Addams, Jane (1860–1935)

views updated May 21 2018

Addams, Jane (1860–1935)

American founder of Hull House, a Chicago settlement house, who advocated progressive reforms, pacifism, and cultural diversity. Born on September 6, 1860, in Cedarville, Illinois; died in Chicago on May 21, 1935; daughter of John (an Illinois entrepreneur and legislator) and Sarah (Weber) Addams (who died when Jane Addams was two); graduated valedictorian Rockford Female Seminary, 1881 (granted a degree when it became Rockford College, 1882); attended Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania for one year; never married; no children.

Enrolled at Rockford Seminary (1877); made first visit to Europe (1883) and second visit with Ellen

Gates Starr (1887); founded Hull House with Starr (1889); elected chair of Women's Peace Party and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (1916); awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (1931).

Selected writings:

Democracy and Social Ethics (1902); Newer Ideals of Peace (1907); Twenty Years at Hull House (1910); The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets (1912); Peace and Bread in Time of War (1922); The Second Twenty Years at Hull House (1930); The Excellent Becomes the Permanent (1932); My Friend, Julia Lathrop (1935).

Jane Addams is one of the heroes and legends of American liberalism. In an age dominated by laissez-faire conservatism, she worked to restore a fractured sense of American community and to bring the full benefits of national life to the poorest and most recent immigrants. Hull House, her slum settlement in Chicago, became the influential center of a national movement aimed at bringing education, sanitation, recreation, and political representation to the most disadvantaged citizens of the new urban civilization. Disliked by some contemporaries (and subsequent historians) for her middle-class Puritan pieties and her unshakable self-assurance, she was also widely loved and admired, both for her settlement work and for her leadership in the women's peace movement.

Jane Addams' father John was revered for his business acumen and political probity in downstate Illinois and had a large influence on his daughter's moral education. Jane was one of four among his children to survive into adulthood, and she grew up in frail health, suffering from curvature of the spine. Serious, bookish, and delicate, she did not enter easily into her stepmother's outgoing social plans. When she was 17, Jane attended Rockford Female Seminary, a college of which her father was a trustee, though she had hoped to go to Smith College (which, unlike the seminary, already granted degrees). At Rockford, she met Ellen Gates Starr , who was to be her lifelong friend and collaborator. During vacations, they wrote long earnest letters to one another expressing their half-formed religious longings and doubts, Jane writing that although she could appreciate Jesus as a great man she could not find in him a link with God. Reacting to pressure from her teachers, she categorically refused to devote her life to overseas missionary work.

Graduating at the top of her class in 1881, Addams then moved to Philadelphia to begin studying at the Woman's Medical College, at a time when few women were doctors and when they faced severe opposition from the male medical professionals. After six months, suffering from health problems, depression, and the shock of her father's sudden death earlier that year, she was forced to give up. In 1883, her stepmother took Jane on a European grand tour in the hope that it would speed her recovery. This was the era when many American heiresses were courting the impoverished aristocracy of Europe, exchanging money for titles in a mutually gratifying marriage trade. Meanwhile, the American women used Europe as a cultural finishing-ground, visiting its art galleries, cathedrals, museums, and concerts to gain a little of the social polish that was still unavailable in middle America. Jane Addams found herself unable to focus exclusively on the artistic heritage of Europe. Instead, she was acutely conscious of the suffering of the poor in London and other cities and believed that the job of alleviating their afflictions was more important than that of finding a husband.

Back in America but still unwell and depressed at the apparent lack of direction in her life, Addams submitted to a medical operation performed by her brother Harry, a doctor, in the hope of curing the curvature of her spine. According to Addams' family lore, the operation revealed that she was incapable of bearing children. Believing herself physically unable to follow the normal course of middle-class women, even had she wanted to, Addams felt more than ever cut off from the mainstream of life. Like many of the educated of her generation, she had absorbed the powerfully persuasive idea of evolution, which intellectuals applied to many fields beyond its original biological provenance. She became convinced that the human race as a whole was evolving but that she, and middle-class women like her, had been shunted aside into an evolutionary backwater, where they were denied all chance to compete and strive. In her impatience with inactivity or pointless work, she felt that the "race life" was passing her by, and her decision in 1889 to begin a settlement house was her way of trying to re-enter the invigorating stream. It certainly had a positive effect on her health. After years of suffering, she suddenly found herself endowed with boundless energy and the ability to work hard and creatively for the next 40 or more years.

The original decision to create a settlement came during her second visit to Europe, in 1887, this time with Ellen Starr. They visited Toynbee House in the East End of London, a settlement where privileged Oxford undergraduates went to study and ameliorate the lives of the working

poor. Back in Chicago, they chose a house in the worst of the slums, at 335 South Halsted Street, to set up a similar settlement and spent some of their savings (both had plentiful private incomes) in preparing to move in. Unsure of what to expect, they were soon the center of attention from their curious neighbors and were rapidly drawn into the teeming life of the district. Twenty years later, Addams published Twenty Years at Hull House, a memoir of the settlement's first years of work. It became a minor classic, and the Bible of a generation of social settlement workers.

Addams was convinced that many of her era's social problems sprang from the fact that the huge new cities had broken up the older American tradition of community in which every citizen knew all the others on a face-to-face basis. The problem of scale and the growing ethnic and linguistic diversity made the old ways impractical, but she reasoned that bringing the social classes and different ethnic groups into each others' actual physical presence was the best way to respond—hence the importance of actually living in Halsted Street. One of the obstacles she and Starr worked on from the outset was in overcoming the difficulty that peasant immigrants had adjusting to city life. The women tried to teach basic sanitation to farm families, which were now living cheek-by-jowl in crowded tenements, tried to discourage the mothers from feeding infants on bread soaked in wine, and offered to provide day-care for children whose mothers had to work in factories or in domestic service. They soon found that many of the women worked long hours in nearby sweatshops or on gruelling home-based piece work, and so became advocates for the working women against predatory employers and landlords. Hull House offered meeting rooms to the growing trade unions and stood by many Chicago workers during recurrent bitter strikes. Addams early befriended Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labor.

The size of the Hull House community fluctuated as new volunteers came and went, but the size of the settlement and the scope of its work increased steadily. Addams was a talented fundraiser and asked the wealthy of Chicago to at least contribute if they were not willing to live at Hull House. Many paid up more or less willingly. In the early 1890s, one volunteer and donor, Mary Rozet Smith , began to live there and became Addams' closest lifelong friend, confidante, and admirer. As educated, articulate middle-class women, the Hull House staff tackled Chicago's civic leaders, persuading them to install street lights, to arrange regular garbage collection (Addams became the area's garbage commissioner), to provide police patrols for the sake of local safety, and to offer fair legal representation when local people were in trouble with the law. Addams believed strongly in negotiation and discussion and was always willing to think the best of employers and city politicians—that if only they knew what was happening, they would be sure to act reasonably.

Experience soon made her politically astute, however, and she learned how to blend persuasion with gently coercive threats. Moreover, she decided not to accept voluntary contributions to her work if they came from tainted sources, such as the profits of businessmen who had a reputation for underpaying their workers. Her outlook remained for the most part optimistic: she was convinced that villains were more the exception than the rule. Strongly influenced by Christianity without being in any way orthodox, she was a sort of Christian socialist who believed that moral reform, education, and social improvements would eventually usher in a just and harmonious society. One reform she favored strongly, and for which she spoke frequently, was women's suffrage, not least because it would facilitate the re-entry of more American women into the social mainstream and out of the limbo she felt she had inhabited through her 20s.

Some reformers of her era believed that immigrants living in areas like the Hull House district should be "assimilated" as quickly as possible, that they should learn English, adapt to American habits and customs, and surrender the cultural baggage of their earlier lives. Addams saw that the psychic cost of Americanization on these terms was painfully high to many of the immigrants, especially the older ones; she tried to preserve and honor aspects of Old World life that she found among her neighbors rather than hurry them to oblivion. She set up a museum of ethnic labor, arts, and crafts at Hull House, encouraged story tellers and musicians to preserve their folk ways, and made sure that residents who had not yet mastered English were put in touch with city officials or local professors who spoke their own tongues.

Addams also had a more sympathetic view of "troublesome" children than many of her contemporary reformers. In one of her ten published books, The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets (1909), she argued that slum neighborhoods such as hers offered children few outlets for the kind of exciting and healthy play they would have been able to enjoy in the countryside or if (again invoking evolution) they lived as primitive hunters and gatherers. She explained juvenile delinquency and prostitution (which she also treated with more lenity and understanding than was then common) as problems created by the stultifying physical and economic environment, and aimed to provide settings at the Hull House complex in which young peoples' energies could be directed along more profitable lines. Women who had turned to prostitution from economic necessity were usually shunned by the neighborhood's married women, and on one occasion Addams and her friend Julia Lathrop went to the rescue of a young "fallen woman" who was going through a difficult birth unassisted, though neither of them had any training as midwives. (Lathrop went on from Hull House to run the Illinois State Board of Charities and in 1912 became the first head of the U.S. Children's Bureau.)

Hull House soon attracted favorable notice from the press and from other idealistic men and women, many of whom came along to volunteer for occasional or full-time work. As thousands of Chicagoans began visiting the house, it built annexes nearby for a boys' club and a public kitchen (the "Coffee House"). Later a coal-buying cooperative enabled the area's residents to get vital winter fuel at reduced cost, while a residential coop enabled a growing number of families to have a good and philanthropic landlord taking care of their interests. Florence Kelley (later National Consumers' League president) and Frances Perkins (later U.S. secretary of labor) were among the better known volunteers from the early years at Hull House who helped with these enlarged projects and gained vital first-hand experience from their years with Jane Addams. Another assistant, Mary Eliza McDowell , became first director of the University of Chicago Settlement House founded a decade after Hull House. Addams also encouraged visiting literary, academic, and political dignitaries to speak at the settlement, and a great range of European liberals, socialists, and anarchists passed through, each spreading his or her special brand of social transformation, among them the Russian anarchist Prince Kropotkin, the celebrated philosopher John Dewey, and the British Labour Party founder Keir Hardie.

Most reformers of that era favored the prohibition of alcohol. They could see that slum-district saloons, superficially appealing because of their jovial atmosphere and warmth, were really deadly temptations to low-paid workers, leading them to spend badly needed money on beer and spirits instead of on good nutrition and warm clothes for themselves and their families. Addams was no friend of the saloons but neither did she believe in Prohibition. She wanted to avoid condescending to her neighbors (she never called them "cases" or "clients") and honored their widespread acceptance of the saloon. During the prohibition era of the 1920s, she witnessed the hopeless failure of this high-minded reform, and lived long enough to see it abandoned in the early years of the New Deal. On occasion, she would help alcoholics. In the early years of Hull House, a Mrs. Dennis said she was addicted but agreed to take the following pledge: "I hereby solemnly pledge in the presence of Jane Addams that from this day forth, hence forevermore, that I will abstain from all intoxicating liquor. I also promise that in the case of overwhelming temptation I will come and see Jane Addams."

In 1911, Addams helped found the National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers, and became the organization's first president. She witnessed the continued growth of the movement over the next two decades, so that by her death in 1935 there were settlement houses in every large American city.

Addams was an active member of the pre-First World War peace movement, and her book Newer Ideals of Peace (1907), based on a course of lectures given in Wisconsin the previous year, showed evidence of her extensive thinking on the issue. Like most of her published work, it too was cast in evolutionary terms, making the argument that in the early days of mankind fighting had been the only way to resolve disputes, but that now humanity had evolved to a higher point, enabling it to replace physical force with moral suasion. As she said, any community unable to settle its domestic differences without resort to arms ought to regard itself with shame. The same was all the more true with international communities. She regarded the multiethnic community around Hull House as a microcosm of the world, a miniature form of "united nations" which, she argued, lived at peace by the exercise of reason and good will. Her voice of sane reasonableness saturated the book. She spoke the same theme on a hundred public platforms and often quoted Leo Tolstoy's My Religion, treating it as an inspirational text for her Hull House work as well as her pacifism.

Despite its confident rhetoric and influential patrons, the peace movement was powerless to prevent the European descent into war in 1914, and Addams found, three years later, that it was equally ineffective in trying to keep America out of the conflict. By then, she had accepted the post of chair for the Women's Peace Party and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and on their behalf had voyaged to a conference in the Netherlands and to visit the British and German prime ministers, begging them unsuccessfully to submit the war to arbitration. Though, to her, the ghastly massacres of the war in France seemed shocking evidence of an evolutionary malfunction, she stayed active in the International League throughout the 1920s (the basis for her 1931 Nobel Peace Prize). In the Red Scare that followed the First World War, some superpatriots denounced Addams for her reluctance to oppose national enemies by force and dismissed all her reform plans as evidence of "Bolshevism." She faced up to these attacks and even intensified them by protesting against breaches of due process when the attorney general A. Michell Palmer ordered the arbitrary arrest and deportation of many suspected radicals.

In newspaper features year after year [Jane Addams] was voted the greatest woman in the United States, the greatest in the world, and, on one occasion, the greatest in history.

—Daniel Levine

By the 1920s, Hull House had become a vast complex of buildings, second in size only to the University of Chicago, involved in a wide variety of reform projects but still with children's welfare near the center of them all. Addams, a national and international celebrity, traveled widely, usually with her best friend Mary Smith, to give talks about her work throughout America and Europe, sometimes facing hostile crowds because of her peace work, but gradually gaining a more benevolent reception as the postwar mood dissipated. In 1923 with Alice Hamilton , another longtime friend and volunteer, Addams and Smith traveled around the world, giving speeches everywhere and advocating international cooperation. Addams had been dismayed by the American decision not to join the League of Nations: in her view, foreign entanglement was now the best way to prevent wars, whatever wisdom to the contrary George Washington had suggested in his Farewell Address.

Addams suffered from a heart condition in the latter part of her life but remained an active writer, working on the biography of her old friend Julia Lathrop. She stayed loyal to the Republican Party of her youth and voted for Herbert Hoover in 1928 and 1932, but still took great pleasure in finding that her former protégé Frances Perkins was appointed secretary of labor by President Franklin Roosevelt at the beginning of the New Deal. Jane Addams died of cancer on May 21, 1935, and was laid to rest at a ceremonious Chicago funeral. Summing up her influence, historian Daniel Levine argued: "Jane Addams was not an original thinker of major importance. One can find predecessors for almost every one of her ideas in the writings of the English Fabians, German political economists, American pragmatists. Her importance was not as a manufacturer of ideas, but as their retailer…. In no one area did she possess enormous expertise; yet probably no reformer was so deeply involved in so many facets of reform."


Addams, Jane. Twenty Years at Hull House. NY: Macmillan, 1910.

——. Newer Ideals of Peace. NY: Macmillan, 1907.

——. The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets. NY: Macmillan, 1912.

Davis, Allen Freeman. American Heroine: The Life and Legend of Jane Addams. NY: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Farrell, John C. Beloved Lady. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1967.

Lasch, Christopher. The New Radicalism in America: The Intellectual as a Social Type. NY: Knopf, 1965.

Levine, Daniel. Jane Addams and the Liberal Tradition. Madison, WI: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1971.

Patrick Allitt , Assistant Professor of History, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia

Addams, Jane (1860–1935)

views updated May 23 2018

ADDAMS, JANE (18601935)

Founder and driving force behind Hull-House, the pioneer American settlement house, Jane Addams is best known for her contribution to urban social service; however, she was also an important and influential educator who espoused Progressive educational ideas and practice.

Born in the small northern Illinois village of Cedarville, Addams was deeply influenced by her father, John Huy Addams, a successful self-made businessman and a strong supporter of Abraham Lincoln, with a dedication to public service. Although her father was wealthy, Addams found a genuinely democratic community in Cedarville, where members of different classes mingled freelyan ideal that she would strive for in her adult career. As a child, she steeped herself in literary classics and she was a highly successful student at Rockford Seminary. Like others of this first generation of college women she was, as her biographer Allen F. Davis points out, "self consciously a feminist, not so much concerned with women's suffrage as women's role in the world" (p. 19).

Discovering her own role after graduation did not come easily. She suffered a long period of illness, partly physical and partly psychological. Her depression was exacerbated by the sudden death of her beloved father. She briefly attended medical school but dropped out because of illness. For eight years Addams searched for an appropriate career. Two trips to Europe were influential in her search. In London she was shocked by the poverty she observed and deeply impressed by Toynbee Hall, England's first settlement house. In Germany she was stunned by the tasks of working women she observed. Her new observations led her to question her own education. In her autobiography, Twenty Years at Hull-House, she referred to it as a "Snare of Preparation." The first generation of college women, she now believed, had been educated away from life; "somewhere in the process of 'being educated' they had lost that simple and almost automatic response to the human appeal, that healthful reaction resulting in activity from the mere presence of suffering or of helplessness " (p. 44). She was convinced that an adequate education should not be "disconnected from the ultimate test of the conduct it inspired" (p.46).

This was to be the philosophy of education that inspired the rest of her career. By 1889 Addams had discovered her true role when she, with her friend Ellen Gates Starr, founded Hull-House in an impoverished section of Chicago that was home to many immigrants. Hull-House was, from its very beginning, dedicated to education. One of its first activities was a nursery school. Addams pursued not only the education of her poor neighbors; an important role of this new institution was the education of the middle-class women who resided within the house. In her influential essay, "The Subjective Necessity for Social Settlements," she argues that the function of social settlements is to extend democracy beyond the political democracy envisioned by the founding fathers into a form of social democracy. Working with the poor, middle-class men and women could connect with the vitality of working people while, at the same time, sharing their knowledge and culture with others. She saw Hull-House as a place "in which young women who had been given over too exclusively to study might restore a balance of activity along traditional lines and learn of life from life itself " (1910, p. 51). Hull-House, like other settlements, was an educational institution that protests "against a restricted view of education."

John Dewey was a trustee and a frequent visitor at Hull-House. He credited conversations with Addams as highly influential in developing his own philosophy of education. Addams and Dewey shared a vision of education as the basis for producing a democratic community. They also shared a conception of education that went well beyond formal learning in classrooms. Hull-House itself was an educational setting, furnished as a middle-class home, with fine art and fashionable furniture, because Addams believed that in a truly democratic society the poor needed to have access to a setting that enriched the lives of the upper classes. Beyond the setting, Hull-House featured art and literature classes, political discussion groups, plays by Shakespeare and Sophocles, and lectures by prominent intellectuals, including Henry Demarest Lloyd and the radical African-American leader W. E. B. Du Bois.

Agreeing with Dewey and William James, Addams believed that knowledge should not be separated from its consequences. Education's role, therefore, was to provide the knowledge that would improve the life of all of the participants in the community. Unlike the formal education provided by the public schools and the universities, this education would not be abstract and focused on future goals, but would, rather, be an effort to relate to the needs and interests of the participants, both the children and adults who came to Hull-House. Like the university, Hull-House conducted social research but unlike the university, its aim was to use this knowledge for the improvement of community life.

Among the first activities of the new settlement were clubs in which children were organized in groups rather than conventional classes. "The value of these groups," she recalled in her autobiography, "consisted almost entirely in arousing a higher imagination and in giving the children the opportunity which they could not have in the crowded schools, for initiative and for independent social relationships " (p. 63). These clubs provided opportunities for creative activities, absent from the rigid, public schools' curriculum.

Addams was inspired by the idea that education could ameliorate the sharp divisions in the new industrial society. As a way of overcoming the split between immigrant parents and their Americanized offspring, she created the Hull-House Labor Museum in which immigrants were given the opportunity to practice the handicrafts they had learned in their home countries, demonstrating to their children the skills they retained despite the difficulties of acculturation in this strange new society.

Addams's view of education was broad, involving not only the Hull-House neighborhood, but also the larger Chicago community and eventually the world. Although she was not a radical feminist, in her neighborhood she worked to educate the women to extend their traditional duties of maintaining their households and protecting the health of their children to a broader concern for community clean-liness and hygiene. Hull-House inspired a drive, led by the Hull-House Women's Club, to improve the health of the neighborhood by securing better garbage removal and an improved sewage system, an effort that eventually led Addams to an appointment as garbage inspector for the ward.

Addams was less successful when she was appointed to the Chicago School Board in 1905 by reformer Mayor Edward F. Dunne. She was at first identified as an ally of the Chicago Teachers' Federation's dynamic leader, Margaret Haley. She supported the reformers on the board in an effort to improve tax assessments to support public education through higher teacher salaries and the construction of new schools. These efforts alienated powerful business interests and especially the Chicago Tribune. But she also isolated herself from the reformers by her willingness to compromise on the controversial issue of removing political influence from the process of teacher promotions. When the other school board reformers were removed by a new mayor, to their dismay, Addams did not resign in protest. Addams' deep belief that she could promote social harmony through dialogue and compromise resulted in a conspicuous failure.

This search for harmony and reconciliation was to meet its biggest challenge when Addams became one of the leading opponents of World War I. Her efforts to induce the combatants to confer instead of continuing to fight and, most important, her efforts to keep her own nation out of the war led to a rapid decline in her reputation and influence. Addams, who had been widely regarded as an American heroine, was reviled and denounced during these years (as were the immigrants she defended).

The rapid decline of Addams' reputation in these difficult years was a severe challenge to her philosophy. Like Dewey, Addams had a deep and abiding faith in reforming society through a new kind of educationan education related to the lives and interests of the people it served. But, as Christopher Lasch has pointed out, "The leap from the school and the settlement to the reform of the social structure as a whole was a much greater leap than the progressives imagined" (1965b, p. 201).

Addams' efforts to avoid war were integral to her constant vision of building a better, more democratic society by educating people to appreciate their common interests and participating in a broader sense of community, an effort that was more deeply appreciated in the postwar years. In 1931 she was finally awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Characteristically, she distributed the monetary reward to the Women's International League for Peace and her Hull-House neighbors.

See also: Dewey, John; Immigrant Education, subentry on United States; Migrants, Education of.


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

Addams, Jane. 1930. The Second Twenty Years at Hull-House: September 1909 to September 1929 with a Record of Growing Consciousness. New York: Macmillan.

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

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

Lasch, Christopher. 1965a. The New Radicalism in America. New York: Vintage.

Lasch, Christopher, ed. 1965b. The Social Thought of Jane Addams. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

Arthur Zilversmit

Addams, Jane (1860–1935)

views updated May 08 2018

Addams, Jane (18601935)

Jane Addams, social reformer, settlement house director, and international peace activist, was born in Cedarville, Illinois, in 1860. She was the eighth child of John H. Addams, a business entrepreneur and Republican state senator. Her mother, Sarah Weber Addams, died during childbirth when Jane was two years old. As a young woman, Jane Addams aspired toward higher education and she graduated as valedictorian from Rockford Seminary in 1881. She entered Women's Medical College in Pennsylvania but withdrew during her first year due to health problems and emotional distress over her father's unexpected death.

After leaving medical school, Addams traveled throughout Europe as she pondered a suitable career. Like many educated, unmarried women of her era, Addams looked to social reform activities to fulfill her high professional ambitions. These burgeoning charitable and service endeavors allowed women to exercise their professional authority while remaining within the acceptable sphere of "women's work." Following an extended visit to East London's Toynbee Hall social settlement, she returned to the United States to found Hull-House, Chicago's famed social settlement, in 1889. Hull-House became the center of her social and political pursuits for the remainder of her life. She resided at Hull-House with her long-term companion, Mary Rozet Smith, and a cadre of progressive social reformers, activists, artists, and intellectuals who took up residence there.

Addams devoted her personal and professional life to improving the human condition through a blend of public sector activism, published writing, and community service. She committed herself to an array of social issues, including labor reform, juvenile justice, public education, women's suffrage, and international peace. Frequently cited as the "mother of social work," Addams was elected as the first female president of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections in 1909. Her career also carried her far into the national and international political arena, where she advocated for women's suffrage, civil rights, and international peace. Among many major historical achievements, Addams was elected the first chairperson of the Women's Peace Party in 1915. That same year, she presided at the International Congress of Women in The Hague, Netherlands. She also founded the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and served as its leader from 1919 until her death in 1935. In 1931, Addams's work was honored with the award of the Nobel Peace Prize (which she received jointly with Nicholas Murray Butler).

Addams's ideology and reform activities were anchored in her deep concern for children and her firm belief in children's innate goodness. In her published writings and speeches, Addams insisted that children possessed a unique creative intellect and a spirit of adventure. Her book The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets condemned modern industrial society for corrupting children's nascent curiosity by exposing them to modern city vice while failing to provide appropriate recreational venues. Both of her autobiographical works, Twenty Years at Hull-House (1910) and The Second Twenty Years at Hull-House (1930), document the benefits of after-school clubs and supervised recreational opportunities for children's development and socialization.

Addams routinely voiced a particular set of concerns for working-class immigrant children and families. She believed that immigrant youth faced unjustifiable hardships stemming from poverty, acculturation, and the exploitation of their labor. As a leader in the Progressive child-saving movement, she launched fervent state and national campaigns against child labor and in favor of compulsory education. She also pressed for labor legislation that would allow working-class parents to spend more time with their children. Her drive to help women and children through protective legislation placed Addams and her colleagues in the center of controversies among the labor movement, the child savers, and some feminist groups.

Addams was also concerned about the plight of modern young women. In stark contrast to her own sheltered upbringing, she believed that the industrial city robbed young women of their innocence. Her work A New Conscience andan Ancient Evil (1912) documents her deepest fears that young working-class women's unfulfilling low-wage work in factories or as domestics would eventually launch them into lives of prostitution. To address these concerns, she encouraged working-class girls to seek protection in a traditional domestic life of marriage and motherhood. Although this belief contradicted some of her outspoken feminist principles, her concern for young working-class women reflected her overarching quest to preserve the sanctity and innocence of youth.

Jane Addams's persistent community activism and work for social justice has left a long-standing imprint on American ideology and policies concerning children, youth, and families. The Hull-House museum in Chicago has preserved many artifacts and some of the original structure of Addams's famed social settlement. Her papers on peace and justice are housed at the Swarthmore College Peace Collection in Pennsylvania.

See also: Juvenile Court; Juvenile Justice; National Child Labor Committee; Social Settlements; Social Welfare; U.S. Children's Bureau.


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

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

Addams, Jane. 1912. A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil. New York: Macmillan.

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

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

Muncy, Robin. 1991. Creating a Female Dominion of American Re-form. New York: Oxford University Press.

internet resources

Bettis, Nicolle. 2003. "Jane Addams 18601935." Available from <>.

University of Illinois at Chicago. 2003. "Jane Addams Hull-House Museum Home Page." Available from <>.

Laura S. Abrams

Addams, (Laura) Jane

views updated May 18 2018


(Laura) Jane Addams (18601935), a social reformer, internationalist, and feminist, was the first American woman to win the Nobel prize for peace. Best known as the founder of Chicago's Hull House, one of the first social settlements in North America, she was widely recognized for her numerous books and articles, social activism, and international efforts for world peace.

Addams was born in Cedarville, Illinois, on September 6, 1860, the eighth of nine children of Sarah and John Huy Addams. When she was only two, her mother died in childbirth. Her father, a prosperous businessman and Illinois state senator, was a friend of President Abraham Lincoln and a widely respected leader in the community.

In 1881 Addams graduated from Rockford College (then Rockford Women's Seminary), the valedictorian of a class of 17. Over the next six years, while intermittently studying medicine, she traveled and studied in Europe, battled an illness characterized by chronic exhaustion, and underwent surgery for a congenital spinal defect.

Confronted with the limited career opportunities available to women in the late nineteenth century, Addams searched for a way to be of service to society. In 1888, at age 27, during a second tour of Europe, she and a college friend, Ellen Gates Starr, visited a pioneering settlement house called Toynbee Hall in a desperately poor area of London. This visit crystallized in their minds the idea of opening a similar facility in one of Chicago's most underprivileged working-class neighborhoods.

The two friends returned home to a city that Lincoln Steffens, a famous writer of the period, described as "loud, lawless, unlovely, ill-smelling, new; an overgrown gawk of a village, the teeming tough among cities." In 1889 Addams acquired a large, vacant mansion built by Charles Hull in 1856 at the corner of Halsted and Polk Streets. She and Ellen Starr moved in and opened the doors of Hull House on September 18, 1889.

The settlement house was an immediate success. By the end of its second year, Hull House was host to two thousand people every week and was soon famous throughout the country. Journalists, educators, and researchers came to observe its operations, well-to-do young women gave their time and effort, and well-known social workers and reformers lived at the settlement and assisted in its activities.

Hull House eventually included 13 buildings and a playground as well as a camp near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Facilities included a day nursery, a gymnasium, a community kitchen, and a boarding club for working women. Among the services provided were the city's first kindergarten and day care center. Hull House also offered college-level courses in various subjects; training in art, music, and crafts; and the nation's first little theater group, the Hull House players. An employment bureau, an art gallery, and libraries and social clubs for men, women, and children were among other services and cultural opportunities offered to the largely immigrant population of the neighborhood.

As her reputation increased, Addams expanded her vision to focus on many crucial social issues of the time. Local activities at Hull House gave way to national activities on behalf of the underprivileged. In 1906 she became the first woman president of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections. She led investigations on midwifery, narcotics consumption, milk supplies, and sanitary conditions. In 1910 she received the first honorary degree ever awarded to a woman by Yale University.

In 1914, at the onset of World War I (19141918), Addams worked for peace, refusing to endorse American participation in the war. For her opposition, she was expelled from the Daughters of the American Revolution and widely attacked in the press. She devoted herself to providing relief supplies of food to the women and children of the enemy nations. In 1915 she accepted the chairmanship of the Women's Peace Party and, four months later, was named president of the International Congress of Women. That organization later became the Women's International Peace League for Peace and Freedom, of which Addams remained president until her death.

In 1931, with Nicholas Murray Butler, Addams was named a cowinner of the Nobel prize for peace. Hospitalized for heart problems at the time of the award ceremony, she was unable to deliver the Nobel lecture in Oslo. She died in 1935 of cancer; appropriately, her funeral service took place in the courtyard of Hull House.

See also: Tenements


Addams, Jane. Democracy and Social Ethics. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1964.

. Twenty Years at Hull House. New York: MacMillan Press, 1910.

Farrell, John C. Beloved Lady: A History of Jane Addams's Ideas on Reform and Peace. New York: John Hopkins Press, 1967.

Tims, Margaret. Jane Addams of Hull House, 1860 1935. London: Allen & Unwin, 1961.

Nash, Roderick. From These Beginnings: A Biographical Approach to American History, vol. 2. New York: Harper Press, 1984, s.v. "Jane Addams."

Addams, Jane (1860-1935)

views updated May 21 2018

Jane Addams (1860-1935)

Social reformer


Early Life. Jane Addams was born on 6 September 1860 at Clearville, Illinois, the eighth of nine children. Her father was a prosperous miller, banker, abolitionist, and community leader who served eight terms as a state senator. Her mother died when Jane was two, and young Jane became devoted to her father, who remarried about two years later. In 1877 Addams entered the Rockford Female Seminary, in nearby Rockford, Illinois, where she became a student leader, graduating in 1881. The seminary encouraged young women to become Christian missionaries in foreign lands, but Addams resisted pressure to enter service abroad. As she wrote in Twenty Years at Hull-House (1910), I was quite settled in my mind that I should study medicine and live with the poor.

Finding Her Way. After her fathers death during the summer after her graduation from Rockford, Addams entered a difficult period. She left Womens Medical College in Philadelphia after only a few months, and, suffering from various physical ailments that left her bedridden for months at a stretch, she was frequently depressed. Travels in Europe in 1883-1885 and 1887-1888 introduced her to urban poverty and blight, experiences that left lasting impressions on her. In 1888 she and Ellen Gates Starr, a close friend and former Rockford classmate, enthusiastically adopted a plan to settle in an urban neighborhood and work directly to relieve the ill effects of poverty. Interested in tearing down divisions between the classes, Starr and Addams insisted that the upper classes must take responsibility for the adverse effects of rapid industrialization on the poor. In 1889 the two bought Hull-House in a Chicago neighborhood populated with Greek, Italian, Russian, German, and Sicilian immigrants. Addams lived at Hull-House for the remaining forty-six years of her life.

Hull-House. Addamss settlement house provided a new generation of educated white women with a place in which to do meaningful work. Many of Addamss peers were eager to apply their knowledge and talents in settings where human suffering was the greatest. As Starr wrote to a friend, Addams considered settlement-house work more for the benefit of the people who do it than for the other class. Bringing these two groups together was by any measure brilliant. By 1893 the Hull-House complex was the center of neighborhood activity, offering day care for children, a gymnasium, a dispensary, a playground, courses in cooking and sewing, and a cooperative boardinghouse for working girls. Two thousand people entered Hull-House each week. As was typical of other nineteenth-century progressives, Addams believed in the relationship between art and social justice, and Hull-House supported a range of artistic activities, such as a gallery, a theater company, and a music school. By 1907 the Hull-House complex included thirteen buildings spread over a large city block.

City Politics. By 1895 Addams and her group of settlement-house workers had realized that neighborhood services and cultural uplift alone could not solve the deep-seated problems associated with urban poverty. The staff published their views in Hull-House Maps and Papers, which called attention to unsafe and unsanitary conditions in urban tenements and sweatshops and to widespread child-labor practices. Pressure from Hull-House on the Chicago city government had already resulted in the passage in 1893 of the first Illinois factory-inspection act, and in 1894 the Hull-House staff had mounted an ambitious campaign to improve the lives of the working poor. They proposed to end child labor, shorten hours for working women, improve welfare procedures, convince the city to recognize labor unions, provide protection for immigrants from unscrupulous landlords and employers, institute compulsory schooling, and improve industrial safety. In 1899 the establishment in Chicago of the first juvenile court in the United States was largely the result of the efforts of the Hull-House staff.

National Fame, Local Suspicion. Addamss efforts in Chicago brought her national fame. Much sought after as a lecturer, she served on the Chicago school board in 1905-1909 and became involved in the movement for world peace. Her articles appeared in many periodicals, and she published four books during the years 1900-1910: Democracy and Social Ethics (1902), Newer Ideals of Peace (1907), The Spirit of Youth in the City Streets (1909), and Twenty Years at Hull-House (1910). She was awarded an honorary degree by Yale University in 1910, becoming the first woman to receive such an honor, and in 1911 she became the first head of the National Federation of Settlements. Celebrities regularly visited her at Hull-House, and Theodore Roosevelt made several tours. While Addams had become a national hero, in Chicago her support for labor unions made her unpopular among the wealthy classes. She often managed to offend patrons with her open-minded approach to politics, believing as she did that every person deserved to be heard. Despite criticism, Hull-House continued to support unpopular causes and Addams enjoyed a long public career. In 1931 she and Columbia University president Nicholas Murray Butler shared the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to bring about worldwide disarmament and international peace. She died on 21 May 1935. Her funeral at Hull-House brought thousands of mourners, reportedly as many as two thousand an hour.


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

Cornelia Meigs, Jane Addams, Pioneer for Social Justice: A Biography (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970).

Jane Addams

views updated May 11 2018

Jane Addams

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

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

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

Finding a Career

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

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

Creation of Hull House

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

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

Further Reading

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

Additional Sources

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

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

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

Addams, Jane

views updated Jun 11 2018

Addams, Jane (1860–1935), American social reformer, settlement house founder, pacifist, and writer.Addams was born 6 September 1860 in Cedarville, Illinois. Heir to her father's political sensibilities, Jane Addams's early heroes were Abraham Lincoln and Giuseppe Mazzini. A member of the first generation of college women, she found a way to put her social gospel and piety directly to work with the founding (with Ellen Gates Starr) of Hull House, a settlement house in Chicago's immigrant ghetto. In 1889, Addams claimed that democratic political governance was, in fact, a form of civic housekeeping: she became a leading social reformer of the era and a founder of modern social work.

Jane Addams's world was turned upside down with the outbreak of World War I. Her defense of radicals and anarchists, her brave and often lonely devotion to pacifism and opposition to “the idea of war” as well as its terrible reality, placed her outside the American mainstream and brought down derision and abuse. In 1915, Addams, Emily Greene Balch, and others helped to create the Woman's Peace Party, which called for “continuous mediation.” This was the forerunner to the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, founded in 1919, of which Jane Addams was a founding mother and president from its inception in 1915 to her death. An advocate of women's suffrage, Addams in her articles, speeches, and books traced the powerful role women must play in promoting peace as an imperative to preserve human life. Her understanding of feminism set it in “unalterable” opposition to militarism.

Unfairly and inaccurately called a traitor and a Bolshevik, Addams never reneged on her commitments to civil liberties or to pacifism. Her joint recognition (with Nicholas Murray Butler) for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 and her embodiment of the notion of service helped restore her stature as one of America's foremost humanitarians.


Christopher Lasch, ed., The Social Thought of Jane Addams, 1965.
Daniel Levine , Jane Addams and the Liberal Tradition, 1980.

Jean Bethke Elshtain

Addams, Jane (1860–1935)

views updated May 18 2018

Addams, Jane (1860–1935)

American settlement-house founder. Born Sep 6, 1860, in Cedarville, Illinois; died in Chicago, May 21, 1935; dau. of John (Illinois entrepreneur and legislator) and Sarah (Weber) Addams; graduate of Rockford Female Seminary, 1881 (granted degree when it became Rockford College, 1882); attended Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania for one year.

One of the heroes and legends of American liberalism who, in an age dominated by laissez-faire conservatism, worked to restore a fractured sense of American community and to bring the full benefits of national life to the poorest and most recent immigrants; enrolled at Rockford Seminary (1877); advocated progressive reforms, pacifism, and cultural diversity; made 1st visit to Europe (1883) and 2nd visit with Ellen Gates Starr (1887); with Starr, founded Hull House, a Chicago settlement house, which became the influential center of a national movement aimed at bringing education, sanitation, recreation, and political representation to the most disadvantaged citizens of the new urban civilization (1889); elected chair of Women's Peace Party and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (1916); awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (1931). Writings include Democracy and Social Ethics (1902), Newer Ideals of Peace (1907), The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets (1912), Peace and Bread in Time of War (1922), The Excellent Becomes the Permanent (1932), and My Friend, Julia Lathrop (1935).

See also memoirs Twenty Years at Hull House (1910) and The Second Twenty Years at Hull House (1930); Allen Freeman Davis, American Heroine: The Life and Legend of Jane Addams (Oxford U. Press, 1973); John C. Farrell, Beloved Lady (Johns Hopkins, 1967); and Women in World History.

Addams, Jane

views updated May 17 2018

Addams, Jane (1860–1935) US social reformer. In 1931, she became the first US woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, sharing the prize with Nicholas M. Butler. In 1889, she founded Hull House, Chicago, an early social settlement house. Addams pioneered labour, housing, health, and legal reforms, and campaigned for female suffrage and pacifism.