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Jane Addams (1860 – 1935) – Founder of Hull-House, Social Reformer,
Women’s Advocate and Winner of Nobel Peace Prize
by John E. Hansan, Ph.D.
Jane Addams, with her friend Ellen Gates Starr, founded the famous social settlement Hull House on Chicago’s Near West Side in 1889. She is also remembered as the first American Woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Jane Addams built her reputation as the country’s most prominent social worker through her settlement house work, her writing, and her international efforts for world peace.
Jane Addams was born in 1860 in Cedarville, Illinois. Her mother died when she was two, and she was raised by her father and, later, a stepmother. She graduated from Rockford Female Seminary in 1881, among the first students to take a course of study equivalent to that of men at other institutions. She later attended Woman’s Medical College in Pennsylvania, but she left the college, possibly due to her ill health and her chronic back pain. In 1888, on a visit to England with her Rockford classmate Ellen Gates Starr, Addams visited Toynbee Settlement Hall in London’s East End. Addams and Starr planned to start an American equivalent of that settlement house. After their return they chose Hull mansion in Chicago, a building that had, though originally built at the edge of the city, become surrounded by an immigrant neighborhood and had been used as a warehouse.
Settlement House Movement Pioneer
Hull-House was located in a neighborhood populated by immigrants, including Italians, Russian and Polish Jews, Irish, Germans, Greeks and Bohemians. Addams and the other residents of the settlement provided services for the neighborhood residents, such as kindergarten and daycare facilities for children of working mothers, an employment bureau, an art gallery, libraries, and music and art classes. By 1900, Hull-House activities had broadened to include the Jane Club (a cooperative residence for working women), the first Little Theater in America, a Labor Museum and a meeting place for trade union groups. In 1893 a severe economic depression rocked the country, and Hull-House was serving over two thousand people a week. As charitable efforts increased, so too did political ones.: Addams realized that there would be no end to poverty and need if laws were not changed. She directed her efforts at what she believed were the root causes of poverty.
The workers joined Addams to lobby the state of Illinois to examine laws governing child labor, the factory inspection system, and the juvenile justice system. They worked for legislation to protect immigrants from exploitation, limit the working hours of women, mandate schooling for children, recognize labor unions, and provide for industrial safety. The residents of Hull-House formed an impressive group: they included Florence Kelley, Dr. Alice Hamilton, Julia Lathrop, Ellen Gates Starr, Sophonisba Breckinridge, Grace Abbott and Edith Abbott. From their experiences in the Hull-House neighborhood, these residents and their supporters forged a powerful reform movement. Among the projects that they launched were the Immigrants’ Protective League, The Juvenile Protective Association, the first juvenile court in the nation, and a Juvenile Psychopathic Clinic (later called the Institute for Juvenile Research). Because of these women’s efforts, the Illinois legislature enacted protective legislation for women and children and in 1903 passed a strong child labor law and an accompanying compulsory education law. With the creation of the United States Children’s Bureau in 1912 and the passage of a federal child labor law in 1916, the Hull-House reformers saw their efforts expanded to the national level.
Addams wrote prolifically on topics related to Hull-House activities, producing 11 books and numerous articles, as well as maintaining an active speaking schedule nationwide and throughout the world. She also played an important role in many local and national organizations. She was a founder of the Chicago Federation of Settlements in 1894, she also helped to establish the National Federation of Settlements in 1911. She was a leader in the Consumers League and served as the first woman president of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections (later the National Conference of Social Work). She was chairman of the Labor Committee of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, vice-president of the Campfire Girls, on the executive board of the National Playground Association, the National Child Labor Committee and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (founded in 1909).
In addition, she actively supported the campaign for woman suffrage and the founding of the American Civil Liberties Union (1920). Addams became involved in the peace movement and an important advocate of internationalism. Her interest developed during the First World War, when she participated in the International Congress of Women at the Hague in 1915. She maintained her pacifist stance after the United States entered the war in 1917, working through the Women’s Peace Party, which became the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1919. She was the WILPFs first president. As a result of her work, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.
Publications: Addams wrote 11 books and many pamphlets. Among them:
Addams, J. (1902). Democracy and social ethics. New York, NY: Macmillan Publishers.
Addams, J. (1905). Children in American street trades. New York, NY: National Child Labor Committee.
Addams, J. (1907). New ideals of peace. Chautauqua, NY: Chautauqua Press.
Addams, J. (1910). The wage-earning woman and the state. Boston, MA: Boston Equal Suffrage Association for Good Government.
Addams, J. (1911). Symposium: “Child Labor on the Stage.” New York, NY: National Child Labor Committee.
Addams, J. (1912). Twenty years at Hull-House. New York, NY: McMillan Publishers.
Addams, J. (1917). Patriotism and pacifists in war time.
Addams, J. (1922). Peace and bread in time of war. University of Illinois Press.
Addams, J. (1923). A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil. New York, NY: Macmillan Publishers.
Jane Addams has been memorialized with a plaque in the The Extra Mile — Points of Light Volunteer Pathway located on the sidewalks of downtown Washington, D.C. The Extra Mile is a program of Points of Light Institute, dedicated to inspire, mobilize and equip individuals to volunteer and serve. The Extra Mile was approved by Congress and the District of Columbia. It is funded entirely by private sources.
Jane Addams Hull House Museum – http://www.uic.edu/jaddams/hull/
National Women’s History Museum – https://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/rightsforwomen/Addams.html
How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Hansan, J.E. (2010, December 14). Jane Addams (1860-1935): Founder of Hull House, social reformer, women’s advocate and winner of Nobel Peace Prize. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/settlement-houses/addams-jane/