Who Was Jane Addams?
Jane Addams co-founded one of the first settlements in the United States, the Hull House in Chicago, Illinois, in 1889, and was named a co-winner of the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize. Addams also served as the first female president of the National Conference of Social Work, established the National Federation of Settlements and served as president of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. She died in 1935 in Chicago.
Addams, known prominently for her work as a social reformer, pacifist and feminist during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was born Laura Jane Addams on September 6, 1860, in Cedarville, Illinois. The eighth of nine children born to an affluent state senator and businessman, Addams lived a life of privilege. Her father had many important friends, including President Abraham Lincoln.
In the 1880s, Addams struggled to find her place in the world. Battling with health problems at an early age, she graduated from the Rockford Female Seminary in Illinois in 1881, and then traveled and briefly attended medical school. On one trip with friend Ellen Gates Starr, the 27-year-old Addams visited the famed Toynbee Hall in London, England, a special facility established to help the poor. She and Starr were so impressed by the settlement house that they sought to create one in Chicago. It wouldn't be long before their dream became a reality.
Co-Founding Chicago's Hull House
In 1889, Addams and Starr opened one of the first settlements in both the United States and North America, and the first in the city of Chicago: Hull House, which was named after the building's original owner. The house provided services for the immigrant and poor population living in the Chicago area. Over the years, the organization grew to include more than 10 buildings and extended its services to include childcare, educational courses, an art gallery, a public kitchen and several other social programs.
In 1963, the construction of the University of Illinois' Chicago campus forced Hull House to move its headquarters, and, unfortunately, most of the organization's original buildings were demolished as a result. However, the Hull residence was transformed into a monument honoring Addams that remains standing today.
In addition to her work at the Hull House, Addams began serving on Chicago's Board of Education in 1905, later chairing its the School Management Committee. Five years later, in 1910, she became the first female president of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections (later renamed the National Conference of Social Work). She went on to establish the National Federation of Settlements the following year, holding that organization's top post for more than two decades thereafter.
Outside of her work as a prominent social reformer, Addams was a deeply committed pacifist and peace activist. A frequent lecturer on the subject of peace, she compiled her talks on ending war in the world in Newer Ideals of Peace, published in 1907. After World War I began, Addams became chair of the Women's Peace Party. Along with Emily Greene Balch and Alice Hamilton, she attended the International Congress of Women at The Hague in the Netherlands in 1915. These three social reformers and peace activists worked together on a special report, Women at The Hague: The International Congress of Women and Its Results, which was published that same year.
As part of her commitment to finding an end to war, Addams served as president of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom from 1919 to 1929. For her efforts, she shared the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize with Nicholas Murray Butler, an educator and presidential advisor.
Final Years and Death
While often troubled by health problems in her youth, Addams's health began to seriously decline after a heart attack in 1926. She died on May 21, 1935, at the age of 74, in Chicago, Illinois. Today, Addams is remembered not only as a pioneer in the field of social work but as one of the nation's leading pacifists.
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