Jane Addams

As social worker, reformer, and pacifist, Jane Addams (1860-1935) was the "beloved lady" of American reform. She founded the most famous settlement house in American history, Hull House in Chicago.

Jane Addams was born in Cedarville, III., on Sept. 6, 1860, the eighth child of a successful miller, banker, and landowner. She did not remember her mother, who died when Jane was 3 years old. She was devoted to and profoundly influenced by her father, an idealist and philanthropist of Quaker tendencies and a state senator of Illinois for 16 years.

Jane Addams attended Rockford Female Seminary in northern Illinois, from which she graduated in 1881. The curriculum was dominated by religion and the classics, but she developed an interest in the sciences and entered the Women's Medical College in Philadelphia. After 6 months, illness forced her to discontinue her studies permanently and undergo a spinal operation; she was never quite free of illness throughout her life.

Finding a Career

During a long convalescence Addams fell into a deep depression, partly because of her affliction but also because of her sensitivity to the lot of women of her station in 19th-century America. Although intelligent middle-class women were frequently well educated, as Jane Addams was, society dictated a life of ornamental uselessness for them as wives and mothers within a masculine-dominated home. During a leisurely tour in Europe between 1883 and 1885 and winters spent in Baltimore in 1886 and 1887, Addams sought solace in religion. Only after a second trip to Europe in 1887-1888, however, when she visited Toynbee Hall, the famous settlement house in London, did she find a satisfactory outlet for her talents and energies.

Toynbee Hall was a social and cultural center in the slums of London's East End; it was designed to introduce young ministerial candidates to the world of England's urban poor. Jane Addams hit upon the idea of providing a similar opportunity for young middle-class American women, concluding "that it would be a good thing to rent a house in a part of the city where many primitive and actual needs are found, in which young women who had been given over too exclusively to study might restore a balance of activity along traditional lines and learn of life from life itself."

Creation of Hull House

Hull House, in one of Chicago's most poverty-stricken immigrant slums, was originally envisioned as a service to young women desiring more than a homemaker's life. But it soon developed into a great center for the poor of the neighborhood, providing a home for working girls, a theater, a boys' club, a day nursery, and numerous other services. Thousands visited it annually, and Hull House was the source of inspiration for dozens of similar settlement houses in other cities. Its success catapulted Jane Addams into national prominence. She became involved in an attempt to remedy Chicago's corrupt politics, served on a mediation commission in the Pullman railroad strike of 1894, supported the right of labor to organize, and spoke and wrote widely on virtually every reform issue of the day, from woman's suffrage to pacifism.

Jane Addams served as an officer for innumerable reform groups, including the Progressive party and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (of which she was president in 1915), and she attended international peace congresses in a dozen European cities. Her books cover wide-ranging subjects: prostitution and woman's rights (A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil, 1912, and The Long Road of Woman's Memory, 1916), juvenile delinquency (The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets, 1909), and militarism in America (Newer ideals of peace, 1906). She received honorary degrees from a half dozen American universities and was an informal adviser to several American presidents. She died on May 21, 1935.

Further Reading on Jane Addams

Most of the biographies of Jane Addams are satisfactory. Her two autobiographical works are of great interest: Twenty Years at Hull-House (1910) and The Second Twenty Years at Hull-House (1930). Jane Addams: A Centennial Reader (1960) is the best book of selections from her writings and includes valuable introductions by other authors. John C. Farrell, Beloved Lady: A History of Jane Addams' Ideas on Reform and Peace (1967), provides a fascinating analysis of her ideas.

Additional Biography Sources

Addams, Jane, The social thought of Jane Addams, New York, N.Y.: Irvington, 1982, 1965.

Hovde, Jane, Jane Addams, New York: Facts on File, 1989.

Levine, Daniel, Jane Addams and the liberal tradition, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980, 1971.

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