She was well-educated, particularly for a woman of the late 19th century. She graduated from the Rockford Female Seminary as one of the first women to complete a course of study equivalent to male students, and briefly attended the Women’s Medical College in Pennsylvania before leaving, probably due to poor health1 (she suffered a spinal defect from birth). It was not until her second tour of Europe when she found her calling. While in London, she visited Toynbee Hall, a settlement house in the East End of London, and was inspired(1,2). She determined that her privileged, middle-class background and her education should be used to help those less fortunate3. Upon her return to America, she and her friend Ellen Starr opened Hull House in an underprivileged, immigrant neighborhood of Chicago(1-3).
Hull House was not the first settlement house in America, but it became the model for future settlement houses. In its prime, more than 2000 people attended a Hull House event each week. Among its many services, Hull House provided medical services, English classes, daycare, cooperative living for women, vocational training, citizenship classes and legal aid(3).
Addams was not solely a social advocate—she was a committed pacifist. She delivered lectures and speeches about peace, published books on the topic, served as Chair of the Women’s Peace Party and as President of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She was vilified for opposing America’s entry into World War I; she spent the war years assisting Herbert Hoover in providing food relief, which she chronicled in her book Peace and Bread in Time of War(2). She died in 1935 leaving a legacy of progressive activism, including reforms in child labor, sanitation, housing and working conditions(3).
1. Lewis, Jone Johnson. “Jane Addams.” About.com Women’s History.
2. “Jane Addams.” The Nobel Foundation.
3. Lunardini, Christine. “1889: Jane Addams Founds Hull House in Chicago” in What Every American Should Know about Women’s History. Pp. 120-121. Avon, Massachusetts: Adams Media Corporation, 1997.
Photo from America’s Library
To learn more:
Davis, Allen. American Heroine: The Life and Legend of Jane Addams. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000.
Addams, Jane. Twenty Years at Hull-House. New York: Signet Classics, 1999.
Knight, Louise. Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006
Elshtain, Jean Bethke (ed.). The Jane Addams Reader. New York: Basic Books, 2001.