Jane Addams Papers
(Laura) Jane Addams was born on 6 September 1860 in Cedarville, Illinois. She was the youngest of five children of John Huy Addams and Sarah Weber Addams. Her father was a prosperous mill owner and a leader in state politics; he served for sixteen years as an Illinois state senator. Her mother died when Addams was only two years old. Her father married Anna H. Haldeman in 1865, which added two stepbrothers to the family. Jane Addams was profoundly influenced by her father. He encouraged her education and ambition; however, when she set her heart on attending Smith College, he refused to send her so far away from home. In 1877, she entered Rockford Female Seminary in nearby Rockford, Illinois. In 1881, Addams was the valedictorian of her graduating class. One year later she received a bachelor's degree when the school became the Rockford College for Women.
Addams planned to study medicine and become a doctor. In 1881, she began her schooling at the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania. Her father's sudden death and her own ill health forced Addams to abandon her medical studies. In 1882, she had surgery to remedy a congenital spinal defect. Addams, accompanied by her stepmother, traveled in Europe from 1883 until 1885. In London's East end she observed urban poverty first hand; this exposure left a lasting impression on Addams. In 1887, Addams returned to Europe with Ellen Gates Starr, a Rockford classmate. On this trip, which included a visit to Toynbee Hall, a settlement house in London's East End, Addams and Starr formulated ideas about establishing a settlement house in the U.S. that would directly address the human consequences of rapid industrialization, immigration, and urban poverty.
After their return to the United States in 1899, Addams and Starr leased a dilapidated mansion in one of the poorest immigrant slums of Chicago on the corner of Halstead and Polk streets. Hull House, which was named after the original owner, was the first settlement house in America. Its mission was to "investigate and improve the conditions in the industrial districts of Chicago" and function as a center of civic and social life in a neighborhood that consisted of multiple immigrant groups. It was both an educational and a philanthropic activity. Addams, Starr, and other activists and reformers who resided at Hull House learned first-hand the needs of a diverse urban community. Hull House residents raised money; found volunteers, especially among the growing number of female college students and graduates; helped sick children, displaced families, and the unemployed; taught vocational and educational classes; and offered their support to Chicago's working people. Hull House provided numerous activities and services including: health and child care, clubs for both children and adults, an art gallery, kitchen, gymnasium, music school, theater, library, employment bureau, and a labor museum.
Through her work at Hull House, Addams became heavily involved with civic affairs of Chicago and was a leader in the social reform movement. She fought for legislation regarding housing, sanitation, factory inspection, and immigrant rights. She also effectively campaigned for child labor laws and other protective legislation. Addams became strongly allied with the labor movement and allowed union organizing meetings to be held at Hull House. In 1910, she arbitrated a garment strike involving 90,000 workers. That year she also became Vice President of the American Branch of International Association for Labor Legislation. Addams was a feminist and supported the women's suffrage campaign. She served as Vice President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (1911-14). She was also active in the Progressive Party and especially supported its platform for industrial safety.
Hull House brought Jane Addams world-wide celebrity, and she was recognized as a pioneer in the field of social work. However, with the onset of war in Europe in the 1910s, public opinion turned against Addams as she became increasingly active in the pacifist and internationalist movements. In 1915, Addams co-founded the Women's Peace Party (WPP). Addams and the WPP established strong networks of peace activists in the U.S. and abroad, and in 1919, the WPP evolved into the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, a still-thriving organization that "works to achieve through peaceful means world disarmament, full rights for women, racial and economic justice, an end to all forms of violence, and to establish those political, social, and psychological conditions which can assure peace, freedom, and justice for all." Jane Addams served as the first president of WILPF (1919-1929). In 1931, Addams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her pacifist activism. She was the first American woman to receive this honor.
Addams wrote prodigiously throughout her life, and the profits from her books were her main source of income. Some of her notable works are Newer Ideals of Peace (1907), Twenty Years at Hull House (1910), The Long Road of Women's Memory (1916), Peace and Bread in Time of War (1922), and The Second Twenty Years at Hull House (1930). She received honorary degrees from numerous colleges and universities including: Wisconsin, Smith, Yale, Tufts, Northwestern, Chicago, and Bryn Mawr. Among her many other achievements and commitments, Jane Addams was a founding member of the NAACP (1909) and the ACLU (1920). She died of cancer in 1935, and she was buried at her childhood home in Cedarville, Illinois.