A woman should have the ballot because without this responsibility she cannot best develop her moral courage. –Jane Addams, address before the Chicago Political Equality League, 1897.
Probably best known as the founder of Hull House in Chicago, that provided social and educational opportunities for working class people, Jane Addams was a social worker, reformer, pacifist, woman’s suffrage advocate and the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
She was born on September 6, 1860, in Cedarville, Illinois, to John Huey Addams and Sarah Addams. Her mother died when Jane was only two years old, and her father remarried six years later. He was a strong supporter of Abraham Lincoln and served as state senator in the 1850s and 1860s. He was a great inspiration for young Jane and always supported her dreams of helping people.
Jane attended Rockford Female Seminary in northern Illinois and obtained a collegiate certificate. Shortly after she graduated, her father became ill and died. The sudden death of her father, whom she admired tremendously, profoundly influenced her life and affected her health.
The year when her father died, she entered the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but dropped out because of illness. She fell into a deep depression and was advised to travel in order to recover from her physical and mental ordeals, so she decided to go to Europe where she spent the next two years of her life.
In 1887, she and her Rockford classmate Ellen Gates Starr went back to Europe and visited Toynbee Hall, a treatment center for needy individuals in London, and were inspired to open a similar house in the United States.
Located in an immigrant neighborhood of Chicago, the Hull House included 13 buildings and a playground. It provided numerous services including a nursery, a dispensary, kindergarten, a home for working girls, a community kitchen, and social clubs, improving the life for many American immigrants.
The success of Hull House inspired many others to open similar houses throughout the United States, and it also made Addams famous. She began serving on Chicago’s Board of Education in 1905 and became the first female president of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections in 1910. Addams established the National Federation of Settlements in 1911, and when World War I began, she became the national chairman of the Women’s Peace Party. She attended many international peace congresses in Europe and had become a beloved public figure due to her pacifism.
Addams helped to found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She served as president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom from 1919 until her death in 1935. She was awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 for her efforts to avoid war. She donated her prize money to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
She dedicated her entire life to building a better and more democratic society, and she never got married.
Addams wrote many books including Democracy and Social Ethics (1902), Newer Ideals of Peace (1907), Twenty Years at Hull-House (1910), and The Second Twenty Years at Hull-House (1930). She died on May 21, 1935, in Chicago, Illinois.