Jane Addams was a leading women’s rights activist and suffragist. She was one of the most prominent social reformers of the Progressive Era. As a suffragist, pioneer settlement activist and reformer, social worker, author, and much more, Addams had become a role model for other middle class American woman. Addams was the first woman to be awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 when she was awarded with it for her mission to preserve peace throughout the world.
On September 6, 1860, Jane Addams was born the youngest of politician John H. Addams and Sarah Weber’s eight children in Cedarville, Illinois. When Jane was two years old, her mother passed away. But by the time Jane Addams was eight only three of her siblings remained. While one had died at sixteen, three had died in infancy.
Most of her childhood was spent playing outdoors and reading indoors while attending Sunday school. Addams came in contact with Pott’s disease, tuberculosis of the spine, when she was only four. Because of this, she would deal with lifelong health problems and a curvature of her spine. It was difficult for Jane to function with other children of her age due to her limp and inability to run well from Pott’s disease. People also called her “ugly”, causing her to no longer walk beside her father when he was wore his Sunday best.
Her 1910 memoir, Twenty Years at Hull House, made Jane Addam’’ adoration of her father clear. In 1968, he married Anna Hostetter Haldeman, a miller’s widow, when Jane was eight. John Addams was a friend and supporter of Abraham Lincoln and served as an Illinois State Senator for fifteen years from 1855-70. He was one of the Illinois Republican Party’s founding members. As a child, Jane Addams loved to look at a letter her father kept in his desk from Abraham Lincoln.
In her teen years, Addams began to dream big. She wanted to do something useful in the world, but little did she know just how much she would do throughout the rest of her life. From reading Charles Dickens and her mother’s kindness to poor people in Cedarville, Addams had become interested in the life of the poor and knew she wanted to do something to help. She decided that she would become a doctor so she could both live and work with the poor.
John Addams encouraged his daughter to pursue a higher education while still staying close to home. Addams herself was eager to attend Smith College located in Northampton, Massachusetts, a new school for women. however, her father made her attend Rockford Female Seminary (now known as Rockford University) in Rockford, Illinois to be close to home. In 1881, twenty-one year old Jane Addams graduated with a collegiate certificate and a Phi Beta Kappa society, the oldest honor society for the liberal arts and science in the U.S. To earn a proper B.A. (Bachelor of Arts), Addams had hopes to still attend Smith College. But her father unexpectedly died that summer in a hotel room from appendicitis on August 17, 1881 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Jane was in shock when this happened. Her father had been a very big influence on her. Eight years were spent stuck in a state of depression from her father’s passing. Along with her other siblings, Jane inherited about $50,000, which today would be equivalent to $1.23 million.
So they could pursue medical eduations, Jane Addams moved with her sister Alice, Alice’s Husband Harry, and Anna Haldeman Addams, their step mother, to Philadelphia that fall. As Jane and Alice, studying at the Woman’s Medical College of Philadelphia, completed their first year of medical school, Harry, having already been trained in medicine, studied further at the University of Pennsylvania. Because of health problems, spinal surgery, and a nervous breakdown, Jane Addams was unable to complete her degree, filled with sadness for not earning her degree. Her stepmother Anna had become ill as well, so the four of them returned to Cedarville, though the plan had originally been to stay in Philadelphia for two years.
Harry performed surgery on Addams’ spine to straighten it the following year. He advised her to travel instead of continuing with her studies. So in August of 1883, Addams and her stepmother left the United States for a two year long tour of Europe. The two of them were joined by friends and family throughout their travels. While in Europe, Addams came to the realization that a medical degree was not required to help the poor and she didn’t have to continue with her studies to do so.
Addams returned home and lived with her stepmother. They spent their winters in Baltimore and the rest of the year in Cedarville. But Addams entered a state of depression, filled with ambition and unsure of what the future would bring her. Addams felt useless leading a conventional life like that of a young woman of her time instead of doing what she wanted to: helping the poor. During this time, Addams and her friend Ellen Gates Starr from Rockford Seminary sent each other long letters about Christianity, books, and Jane’s despair.
She began to gather information from the many books she read. Addams had become fascinated by early Christians along with My Religion, a book by Leo Tolstoy. So, Addams was baptized in the Cedarville Presbyterian Church in the summer of 1886 as a Christian. Giuseppe Mazzini’s book Duties of Man, inspired the idea of democracy as a social idea for her. At the same time, Addams was confused about her role as a woman. When she read The Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill, she questioned a woman’s social pressured to marry and spend her life devoted to her family.
The idea of a settlement house first crossed her mind in the summer of 1887 when she read about it a magazine. Addams decided to travel back to Europe from December 1887 until the next summer. Along with many friends, one of them being Ellen Gates Starr, Addams visited the first settlement house called Toynbee Hall located in London. In Madrid, she watched a bullfight and became fascinated with it. She condemned herself for being fascinated by the horses’ and bulls’ suffering and feeling no outrage as she watched. Addams told no one that she dreamed of starting a settlement house at first, but began to feel more and more guilty as she did nothing to accomplish this. When she finally decided to share her dream with Starr in hopes of feeling more motivated to behind it, Starr loved the idea and agreed to start a settlement house with her.
Another trip was made to London, but this time with other friends and not Starr because she was busy. Addams found Toynbee Hall enchanting, describing it as “a community of University men who live there, have their recreation clubs and society all among the poor people, yet, in the same style in which they would live in their own circle. It is so free of ‘professional doing good,’ so unaffectedly sincere and so productive of good results in its classes and libraries seems perfectly ideal.” Her longtime dreams of the classes mingling with each other socially to benefit one another was now real in this new type of institution—settlement houses.
Addams discovered the settlement house was a place with the possibility of unexpected cultural connections to be made with narrow class, culture, and education boundaries could be expanded. Not only were they community arts centers, but also social service facilities while setting the foundations for civil society in America. It was a neutral space in which people from different communities with different ideologies could all come together and learn from one another.
Charles Hull had built a Chicago mansion in 1856, but it had since become abandoned and in need of repairs. Addams and Starr co-founded their very own settlement house in Chicago called Hull House in 1889. To repair the porch roofs, repaint the rooms, and buy furniture, Addams used her money to do these things while paying for any operang costs. Individuals set in gifts to support Addams and Starr with Hull House in its first year. Due to this, Addams was able to spend less of her own money on contributing to the house. The annual budget grew rapidly though. A significant number of wealthy women in the area became very important and long term donors for the House, such as Helen Culver, Charles Hull’s cousin. Culver eventually allowed the contributors and donors to use Hull House for free. Louise DeKoven Bowen, Mary Rozet Smith, Mary Wilmarth, and many other women helped Addams and Starr with Hull House.
The House’s first two occupants were, of course, Addams and Starr. Hull House would later become home to twenty-five women. Some 2,000 people visited the house each week. It was a center for many things, research, empirical analysis, study, and debate. The house was a pragmatic center for living in and it was able to establish good relations with others in the neighborhood. Investigations were conducted by Hull House on housing, midwifery, fatigue, tuberculosis, typhoid, garbage collection, cocaine, and truancy. A night school for adults was included in the facilities along with clubs for older children. There was also a public kitchen, art gallery, girls’ club, bathhouse, art gallery, book bindery, music school, drama group and theater, library, employment bureau, and lunchroom. Apartments and meeting rooms for discussion clubs were also a part of Hull House. Addams’s night school for adults acted as a forerunner of continuing education classes many universities offer today. Hull House was a place for young social workers to receive training along with it also being a place for social services and cultural events for the large immigrant population. It would eventually become a 13-building settlement complex with a playground and Bowen Country Club, a summer camp.
Hull House’s art program as an extremely important aspect of it to Addams. This gave Addams the chance to challenge the industrialized education system that fitted an individual to one specific job or position. To encourage people to think more independently, Addams wanted to provide space, time, and tools. In her eyes, art was a key to unclicking the city’s diversity through collective interaction, recreation, the imagination, and self-discovery. Addams saw art to be an integral part to her vision of a community.
Edward Butler provided funding that allowed Addams open an art exhibition and studio as one of Hull House’s first additions. The first floor of this new addition had a branch of Chicago Public Library and the second floor was home to Butler Art Gallery. With the addition of a studio space in the gallery, residents of Hull House and other community members were given the opportunity to take classes or come in to work to their art whenever they pleased. As art became a bigger part of lives for immigrants, children began to catch on. Working-class children were given art instruction in all forms and levels in the Butler Art Gallery and the Bowen Country Club, which were both parts of Hull House. For more informal lessons, children were taught outdoors. With Starr, Adams founded the Chicago Public School Art Society (CPSAS) due to the positive reaction of their children’s art classes. Public schools were provided with reproductions of famous art pieces and artists were hired to teach children upon the creation of the CPSAS.
Hull House would soon become the best known settlement house in America.
Addams continued with public lectures, making up for a heavy schedule, across the country at primarily college campuses. She also offered college courses through the University of Chicago’s Extension Division. When the university offered to make her directly affiliated with the school, Addams declined to keep up her independent role outside of just academics. Teaching adults unenrolled in formal academic institutions due to poverty or lack of credentials, was Addams’s goal. Also, Addams was worried that the university would have control over her political activism. On 1912, 1915, and 1919, she gave papers to the American Sociology Society, of which she was a charter member of.
Throughout her life, Addams seemed to have romantic relationships with her friends including Mary Rozet Smith and Ellen Starr. Addams’s relationships made it possible for her to devote her time and energy towards social work while still having emotional and romantic support. In modern day terms, Addams would be described as a lesbian due to having romantic relationships solely with women. Ellen Starr, who she founded Hull House with it, was her first romantic partner. The two of them had met when they were both attending Rockford Female Seminary. Mary Rozet Smith, a wealthy supporter of Addams’s work on Hull House, who lived in Hull House with Addams. After forty years together, their relationship had ended in 1934 when Smith died of pneumonia. The two of them owned a summer home in Bar harbor, Maine and wrote to one another at least once daily whenever they were apart. By their letters, it is shown that Adams and Smith thought each other a married couple.
To oppose the U.S. annexing the philippines, Addams joined the Anti-Imperialist League. She nominated Theodore Roosevelt for president as a supporter of the “Progressive” party during the Party Convention held in Chicago in August of 1912. Addams signed up on the party platform and went on to speak and campaign for Roosevelt’s 1912 presidential campaign extensively.
Upon joining the Woman’s Peace Party, she was elected national chairman in January of 1915. European women peace activists invited her to preside over the international Congress of Women located in The Hague from 28-30 April, 1915. She was chosen to head the commission during the congress to find an end to “The Great War”. Addams met with ten leaders from neutral countries and some at war to discuss mediation. Emily Balch and Alice Hamilton documented their experiences from the International Congress of Women in their book Women at The Hague.
The international Committee of Women for a Permanent Peace, established to continue the work accomplished at the Congress in the Hague, elected Addams as president. The committee developed the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) in Zurich, Switzerland at a 1919 conference. Addams kept her position of the committee’s president, frequently traveling to Europe and Asia.
Until 1933, Addams was a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation USA (which was the American branch of the international Fellowship of Reconciliation established in 1919) in 1917. Addams became highly criticized when the U.S. joined The Great War in 1917. As a pacifist, she was met with harsh rebukes and criticism. At Carnegie Hall she gave a speech on pacifism in 1915, but it was met with negative coverage from popular newspapers like the New York Times, calling her unpatriotic. As she spent time meeting with diplomatic and civic leaders throughout her travels, she was recognized for her mission to preserve peace. In recognition for these efforts, Addams received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 as the first American woman to do so. She donated a share of her prize money to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
Serving as a figurehead and leading theoretician, Addams was a major figure in domestic and international peace movements. Leo Tolstoy, a Russian novelist, influenced her greatly along with philosophers John Dewey and George Herbert Mead. To Addams, democracy, social justice, and peace were all mutually reinforcing and had to advance together to achieve any one of them. Addams became an anti-war activist in 1899 after the Spanish-American war and the anti-imperialist movement that followed. In 1907, she published a book called Newer Ideas of Peace that reshaped the worldwide peace movement to include social justice ideals. Other social reformers such as Emily Greene Balch, Alice Hamilton, Florence Kelley, and Lillian Wald were recruited to join Addams in her international women’s peace movement after 1914. After World War I, she began to realize her plan when major institutional bodies linked peace with social justice and the underlying causes of war and conflict.
Addams damned war a cataclysm that was undermining human kindness along with solidarity and civic friendship. Because of war, families across the world struggled. Patriot groups and newspapers denounced her views when the US joined World War I in 1917 until its end the following year. When she suggested armies were giving soldiers liquor just before major ground attacks, Oswald Garrison Villard, the editor of the New York Evening Post, came to her defense. Opponents of the WILPF called the organization radical, unfeminine, Communist-influences, and unpatriotic even after the war ended.Young veterans that were apart of the American Legion found themselves supported by some members of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and the League of Women Voters, were not fully prepared to confront the WILPF, which was older and made up of better educated, nationally famous, and more financially secure women. President Calvin Coolidge however and the middle classes supported Addams and the WILPF’s efforts to prohibit poison gas and outlaw war in the 1920s.Addams as regarded widely as the greatest woman of the Progressive Era following 1920. She was given nearly unanimous acclaim when she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. Jane Addams died on May 21, 1835 at seventy-four in Chicago, Illinois.