Jane Addams worked tirelessly for improved living and working condition for America’s urban poor, women’s right to vote, and peace. In 1913, seven years before the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted women the right to vote in all elections Addams helped secure the vote for women in Chicago.
Lessons from Jane Addams
- Each of us was brought into this world to perform specific roles, but we have to find out what they are.
- Used her fame to effect positive change.
UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography
Encyclopedia of Education
West’s Encyclopedia of American Law
Social Policy: Essential Primary Resources
Americans at War: 1901 – 1945
Women in World History
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