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Addams, Jane

Jane Addams (1860 – 1935)

By Catherine A. Paul

Jane Addams as a young woman
Jane Addams as a young woman
Photo: Public Domain

Jane Addams was a famous activist, social worker, author, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, and she is best known for founding the Hull House in Chicago, IL. Hull House was a progressive social settlement aimed at reducing poverty by providing social services and education to working class immigrants and laborers (Harvard University Library, n.d.).

Jane Addams was born in Cedarville, IL in 1860, and she graduated from Rockford College in 1882. In 1888, while traveling in London, Addams visited the settlement house Toynbee Hall (Harvard University Library, n.d.). Her experiences at Toynbee Hall inspired her to recreate the social services model in Chicago. In 1889, she leased a large home built by Charles Hull, which she chose for its “diversity and variety of activity for which it presented an opportunity.” In her essay, “The Subjective Necessity for Social Settlements,” Addams stated that the settlement movement existed to add social function to political democracy, to assist the progress of humanity, and to express Christianity through humanitarian action (Tims, 1961).

Thus, with Hull House, Addams proposed to “provide a center for a higher civic and social life, to institute and maintain educational and philanthropic enterprises, and to investigate and improve the conditions in the industrial districts in Chicago” (Harvard University Library, n.d.). Addams sought to foster a place where social progress, education, democracy, ethics, art, religion, peace, and happiness could all be daily experiences (Tims, 1961). Hull House offered kindergarten and day care for children of working mothers, an art gallery, libraries, music and art classes, and an employment bureau. By its second year of operation, Hull House served more than 2,000 residents weekly. By 1900, Hull House expanded to include a book bindery, gym, pool, cooperative for working women, theater, labor museum, and meeting space for trade unions (Harvard University Library, n.d.). 

Jane Addams, circa 1924
Jane Addams, circa 1924
Photo: Library of Congress
Digital ID  ggbain.39054

Florence Kelley, Alice Hamilton, Julia Lathrop, Ellen Gates Starr, Sophonisba Breckinridge, and Grace and Edith Abbott joined Jane Addams at Hull House. They helped to launch numerous important social programs, including the Immigrants’ Protective League, the Juvenile Protective Association, which was the first juvenile court in the U.S., and the Juvenile Psychopathic Clinic, later called the Institute for Juvenile Research. Moreover, these women helped enact protective legislation for women and children, child labor regulations, and mandatory minimum education laws. (Harvard University Library, n.d.). Thanks to Addams, this group of women was able to not only create a “cathedral of humanity” for the underserved, but also address civic and state legislation (Tims, 1961). 

Addams became a prolific writer and speaker, and she helped to found the National Child Labor Committee. This committee, chartered by Congress in 1907, led to the creation of the Federal Children’s Bureau in 1912 and passage of the Federal Child Labor Law in 1916. Furthermore, Addams was a leader in the National Consumers League, the first woman president of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections, later called the National Conference of Social Work, chairwoman of the Labor Committee of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, vice president of the Campfire Girls, and on the executive boards of the National Playground Association, National Child Labor Committee, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Additionally, Addams campaigned for women’s suffrage and the founding of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920. (Harvard University Library, n.d.).

In the early 20th century, Addams became active in the international peace movement. She opposed American involvement in the First World War, a controversial opinion which led to her expulsion from the Daughters of the American Revolution. Nevertheless, Addams was asked to serve as Herbert Hoover’s assistant in providing relief supplies to women and children in enemy nations. This story is captured her Peace and Bread in the Time of War (1922). Addams continued to be a leading pacifist through her work with the Women’s Peace Party, which became the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (Harvard University Library, n.d.). While she was demonstrably involved in political action for peace, Addams, too, emphasized the importance of rediscovering humanity’s ability to foster compassion and goodness in light of large-scale warfare (Tims, 1961).

Jane Addams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, and she continued to live and work at Hull House until she died in 1935. (Harvard University Library, n.d.).

This work may also be read through the Internet Archive.

For further reading:

Addams, J. (1899). The Subtle Problems of Charity. Atlantic Monthly, 83 (496), February.

“Jane Addams – Biographical,” courtesy of

Jane Addams Hull House Museum

Jane Addams’ publication, courtesy of the Harvard University Open Collections Program

The Urban Experience in Chicago: Hull-House and Its Neighbors, 1889–1963, courtesy of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The American Abolitionist Movement Primary Source Set, courtesy of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA)

Settlement Houses in the Progressive Era Primary Source Set, courtesy of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA)


Elshtain, J. B. (2002). The Jane Addams reader. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Harvard University Library. (n.d.). Jane Addams (1860-1935). Harvard University Library Open Collections Program. Retrieved from

Tims, M. (1961). Jane Addams of Hull House, 1860-1935: A centenary study. London, UK: Ruskin House.

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Paul, C.A. (2016). Jane Addams (1860-1935). Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from

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