Jane 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 6th, 1860 in Cedarville, Illinois, to Sarah Weber Addams and wealthy state senator and businessman, John Huy Addams. Due to her father’s successes, Addams afforded a life of privilege as she grew up.
Addams graduated from the Rockford Female Seminary – later renamed Rockford College – in Illinois in 1881. Battling health problems at an early age, she was inspired to attend medical school after graduation. Though she only attended briefly, her time in medicine was fateful, as during one trip with friend Ellen Gates Starr, she visited the famed Toynbee Hall in London, England, a special facility established to help the poor. The settlement house inspired her so much that she immediately began plans to create her own settlement house upon returning to America.
In 1889, there were only a handful of settlement houses in the United States, and none in Chicago until Addams and Starr opened Hull House, named after the building’s original owner. The house provided services, including shelter and living materials, for the immigrant and poor populations living in the Chicago area. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the Hull House grew to include a dozen buildings, and extended its services to include child care, educational classes, an art gallery, a public kitchen, and many social programs and courses.
Addams began serving on Chicago’s Board of Education in 1905, later becoming chairman of its School Management Committee. In 1910, she became the first female president of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections (later renamed the National Conference on Social Welfare). She went on to establish the National Federation of Settlements, and even held the Federation’s top position for more than two decades.
Addams was a deeply committed pacifist and peace activist in addition to her work as a social reformer. She compiled her peace talks on ending war throughout the the world in her 1907 book, Newer Ideals of Peace. Addams became chair of the Women’s Peace Party during the outbreak of World War I, where she attended the International Congress of Women at The Hague in the Netherlands in 1915.
Addams served as president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom from 1919 to 1929. For her efforts on finding an end to war, she shared the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize with Nicholas Murray Butler, an educator and presidential advisor.
Addams died on May 21st, 1935 in Chicago, Illinois, at the age of 74 due to a heart attack. In the 1960s, the construction of the University of Illinois’ Chicago campus forced Hull House to move its headquarters, setting most of the organization’s original buildings to be demolished. However, the original Hull House establishment was transformed into a monument honoring Addams that remains standing today.
Addams is remembered not only as a pioneer in the field of social work, but as one of the nation’s most famed pacifists.
Sign Up For Our Newsletter