Jane Addams was a champion of women and the working-class. During her lifetime, Addams was well known for her activism and writing. She was the founder of a progressive settlement, Hull House, which provided immigrants and laborers with education and social services to reduce poverty.
The Early Years
Jane Addams was born the daughter of a wealthy miller and politician, John Huy Addams, in Cedarville, IL in 1860. Jane was the eighth child for her father and mother, Sarah Weber Addams. She had a privileged upbringing but grew up with a sense of social mission and a heart for those in need.
Graduating from Rockford Female Seminary in 1881, Addams was part of a new era of college-educated women. She continued to put others first and tried studying medicine; however, her own health eventually kept her from completing her studies.
A Heart for the Poor
It was at this point that Jane Addams traveled to London with her friend Ellen Gates Starr. While in London, they visited Toynbee Hall, a settlement which provided services to poor industrial workers. Upon seeing the good done at the settlement, Addams was determined to bring the model to the United States.
Upon their return to the Chicago’s west side in 1889, Addams and Starr founded Hull House as the first settlement house in the United States. The central premise of the settlement was to connect educated women with the poor to provide vital services in education and job training as well as language and naturalization courses for new immigrants. Working with the leading female progressive reformers of the day, Addams helped to establish community center and job-placement bureau.
Feminism and Child Labor
Jane Addams didn’t stop with co-founding Hull House though, she continued to write and speak publicly for the betterment of society. Addams helped develop the National Child Labor Committee and led the National American Women’s Suffrage Association. At the University of Chicago, Addams helped to initiate the establishment of a School for Social Work, and she was also among the founding members of the NAACP.
Promoting International Peace
Jane Addams also promoted international peace through her work with the Women’s Peace Party and the International Congress of Women. In 1931, Jane Addams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
As a fervent feminist and social activist, Jane Addams led a very impactful life. Her work lives on through the organizations and institutions she founded. In a time when women were not treated with equality, Jane Addams insisted on independence and persevered in the face of difficult odds to affect the lives of the working class.