Addams, Jane

views updated May 23 2018

Jane Addams

Excerpt from Twenty Years at Hull-House

Originally published by the Macmillan Company, 1912

A Chicago woman writes of her experiences as owner of a house primarily designed to help immigrants

"Her mother's whole life had been spent in a secluded spot under the rule of traditional and narrowly localized observances … and then suddenly she was torn from it all and literally put out to sea … and she now walked timidly but with poignant sensibility upon a new and strange shore."

C hicago by 1890 had become the great "melting pot" of the Midwest. People from many different nationalities found themselves mixed together, living in grimy industrial neighborhoods during a period of rapid expansion of factories and meat-processing plants. Immigrants came from Russia, Germany, Italy, Bohemia (later called the Czech Republic), and Greece. They crowded in an urban, or city, environment far removed from the rural, or country, villages from which they had emigrated to live in the United States. For many immigrant families, moving to the United States meant not only moving to a new country but also moving from the countryside to a city, and from an agricultural society to an industrial one.

Jane Addams (1860–1935), an upper-middle-class woman from Cedarville, Illinois, bought a house in Chicago, named Hull-House after a previous owner, and opened its doors to working people, both native-born Americans and immigrants, to help them adjust to their radically new surroundings. Addams had visited a settlement house called Toynbee Hall in the East End of London, where many poor people struggled to adjust to the new industrial age. In settlement houses such as Toynbee, university students and other upper-class, educated people "settled," or came to live in the houses, to help improve the lives of the underprivileged people in the neighborhood. Addams's memoir of the first two decades running Hull-House as a settlement house in Chicago provides a glimpse of the impact felt by immigrants trying to adjust to a completely different way of life.

In Chapter 11 of her book Twenty Years at Hull-House, Addams observed that a cultural gap had opened between immigrant parents and their own children. Watching immigrant women using ancient handcrafted techniques for making "thread," or yarn, Addams realized that the women's children did not appreciate the skills their mothers brought with them to their new country—skills that were an essential part of life in the villages of European countries that had not experienced the Industrial Revolution, the decades-long process by which large factories replaced smaller home-based workshops in manufacturing. In what Addams called a "desire to reveal the humbler immigrant parents to their own children," Addams established a small "Labor Museum" in Hull-House. The "museum" was not a large building devoted to the subject. Instead, the museum consisted of a small display of traditional tools and methods familiar to immigrants but utterly foreign to their children living in Chicago around the turn of the twentieth century.

The display demonstrated how large-scale immigration to the United States in the period from 1880 to 1920 occurred at the same time as the technological progression of simple tools and the rapid growth of American industry. On a personal level, immigrant mothers enjoyed coming to Hull-House to see the exhibits that displayed the skills and methods they had practiced in their home countries. Unknowingly, immigrant women had brought these skills with them to America as part of a way of life that had been rendered virtually useless, not just by the voyage across the Atlantic to Chicago but also by the voyage across an era from an agricultural society to an industrial one. The museum allowed immigrant parents to show their children that these tools and skills provided the basis for the new industrial machines.

Addams also noticed how life had changed for immigrant teenagers. Young people, traditionally closely controlled trolled by their parents, were torn between the temptations of their new American society and their desire to obey their parents, who were often clinging to long-established practices of raising children. The tension between the new world and the old world sometimes led young men and women not only into trouble with parents but into trouble with the law. Addams viewed their misdeeds not as a sign of "bad" behavior but as the result of unreasonable expectations in the midst of confusing and highly difficult living circumstances.

Things to remember while reading an excerpt from Twenty Years at Hull-House:

  • In many societies, women play the central role in binding together families. This was certainly the case among immigrants from southern and eastern Europe living in Chicago at the time Twenty Years at Hull-House was written. The woman's role in the family was made vastly more difficult in the new setting. Many immigrant women did not know how to function in an urban environment, much less one in which they did not speak the language well. Their clothing and headscarves set them apart, too.
  • For many women, even the smallest details of life, such as baking bread, were different. For example, Addams told the story of an Italian woman who had baked her bread in a community oven. Because her daughter had had cooking lessons in school, the bewildered mother would learn how to use the oven at home from her child. There were many cases of such a role reversal: in America, it was the English-speaking, more streetwise children who had to show immigrant parents how things worked in their new world.
  • Jane Addams realized that setting up a little "Labor Museum" in Hull-House was part of an educational experience for immigrant children, enabling them to relate to their cultural roots. In this excerpt from Addams's book, she refers to "Dr. Dewey." At the time Addams was running Hull-House, John Dewey (1859–1952) was appointed to be the head of a new department of philosophy, psychology, and education at the University of Chicago. Dewey believed that people should learn by experience, not just by repetitive, mechanical memorization of facts. His ideas have long been controversial since they challenged the predominant method of instruction in use at the time, and still prevalent in the twenty-first century. Dewey became friends with Addams and other social reformers at Hull-House and was one of the educators recruited by Addams to give lectures there. He frequently visited Hull-House, praised it as a model for what schools should be like, and became a trustee, or administrator, of the house for seven years.
  • At the beginning of this excerpt, Addams refers to seeing "an old Italian woman, her distaff against her homesick face, patiently spinning a thread by the simple stick spindle so reminiscent of all southern Europe." In just a sentence, Addams evoked the essence of leaving home and coming to a new country for many women in the late nineteenth century. A distaff is a stick, or rod, used as part of the process of turning sheep's wool into yarn that can later be woven into material. A "simple stick spindle" is a hand-held tool used by women to spin the fibers of wool, a technique that existed for hundreds of years before modern industrial machinery in factories took over the task. Seeing an immigrant woman patiently spinning yarn using an ancient technique called to mind for Addams a sense of the woman's homesickness. The woman's longing was not just for the sunny climate of southern Italy, as opposed to the often cloudy, windy, and cold climate of Chicago, but also for a bygone time when life followed a familiar pattern. The word "distaff" refers not only to a tool for spinning, but it had also come to mean the more general concept of a "woman's work." The familiar, essential role of women in rural life had been abandoned by immigrants in the bustle of industrial Chicago. In carrying out her lifelong habit, the elderly woman encountered by Addams conveyed the sense of loss—of a familiar place, of familiar habits, and even of a familiar role in her family—that many immigrant women must have felt living in their adopted country.
  • The sense of loss felt by immigrants was not limited to women. Addams tells the story of a man who used to be a skilled goldsmith, capable of making beautiful jewelry, who could only find work in a factory in Chicago. The loss of being able to do the work he loved drove him to heavy drinking and eventually to kill himself. The struggle to live—to earn money for food and shelter—robbed some immigrants of their joy in work and the joy of life itself.

Excerpt from Twenty Years at Hull-House

Chapter XI: Immigrants and Their Children

An overmastering desire to reveal the humbler immigrant parents to their own children lay at the base of what has come to be called the Hull-House Labor Museum. This was first suggested to my mind one early spring day when I saw an old Italian woman, her distaff against her homesick face, patiently spinning a thread by the simple stick spindle so reminiscent of all southern Europe. I was walking down Polk Street, perturbed in spirit, because it seemed so difficult to come into genuine relations with the Italian women and because they themselves so often lost their hold upon their Americanized children. It seemed to me that Hull-House ought to be ableto devise some educational enterprise which should build a bridge between European and American experiences in such wise as to give them both more meaning and a sense of relation. I meditated that perhaps the power to see life as a whole is more needed in the immigrant quarter of a large city than anywhere else, and that the lack of this power is the most fruitful source of misunderstanding between European immigrants and their children, as it is between them and their American neighbors; and why should that chasm between fathers and sons, yawning at the feet of each generation, be made so unnecessarily cruel and impassable to these bewildered immigrants? Suddenly I looked up and saw the old woman with her distaff, sitting in the sun on the steps of a tenement house. She might have served as a model for one of Michael Angelo's Fates , but her face brightened as I passed and, holding up her spindle for me to see, she called out that when she had spun a little more yarn, she would knit a pair of stockings for her goddaughter. The occupation of the old woman gave me the clue that was needed. Could we not interest the young people working in the neighborhood factories in these older forms of industry, so that, through their own parents and grandparents, they would find a dramatic representation of the inherited resources of their daily occupation. If these young people could actually see that the complicated machinery of the factory had been evolved from simple tools, they might at least make a beginning toward that education which Dr. Dewey defines as a "continuing reconstruction of experience." They might also lay a foundation for reverence of the past which Goethe declares to be the basis of all sound progress….

Distaff: A staff, or rod, for holding the wool in spinning; also implies the larger topic of a woman's work, since spinning was traditionally done by women.

Spindle: A round stick with tapered ends used to form and twist the yarn in hand spinning.

Perturbed: Irritated.

Enterprise: Program.

Chasm: Gap; also used as a metaphor for a distance separating two people or two generations.

Tenement house: An apartment house, usually poorly constructed and offering crowded, but inexpensive, quarters for poor immigrants.

Michel Angelo's Fates: A depiction of women by Italian sculptor and painter Michelangelo (1475–1564).

Dr. Dewey: John Dewey (1859–1952), a leading philosopher, psychologist, and educator from the University of Chicago and a friend of Addams.

Goethe: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), a leading German novelist and playwright.

We found in the immediate neighborhood at least four varieties of these most primitive methods of spinning and three distinct variations of the same spindle in connection with wheels. It was possible to put these seven into historic sequence and order and to connect the whole with the present method of factory spinning. The same thing was done for weaving, and on every Saturday evening a little exhibit was made of these various forms of labor in the textile industry. Within one room a Syrian woman, a Greek, an Italian, a Russian, and an Irishwoman enabled even the most casual observer to see that there is no break in orderly evolution if we look at history from the industrial standpoint; that industry develops similarly and peacefully year by year among the workers of each nation, heedless of differences in language, religion, and political experiences….

Wheels: Spinning wheels; another method of spinning thread.

Orderly evolution: Development.

I recall a number of Russian women working in a sewing room near Hull-House, who heard one Christmas week that the Housewas going to give a party to which they might come. They arrived one afternoon, when, unfortunately, there was no party on hand and, although the residents did their best to entertain them with impromptu music and refreshments, it was quite evident that they were greatly disappointed. Finally it was suggested that they be shown the Labor Museum—where gradually the thirty sodden , sluggish tired women were transformed. They knew how to use the spindles and were delighted to find the Russian spinning frame. Many of them had never seen the spinning wheel, which has not penetrated to certain parts of Russia, and they regarded it as a new and wonderful invention. They turned up their dresses to show their homespun petticoats; they tried the looms; they explained the difficulty of the old patterns; in short, from having been stupidly entertained, they themselves did the entertaining. Because of a direct appeal to former experiences, the immigrant visitors were able for the moment to instruct their American hostesses in an old and honored craft, as was indeed becoming to their age and experience….

Sodden: Wet.

There has been some testimony that the Labor Museum has revealed the charm of woman's primitive activities. I recall a certain Italian girl who came every Saturday evening to a cooking class in the same building in which her mother spun in the Labor Museum exhibit; and yet Angelina always left her mother at the front door while she herself went around to a side door because she did not wish to be too closely identified in the eyes of the rest of the cooking class with an Italian woman who wore a kerchief over her head, uncouth boots, and short petticoats. One evening, however, Angelina saw her mother surrounded by a group of visitors from the School of Education who much admired the spinning, and she concluded from their conversation that her mother was "the best stick-spindle spinner in America." When she inquired from me as to the truth of this deduction , I took occasion to describe the Italian village in which her mother had lived, something of her free life, and how, because of the opportunity she and the other women of the village had to drop their spindles over the edge of a precipice , they had developed a skill in spinning beyond that of the neighboring towns. I dilated somewhat on the freedom and beauty of that life—how hard it must be to exchange it all for a two-room tenement, and to give up a beautiful homespun kerchief for an ugly department store hat. I intimated it was most unfair to judge her by these things alone, and that while she must depend on her daughter to learn the new ways, she also had a right to expect her daughter to know something of the old ways.

Primitive: Original or primary.

Uncouth: Crude or uncultivated.

Deduction: Conclusion.

Precipice: Cliff.

Dilated: Added details.

That which I could not convey to the child, but upon which my own mind persistently dwelt, was that her mother's whole life had been spent in a secluded spot under the rule of traditional and narrowly localized observances, until her very religion clung to local sanctities —to the shrine before which she had always prayed, to the pavement and walls of the low vaulted church-and then suddenly she was torn from it all and literally put out to sea, straight away from the solid habits of her religious and domestic life, and she now walked timidly but with poignant sensibility upon a new and strange shore.

Sanctities: The quality of being holy.

Poignant: Painfully affecting the feelings.

It was easy to see that the thought of her mother with any other background than that of the tenement was new to Angelina, and at least two things resulted; she allowed her mother to pull out of the big box under the bed the beautiful homespun garments which had been previously hidden away as uncouth; and she openly came into the Labor Museum by the same door as did her mother, proud at least of the mastery of the craft which had been so much admired….

These women and a few men, who come to the museum to utilize their European skill in pottery, metal, and wood, demonstrate that immigrant colonies might yield to our American life something very valuable, if their resources were intelligently studied and developed. I recall an Italian, who had decorated the doorposts of his tenement with a beautiful pattern he had previously used in carving the reredos of a Neapolitan church [in Naples], who was "fired" by his landlord on the ground of destroying property. His feelings were hurt, not so much that he had been put out of his house, as that his work had been so disregarded; and he said that when people traveled in Italy they liked to look at wood carvings but that in America "they only made money out of you."

Reredos (RARE-a-dose): An ornamental wood or stone screen or partition behind the altar in a church.

Sometimes the suppression of the instinct of workmanship is followed by more disastrous results. A Bohemian whose little girl attended classes at Hull-House, in one of his periodic drunken spells had literally almost choked her to death, and later had committed suicide when in delirium tremens. His poor wife, who stayed a week at Hull-House after the disaster until a new tenement could be arranged for her, one day showed me a gold ring which her husband had made for their betrothal. It exhibited the most exquisite workmanship, and she said that although in the old country he had been a goldsmith, in America he had for twenty years shoveled coal in a furnace room of a large manufacturing plant; that whenever

Bohemian: A person from a region of Europe called Bohemia, situated in what is now called the Czech Republic.

Delirium tremens: A violent and life-threatening reaction to excessive use of alcohol, characterized by mental confusion and shaking of the body.

Betrothal: Engagement.

she saw one of his "restless fits," which preceded his drunken periods, "coming on," if she could provide him with a bit of metal and persuade him to stay at home and work at it, he was all right and the time passed without disaster, but that "nothing else would do it." This story threw a flood of light upon the dead man's struggle and on the stupid maladjustment which had broken him down. Why had we never been told? Why had our interest in the remarkable musical ability of his child blinded us to the hidden artistic ability of the father? We had forgotten that a long-established occupation may form the very foundations of the moral life, that the art with which a man has solaced his toil may be the salvation of his uncertain temperament.

Solaced: Comforted.

There are many examples of touching fidelity to immigrant parents on the part of their grown children; a young man who day after day attends ceremonies which no longer express his religious convictions and who makes his vain effort to interest his Russian Jewish father in social problems; a daughter who might earn much more money as a stenographer could she work from Monday morning tillSaturday night, but who quietly and docilely makes neckties for low wages because she can thus abstain from work Saturdays to please her father; these young people, like poor Maggie Tulliver , through many painful experiences have reached the conclusion that pity, memory, and faithfulness are natural ties with paramount claims.

Fidelity: Faithfulness; loyalty.

Stenographer: Bookkeeper; typist.

Docilely: Willingly; gently.

Abstain from: Avoid.

Maggie Tulliver: A character in the 1860 novel Mill on the Floss, by George Eliot, who serves as an example of how women were often expected to make personal sacrifices to sustain appearances for their families.

This faithfulness, however, is sometimes ruthlessly imposed upon by immigrant parents who, eager for money and accustomed to the patriarchal authority of peasant households, hold their children in a stern bondage which requires a surrender of all their wages and concedes no time or money for pleasures.

Patriarchal: Fatherly.

There are many convincing illustrations that this parental harshness often results in juvenile delinquency. A Polish boy of seventeen came to Hull-House one day to ask a contribution of fifty cents "towards a flower piece for the funeral of an old Hull-House club boy." A few questions made it clear that the object was fictitious, whereupon the boy broke down and half-defiantly stated that he wanted to buy two twenty-five cent tickets, one for his girl and one for himself, to a dance of the Benevolent Social Twos [a social club]; that he hadn't a penny of his own although he had worked in a brass foundry for three years and had been advanced twice, because he always had to give his pay envelope unopened to his father; "just look at the clothes he buys me" was his concluding remark.

Juvenile delinquency: Minor crimes committed by children.

Perhaps the girls are held even more rigidly. In a recent investigation of two hundred working girls it was found that only five per cent had the use of their own money and that sixty-two per cent turned in all they earned, literally every penny, to their mothers. It was through this little investigation that we first knew Marcella, a pretty young German girl who helped her widowed mother year after year to care for a large family of younger children. She was content for the most part although her mother's old-country notions of dress gave her but an infinitesimal amount of her own wages to spend on her clothes, and she was quite sophisticated as to proper dressing because she sold silk in a neighborhood department store. Her mother approved of the young man who was showing her various attentions and agreed that Marcella should accept his invitation to a ball, but would allow her not a penny toward a new gown to replace one impossibly plain and shabby. Marcella spent a sleepless night and wept bitterly, although she well knew that the doctor's bill for the children's scarlet fever was not yet paid. The next day as she was cutting off three yards of shining pink silk, the thought came to her that it would make her a fine new waist to wear to the ball. Shewistfully saw it wrapped in paper and carelessly stuffed into the muff of the purchaser, when suddenly the parcel fell upon the floor. No one was looking and quick as a flash the girl picked it up and pushed it into her blouse. The theft was discovered by the relentless department store detective who, for "the sake of example," insisted upon taking the case into court. The poor mother wept bitter tears over this downfall of her "frommes Mädchen" [pious daughter] and no one had the heart to tell her of her own blindness.

Infinitesimal: Extremely small.

Scarlet fever: A childhood disease common in the nineteenth century.

Muff: A cylinder of material or fur open at both ends for hands to be inserted for warmth; used in place of gloves.

I know a Polish boy whose earnings were all given to his father who gruffly refused all requests for pocket money. One Christmas his little sisters, having been told by their mother that they were too poor to have any Christmas presents, appealed to the big brother as to one who was earning money of his own. Flattered by the implication, but at the same time quite impecunious , the night before Christmas he nonchalantly walked through a neighboring department store and stole a manicure set for one little sister and a string of beads for the other. He was caught at the door by the house detective as one of those children whom each local department store arrests in the weeks before Christmas at the daily rate of eight to twenty. The youngest of these offenders are seldom taken into court but are either sent home with a warning or turned over to the officers of the Juvenile Protective Association. Most of these premature law breakers are in search of Americanized clothing and others are only looking for playthings. They are all distracted by the profusion and variety of the display, and their moral sense is confused by the general air of openhandedness.

Impecunious: Penniless.

Nonchalantly: Casually.

Manicure set: Scissors and files used to care for fingernails.

Profusion: Abundance.

These disastrous efforts are not unlike those of many younger children who are constantly arrested for petty thieving because they are too eager to take home food or fuel which will relieve the distress and need they so constantly hear discussed. The coal on the wagons, the vegetables displayed in front of the grocery shops, the very wooden blocks in the loosened street paving are a challenge to their powers to help out at home. A Bohemian boy who was out on parole from the old detention home of the Juvenile Court itself, brought back five stolen chickens to the matron for Sunday dinner, saying that he knew the Committee were "having a hard time to fill up so many kids and perhaps these fowl [chickens] would help out." The honest immigrant parents, totally ignorant of American laws and municipal regulations, often send a child to pick up coal on the railroad tracks or to stand at three o'clock in the morning before the side door of a restaurant which gives away broken [unused] food, or to collect grain for the chickens at the base of elevators andstanding cars. The latter custom accounts for the large number of boys arrested for breaking the seals on grain freight cars. It is easy for a child thus trained to accept the proposition of a junk dealer to bring him bars of iron stored in freight yards. Four boys quite recently had thus carried away and sold to one man two tons of iron.

Matron: Supervisor of the detention center.

Four-fifths of the children brought into the Juvenile Court in Chicago are the children of foreigners. The Germans are the greatest offenders, Polish next. Do their children suffer from the excess of virtue in those parents so eager to own a house and lot? One often sees a grasping parent in the court, utterly broken down when the Americanized youth who has been brought to grief clings as piteously to his peasant father as if he were still a frightened little boy in the steerage.

Steerage: A section of inferior accommodations in a passenger ship for passengers paying the lowest fares.

Many of these children have come to grief through their premature fling into city life, having thrown off parental control as they have impatiently discarded foreign ways. Boys of ten and twelve will refuse to sleep at home, preferring the freedom of an old brewery vault or an empty warehouse to the obedience required by their parents, and for days these boys will live on the milk and bread which they steal from the back porches after the early morning delivery. Such children complain that there is "no fun" at home. One little chap who was given a vacant lot to cultivate by the City Garden Association insisted upon raising only popcorn and tried to present the entire crop to Hull-House "to be used for the parties," with the stipulation that he would have "to be invited every single time." Then there are little groups of dissipated young men who pride themselves upon their ability to live without working and who despise all the honest and sober ways of their immigrant parents. They are at once a menace and a center of demoralization. Certainly the bewildered parents, unable to speak English and ignorant of the city, whose children have disappeared for days or weeks, have often come to Hull-House … as if they had discovered a new type of suffering, devoid of the healing in familiar sorrows. It is as if they did not know how to search for the children without the assistance of the children themselves. Perhaps the most pathetic aspect of such cases is their revelation of the premature dependence of the older and wiser upon the young and foolish, which is in itself often responsible for the situation because it has given the children an undue sense of their own importance and a false security that they can take care of themselves.

Brewery vault: A storage facility in a beer factory.

Dissipated: Extravagant in the pursuit of pleasure, especially in pursuit of drinking.

Revelation: Sudden awareness.

On the other hand, an Italian girl who has had lessons in cooking at the public school will help her mother to connect the entirefamily with American food and household habits. That the mother has never baked bread in Italy—only mixed it in her own house and then taken it out to the village oven—makes all the more valuable her daughter's understanding of the complicated cooking stove….

What happened next …

Jane Addams was a pioneer in a profession that came to be called social work. Her efforts to help people struggling to cope with life in Chicago were not limited to immigrants; programs of Hull-House were open to all nationalities. Over the next century, social work became a highly respected profession, often sponsored by state governments to address the social problems of modern industrial society.

The dramatic flow of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe largely stopped after 1921, when new federal laws imposed restrictions on what had previously been a largely unregulated flow of poor rural people into the United States. The children and grandchildren of immigrants gradually became used to American customs, a process called "becoming Americanized."

People from other countries were not the only "immigrants" coming to northern industrial cities like Chicago. During World War II (1939–45), when many U.S. factory workers left to serve in the Army, rural residents of the South, many of them African Americans, migrated to northern cities to fill factory jobs. Their experiences were very similar to the experiences of immigrants from European rural societies fifty years earlier.

Did you know …

  • In 1931, Jane Addams became the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Her efforts to improve social conditions were not limited to the industrial slums of Chicago. She also campaigned for women's right to vote, for government regulation of the conditions under which people worked, and for unemployment insurance (payments to people who lose their jobs).
  • Addams was a "hands-on" reformer. Hull-House was not only the site of programs to benefit poor immigrants and other workers; it was also Addams's house, where she both lived and worked.
  • Her work was widely admired during her lifetime. President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; served 1901–9) once described Addams as "the most useful citizen in America."

For More Information


Addams, Jane. Twenty Years at Hull-House. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1999.

Eliot, George. The Mill on the Floss." New York: Knopf, 1992.

Elshtain, Jean Bethke. Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy: A Life. New York: Basic Books, 2002.

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


Kornblatt, Mark, and Pamela Renner. "'Saint' Jane." Scholastic Update (February 23, 1990): p. 10.

Levinsohn, Florence Hamlish. "A Tribute to a Life of Caring; Halsted Street's Living Memorial to Jane Addams." Chicago (November 1986): p. 304.

Web Sites

Holli, Melvin G. "Hull House and the Immigrants." Illinois Periodicals Online. (accessed on February 25, 2004).

Jane Addams Hull House. (accessed on February 25, 2004).

Addams, Jane

views updated May 23 2018

6: Jane Addams

Excerpt from Twenty Years at Hull-House, with Autobiographical Notes

    Published in 1912; available online at

During the second half of the nineteenth century, the United States changed from an economy primarily based on farming and farm products to an economy based on industry and the manufacture of products. Farmers made up 60 percent of the population in 1860, while in 1910 they comprised only 30 percent of the population. Many people born and raised on farms went to towns and cities in order to work in shops and factories. They were joined by the more than 20 million immigrants who entered the United States between 1865 and 1910. The country's total population more than doubled during this period.

"The Settlement is valuable as an information and interpretation bureau. It constantly acts between the various institutions of the city and the people for whose benefit these institutions were erected. The hospitals, the county agencies, and State asylums are often but vague rumors to the people who need them most."

Many immigrants settled in cities to try to find work in industries. The rapid growth in population brought unprecedented social problems for cities. In Chicago, Illinois, for example, immigrants or children of immigrants made up 80 percent of the population by 1890. Often ignored or left alone and frequently the targets of prejudice and discrimination, immigrants competed for low-paying jobs with long hours, and many lived in poverty and often amid violence. Chicago was a center for the Great Upheaval of 1877, the first nationwide strike against the railroad industry. Violent clashes between striking workers and police occurred during that strike as well as in what became known as the Haymarket Square riot of 1886.

In this environment in 1888, Jane Addams (1860–1935) and her friend Ellen Gates Starr (1859–1940) made plans to settle in a poor Chicago neighborhood and work directly with residents to relieve the ill effects of poverty. In 1889 they purchased Hull-House in a slum in Chicago. A slum is a crowded, poor, and neglected area of a city. The region was populated with Greek, Italian, Russian, German, and Sicilian immigrants. Living at Hull-House for the remainder of her life, Addams became known internationally as a leader of the settlement movement. The movement consisted of volunteers working and living in poor neighborhoods in order to provide social services for the impoverished. In addition, Addams became recognized as a reformer, writer, and peace activist. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. Starr lived at Hull-House until 1929, directing art education programs and becoming an activist in the Chicago labor movement.

Addams and the women who joined her used their educational and cultural advantages to try to change the conditions that caused poverty and misery. To help residents, Hull-House offered hot lunches, child care services, instructions in English, lectures on art and history, parties, and rooms for union meetings. Addams became a spokesperson for the poor, urging city government to provide for better street paving and for the construction of public baths, parks, and playgrounds. She served as garbage inspector for her neighborhood, personally overseeing collections every morning, and was elected to the Chicago Board of Education.

Hull-House made a difference, not only by helping improve the lives of many people but also by helping change cultural attitudes toward the poor. It was commonly believed that poverty resulted from an individual's personal failings, but Addams was instrumental in showing that social and economic conditions did impoverish people. Likewise, she challenged the traditional role of women in American society, which typically had women remaining at home caring for house, husband, and children. Hull-House not only provided a place where young women could develop meaningful careers, but it also expanded the possibilities for women in American society.

Things to remember while reading the excerpt from Twenty Years at Hull-House, with Autobiographical Notes:

  • By recounting stories of impoverished people helping each other, Addams wanted to show the moral strength of downtrodden, or poor and discouraged, people. She challenged the widespread belief that those living in poverty are there because of personal failings. Addams emphasized that social and economic conditions impoverish people.
  • Chicago was the site of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, also called the Chicago World's Fair. The fair was held during the 400-year anniversary of Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus' (1451–1506) discovery of America in 1492. The grand fair included massive displays of progress, including new inventions. In addition, more than 200 buildings were constructed to celebrate architecture, the arts, and industrial America. Among the many amusements at the fair was the first Ferris wheel, an enormous revolving wheel in which passengers sit in cars that are suspended from its rim. Within miles of the World's Fair, however, many people lived in crushing poverty. Many more people became impoverished by a severe downturn in the American economy that year. The grand fair being so close to poor sections of Chicago showed the extremes between the rich and poor in America.
  • In the nineteenth century, federal, state, and local governments provided little in the way of social services. For example, they didn't help provide daycare facilities, where babies of working parents could be cared for during working hours, or financial assistance that could help families cope with day to day hardships.
  • Addams mentions British author Charles Booth (1840–1916) in her book. Booth wrote Life and Labour of the People of London, published in seventeen volumes from 1891 to 1903. Skeptical about a claim that 25 percent of the people in London, England, were living in poverty, Booth recruited a team of researchers for a city-wide survey. The results showed that even more Londoners, 35 percent, were living in poverty. Booth described their living conditions, argued that the government should assume responsibility for them, and proposed that the government provide pensions, or monthly payments, for the elderly.

Excerpt from Twenty Years at Hull-House, with Autobiographical Notes

I recall a certain Mrs. Moran, who was returning one rainy day from the office of the county agent with her arms full of paper bags containing beans and flour which alone lay between her children and starvation. Although she had no money she boarded a street car in order to save her booty [possessions] from complete destruction by the rain, and as the burst bags dropped "flour on the ladies' dresses" and "beans all over the place," she was sharply reprimanded [scolded] by the conductor, who was the further exasperated [angered] when he discovered she had no fare. He put her off, as she had hoped he would, almost in front of Hull-House. She related to us her state of mind as she stepped off the car and saw the last of her wares [goods] disappearing; she admitted she forgot the proprieties [manners] and "cursed a little," but, curiously enough, she pronounced her malediction [bad language], not against the rain nor the conductor, nor yet against the worthless husband who had been sent up to the city prison, but, true to the Chicago spirit of the moment, went to the root of the matter and roundly "cursed poverty."

This spirit of generalization and lack of organization among the charitable forces of the city was painfully revealed in that terrible winter after the World's Fair, when the general financial depression throughout the country was much intensified in Chicago by the numbers of unemployed stranded at the close of the exposition. When the first cold weather came the police stations and the very corridors of the city hall were crowded by men who could afford no other lodging….

It was also during this winter that I became permanently impressed with the kindness of the poor to each other; the woman who lives upstairs will willingly share her breakfast with the family below because she knows they "are hard up"; the man who boarded with them last winter will give a month's rent because he knows the father of the family is out of work; the baker across the street who is fast being pushed to the wall by his downtown competitors, will send across three loaves of stale bread because he has seen the children looking longingly into his window and suspects they are hungry. There are also the families who, during times of business depression, are obliged to seek help from the county or some benevolent [charitable] society, but who are themselves most anxious not to be confounded [confused] with the pauper class, with whom indeed they do not in the least belong. Charles Booth, in his brilliant chapter on the unemployed, expresses regret that the problems of the working class are so often confounded with the problems of the inefficient and the idle, that although working people live in the same street with those in need of charity, to thus confound two problems is to render the solution of both impossible.

I remember one family in which the father had been out of work for this same winter, most of the furniture had been pawned [sold for cash], and as the worn-out shoes could not be replaced the children could not go to school. The mother was ill and barely able to come for the supplies and medicines. Two years later she invited me to supper one Sunday evening in the little home which had been completely restored, and she gave as a reason for the invitation that she couldn't bear to have me remember them as they had been during that one winter, which she insisted had been unique in her twelve years of married life. She said that it was as if she had met me, not as I am ordinarily, but as I should appear misshapen with rheumatism or with a face distorted by neuralgic pain; that it was not fair to judge poor people that way. She perhaps unconsciously illustrated the difference between the relief-station relation to the poor and the Settlement relation to its neighbors, the latter wishing to know them through all the varying conditions of life, to stand by when they are in distress, but by no means to drop intercourse [communication] with them when normal prosperity has returned, enabling the relation to become more social and free from economic disturbance.

Possibly something of the same effort has to be made within the Settlement itself to keep its own sense of proportion in regard to the relation of the crowded city quarter to the rest of the country. It was in the spring following this terrible winter, during a journey to meet lecture engagements in California, that I found myself amazed at the large stretches of open country and prosperous towns through which we passed day by day, whose existence I had quite forgotten.

In the latter part of the summer of 1895, I served as a member on a commission appointed by the mayor of Chicago, to investigate conditions in the county poorhouse, public attention having become centered on it through one of those distressing stories, which exaggerates the wrong in a public institution while at the same time it reveals conditions which need to be rectified [corrected]. However necessary publicity is for securing reformed administration, however useful such exposures may be for political purposes, the whole is attended by such a waste of the most precious human emotions, by such a tearing of living tissue, that it can scarcely be endured. Every time I entered Hull-House during the days of the investigation, I would find waiting for me from twenty to thirty people whose friends and relatives were in the suspected institution, all in such acute distress [very upset] of mind that to see them was to look upon the victims of deliberate torture. In most cases my visitor would state that it seemed impossible to put their invalids in any other place, but if these stories were true, something must be done. Many of the patients were taken out only to be returned after a few days or weeks to meet the sullen [gloomy] hostility of their attendants and with their own attitude changed from confidence to timidity [shyness] and alarm.

This piteous [sad] dependence of the poor upon the good will of public officials was made clear to us in an early experience with a peasant woman straight from the fields of Germany, whom we met during our first six months at Hull-House. Her four years in America had been spent in patiently carrying water up and down two flights of stairs, and in washing the heavy flannel suits of iron foundry workers. For this her pay had averaged thirty-five cents a day. Three of her daughters had fallen victims to the vice of the city. The mother was bewildered and distressed, but understood nothing. We were able to induce [convince] the betrayer of one daughter to marry her; the second, after a tedious [drawn out] lawsuit, supported his child; with the third we were able to do nothing. This woman is now living with her family in a little house seventeen miles from the city. She has made two payments on her land and is a lesson to all beholders as she pastures her cow up and down the railroad tracks and makes money from her ten acres. She did not need charity for she had an immense capacity for hard work, but she sadly needed the service of the State's attorney office, enforcing the laws designed for the protection of such girls as her daughters.

We early found ourselves spending many hours in efforts to secure support for deserted women, insurance for bewildered widows, damages for injured operators, furniture from the clutches of the installment store. The Settlement is valuable as an information and interpretation bureau. It constantly acts between the various institutions of the city and the people for whose benefit these institutions were erected. The hospitals, the county agencies, and State asylums are often but vague rumors to the people who need them most. Another function of the Settlement to its neighborhood resembles that of the big brother whose mere presence on the playground protects the little one from bullies.

We early learned to know the children of hard-driven mothers who went out to work all day, sometimes leaving the little things in the casual care of a neighbor, but often locking them into their tenement rooms. The first three crippled children we encountered in the neighborhood had all been injured while their mothers were at work: one had fallen out of a third-story window, another had been burned, and the third had a curved spine due to the fact that for three years he had been tied all day long to the leg of the kitchen table, only released at noon by his older brother who hastily ran in from a neighboring factory to share his lunch with him. When the hot weather came the restless children could not brook [tolerate] the confinement of the stuffy rooms, and, as it was not considered safe to leave the doors open because of sneak thieves, many of the children were locked out. During our first summer an increasing number of these poor little mites [children] would wander into the cool hallway of Hull-House. We kept them there and fed them at noon, in return for which we were sometimes offered a hot penny which had been held in a tight little fist "ever since mother left this morning, to buy something to eat with." Out of kindergarten hours our little guests noisily enjoyed the hospitality of our bedrooms under the so-called care of any resident who volunteered to keep an eye on them, but later they were moved into a neighboring apartment under more systematic [formalized] supervision.

Hull-House was thus committed to a day nursery which we sustained for sixteen years first in a little cottage on a side street and then in a building designed for its use called the Children's House. It is now carried on by the United Charities of Chicago in a finely equipped building on our block, where the immigrant mothers are cared for as well as the children, and where they are taught the things which will make life in America more possible. Our early day nursery brought us into natural relations with the poorest women of the neighborhood, many of whom were bearing the burden of dissolute [unfaithful] and incompetent husbands in addition to the support of their children. Some of them presented an impressive manifestation [demonstration] of that miracle of affection which outlives abuse, neglect, and crime,—the affection which cannot be plucked from the heart where it has lived, although it may serve only to torture and torment. "Has your husband come back?" you inquire of Mrs. S., whom you have known for eight years as an overworked woman bringing her three delicate children every morning to the nursery; she is bent under the double burden of earning the money which supports them and giving them the tender care which alone keeps them alive. The oldest two children have at last gone to work, and Mrs. S. has allowed herself the luxury of staying at home two days a week. And now the worthless husband is back again—the "gentlemanly gambler" type who, through all vicissitudes [life's changes], manages to present a white shirtfront and a gold watch to the world, but who is dissolute [immoral], idle and extravagant. You dread to think how much his presence will increase the drain upon the family exchequer [savings], and you know that he stayed away until he was certain that the children were old enough to earn money for his luxuries. Mrs. S. does not pretend to take his return lightly, but she replies in all seriousness and simplicity, "You know my feeling for him has never changed. You may think me foolish, but I was always proud of his good looks and educated appearance. I was lonely and homesick during those eight years when the children were little and needed so much doctoring, but I could never bring myself to feel hard toward him, and I used to pray the good Lord to keep him from harm and bring him back to us; so, of course, I'm thankful now." She passes on with a dignity which gives one a new sense of the security of affection.

I recall a similar case of a woman who had supported her three children for five years, during which time her dissolute husband constantly demanded money for drink [alcohol] and kept her perpetually worried and intimidated. One Saturday, before the "blessed Easter," he came back from a long debauch, ragged and filthy, but in a state of lachrymose repentance. The poor wife received him as a returned prodigal, believed that his remorse [regret] would prove lasting, and felt sure that if she and the children went to church with him on Easter Sunday and he could be induced to take the pledge before the priest, all their troubles would be ended. After hours of vigorous effort and the expenditure of all her savings, he finally sat on the front doorstep the morning of Easter Sunday, bathed, shaved and arrayed [dressed] in a fine new suit of clothes. She left him sitting there in the reluctant spring sunshine while she finished washing and dressing the children. When she finally opened the front door with the three shining children that they might all set forth together, the returned prodigal had disappeared, and was not seen again until midnight, when he came back in a glorious state of intoxication [drunkenness] from the proceeds of his pawned clothes and clad once more in the dingiest [dirtiest] attire. She took him in without comment, only to begin again the wretched cycle. There were of course instances of the criminal husband as well as of the merely vicious. I recall one woman who, during seven years, never missed a visiting day at the penitentiary when she might see her husband, and whose little children in the nursery proudly reported the messages from father with no notion that he was in disgrace, so absolutely did they reflect the gallant [courageous] spirit of their mother.

While one was filled with admiration for these heroic women, something was also to be said for some of the husbands, for the sorry men who, for one reason or another, had failed in the struggle of life. Sometimes this failure was purely economic and the men were competent to give the children, whom they were not able to support, the care and guidance and even education which were of the highest value. Only a few months ago I met upon the street one of the early nursery mothers who for five years had been living in another part of the city, and in response to my query as to the welfare of her five children, she bitterly replied, "All of them except Mary have been arrested at one time or another, thank you." In reply to my remark that I thought her husband had always had such admirable control over them, she burst out, "That has been the whole trouble. I got tired taking care of him and didn't believe that his laziness was all due to his health, as he said, so I left him and said that I would support the children, but not him. From that minute the trouble with the four boys began. I never knew what they were doing, and after every sort of a scrape I finally put Jack and the twins into institutions where I pay for them. Joe has gone to work at last, but with a disgraceful record behind him. I tell you I ain't so sure that because a woman can make big money that she can be both father and mother to her children."

As I walked on, I could but wonder in which particular we are most stupid—to judge a man's worth so solely by his wage-earning capacity that a good wife feels justified in leaving him, or in holding fast to that wretched delusion [false belief] that a woman can both support and nurture her children.

One of the most piteous revelations of the futility [uselessness] of the latter attempt came to me through the mother of "Goosie," as the children for years called a little boy who, because he was brought to the nursery wrapped up in his mother's shawl, always had his hair filled with the down and small feathers from the feather brush factory where she worked. One March morning, Goosie's mother was hanging out the washing on a shed roof before she left for the factory. Five-year-old Goosie was trotting at her heels handing her clothes pins, when he was suddenly blown off the roof by the high wind into the alley below. His neck was broken by the fall, and as he lay piteous and limp on a pile of frozen refuse [waste], his mother cheerily called him to "climb up again," so confident do overworked mothers become that their children cannot get hurt. After the funeral, as the poor mother sat in the nursery postponing the moment when she must go back to her empty rooms, I asked her, in a futile effort to be of comfort, if there was anything more we could do for her. The overworked, sorrow-stricken woman looked up and replied, "If you could give me my wages for to-morrow, I would not go to work in the factory at all. I would like to stay at home all day and hold the baby. Goosie was always asking me to take him and I never had any time." This statement revealed the condition of many nursery mothers who are obliged to forego the joys and solaces [comforts] which belong to even the most poverty-stricken. The long hours of factory labor necessary for earning the support of a child leave no time for the tender care and caressing which may enrich the life of the most piteous baby.

With all of the efforts made by modern society to nurture and educate the young, how stupid it is to permit the mothers of young children to spend themselves in the coarser [rougher] work of the world! It is curiously inconsistent that with the emphasis which this generation has placed upon the mother and upon the prolongation of infancy, we constantly allow the waste of this most precious material. I cannot recall without indignation [fury] a recent experience. I was detained late one evening in an office building by a prolonged committee meeting of the Board of Education. As I came out at eleven o'clock, I met in the corridor of the fourteenth floor a woman whom I knew, on her knees scrubbing the marble tiling. As she straightened up to greet me, she seemed so wet from her feet up to her chin, that I hastily inquired the cause. Her reply was that she left home at five o'clock every night and had no opportunity for six hours to nurse her baby. Her mother's milk mingled with the very water with which she scrubbed the floors until she should return at midnight, heated and exhausted, to feed her screaming child with what remained within her breasts.

These are only a few of the problems connected with the lives of the poorest people with whom the residents in a Settlement are constantly brought in contact.

What happened next …

By 1893 Hull-House had expanded to become the center of neighborhood activity, offering day care for children, a gymnasium, medical help, a playground, courses in cooking and sewing, and a boardinghouse for working girls. Hull-House activists pressured the Chicago city government to pass the first Illinois factory-inspection act in 1893 to help ensure worker safety.

Hull-House quickly became a model of the settlement house movement, and settlement houses began appearing in other major cities. Hull-House was a meeting place of reformers who became leaders of national campaigns for protective labor legislation for women, for the elimination of child labor, for factory inspection laws, and for women's suffrage (the right to vote). Addams served on the Chicago school board from 1905 to 1909. By 1907 the Hull-House complex included thirteen buildings spread over a large city block.

Addams became a popular lecturer and was involved in a movement for world peace. She wrote numerous articles and such books as Democracy and Social Ethics (1902), Newer Ideals of Peace (1907), The Spirit of Youth in the City Streets (1909), in addition to Twenty Years at Hull-House. When World War I (1914–18) broke out in Europe in 1914, Adams helped form the Women's Peace Party, which was dedicated to finding a quick peace agreement and establishing a permanent international peacekeeping organization. She traveled throughout Europe advocating these ideas. In 1931 she was co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts. Addams died in Chicago in 1935.

Did you know …

  • In 1912 Addams was a delegate, or representative, to the first national convention of the Progressive Party, apolitical group that had broken off from the Republican party. After Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; served 1901–09) was nominated as the party's candidate for president, Addams was the second speaker to support the nomination.
  • Addams was awarded an honorary degree by Yale University in 1910, becoming the first woman to receive such an honor.
  • The Jane Addams Children's Book Award has been presented annually since 1953 by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and the Jane Addams Peace Association. The award honors the children's book of the preceding year that most effectively promotes the causes of peace, social justice, and world community.

Consider the following …

  • Through her efforts with Hull-House, Addams earned a reputation as a responsible citizen who addressed social problems by participating constructively in her community. What problems do you see in your own neighborhood and what is being done about them? Has a program been implemented recently to help? Try the exercise of writing a letter to your local city service branch, explaining the problem you see, and inquiring about when it will be addressed.
  • Research volunteer organizations in your community and what steps they take to help with community problems. Write an essay that compares their example of improving the common good with what you have learned about Jane Addams and Hull-House.

For More Information


Addams, Jane. Democracy and Social Ethics. New York: Macmillan, 1902.

Addams, Jane. New Ideals of Peace. New York: Macmillan, 1907.

Addams, Jane. The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets. New York: Macmillan, 1909.

Addams, Jane. Twenty Years at Hull-House, with Autobiographical Notes. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1912.

Diliberto, Gioia. A Useful Woman: The Early Life of Jane Addams. New York: Scribner, 1999.

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

Knight, Louise W. Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Linn, James Weber. Jane Addams: A Biography. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Simon, Charnan. Jane Addams: Pioneer Social Worker. New York: Children's Press, 1998.


Jane Addams Hull House. (accessed on June 11, 2006).

Jane Addams Hull-House Museum at the University of Illinois at Chicago. (accessed on June 11, 2006).

Street car: A form of public transportation in which vehicles run on rails laid into the street.

Put her off: Made her get off the street car.

Financial depression: A period of hardship because of poor economic conditions.

Boarded: Renting a room in a residence and receiving meals for a fee.

Pushed to the wall: Put out of business.

Charles Booth: (1840–1916), British author of Life and Labour of the People of London, who revealed the conditions of the poor in England.

Rheumatism: A painful condition in the muscles, tendons, joints, bones, or nerves.

Neuralgic: Pertaining to the nervous system.

Relief-station: A government agency for the poor.

Poorhouse: A temporary shelter for homeless people.

Invalids: Persons suffering from a chronic illness or from a physical disability.

Vice: Criminal behavior; in this instance, of a sexual nature.

Asylums: Places of refuge or shelter; can also refer to hospitals for the mentally ill.

Tenement: A building, usually in a poor neighborhood, that is divided up into many small apartments.

Long debauch: Drinking alcohol over an extended period of time.

Lachrymose repentance: Tearful sorrow for his wrongdoings.

Returned prodigal: One who returns after wasting away both money and opportunities.

Prolongation: To make longer, to lengthen.

Addams, Jane

views updated May 14 2018

Jane Addams

Excerpts from Twenty Years at Hull-House, with Autobiographical Notes

Published in 1910

"Civilization is a method of living and an attitude of equal respect for all people."

Jane Addams (1860–1935) is regarded as the first social worker (someone who helps people with a variety of social problems, such as poverty) in the United States. As a young woman she graduated from Rockford College and afterwards decided to pursue a career. Going to college and having a career were both unusual events for women in her era. In the late 1800s, young women were expected to get married and stay at home, but this did not appeal to Addams.

In 1889 she and a college friend, Ellen Gates Starr (1859–1940), founded what came to be called Hull-House. Addams rented an old mansion at the corner of Polk and Halsted Streets in Chicago, a neighborhood filled with recent immigrants from Italy, Russia, Poland, Ireland, Germany, Greece, and Bohemia (a region of today's Czech Republic). She moved her own furniture into the house, and made it available to neighborhood residents, particularly young working-class women.

It was the first so-called settlement house, a place where workers new to the city could find a safe, clean place to stay and to gather. Chicago in the 1880s was in some respects a hostile environment for young women coming from Europe who did not speak English and had little money. Hull-House became a place where they could find day care and a kindergarten for their children, an employment bureau to help them find jobs, as well as a library and classes in art and music.

It also represented an alternative approach to dealing with the social problems, such as unemployment or poverty, created by the rise of large factories filled with machinery, the process known as the Industrial Revolution. Rather than taking a political approach—by campaigning for candidates friendly to working people, for example—Jane Addams took the more personal approach of extending help directly to workers. Hull-House was the core of a reform movement whose participants worked to achieve a long string of improvements, including special courts for juveniles, laws protecting women and children from abuses in factories, and laws regulating the hours and conditions under which children worked. It also established self-help organizations like the Immigrants Protective League, which showed poor workers from other cultures how to help themselves.

Things to remember while reading excerpts from Twenty Years at Hull-House:

  • When Jane Addams and Ellen Starr founded Hull-House, most poor working-class people had few, if any, places to turn for help (with the exception of religious-based charities). Addams was among the first to see that the needs of immigrants extended beyond money and food; they needed help in getting used to a new culture in the United States, help in taking care of babies and small children, and help in becoming educated. Long before business tycoon Andrew Carnegie (see entry) helped pay for building public libraries, Addams established a small public library at Hull-House.
  • Addams did not conduct her work without criticism. Her telling of the story of Hull-House includes some gentle jabs at people who mocked her work. For example, she tells of a plan to establish a public bathhouse, where workers could bathe since the homes of many workers lacked indoor plumbing. Some critics, after seeing in some tenements that bathtubs were being used to hold coal (commonly used in stoves to heat houses in the 1880s), concluded that immigrants did not want to bathe. Addams demonstrated that such remarks did not take into account the lack of hot, running water, and ignored the fact that immigrants wanted and needed to bathe just like everyone else.
  • Although Addams's main thrust was not politics, she discovered that Hull-House could be useful in organizing local political campaigns aimed at such improvements as, for example, getting streets paved in Chicago's poorer neighborhoods. These small-scale efforts helped demonstrate the power of cooperative action, and made immigrants feel part of American society.

Excerpts from Twenty Years at Hull-House: From Chapter 5, "First Days at Hull-House"

The next January found Miss Starr and myself in Chicago, searching for a neighborhood in which we might put our plans into execution. In our eagerness to win friends for the new undertaking, we utilized every opportunity to set forth the meaning of the Settlement as it had been embodied atToynbee Hall , although in those days we made no appeal for money, meaning to start with our own slender resources. From the very first the plan received courteous attention, and the discussion, while often skeptical, was always friendly. Professor Swing wrote a commendatory column in the Evening Journal, and our early speeches were reported quite out of proportionto their worth. I recall a spirited evening at the home of Mrs. Wilmarth, which was attended by that renowned scholar,Thomas Davidson , and by a young Englishman who was a member of the then newFabian society and to whom a peculiar glamour was attached because he had scoured knives all summer in a camp of high-minded philosophers in theAdirondacks . Our new little plan met with criticism, not to say disapproval, from Mr. Davidson, who, as nearly as I can remember, called it "one of those unnatural attempts to understand life through cooperative living."

Toynbee Hall:
A model for Hull-House, established in London in 1884.
Thomas Davidson (1840–1900):
A Scottish-American photographer.
Fabian society:
A British debating society advocating socialism.
A mountain chain in New York State.

It was in vain we asserted that the collective living was not an essential part of the plan, that we would alwaysscrupulously pay our own expenses, and that at any moment we might decide to scatter through the neighborhood and to live in separatetenements; he still contended that the fascination for most of those volunteering residence would lie in the collective living aspect of the Settlement. His contention was, of course, essentially sound; there is a constant tendency for the residents to "lose themselves in the cave of their own companionship," as the Toynbee Hall phrase goes, but on the other hand, it is doubtless true that the very companionship, the give and take of colleagues, is what tends to keep the Settlement normal and in touch with "the world of things as they are." I am happy to say that we never resented this nor any other difference of opinion, and that fifteen years later Professor Davidson handsomely acknowledged that the advantages of a group far outweighed the weaknesses he had early pointed out. He was at that later moment sharing with a group of young men, on the East Side of New York, his ripest conclusions in philosophy and was much touched by their intelligent interest and absorbed devotion. I think that time has also justified our earlycontention that the merefoothold of a house, easily accessible, ample in space, hospitable and tolerant in spirit, situated in the midst of the large foreign colonies which so easily isolate themselves in American cities, would be in itself a serviceable thing for Chicago. I am not so sure that we succeeded in our endeavors "to make social intercourse express the growing sense of the economic unity of society and to add the social function to democracy." But Hull-House wassoberly opened on the theory that the dependence of classes on each other isreciprocal ; and that as the social relation is essentially a reciprocal relation, it gives a form of expression that has peculiar value.


In our search for a vicinity in which to settle we went about with the officers of the compulsory education department, with city missionaries, and with the newspaper reporters whom I recall as a much older set of men than one ordinarily associates with that profession,
or perhaps I was only sent out with the older ones on what they must all have considered aquixotic mission. One Sunday afternoon in the late winter a reporter took me to visit a so-calledanarchist Sunday school, several of which were to be found on the northwest side of the city. The young man in charge was of the German student type, and his face flushed with enthusiasm as he led the children singing one ofKoerner's poems. The newspaperman, who did not understand German, asked me whatabominable stuffthey were singing, but he seemed dissatisfied with my translation of the simple words and darkly intimated that they were "deep ones," and had probably "fooled" me. When I replied that Koerner was an ardent German poet whose songs inspired his countrymen to resist the aggressions of Napoleon, and that his bound poems were found in the most respectable libraries, he looked at me ratheraskance and I then and there had my firstintimation that to treat a Chicago man, who is called an anarchist, as you would treat any other citizen, is to lay yourself open to deep suspicion.

Impractical, difficult.
Person who believes in a lack of formal authority/government.
Thomas Koerner, nineteenth-century German poet.

Another Sunday afternoon in the early spring, on the way to aBohemian mission in the carriage of one of its founders, we passed a fine old house standing well back from the street, surrounded on three sides by a broadpiazza , which was supported by wooden pillars of exceptionally pureCorinthian design and proportion. I was so attracted by the house that I set forth to visit it the very next day, but though I searched for it then and for several days after, I could not find it, and at length I most reluctantly gave up the search.

A region of what is now the Czech Republic in Europe.
Public square.
Ancient Roman.

Three weeks later, with the advice of several of the oldest residents of Chicago, including the ex-mayor of the city,Colonel Mason , who had from the first been a warm friend to our plans, we decided upon a location somewhere near the junction of Blue Island Avenue, Halsted Street, and Harrison Street. I was surprised and overjoyed on the very first day of our search for quarters to come upon the hospitable old house, the quest for which I had so recently abandoned. The house was of course rented, the lower part of it used for offices and storerooms in connection with a factory that stood back of it. However, after some difficulties were overcome, it proved to be possible tosublet the second floor and what had been a large drawing-room on the first floor.

Colonel Mason:
Roswell B. Mason (1805–1892), mayor of Chicago.

The house had passed through many changes since it had been built in 1856 for the homestead of one of Chicago's pioneer citizens, Mr. Charles J. Hull, and although battered by itsvicissitudes , was essentially sound. Before it had been occupied by the factory, it had sheltered a second-hand furniture store, and at one time theLittle Sisters of the Poor had used it for a home for the aged. It had a half-skeptical reputation for a haunted attic, so far respected by the tenants living on the second floor that they always kept a large pitcher full of water on the attic stairs. Their explanation of this custom was soincoherent that I was sure it was a survival of the belief that a ghost could not cross running water, but perhaps that interpretation was only my eagerness for finding folklore.

Ups and downs.
Little Sisters of the Poor:
A Catholic charity.
Hard to understand.

The fine old house responded kindly to repairs, its wide hall and open fireplace always insuring it a gracious aspect. Its generous owner, Miss Helen Culver, in the following spring gave us a free leasehold of the entire house. Her kindness has continued through the years until the group of thirteen buildings, which at present comprises our equipment, is built largely upon land which Miss Culver has put at the service of the Settlement which bears Mr. Hull's name. In those days the house stood between anundertaking establishment and a saloon. "Knight, Death and the Devil," the three were called by a Chicago wit, and yet any mock heroics which might be implied by comparing the Settlement to a knight quickly dropped away under the genuine kindness and hearty welcome extended to us by the families living up and down the street.


We furnished the house as we would have furnished it were it in another part of the city, with the photographs and otherimpedimenta we had collected in Europe, and with a few bits of familymahogany . While all the new furniture which was bought was enduring in quality, we were careful to keep it in character with the fine old residence. Probably no youngmatron ever placed her own things in her own house with more pleasure than that with which we first furnished Hull-House. We believed that the Settlement may logically bring to its aid all thoseadjuncts which the cultivated man regards as good and suggestive of the best of the life of the past.

Wooden furniture.
A woman in charge of the household affairs of an institution.
Aspects of life.

On the 18th of September, 1889, Miss Starr and I moved into it, with Miss Mary Keyser, who began performing the housework, but who quickly developed into a very important factor in the life of the vicinity as well as that of the household, and whose death five years later was most sincerely mourned by hundreds of our neighbors.

In our enthusiasm over "settling," the first night we forgot not only to lock but to close a side door opening on Polk Street, and we were much pleased in the morning to find that we possessed a fine illustration of the honesty and kindliness of our new neighbors.…

From Chapter 7, "Some Early Undertakings at Hull-House"

At a meeting of working girls held at Hull-House during a strike in a large shoe factory [in which employees refused to work until demands for better pay or conditions were met], the discussions made it clear that the strikers who had been most easily frightened, and therefore first tocapitulate , were naturally those girls who werepayingboard and were afraid of being put out if they fell too far behind. After a recital of a case of peculiar hardship one of them exclaimed: "Wouldn't it be fine if we had a boarding club of our own, and then we could stand by each other in a time like this?" After that events moved quickly. We read aloud together Beatrice Potter's little book on "Cooperation," and discussed all the difficulties and fascinations of such an undertaking, and on the first of May, 1891, two comfortable apartments near Hull-House were rented and furnished. The Settlement was responsible for the furniture and paid the first month's rent, but beyond that the members managed the club themselves. The undertaking "marched," as the French say, from the very first, and always on its own feet. Although there were difficulties, none of them provedinsurmountable, which was a matter for great satisfaction in the face of a statement made by the head of theUnited States Department of Labor, who, on a visit to the club when it was but two years old, said that his department had investigated many cooperative undertakings, and that none founded and managed by women had ever succeeded. At the end of the third year the club occupied all of the six apartments which the original building contained, and numbered fifty members.

Give in.
Meals in a rented room.
Impossible to overcome.
United States Department of Labor:
Agency of the federal government.

From Chapter 14, "Civic Cooperation"

In our first two summers we had maintained three baths in the basement of our own house for the use of the neighborhood, and they afforded some experience and argument for the erection of the first public bathhouse in Chicago, which was built on a neighboring street and opened under the city Board of Health. The lot upon which it was erected belonged to a friend of Hull-House who offered it to the city without rent, and this enabled the city to erect the first public bath from the smallappropriation of ten thousand dollars. Great fear was expressed by the public authorities that the baths would not be used, and the old story of the bathtubs in model tenements which had been turned into coal bins was often quoted to us. We were supplied, however, with theincontrovertible argument that in our adjacent third square mile there were in 1892 but three bathtubs and that this fact was much complained of by many of the tenement-house dwellers. Ourcontention was justified by the immediate and overflowing use of the public baths, as we had before been sustained in the contention that an immigrant population would respond to opportunities for reading when the Public Library Board had established a branch reading room at Hull-House.

Public expenditure of funds.
Without doubt.

We also quickly discovered that nothing brought us so absolutely intocomradeship with our neighbors as mutual and sustained effort such as the paving of a street, the closing of a gambling house, or the restoration of a veteran police sergeant.


Several of these earlier attempts at civic cooperation were undertaken in connection with the Hull-House Men's Club, which had been organized in the spring of 1893, had beenincorporated under a Statecharter of its own, and had occupied a club room in the gymnasium.


What happened next …

Many of the goals advocated by Jane Addams eventually were achieved. The practice of social work—extending help to people in need, not only money and food but also counseling and other services—has largely been taken over by government agencies, although private associations like Hull-House continue to play an important role.

Addams's experiments in social reform helped demonstrate the many dimensions of the Industrial Revolution. Although the Industrial Revolution was sparked by technological advances, such as the steam engine and the factory system, it was a "revolution" in the sense that it also profoundly changed the nature of society, giving rise to huge cities where people could not always depend on their individual resources or on family ties to become established.

Did you know …

Jane Addams did not limit her activities to Hull-House. In 1894 she helped establish the National Federation of Settlements. In 1911 she led the Consumers League and was the first woman president of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections. She also was a vice president of the Campfire Girls and active in the National Child Labor Committee, as well as in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union. She also found time to campaign actively for women's right to vote.

For more information


Addams, Jane. Twenty Years at Hull-House, with Autobiographical Notes. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1910.

Elshtain, Jean Bethke. Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy: A Life. New York: Basic Books, 2002.

Parks, Deborah A. Jane Addams: Freedom's Innovator. Alexandria, VA: Time Life Education, 1999.

Polacheck, Hilda Satt. I Came a Stranger: The Story of a Hull-House Girl. Edited by Dena J. Polacheck Epstein. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989.

Polikoff, Barbara Garland. With One Bold Act: The Story of Jane Addams. Chicago: Boswell Books, 1999.

Wheeler, Leslie. Jane Addams. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Silver Burdett Press, 1990.


Johnson, Geoffrey. "Sisterhood Was Powerful: The Inspiration for Hull House was Jane Addams's. But She Couldn't Have Pulled Off Her Great Social Experiment without a Little Help from a Friend." Chicago 38, (November 1989), p. 192.

Kornblatt, Mark, and Pamela Renner. "'Saint' Jane." Scholastic Update 122, (February 23, 1990), p. 10.

Web Sites

Addams, Jane. "Twenty Years at Hull-House with Autobiographical Notes." University of Pennsylvania: A Celebration of Women Writers. (accessed on April 11, 2003).

"Jane Addams." About Women's History. (accessed on April 11, 2003).

"Jane Addams—Biography." Nobel E-Museum. (accessed on April 11, 2003).

Addams, Jane

views updated May 14 2018

Jane Addams

BORN: September 6, 1860 • Cedarville, Illinois

DIED: May 21, 1935 • Chicago, Illinois

Social reformer; peace activist

"Old-fashioned ways which no longer apply to changed conditions are a snare in which the feet of women have always become readily entangled."

Jane Addams dedicated her life to helping others. She was the founder of Hull-House, one of the first settlement houses (community centers) in America. Hull-House was built in the center of the poorest section of Chicago, Illinois. Opened on September 8, 1889, the center quickly became the heart and soul of its immigrant (foreign-born) neighborhood. By its second year of operation, Hull-House served two thousand people each week. Young children could attend kindergarten there, while older children participated in academic and social clubs. Adults could learn basic skills such as reading and writing, but they also were taught important skills such as how to balance budgets and how to keep their homes and children healthy and safe. Eventually, thirteen buildings were added to the original structure, and Hull-House occupied an entire block in its Chicago neighborhood.

Freed by ideas, imprisoned by expectations

Born on September 6, 1860, Laura Jane Addams was the eighth child of Sarah and John Addams. The Cedarville, Illinois, family prospered, thanks to the good business sense of Addams's father, who owned a mill and, eventually, a bank. He was also a politician who served in the state senate for sixteen years; his influence helped build Cedarville into a thriving town. Jenny, as Addams was called in her childhood, lost her mother to illness before her third birthday. Her eldest sister, Mary, took over the responsibility of raising the seven other Addams children.

Addams was born with curvature of the spine. She spent much of her childhood suffering from strong feelings of insecurity and ugliness. She did not engage in physical activity as young children usually do, but spent a great deal of time instead alongside her father. The two formed a close relationship. From her father, Addams learned the importance of hard work and equality for all people. John Addams also gave his daughter a strong sense of morality and of the responsibility to help other people.

Young Jane Addams dealt with inner conflict because of the teachings of her father. She believed that her life had a higher purpose, that she had a duty—because of her good fortune and life of comfort—to help others less fortunate than herself. Yet she lived in an era when women were expected to do nothing more than marry and raise children. Even as her father encouraged her to read and learn, he did so only because he believed this knowledge would make her a better wife and mother. Addams longed to attend college in the eastern United States where she might make a life of her own; instead, her father sent her to nearby Rockford Female Seminary. She graduated as valedictorian (highest ranking student) of her class in 1881 with plans to attend medical school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. These plans directly conflicted with her father's wishes, but their relationship was such that he respected her enough to let her make this major decision.

Addams did not last long in medical school. Her father died suddenly of a burst appendix. Around that same time, Addams's own health took a turn for the worse. She spent years in and out of the hospital and after spinal surgery needed six months of bed rest. After her recovery, Addams traveled around Europe for nearly two years. She took another two years to write and figure out what she wanted to do with her life.

Finds inspiration in England

During a second trip to Europe, this time in 1888, twenty-seven-year-old Addams and her close friend Ellen Gates Starr (1859–1940) visited a settlement house in London. Toynbee Hall was Britain's first university settlement. There, college students worked together to help improve the lives of the city's poverty-stricken population. Addams and Starr were so impressed with the settlement project that they returned to America determined to develop their own settlement house.

The following year, the two women leased a large, rundown building on the corner of Polk and Halsted Streets, in the heart of Chicago's immigrant slum (a district marked by intense poverty and filth). Starr and Addams moved into the building with the goal of restoring it and providing the families of the neighborhood with a place to go where they could improve themselves while at the same time form a sense of community with one another. Although Hull-House was not the first settlement house in America, it would be the most famous (see box).

The birth of Hull-House

Addams and Starr gave public speeches about their intentions for Hull-House and raised money to help fund the renovations. They addressed political leaders, civic clubs, clergy, and women's clubs about the importance of the settlement experience. They convinced the young women of well-to-do families to donate their time to help out at the center. Starr and Addams themselves took on many roles: teacher, caretaker, counselor, advisor, nurse. There was nothing those two women would not do for the visitors of Hull-House.

The settlement became a key component of the immigration experience in Chicago. In 1890, historians estimate that 68 to 80 percent of Chicago's population was foreign born. Immigrants who sailed to America's shores and headed for Chicago went directly to Hull-House, where they knew they could find trustworthy people to help them locate jobs, homes, and food. That year, Hull-House serviced two thousand people each week. The settlement house worked on a number of levels because it did what few other charitable organizations of the time did: It recognized the poverty and squalor (dirty, run-down conditions) that its clients lived in, and it gave them a place to nurture their desire to rise above their economic conditions. With that hope came the means to better themselves, through education and encouragement.

Lillian Wald: New York's Version of Jane Addams

Although she never achieved the same recognition as her peer Jane Addams did, Lillian Wald had as much an impact on New York's East Side as Addams did on Chicago.

Wald was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on March 19, 1867, to a wealthy German Jewish family. Wald attended and graduated from New York Hospital's School of Nursing. Early in her career, she began teaching a class in home nursing. Soon, she experienced for the first time the poverty and overcrowded conditions of New York's East Side immigrants when she made a home visit to treat a person.

That experience inspired Wald to decide to dedicate her life to helping the immigrant poor. With the help of another nurse friend, Wald began working out of a fifth-floor apartment. The two women worked all hours of the day and night, making themselves available to anyone and everyone. Those who could afford the nurses' small fee paid it. Those who could not pay the fee received treatment at no charge. Wald soon became known around the East Side as someone who could be counted on and trusted.

Wald needed money to continue to offer her much-needed services. She approached the wealthy members of the German Jewish community with her request for funding. They did not disappoint her and gave generously. With that money, Wald was able to expand her services. She hired more nurses and even managed to pay them each $15 a month for their work. Some of them refused payment.

Wald realized she would need larger offices. In 1893, she found a house at 265 Henry Street. The house was named Henry Street Settlement. By 1898, Wald employed eleven full-time workers, nine of whom were nurses. By 1916, she had a staff of more than one hundred nurses, yet still managed to keep the services personalized.

Wald convinced insurance companies to provide visiting nurses to their policyholders. In 1903, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company was the first to use her suggestion. The program soon became standard with most major insurance companies. With Wald's encouragement, New York developed a public nursing program. In 1913, Wald placed a nurse from her staff in each public school in the city. The idea was well received, and the New York Board of Health organized and staffed the first public school nursing system in the world.

The Henry Street Settlement acted much like Addams's Hull-House in that it provided free education and clubs for children as well as academic classes and life-skills instruction for adults. In 1915, Wald founded the Neighborhood Playhouse, also on New York's East Side, in an effort to meet the cultural needs of the district's citizens.

The reformer's achievements were many. She persuaded U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt to develop a Federal Children's Bureau to protect children from abuse. She was a key figure in getting labor protection in the form of federal laws for women and children. Wald was a supporter of birth control and women's suffrage. She convinced Columbia University to appoint the first professor of nursing at an American college or university; before that, nursing was taught only in hospitals.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Wald received well-deserved public recognition for her efforts. Among her many awards was her recognition in 1922 by the New York Times as one of the Twelve Greatest Living American Women.

Wald died on September 1, 1940. Her settlement house remains in operation in the twenty-first century and continues to offer social services and arts programming to more than one hundred thousand New Yorkers every year.

Once Hull-House proved itself a worthy cause, Addams and Starr had little problem securing monetary donations to help keep it running.

Free medical care was provided, as was relief for the unemployed. Addams made sure Hull-House clients received education not only in academic subjects but also in skills necessary for daily life. She and others taught immigrants the English language and how to count money and perform simple math calculations. She taught them how to read so that they would know if someone—a landlord, a merchant—was trying to take advantage of them. She made sure they learned how to use the political system to their advantage so that city taxes would be used to help those who truly needed it rather than those who were close friends with local politicians.

One building at a time, the Hull-House settlement grew. The first building added to it was an art gallery, followed by a public kitchen, a coffee house, and a gymnasium. Next came a swimming pool, a cooperative boarding club for girls, a book bindery, an art studio, a music school, and a drama group. Lastly came a public library, an employment bureau, and a labor museum. While parents were inside learning life skills such as cooking and sewing, their babies were in the nursery, and their older children were on the playground or in classes and clubs of their own.

Through the decades, Hull-House continued to provide a safe gathering place for its neighborhood citizens. Under various leaderships and directorships, the settlement project experienced funding and policy conflicts, but these issues always managed to be resolved. In 1961, the University of Illinois at Chicago decided it would build its campus on the site where Hull-House stood. Although the neighborhood fought the decision, Hull-House officially closed its doors in 1963. At that same time, ten thousand urban Americans were evicted from their homes, forced to find somewhere else to live.

Addams goes national

When it became clear that the "experiment" of Hull-House was a success, settlement houses began appearing in every major city across the country. Social reformers used Hull-House as a meeting place. National campaigns on issues such as women's suffrage (right to vote) were planned and developed there. Hull-House far exceeded the expectations of Starr and Addams.

Addams also exceeded her expectations for herself as her reputation grew. In 1905, she was appointed to the Chicago Board of Education and elected as Chairperson of the School Management Committee. Three years later, she helped found the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy (charitable giving). She became the first woman president of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections in 1909. That same year, Addams helped establish the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to promote equality between the races; the organization is still active in the twenty-first century. From 1911 to 1914, Addams was vice president of the National American Women's Suffrage Association, one of the key women's organizations of the era. All the while, she remained at the center of social reform in her beloved Chicago. Addams headed investigations involving city sanitation issues and even accepted a position as garbage inspector for the Nineteenth Ward. (Cities were divided into areas called wards for political and civic reasons.) For her efforts in that position, she received an annual sum of $1,000.

Through it all, a feminist

With roots reaching back to the days when her father taught her that all people were equal, Addams's feminist philosophy motivated her throughout her life, including her endeavors at Hull-House. She believed women should have voting rights. Taking the idea of feminism one step further than most of her peers did during the early twentieth century, she encouraged women to create their own opportunities for growth and development.

Addams was also a pacifist (someone who does not believe in violence of any kind). She traveled the country speaking out on the importance of peace. She gave lectures against America's involvement in World War I (1914–18) and was made chairperson of the Women's Peace Party in 1915. Shortly after that, she was elected president of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom; she held that position until 1929 and was honorary president until her death in 1935.

Addams's public disapproval of America's involvement in the war brought attacks upon her in newspapers and political magazines. As recorded on Spartacus Schoolnet, former U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; served 1901–9; see entry) called Addams and her colleagues "hysterical pacifists," and even some of her former supporters rejected her. Addams did not let the controversy weaken her position; she chose instead to work with soon-to-be-elected U.S. president Herbert Hoover (1874–1964; served 1929–33) in a program that provided food supplies to the women and children of America's enemies in the war. For her many tireless humanitarian efforts, Addams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

Despite her many social and political activities, Addams found time to write. The activist and reformer authored numerous magazine articles on social reform issues and published seven books on social reform and pacifism. Never having married or had children of her own, Addams died, surrounded by friends, on May 21, 1935, three days after an operation revealed that she had cancer.

For More Information


Addams, Jane. The Second Twenty Years at Hull-House. New York: Macmillan, 1930.

Addams, Jane. Twenty Years at Hull-House. New York: Macmillan, 1910. Reprint, New York: Signet Classics, 1999.

Davis, Allen F. American Heroine: The Life and Legend of Jane Addams. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973. Reprint, Chicago: Ivan Dee, 2000.

Elshtain, Jean Bethke, ed. The Jane Addams Reader. New York: Basic Books, 2002.


Harvard University Library: Open Collections Program. "Jane Addams (1860–1935)." Women Working, 1800–1930. (accessed on August 17, 2006).

Henry Street Settlement. (accessed on August 17, 2006).

"Jane Addams." Spartacus Schoolnet. (accessed on August 17, 2006).

"Jane Addams—Biography." (accessed on August 17, 2006).

Krain, Jacob B. "Lillian Wald." The Jewish Magazine. (accessed on August 17, 2006).

"Lillian D. Wald." National Association for Home Care & Hospice. (accessed on August 17, 2006).

PBS. "People & Events: Jane Addams (1860–1935)." American Experience: Chicago, City of the Century. (accessed on August 17, 2006).

Ryan, Alan. "Founding Mother." The New York Review of Books. (accessed on August 17, 2006).

University of Illinois at Chicago. Urban Experience in Chicago: Hull-House and Its Neighborhoods, 1889–1963. (accessed on August 17, 2006).

Addams, Jane

views updated May 23 2018

Jane Addams

Born September 6, 1860 (Cedarville, Illinois)

Died May 21, 1935 (Chicago, Illinois)

Social worker

Jane Addams founded the pioneering social settlement of Hull House in Chicago in 1889. It operated by the principle that only through living among the poor could aid workers truly understand their situation and provide help. She and her fellow workers were women from relatively wealthy and educated backgrounds who were determined to improve the dangerous and unhealthy living conditions in the city's poorer neighborhoods. Located in one such area, Addams's Hull House provided a variety of social services to the largely immigrant population, and it went on to become a model for many other settlement houses and community centers around the United States. Addams was widely known and honored during her lifetime, and in 1931 she became the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for peace.

"Nothing so deadens the sympathies and shrivels the power of enjoyment, as the persistent keeping away from the great opportunities for helpfulness and a continual ignoring of the starvation struggle which makes up the life of at least half the race."

Addams came from the town of Cedarville, Illinois. Her newlywed parents had arrived there not long after the last local Native American tribe, the Pottawatomies, had sold their lands and left the area. She was born Laura Jane Addams on September 6, 1860, the eighth child in her family but only the fifth to survive—cholera (a disease that affects the stomach and intestines) had claimed three previous siblings. When she was two, her pregnant mother collapsed and was taken to bed, but neither mother nor baby survived. Addams later said that this was one of her first memories.

Early life and education

Addams was devoted to her father during her childhood and teens. John Huy Addams (1854–1870) was a prosperous local leader, one of the founders of Cedarville and the owner of the town's sawmill and gristmill (a mill for grinding grain). A native of Pennsylvania, he was a Quaker and was known for his unshakable honesty. He was already serving in the Illinois state senate by the time Addams was born and was friends with another Illinois political figure, future U.S. president Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; served 1861–65).

Addams's father encouraged her to read extensively, and she emerged as an excellent student in her teens. She hoped to enroll at Smith College in Massachusetts, one of the new, women-only Eastern schools that featured a challenging academic program, but her father would not permit it because the school was too far away. Instead she entered nearby Rockford Women's Seminary, as her sisters had done. Addams hoped that she might help the less fortunate in society by becoming a doctor—still a relatively rare occurrence for a woman in her time—but her family was opposed to this plan as well, considering it an unseemly profession for a female. She graduated in 1881 as her class valedictorian.

In the years after she finished at Rockford, Addams occupied her time with travel and independent study, and she took courses at the Women's Medical College of Philadelphia for a time. Ill health forced her to quit, and back at home she was frustrated by the lack of choices open to her outside of marriage and motherhood. Her stepmother, Ann Haldeman Addams, urged her to marry a son from her first marriage, George, whom Addams had thought of as a brother for much of her life, but she rejected this idea. Addams suffered from several health issues during these years, including what may have been chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition marked by tiredness, confusion, and sometimes fever. She also underwent spinal surgery and wore a back brace made from leather, steel, and whalebone.

The rise of Hull House

Addams found her direction in life after an 1888 visit to London, England, where she went to see Toynbee Hall, the first so-called settlement house, which was located in an overcrowded, extremely poor section of the city of Whitechapel. Toynbee Hall was a pleasant contrast to the rest of the area, however. It was the work of Reverend Samuel A. Barnett (1844–1913) and was staffed by Oxford University students. The idea was to live among the poor, which was believed to be the best way to improve their living conditions and show a commitment to Christian charity and helping those less fortunate.

Addams decided to move to Chicago with a friend from her Rockford school days, Ellen Gates Starr (1859–1940; see entry) and establish her own settlement house. She arrived in the city in early 1889 and went to work finding a suitable property. Due to the widespread railroad network, Chicago had become a national transportation center, and industry in the area was growing rapidly. Although the city was thriving—it was the second largest city in the United States after New York—it was overcrowded and struggling with the arrival of many new residents from the farms of the Midwest and from Europe. The European immigrants lived in the worst neighborhoods. They had come to the city to find work in Chicago's giant meatpacking houses, where cattle and hogs arrived daily by train from the Midwest and were slaughtered for the canned meat products that had become a main part of the American diet. The average laborer worked ten- or twelve-hour shifts, usually for less than $4 a day, and under harsh and often dangerous conditions.

Addams found a property to rent at Halsted and Polk streets, a mansion surrounded by some of the city's worst slums. It had been built three decades earlier by a real estate developer, Charles J. Hull (1820–1889), but with the rise of the nearby meatpacking and shipbuilding industries, shaky wooden houses had sprung up in the area and multiplied. Three or four families often shared small houses that had no indoor plumbing. Outside, sidewalks were made from wooden planks that fell apart quickly, and the streets became rivers of mud during the springtime. Fishing for rats underneath the sidewalks was a popular pastime for children in the neighborhood. The bodies of horses that collapsed on the job were often left to rot.

A divided America

The rapid inflow of immigrants who provided cheap labor for the Industrial Revolution had become one of the defining events of American social history and was a major focus of Addams's newfound mission to serve others. She saw that there had been much wealth created suddenly in the city, thanks to the shift from a farming economy to a manufacturing one, but she also recognized that such prosperity came at a price. The city's housing supply simply could not expand quickly enough to accommodate all those who came looking for low-wage jobs and there were almost no social services to help the poor.

Urban areas like Chicago became severely divided between the rich and the poor. The rich began to fear this new lower class, as some new radical political movements emerged among the poor. Addams and other idealists of the era fought to raise awareness of another radical new idea gaining some popularity at the time: that the poor were not responsible for their troubles—the system was. The poor would remain an underclass, some believed, so long as they were forced to live in conditions that were harmful to the creation of a stable household and safe community. For example, only about one third of the children in the neighborhood where Hull House began were even enrolled in school.

Addams spent nearly $5,000 of her own money to renovate the Hull mansion and raised additional money from local civic leaders. She and Starr moved in, and in September 1889 Hull House opened its doors to their somewhat mismatched new neighbors. There was even the occasional burglar at first, and Addams surprised one in her room one night. The intruder moved to leave by the second-story window, but Addams calmly told him to use the stairs instead and let himself out the front door. Soon, the younger neighborhood children were coming to Hull House to play and take part in crafts activities, and they were followed by older siblings and then parents. Addams, Starr, and the other women who joined them taught classes in sewing, the arts, and even English as a second language. They organized a variety of clubs for children and adults, held a regular lecture series, and ran a community kitchen that served hot, healthy lunches. Hull House soon featured Chicago's first kindergarten and day care center, as well as the city's first playground on a nearby lot. There was a gymnasium, a library, and even an employment agency, and by the second year college-level courses were being offered. Off-site, Addams established affordable cooperative housing for the young working women who worked in the city's shops. She also joined other local leaders in the movement to end child labor in factories and meatpacking houses.

Hull House's Historic Firsts

During its years of operation Hull House achieved many historic firsts, some of which are listed below.

  • First social settlement that allowed both male and female residents in the United States.
  • First citizenship preparation classes for immigrants in the United States.
  • First day care and kindergarten in Chicago.
  • First public playground in Chicago.
  • First public gymnasium and swimming pool in Chicago.
  • First college extension courses offered in Chicago.
  • Hosted Chicago's first Boy Scout troop.

Social reform efforts

Many of the men and women from educated or middleclass backgrounds who came to help out at Hull House and similar institutions were highly influential in the creation of the Progressive political movement in America. The Progressive Era was the period of the Industrial Revolution that spanned roughly from the 1890s to about 1920 during which reformers worked together in the interest of distributing political power and wealth more equally in the United States. The Progressive political party was founded by President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; served 1901–9), who often visited Hull House over the years and supported Addams's mission. In turn she became a delegate to the Progressive Party's first national convention in 1912 and seconded Roosevelt's nomination as the party's presidential candidate. Other prominent visitors to Hull House included American educational reformer John Dewey (1859–1852); English Labour Party leader James Ramsay MacDonald (1866–1937); Sidney and Beatrice Webb (1859–1947 and 1858–1943), also from England and heads of the Fabian Socialist movement, whose ideals appealed to English intellectuals; and feminist writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860–1935).

Because of the reputation it achieved, Hull House and its mission became closely linked to political and social movements that sought reform during the twentieth century. Advocates for the working classes helped secure the passage of federal and state laws that granted workers the right to organize. Activists also urged authorities to regulate a variety of health issues that affected daily life. Such groups vastly improved the standard of living for generations of working men and women.

Addams took an active role in such efforts. In 1894 a typhoid epidemic broke out in the Halsted Street area. The disease passed from person to person, causing headaches, weakness, and intestinal problems. Addams decided that the piles of rotting garbage littering the neighborhood, which caused the illness, needed to be removed. Chicago was divided into wards (districts) run by officials called aldermen, many of whom had been elected through dishonest means. Addams knew that her ward's alderman had given the garbage collection job to a political supporter, who simply took the money without doing the work. She decided to submit a bid to the city council to do the garbage collection herself. Her bid was rejected, but her daring challenge attracted much press coverage, and the mayor appointed her the garbage collection supervisor for the 19th Ward, where Hull House was located. She was the first woman in the city to hold such a job.

Addams was named to many other commissions and investigative panels, including an 1895 one that reported on the terrible conditions at the Cook County poorhouse, and a campaign that regulated the safety of milk. Hull House earned national attention, and many articles were written about Addams's work in magazines and newspapers of the era. By 1892, its third year of operation, Hull House was one of six settlement houses in the United States. Five years later that number had risen to seventy-four, and then to more than one hundred by 1910. Addams was regarded as one of the founding figures in the profession of social work.

Emerged as renowned national figure

Hull House's two-decade anniversary was marked with Addams's 1910 autobiography, Twenty Years at Hull House. Addams served as the first woman president of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections, founded the National Foundation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers, and in 1910 became the first woman to be granted an honorary degree by Yale University. She publicly opposed World War I (1914–18; a war in which Great Britain, France, the United States and their allies defeated Germany, Austria-Hungary, and their allies), campaigned for women's suffrage (the right to vote), and was one of the main figures of the Women's Peace Party, formed in 1915. Later she became president of the International Congress of Women, which evolved into the Women's International Peace League for Peace and Freedom, and she held its presidency until her death.

In 1931 Addams was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for peace, sharing it with Nicholas Murray Butler (1862–1947), a noted educator and longtime president of Columbia University. She did not attend the ceremony, however, due to a heart condition, and she died of cancer on May 21, 1935. She was buried at her family's plot in Cedarville, but Hull House continued operation for many years after her death. In the 1960s the original compound became part of the new Chicago campus of the University of Illinois, and Hull House survived there as a museum into the early twenty-first century.

For More Information


Diliberto, Gioia. A Useful Woman: The Early Life of Jane Addams. New York: Scribner/A Lisa Drew Book, 1999.

Linn, James Weber. Jane Addams: A Biography. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Web Sites

Urban Experience in Chicago: Hull-House and Its Neighborhoods, 1889–1963. (accessed on July 7, 2005).

Addams, Jane

views updated May 21 2018

Jane Addams

Born September 6, 1860

Cedarville, Illinois

Died May 21, 1935

Chicago, Illinois

Founder of Hull-House and of modern social work

"Teaching in a Settlement requires distinct methods, for it is true of people who have been allowed to remain undeveloped and whose facilities are inert and sterile, that they cannot take their learning heavily."

C hicago, Illinois, 1890. "Hog Butcher for the World," poet Carl Sandburg (1878–1967) called it, in his 1916 poem, "Chicago." "Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, / Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler; / Stormy, husky, brawling, / City of the Big Shoulders." In 1890, Chicago was all these things, and more. It was the new home of thousands of Italians and Lithuanians, Poles and Bohemians, Germans and Greeks, immigrants from southern and eastern Europe recently arrived in America with pockets full of dreams and little else. Chicago was also the new home of a well-educated, sophisticated, and independent young woman. Despite her uncertain health, she did not feel like settling for the conventional life of a housewife in her all-American hometown of Cedarville, Illinois. Her dreams were about compassion and social justice, about helping to save struggling people whose lives were threatened by the mercilessness of industrial America at the turn of the twentieth century. She, too, put her stamp on the City of the Big Shoulders. Her name was Jane Addams.

The genius of Addams was her ability to take direct action and ease the suffering of factory workers and their families. She dealt not only with immigrants but also with natives of the United States who came to the big city in search of work and money. Addams met their problems head-on and took the house she lived in and turned it into a community and social center called Hull-House. By so doing, Addams founded the field of social work in the United States. She later branched out to become a force in education, labor relations, women's rights, civil rights, and civil liberties. She won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1931, the first American woman to do so.


Jane Addams was born into a large family in Cedarville, Illinois, west of Chicago. Her mother died when she was two years old. Her father, John Addams, was the prosperous owner of a mill that ground wheat into flour, a local political leader, and a friend of President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; served 1861–65). John Addams had been among the founders of the Republican Party, founded in 1852, which led the opposition to slavery before the American Civil War (1861–65). He remarried in 1868. His daughter Jane was almost the baby of the family—she was the eighth of nine children. Jane absorbed her father's sense of responsibility to work for social improvement. What she did not absorb was the usual idea, in the middle of the nineteenth century, of what a proper daughter of a Republican leader in a small midwestern town ought to do with her life after her education.

Jane Addams was an excellent student in school. She had ambitions to attend one of the East Coast colleges for women that had been founded recently, and from there perhaps become a medical doctor. Her parents disapproved of Jane's traveling so far east for college, and they preferred that she become educated with the idea of becoming a better wife. Instead of going east, Jane stayed near home, attending Rockford Female Seminary (later Rockford College for Women, and now Rockford College). Her father was a trustee, or overseer, of Rockford. Addams graduated first in her class in 1881, still thinking about attending medical school.

A grand tour

Addams spent the next six years focusing on her future. She enrolled in the Women's Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but had to drop out because of pain from a lifelong curvature of her spine. After undergoing corrective back surgery, Addams spent a year strapped into a brace that left her almost immobile. Afterwards, she spent a year and a half touring Europe. Shortly after she returned home, her beloved father died suddenly. She spent two years at home thinking about what to do with her life, then embarked on another trip to Europe. While in London, she visited an institution called Toynbee Hall, a settlement house that had been established to help ease some of the social difficulties experienced by poor working people in England's capital city. The original idea for settlement houses was to have people from universities move to a working-class neighborhood to help relieve the poverty that existed and to learn about the plights of the poor. The visit was the turning point in Addams's life.

On her second European tour, Addams was struck by the wide range of social problems encountered by workers affected by the Industrial Revolution, a period of industrial growth that introduced the mass production of goods in factories instead of in homes or in smaller individual workshops as had previously been the case. In that era, governments did not address issues arising from the growth of industrial cities, such as inadequate housing or poverty brought on by unemployment. Poor and uneducated workers were on their own. The result was often widespread suffering of whole families who lacked the resources to solve their problems. London's Toynbee Hall was an example of how such problems could be addressed on a local scale. Residents of Toynbee Hall offered counseling, advice, and education in ways of coping with the change from living in a rural village to living in a large city.

In 1889, Addams and a traveling companion, teacher Ellen Gates Starr (1859–1940), went to Chicago to establish a settlement house like Toynbee Hall. They found a large house that had been built by Chicago real estate developer Charles J. Hull (1820–1889) on the corner of Halsted and Polk Streets. Addams and Starr moved into the house, according to the Nobel e-Museum web site, to "provide a center for a higher civic and social life; to institute and maintain educational and philanthropic (charitable) enterprises and to investigate and improve the conditions in the industrial districts of Chicago."


Addams and Starr made Hull-House a place where families could turn for help. A person could get a hot lunch, leave a child in day care, learn English, or get medical care or legal advice. By its second year, Hull-House hosted two thousand people a week. It had added kindergarten classes for toddlers and evening classes for adults. It had an art gallery, a gymnasium, a music school, and an employment bureau where men and women could look for jobs.

At the center of the project was Addams. She had always believed that women could play bigger roles than housewives, and she attracted like-minded young women to help her set up new programs for the working poor in the neighborhood. Addams's reputation quickly spread throughout the city (and eventually, throughout the world). Even though women could not yet vote, Addams was elected to the Chicago Board of Education and became chairperson of its School Management Committee.

As Addams continued to work to improve the lives of the working people around her—both immigrants and native-born Americans—Addams became convinced that political changes were needed in addition to volunteer charity work. She started campaigning for laws to limit the hours and ages at which children could work, to require children to attend school, and to inspect factories for unsafe conditions. She became the voice of the working poor, representing their cause to the city government by lobbying for, or promoting, street paving, public parks, and playgrounds in poorer neighborhoods. She encouraged workers to form labor unions, associations that worked for better wages and working conditions. In 1912, Addams seconded the nomination of former president Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; served 1901–9) at the convention of the Progressive Party. She campaigned for Roosevelt during the election, but his bid for reelection failed.

Addams's observations of immigrants at Hull-House

The people who received assistance from Hull-House included both native-born Americans who had moved from farms or small towns to Chicago, looking for work, and immigrant families. Addams took special note of the problems facing immigrants. Addams set up Hull-House during a period of large-scale immigration into the United States from southern and eastern Europe. At the time, most immigrants came from a rural background in some of the poorest regions of Europe. They had grown up with a way of life that had changed little for hundreds of years. Suddenly, they were in an urban environment, unable to speak the language and utterly unused to the urban industrial culture developing in the United States.

Addams was a sensitive observer of the newly arrived and struggling families. She noticed, for example, that the role of parent and child was often reversed, with teenaged children showing their parents how to function in the new society. In one case, an Italian woman was used to baking her own bread every day, but not at home. In Italy, it had been done in a community oven. In Chicago, the woman had no idea how to operate the oven in her household and had to depend on her daughter to show her.

Addams also noted that young women submitted to their parents' expectations for their lives. They often were required to assume the social roles that might have been appropriate for young women in a rural village of Russia or Italy—primarily limited to staying at home to tend to children and performing household tasks—but that seemed completely out of touch with Chicago around the year 1900. Young city women in the United States were expected to bring in money by working outside the home. (Addams may have seen something of her own reluctance to settle for a conventional woman's role in the experiences of young immigrant women.)

In her memoir, Twenty Years at Hull-House, published in 1910, Addams noted how the role of fathers was changed, even crushed, by the immigrant experience. She told of a father from Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) whose daughter took classes at Hull-House. The father was often drunk. He eventually committed suicide in the midst of a strong reaction against too much alcohol. Only after his death did Addams learn from his widow that in Europe, he had been a highly skilled goldsmith who had made his wife, now a widow, a beautiful wedding ring. In America, in Chicago, he had been forced to find a job shoveling coal in the furnace room of a factory. The wife had usually been able to calm her husband's fits of frustration and anger by handing him a bit of metal to work on at home. "This story threw a flood of light upon the dead man's struggle and on the stupid maladjustment [inability to adjust to human demands] which had broken him down," Addams wrote in Twenty Years at Hull-House. "Why had we never been told? Why had our interest in the remarkable musical ability of his child, blinded us to the hidden artistic ability of the father? We had forgotten that a long-established occupation may form the very foundations of the moral life, that the art with which a man [found comfort] may be the salvation of his uncertain temperament."

Twenty Years at Hull-House served as a diary for Addams and as a handbook for workers at institutions similar to Hull-House. Her book also served as a document of American industrialized society in the era, and was widely read. Other books followed about every two years.

Addams grew from a young woman intent on helping the workers of Chicago to one who played a role on the national

stage. At the start of World War I (1914–18), she was determined to promote international peace. She opposed America's entry into the European war, and in 1915 she helped found the Women's Peace Party. She traveled to Europe to campaign for a quick, peaceful solution to the war between England and France on one side and Germany and Austria on the other. She favored establishing a permanent international peacekeeping organization. After World War I, Addams became an assistant to Herbert Hoover (1874–1964), a businessman placed in charge of organizing delivery of emergency food aid to the defeated nations in Europe after the war ended. (Hoover was elected president in 1928.)

The causes promoted by Addams in international affairs met with mixed success. The United States eventually entered World War I on the side of Britain and France in 1917. The League of Nations, an international organization similar to the United Nations, was organized much as had been proposed by President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924; served 1913–21), as a means of preventing any future world war. But the U.S. Senate never agreed to join the League. In 1919, Addams was elected first president of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, a private group devoted to promoting peace, including U.S. membership in the League of Nations.

In 1926, Addams suffered a heart attack, and she never fully recovered her health. On December 10, 1931, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the first American woman so honored. On the same day, Addams was admitted to a hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Four years later, she was diagnosed with cancer and died on May 21, 1935. Her funeral service was held in the courtyard of Hull-House in Chicago.

—James L. Outman

For More Information


Addams, Jane. Twenty Years at Hull-House. New York: Macmillan, 1910. Reprint, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1999.

Eliot, George. The Mill on the Floss. New York: Harper & Bros., 1860. Reprint, New York: Knopf, 1992.

Elshtain, Jean Bethke. Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy: A Life. New York: Basic Books, 2002.

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


Kornblatt, Mark, and Pamela Renner. "'Saint' Jane." Scholastic Update (February 23, 1990): p. 10.

Levinsohn, Florence Hamlish. "A Tribute to a Life of Caring; Halsted Street's Living Memorial to Jane Addams." Chicago (November 1986): p. 304.

Web Sites

Carl Sandburg Chicago Poems. (accessed on March 4, 2004).

Holli, Melvin G. "Hull House and the Immigrants." Illinois Periodicals Online. (accessed on March 4, 2004).

"Jane Addams Biography." Nobel e-Museum. (accessed on March 4, 2004).

Luft, Margaret. "About …." Jane Addams Hull House. (accessed on March 4, 2004).

Addams, Jane

views updated May 14 2018

Jane Addams

Born September 6, 1860 (Cedarville, Illinois)

Died May 21, 1935 (Chicago, Illinois)

Social reformer

By the early 1900s Jane Addams was one of the most famous and respected women in America. Her practical approach to charity, business, and reform worked well within the American free enterprise system (the freedom of private businesses to operate competitively for profit with minimal government regulation). Through her social activism to assist the poor and the young, Addams inspired the creation of the Illinois juvenile justice system, the first in the nation. The Illinois state system served as a model for other states and the federal government.

Addams also focused on pacifism (opposing war and violence) to promote nonviolent solutions to problems. She pursued her humanitarian work for a better American society throughout her lifetime. In 1931 Addams became the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The prize recognized her commitment to social reform and her work to promote peace in the world.

"When a great party pledges itself to the protection of children, to the care of the aged, to the relief of overworked girls, to the safe-guarding of burdened men, it is inevitable that it should appeal to women."

Based in part on her influence on the U.S. criminal justice system, in 1912 Addams became the first woman to make a nominating speech at a national political convention. She

seconded the nomination of presidential candidate Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; served 1901–09). A staunch supporter of women's suffrage (right to vote), Addams served as vice president of the National American Suffrage Alliance from 1911 to 1914. In 1913, seven years before the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted women the right to vote, Addams helped secure the vote for women in local Chicago elections.

In 1915 Addams was the first woman to organize and chair a Women's Peace Party in the United States. She was cofounder of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and served as its president for many years. Another direct influence on criminal justice came in 1920, when she helped found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The ACLU became a leading organization in protecting the rights of defendants in the criminal justice process by a variety of actions, including raising public awareness, funding defense lawyers, and initiating test cases or joining existing cases. Addams served on its national committee for a decade. Popular as a lecturer and writer, many organizations sought Addams's participation. Between 1904 and 1935, she received honorary degrees from fifteen universities. In 1910 she was the first woman to receive an honorary degree from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

A concern for fellow citizens

Jane Addams was born in 1860 in Cedarville, Illinois. Also called Jenny, she was the youngest of eight children born to Sarah Weber and John Huy Addams, a personal friend of President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; served 1861–65). Her family followed the Quaker faith (Christians opposed to war, oathtaking, and rituals) and valued hard work, a simple lifestyle, and social change through peaceful efforts.

Jane was just two when her mother died, leaving her father to raise her and her siblings. John Addams was a Republican state senator and an abolitionist (person opposed to slavery) and became the primary intellectual and moral influence in Jane's life. Jane suffered physically throughout her life with a painful curved spine, which caused her to walk pigeon-toed, with the toes turned inward. It made her very self-conscious about her appearance. Academically, she was an outstanding student and graduated from high school in 1877.

Jane next studied at Rockford Female Seminary in Rockford, Illinois, one of the oldest institutions for female education in the area. While at Rockford, Jane and a friend became concerned about the place of women in American society. They successfully lobbied the seminary to offer course work equivalent to that of men's colleges. Jane served as class president all four years at Rockford and in 1881 was valedictorian (top student of her graduating class).

Only a few months after her graduation, Jane's father died suddenly of a ruptured appendix. Jane was devastated by his untimely death, though left a very wealthy woman. She decided to pursue her plan of attending the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. During her first year, Jane's spinal condition forced her to undergo back surgery and withdraw from her studies. She spent the next several years in recovery while traveling throughout Europe. She returned to the United States in 1885 and settled in Baltimore, Maryland.

War on poverty

Addams journeyed back to Europe in 1887 with her former college classmate, Ellen Gates Starr. In Europe Addams was introduced to the idea of social settlements. These settlements were organized to recreate the conditions of village life within the neighborhoods of a city. In London, she observed the work of Toynbee Hall, a pioneering English settlement house designed to assist the poor. It was an experiment in social reform where Oxford University men resided and socialized along with the poor in London's East End. Addams embraced the settlement idea, since she was deeply disturbed by the urban poverty of the United States.

Addams believed social settlements in the United States would satisfy two needs. First, American cities had large numbers of immigrants who needed help adjusting to life in a big city. Second, she believed many educated and socially favored young people living in the cities needed to use their energies to serve others. Addams liked the idea that the settlement houses benefited both the poor and the favored. She was interested in providing an outlet for the talent and energy of college educated young people, but she also sincerely wanted to help those trapped by poverty. Addams and Starr agreed they would start a settlement in Chicago where Starr had been teaching school and had many friends.

Addams gave speeches in the Chicago area promoting the project while seeking support for settlement housing. Initially most listeners were curious why two well-educated young women planned to live in the slums of Chicago. The cause, however, seemed compassionate and gained support from church groups, civic organizations, and philanthropists (those who give money to good causes).

By the fall of 1889 Addams and Starr had rented a formerly elegant old house on Halsted Street called Hull House. They convinced several women to join them as residents and volunteers in serving a large immigrant community in the surrounding tenements on Chicago's West Side. It was agreed that Addams would be head resident. This decision was partly because her wealth was paying the costs of starting the settlement and also because she was financially self-sufficient through inheritance. She had the time and means to run Hull House.

Soon many socially advanced young ladies mingled with all classes of people without hesitation at Hull House. In the beginning, the women simply responded to the immediate needs of the community. Before long, the house provided classes, clubs, and lectures. Addams and Starr developed a wide circle of influential supporters, and a wide variety of speakers brought their expertise to teach fine arts and literature, as well as practical classes on child and health care. Addams developed educational, cultural, and medical programs for the community while lobbying for improved housing, fair labor practices, and just treatment for immigrants, the poor, and children within the country's criminal justice system.

Juvenile justice

Addams argued for a separate legal system for juveniles that would guide and teach them the proper way to behave rather than just locking them away in jails. Some supported the idea for the sake of the children, while others feared the growing number of immigrant street youth in Chicago in the late nineteenth century. In spite of the fears, Illinois became the first state to establish a separate court system for juveniles in 1899.

In the new juvenile courts, specially trained judges had enormous flexibility to act on a child's behalf, taking over for parents. The law defined a juvenile as a person less than sixteen years of age. Rather than prosecute a juvenile for a crime, the court would place the juvenile in a reform school or with foster parents. These juveniles remained under court supervision until the of age twenty-one. By 1925 almost all of the states had juvenile systems, using Illinois as a model.

As her reputation and influence grew, Addams was drawn into greater areas of civic responsibility. In 1905 she was appointed to Chicago's Board of Education. When the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was formed in 1909, Addams was a member of its executive committee. The NAACP became a champion of justice for minorities. Also in 1909, Addams became the first woman to be elected president of the National Conference of Charities and Correction, later known as the National Conference of Social Work. In 1911 she became the first head of the National Federation of Settlements, an organization she remained a part of until she died.

Peace activist

Jane Addams was dubbed by some in the media as "the only American saint." Her outspoken pacifist stance during World War I, however, nearly destroyed her reputation. Shaped by her Quaker upbringing, since the early 1900s Addams had been involved in the peace movement. In 1915 she was invited to participate in the International Congress of Women at The Hague, Netherlands.

After returning, Addams delivered a speech at Carnegie Hall in New York City on July 9, 1915, in which she questioned nationalism (exceptionally strong support of one's own nation above all others) and support for war. She also criticized the glorification of war itself. Addams encouraged the public to recognize the futility of war and support other ways to resolve international disputes.

Addams was surprised by the strong negative reactions of the media and the public to her speech. She maintained her pacifist views even when the United States entered the war in 1917. Addams suddenly found herself used as a symbol of those considered disloyal to America and was cast in the role of national villain.

Addams regained a small measure of public respect in 1918 when she toured the United States on behalf of President Herbert Hoover's (1874–1964; served 1929–33) Department of Food Administration and lectured women on domestic efforts needed during the war. Addams spent much of the 1920s, however, in Europe and Asia working on behalf of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

Addams also spoke out against intolerance. She called for a civilized approach to the problems facing America and the world. The media, however, once again criticized her when she pleaded for food relief for starving civilians in the defeated countries of Europe after the war ended. She also defended the legal rights of those arrested during the postwar Red Scare, the American government and public fear of communism and its perceived threat to American democracy that led to mass arrests of foreigners.

Addams considered free speech to be the greatest characteristic of the United States. As a result she helped found the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920 to ensure every person's right to believe and speak as he or she chose. Pacifists (those who believed in peace and would not fight in wars) and those who advocated social welfare were often connected with socialism (a society in which no one owns private property, but rather, the government or public owns all goods and the means of distributing them among the people) and communism in the United States. Because of her leadership on social issues at the time, Addams was attacked by some as a revolutionary and military intelligence labeled Addams as a "questionable" American.

With the 1930s bringing the Great Depression (1929–41; a time of economic crisis and high unemployment that began with the stock market crash in 1929) and the threat of a new war in Europe, Addams's pacifism seemed more reasonable rather than revolutionary. Isolationism (opposition to involvement in foreign wars) dominated the public's mood. With millions of Americans suffering economic hardships from the Depression, her achievements in social reform were once again viewed as an invaluable contribution to American society.

Jane Addams lived and worked out of Hull House until her death from intestinal cancer on May 21, 1935. She lay in state at Hull House for two days while thousands of mourners filed past her coffin. She was buried in the old family cemetery at Cedarville, Illinois.

For More Information


Addams, Jane. The Second Twenty Years at Hull House. New York: Macmillan, 1930.

Davis, Allen F. American Heroine: The Life and Legend of Jane Addams. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Felder, Deborah G. The 100 Most Influential Women of All Time: A Ranking Past and Present. New York: Citadel Press, 1996.

Kelley, Colleen E., and Anna L. Eblen, eds. Women Who Speak for Peace. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002.

Web Sites

"1889 Jane Addams Hull House." Chicago Public Library. (accessed on August 15, 2004).

"Jane Addams—Biography." Nobel e-Museum. (accessed on August 15, 2004).

Urban Experience in Chicago: Hull-House and Its Neighborhoods, 1889–1963. (accessed on August 15, 2004).

Alexander, Jane

views updated May 21 2018

Jane Alexander

An American actress with a rarely equaled reputation for high-quality work, Jane Alexander (born 1939) has worked with equal success in the fields of film, theater, and television. She has not hesitated to take on roles with controversial content; her range as a performer is wide.

In the 1990s, Alexander spent four stormy years as the chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the chief arts funding agency operated by the United States government. As federal arts funding became a political football during the politically polarized administration of President Bill Clinton, Alexander struggled to uphold the ideal of the arts as a broadly beneficial force in society. After leaving the agency, Alexander returned to acting, and although she suffered along with other middle-aged actresses from a general lack of substantial film parts for women, she still found a strong demand for her talents.

Granddaughter of Buffalo Bill's Physician

Born Jane Quigley in Boston, Massachusetts on October 28, 1939, Alexander grew up in a fairly affluent household. Her father, Thomas Quigley, was a noted sports physician and surgeon whose own father had been the personal physician to the famed prairie scout and Wild West show promoter William "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Alexander grew up going to symphony and dance concerts and traveling on her own by subway to Boston's splendid art museums. She loved the arts in general from a young age, but her acting career did not begin until her years at Sarah Lawrence College. There, she auditioned for and won a part in The Plough and the Stars, a play by Irish writer Sean O'Casey. Alexander immersed herself in the role, and for the rest of her career she would be noted for enthusiastic research into the lives, real or imagined, of the characters she played. Her investigations began with books and would sometimes extend to visiting places where a character may have spent time.

Upset by a friend's sudden death during her sophomore year, she left Sarah Lawrence and went to study theater at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland in 1959 and 1960. She married actor and director Robert Alexander in 1962, and their son Jason went on to become a director. Robert and Jane Alexander divorced in 1969. Her second husband, director Edwin Sherin, met Alexander when she auditioned for a play and impressed him with her total commitment to the role. They would marry in 1975, occasionally working together as director and lead actress.

Alexander's professional career began at the Charles Playhouse in Boston in 1964. The following year she moved on to the Arena Stage company in Washington, D.C. and had 15 parts in plays there between 1965 and 1968. Her career at Arena Stage culminated in her creation of the role of Eleanor in Howard Sackler's The Great White Hope, playing the mistress of troubled black heavyweight boxer Jack Jefferson—based on the real-life figure of Jack Johnson and played by actor James Earl Jones. The play was a major success and moved in 1969 to Broadway in New York, where Alexander's performance earned her a Tony award.

The portrayal of an interracial romance on stage, at a time when such subject matter was still rare, brought Alexander her first taste of controversy; she received hate mail that included occasional death threats. Ignoring the attacks, she continued to perform. The Great White Hope was filmed in 1971, once again with Alexander in the role of Eleanor, and she was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance.

Portrayed Eleanor Roosevelt

For the next several years, Alexander worked consistently in theater, films, and television. She appeared in the hit Broadway play Six Rms Riv Vu in 1972 and 1973, and took one of her few Shakespearean roles in Hamlet in 1975—despite her lifelong identification with high-quality material, Alexander was more oriented toward contemporary plays and films rather than toward theatrical classics. After small parts in The New Centurions (1972) and several other films, Alexander returned to the spotlight in 1976 with the starring role of Eleanor Roosevelt in the made-for-television film Eleanor and Franklin and its sequel, Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years, the following year. She also won another Academy Award nomination for her appearance in the political drama All the President's Men.

In 1979 Alexander landed the high-profile supporting role of Margaret in Kramer vs. Kramer, playing a friend to both parties in a bitter divorce struggle. The 1980 made-for-television film Playing for Time, in which Alexander played one of a group of female concentration-camp prisoners who stave off death by forming an orchestra and playing music for camp commanders, was another feather in Alexander's cap critically. Many of the films that made Alexander a familiar face appeared on television, and Testament (1983), a tale that manifested the nuclear-war jitters of the 1980s, started out in the television medium.

In Testament, Alexander played the mother in a California family trying to survive in the aftermath of a nuclear attack. Some critics condemned the film as melodramatic, but it brought the dangers of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union home to viewers in an immediate way, and Alexander gained praise for her performance as the film became a national topic of conversation and was rushed into theatrical release. Alexander showed her versatility with a complete about-face in her next role, playing the title role of Old West diarist Calamity Jane in a television film of 1984.

With new clout in the industry, Alexander could act on a desire to branch out from high-minded roles. "I get offered a lot of films that have a noble woman pursuing a noble cause, or something like that," she explained to David Sterritt of the Christian Science Monitor. Alexander served as both star and executive producer for Square Dance (1987), a family drama set in Texas that took Alexander to country-music dance clubs as she carried out her trademark research for the role. In 1989 Alexander went beyond her usual reserved image when she played flamboyant gossip columnist Hedda Hopper in the television film Malice in Wonderland, and she had an uncredited role in the acclaimed Civil War drama Glory, as the mother of Colonel Robert G. Shaw (played by Matthew Broderick), the commander of an all-black Union regiment.

Named to Head NEA

The early 1990s saw Alexander appearing on Broadway in the Wendy Wasserstein play The Sisters Rosenzweig, never giving a thought to entering the world of government service or politics. But a staffer for Rhode Island U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell called Alexander out of the blue and asked whether she would be interested in being considered for the chairmanship of the NEA. The agency had endured several years of controversy over what some saw as obscene art it had funded, and many conservatives in the U.S. Congress were angling for the NEA's elimination, or, at the very least, a reduction in funding. The widely respected Alexander, seen as a consensus choice who could heal wounds within the agency, soon made the short list and then was nominated by President Clinton.

Alexander, for her part, warmed to her new opportunity. As reported by The Boston Globe she told a Senate committee during her confirmation hearings that "the life I have led in theater, in the world of art, has given me so much personally—particularly from Endowment-supported work—that I wish at this time to give something back." Confirmed overwhelmingly in late 1992, Alexander pledged to maintain the agency's independence from political interference. "We have to," she told Interview. "We're upholding a democratic principle here. This is the federal government, and federal agencies do not discriminate. What we do is look for high standards of excellence in the arts."

Alexander took steps to broaden the NEA's base, traveling widely to visit community-based arts groups that benefited from the agency's increased emphasis on disbursing funds beyond the traditional culture centers of the northeastern U.S. Over her first two years as chairman she visited all 50 states, emphasizing the important role the arts could play in local communities and economies. Live, nonprofit arts events were especially critical in an increasingly technology-dominated society, Alexander argued, telling an Economic Club of Detroit audience (according to Vital Speeches of the Day) that such events "will begin to seem like some of the few authentic experiences we have, and they will be places where we appreciate the artist's skill—be it music or painting or theater—and the excitement of discovering new talent."

But Congressional Republicans, who ascended to majority status in the House of Representatives after the 1994 elections, continued to threaten the NEA's existence, leaving Alexander in a defensive posture most of the time. Washington's political environment was unfamiliar for Alexander, who had spent her whole life in arts-oriented settings. The people she worked with in Washington, she complained to Marilyn Stasio of American Theatre, were "a whole new breed. They are not well educated. They are hostile and suspicious of the arts, and it was tough for me to persuade them otherwise." President Clinton, preoccupied with other issues, met with Alexander only after she tried for two years to get an appointment. Few controversies over the funding of specific projects flared while Alexander was chairman, but a combination of new proposals to curb the agency's independence and a desire to return to acting—she had been inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in 1995—led her to resign as NEA chairman in 1997. By that time NEA funding had been cut by almost half.

Chronicled Experiences in Book

Alexander wrote about her NEA tenure in the book Command Performance: an Actress in the Theater of Politics, recounting her clashes with congressional conservatives. Steven C. Munson of Policy Review in his negative review of the book blamed many of the problems on what it saw as Alexander's own high-handedness, observing that "the point … that Alexander seems incapable of grasping … is that who's running an agency in Washington, and how he or she approaches that task, can actually make a difference, for good or ill. While the NEA … was spared extinction, it is by no means clear that its survival was because of, rather than despite, Jane Alexander." Art in America's Robert Atkins viewed the book through a different lens, calling it "essentially a bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story in which an idealistic agency head loses her innocence in the snakepit of corruption and ambition that is Washington."

"After being away from theatre for all that time, I was pretty overwhelmed by how deeply moved I was to be back on stage," Alexander told Stasio. She threw herself back into her work, returning to the cinema screen for the first time in ten years with a small role in 1999's The Cider House Rules and taking on various theater projects in New York and Washington. A 2003 production of Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts at Washington's Shakespeare Theatre seemed to refer back to her NEA experiences; it was staged with sexually explicit paintings on the set, standing in for the controversial books her character liked to read in the play as originally written. In 2005 she performed in the one-woman play What of the Night and made a triumphant return to television, starring in Warm Springs and returning to her long fascination with the family of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Her portrayal of Sara Delano Roosevelt, the president's mother, brought her an Emmy award and another flower in a long garland of honors that recognized her craft.


Alexander, Jane, Command Performance: An Actress in the Theater of Politics, Public Affairs, 2000.

Newsmakers 1994 issue 4, Gale, 1994.


American Theatre, September 1998; July 2000; July-August 2003.

Art in America, July 2001.

Boston Globe, September 25, 1992.

Christian Science Monitor, March 13, 1987.

Dance Magazine, December 1997.

Interview, July 1994.

New York Times, March 6, 1984.

Policy Review, December 2000.

Variety, April 11, 2005.

Vital Speeches of the Day, January 15, 1996.

Washington Post, November 25, 1978.


"Jane Alexander," Internet Movie Database, (December 4, 2005).

Addams, Jane

views updated May 21 2018


Jane Addams, a pioneer in social reform, founded Hull House, the first settlement house in the United States, to serve the immigrant families who came to Chicago at the beginning of the industrial revolution. For nearly fifty years, Addams worked relentlessly for improved living and working conditions for America's urban poor, for women's suffrage, and for international pacifism.

Addams was the youngest of eight children born to John H. and Sarah Addams. Her mother died when she was two years old, and her teenage sisters, Mary, Martha, and Alice, took over her upbringing. Her family followed the Quaker faith, and valued hard work and change through peaceful efforts. Addams idolized her father, whom she described as a man of great integrity. He remained a pivotal figure in her life until his death in 1881.

Addams's first exposure to urban poverty occurred when she was six years old, during a trip with her father to Freeport, Illinois. Upon seeing the city's garbage-filled streets and slum housing, she asked her father why the people lived in such horrid houses. After her father told her the people were too poor to have nicer homes, she announced that she would buy a big house when she was grown, where poor children could come and play whenever they liked.

Addams suffered throughout her life from a painful curved spine that caused her to walk pigeon-toed. As a result, she was always self-conscious about her appearance. She was a good student and often helped classmates who were having difficulties with their studies. After graduating from high school in 1877, she attended nearby Rockford Female Seminary, one of the oldest institutions for female education in the area. Rockford encouraged its students to become missionaries, but Addams, who struggled with her religious beliefs all her life, refused to consider that vocation. While at Rockford, she met Ellen Gates Starr, who would later help her found Hull House. Reflecting Addams's emerging concern about the place of women in America, she and Starr attempted to convince the seminary to offer coursework equivalent to that of men's colleges. Eventually, the seminary did become Rockford College.

Addams graduated from Rockford in 1881. Several months later, she was devastated when her father died of a ruptured appendix while on a family vacation in Wisconsin. His death left her a wealthy woman, and she decided to fulfill her plan to attend the Women's Medical College of Philadelphia. Addams began her studies that fall, but almost immediately the back pain she had suffered all her life flared up, forcing her to undergo back surgery.

During her lengthy recovery, Addams toured Europe with her stepmother, Anna Haldeman Addams. Throughout her trip, Addams was struck by the poverty of the industrialized countries she visited. At a fruit and vegetable auction in London, she watched as starving men and women fought over decayed and bruised produce. As she wrote in her autobiography, her impression was of "myriads of hands, empty, pathetic, nerveless and workworn, … clutching forward for food that was already unfit to eat." She was also appalled at the lack of concern for poor people shown by better-off Europeans.

On her return home in 1885, Addams found herself exhausted, depressed, and unsure of her life's purpose. On a second trip to Europe, she visited Toynbee Hall, an experimental Oxford-based project in London's poverty-stricken East End. Educated young men had moved into the area and were offering literacy classes, art lessons, and other activities to residents. Because the men actually settled in the area and lived with the residents, Toynbee was called a settlement house.

"Private beneficence is totally inadequate to deal with the vast numbers of the city'S disinherited."
Jane Addams

Addams decided to use Toynbee as a model and establish a similar facility in the slums of Chicago. With over a million residents, that city was home to hundreds of thousands of immigrants—from Germany, Ireland, Sweden, Italy, Russia, Greece, and many other countries. These desperate people were a ready source of cheap labor for the Chicago factories, and their poor wages forced them to live in overcrowded, rat-infested tenements, surrounded by filthy, garbage-filled streets. Journalist Lincoln Steffens described the Chicago of that time as violent, foul smelling, and lawless.

Addams enlisted the aid of her former schoolmate, Starr, in her new venture. The women first had to overcome the adamant objections of friends and relatives who were horrified that two educated, unmarried women would consider living in the city's slums. But Addams and Starr soon found a house where they could begin their work, the former mansion of Charles J. Hull. Once a stately country home, the house was now surrounded by rundown, noisy city tenements. In the beginning, Addams was able to rent only a few rooms in the house, but eventually, Hull's heir, Helen Culver, gave her the entire house and some surrounding land.

After several months of cleaning and refurbishing, Addams and Starr opened Hull House in September 1889. Initially, the two were met with great suspicion by the area's residents. Local priests warned their parishioners the women might try to convert them to a new religion, and street children threw garbage and rocks at the house. But Addams and Starr continued to greet their neighbors in a friendly manner, and the residents soon discovered that the women were concerned about their well being. They also found that the women would sell them nourishing food for just a few pennies, and they soon came to depend on Hull House.

In the first few years of the settlement house, Addams established a kindergarten, a women's boarding house, the nation's first public playground, and a day care center for mothers forced to leave their children alone for as long as ten hours each day in order to work. Hull House offered evening college extension courses, English and art classes, a theater group, and books

and magazines for children and adults. Observing the long hours and dangerous working conditions that the neighborhood children were forced to endure, Addams and her friends soon began working for state regulation of child labor, and went on to lobby in Washington, D.C. At home, when city garbage collectors continually ignored overflowing garbage bins, Addams applied for and was appointed to the position of ward garbage inspector, and forced the trash collectors to remove the filth.

Addams described her work at Hull House as an effort to conserve and push forward the best of the community's achievements. She strove to respect and preserve the immigrants' cultures, and the holidays of their various nations were always celebrated at Hull House.

Among the volunteers who flocked to Hull House to work with Addams were several women who later brought about important social reform. Julia C. Lathrop helped establish Chicago's first juvenile court. Dr. Alice Hamilton worked in industrial medicine and conducted studies that helped improve factory conditions. Florence Kelley investigated sweatshops for the Illinois State Bureau of Labor and helped establish child labor laws. Although Addams developed a wide circle of influential supporters because of her work, such as socialist eugene v. debs and journalist Steffens, she also occasionally lost admirers for the same reason. Addams never wavered in her belief that the same activities that caused her to lose some supporters would help her to gain others.

In the first decade of the twentieth century, Addams established herself as a prolific writer, publishing Democracy and Social Ethics (1902), Newer Ideals for Peace (1907), The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets (1909), and the best-selling first volume of her autobiography, Twenty Years at Hull House (1910). During these years, she began to turn her attention more and more to women's issues—particularly the right to vote. In 1913, seven years before the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted women the right to vote in all elections, she helped secure the vote for women in Chicago.

Addams's work continued to expand beyond Hull House and women's rights. In 1909, she supported the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (naacp) and served on its executive committee. In 1915, she helped establish the Women's Peace Party, and traveled to Europe to attend the International Women's Peace Conference in the Netherlands and carry the message of peace to the countries fighting in world war i. Addams continued to hold to her pacifist views even when the United States entered the war in 1917, and she was blacklisted as a result. The Daughters of the American Revolution, a group that had once honored Addams for her colonial ancestry, expelled her, and she was shunned by many other supporters. She continued her humanitarian work during the war, however, helping the U.S. Department of Food Administration to distribute food to European allies.

Following the war, Addams also worked to have food sent to the starving civilians in the defeated countries, setting off yet another round of criticism. In 1920, in response to increasing attempts to stifle unpopular opinion in the United States, Addams helped found the american civil liberties union, dedicated to protecting the individual's right to believe, write, and speak whatever he or she chooses.

By the 1930s, the public's bitterness toward Addams had abated. In 1931, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, an achievement that Addams felt justified her pacifist work to the world. Frederick Stang, of the Nobel Committee in Norway, said Addams had clung to her idealism during a difficult time in which peace was overshadowed. Addams went on to receive fourteen honorary degrees, among them one from Yale, the first honorary degree that school had ever awarded to a woman.

In 1930, Addams completed her autobiography with the publication of The Second Twenty Years at Hull House. A few years later, surgery revealed that Addams was suffering from advanced cancer. She died in May 1935. Shortly before her death, Addams was honored at an event marking the twentieth anniversary of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. In response to the many tributes she received, she said she was driven by the fear that she might give up too soon and fail to make the one effort that might save the world.

further readings

Addams, Jane. 2002. Democracy and Social Ethics. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

Davis, Allen Freeman. 2000. American Heroine: The Life and Legend of Jane Addams. Chicago, Ill.: Ivan Dee.

Deegan, Mary Jo. 1988. Jane Addams and the Men of the Chicago School, 1892–1918, New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books.

Linn, James Weber. 2000. Jane Addams: A Biography. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

Polikoff, Barbara Garland. 1999. With One Bold Act: The Story of Jane Addams. Chicago: Boswell Books.

Addams, Jane

views updated May 29 2018


(b. September 6, 1860; d. May 21, 1935) Reformer, advocate for peace and social justice, lecturer, and writer.

Jane Addams began her public career in 1889 as the co-founder and leader of the Chicago social settlement Hull-House. Between 1890 and 1914, Addams and Hull-House led the settlement movement then at the forefront of progressive social reforms sweeping America, including the abolition of child labor and sweat shops, immigrant protection and education, and woman suffrage. During World War I, Jane Addams became an organizer and the principal advocate of the modern American woman's peace movement. From that position, both during and after World War I, she helped build and direct an international coalition of women peace advocates representing countries from most of the continents. For her efforts, she became the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize (1931).

Addams was educated in her small Cedarville, Illinois community, and at Rockford Female Seminary. Having grown to maturity in the aftermath of the American Civil War, Jane Addams was aware of the destructive power of war. During the Spanish-American War (1898), she made her first public speech as an antiwar advocate at a Chicago gathering. When World War I began in Europe, Addams worked to keep America neutral. She feared that U.S. entry into the war would stifle the momentum for reforms and social justice that she and her like-minded friends had achieved since the founding of Hull-House. Addams saw the settlement neighborhood as a microcosm for the world. There, people from Europe, whose national history had made them enemies, had learned to live together peacefully with mutual respect. Addams favored developing a focus on internationalism to replace what she called "war virtues" so often associated with nationalism. Addams believed that war was not an appropriate solution for disputes.

During late 1914, Addams served as chair of the Chicago Emergency Peace Federation and as a member of the Round Table Conference on War, which met in New York to propose mediation to end the conflict raging in Europe. Addams wanted to bring the nurturing powers she believed women possessed to stop that war. On January 10, 1915, Addams and women's suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt convened a group in Washington, D.C., which organized itself into the Woman's Peace Party with Addams as chair. It called for the

immediate end to the fighting and argued for a new international order that included nationalization of the manufacture of armaments, democratic control of foreign policy, and women's suffrage.

To develop the vital international element of the peace movement, in April 1915 Addams led an American delegation of women to the Hague for the International Congress of Women, composed of representatives from neutral and belligerent powers. With Addams as international president, the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace was formed at the Congress and charged with convening another congress at the cessation of hostilities. The women also appointed two delegations to meet with government leaders throughout Europe and promote the cause of continuous mediation as a means to end World War I.

Addams saw the destructiveness of war as she led the delegation to meet with statesmen from the belligerent governments. From the time she returned from Europe until America entered the war, she worked tirelessly to preserve America's neutrality and to seek a negotiated end to the conflict. Although she supported Henry Ford's peace ship idea, because of ill health she was unable to join the venture when the ship left in December 1915. Advocating American neutrality, she met with Woodrow Wilson and Edward House, Wilson's representative to European nations, testified against proposals for conscription and rearmament, fought calls for preparedness, and worked to rouse public opinion against entering the war.

When America did enter the war, many of Addams's friends abandoned her pacifist position to support American war efforts. Isolated and shunned, Addams remained steadfast to her pacifist ideals. During the war, she worked with Roger Baldwin and the National Civil Liberties Bureau to protest passage of the Espionage Act and state syndicalist laws, supported the position of conscientious objectors, and lectured tirelessly throughout the United States for food conservation on behalf of the U.S. Food Administration.

In July 1919, eight months after World War I ended, Addams presided over the second International Congress of Women in Zurich. There the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) was formed with Addams as its international president. Following the meeting, she presented the new organization's resolutions to the American delegation in Paris. These included condemnation of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and a proposal for a League of Nations. Concerned about starving families in Europe, Addams and Alice Hamilton traveled throughout Europe for the American Friends Service Committee to investigate and draw attention to the deplorable conditions. From 1919 to 1929, Addams served as international president of the WILPF and then became honorary president until her death in 1935, in Chicago, following surgery for cancer.


Addams, Jane. Newer Ideals of Peace. New York: Macmillan, 1907.

Addams, Jane. Twenty Years at Hull-House. New York: Macmillan, 1910.

Addams, Jane. Peace and Bread in Time of War. New York: Macmillan, 1922.

Addams, Jane. Second Twenty Years at Hull-House. New York: Macmillan, 1930.

Addams, Jane. The Jane Addams Papers. Edited by Mary Lynn McCree Bryan et al. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International, 1985–1986. Microfilm, 82 reels.

Davis, Allen F. American Heroine: The Life and Legend of Jane Addams. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Linn, James Weber. Jane Addams: A Biography. New York: D. Appleton-Century Co., 1935.

Mary Lynn McCree Bryan

See also:Americanization; Disarmament and Arms Control; Feminism; Peace Movements; Women, World War I; Women's Suffrage Movement.