Jane Addams

Lived:September 6, 1860—May 21, 1935 (aged 74)
Career:Social worker, public philosopher, sociologist, author and leader in U.S. women's suffrage movement

Jane Addams was a settlement social worker, public philosopher, sociologist, author, and leader in women's suffrage and world peace. She was the second woman and the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1931, and is recognized as the founder of the social work profession in the United States.

Addams was born on September 6, 1860, in Cedarville, Illinois. Her father, John Addams, was a founding member of the Illinois Republican Party and served as an Illinois State Senator from 1855 to 1870. He was friends with Abraham Lincoln and supported his candidacies for senator and president. As a young child, she contracted tuberculosis of the spine (Potts's disease), which caused a curvature in her spine and life-long health problems.

In her teens, Addams decided to become a doctor so that she could help the poor. Her father encouraged her to pursue higher education but required that she attend Rockford Female Seminary (now Rockford University), in Rockford, Illinois, rather than the college of her choice, Smith College in Massachusetts. She graduated from Rockford in 1881 with a collegiate certificate. Her hopes to then attend Smith College for a B.A. were changed after her father died unexpectedly that summer. Instead, Addams, her sister Alice, Alice's husband and their stepmother moved to Philadelphia so that the three could attend medical school. Jane and Alice completed a year of medical school at the Woman's Medical College of Philadelphia. However, due to Jane's health problems and her stepmother's illness, the family returned to Cedarville. After a surgery on her back to straighten it, Addams and her stepmother spent several years travelling in Europe.

In 1889, Addams and her college friend Ellen Gates Starr co-founded Hull House in Chicago, Illinois, the first settlement house in the United States. Originally intended as a way to bring art and culture to the neighborhood, the focus shifted to addressing the needs of the community and providing training for young social workers. By 1912, Hull House consisted of 13 buildings and a summer camp. Addams ran Hull House as head resident until her death in 1935.

The adult night school at Hull House was a forerunner of the continuing education classes offered by many universities today. Although Addams lectured at colleges around the country and offered college courses through the Extension Division of the University of Chicago, she declined faculty positions with the university, instead focusing on her goal of teaching adults unable to enroll in formal academic institutions because of their poverty and/or lack of credentials. This also allowed her to pursue her political activism with no university restrictions. Addams was a charter member of the American Sociological Society and was the most prominent woman member during her lifetime.

Addams was also active in the peace movement. In 1898, she joined the Anti-Imperialist League, in opposition to the U.S. annexation of the Philippines. In 1915, she was elected national chairman of the Woman's Peace Party and president of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. That same years, she was also a leader at the International Congress of Women at The Hague. In 1917, she became a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation USA, and was a member of the Fellowship Council until 1933. In 1915, she presided at the first meeting of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) in Zurich, Switzerland, which she served as president. During her travels with these organizations, she met with a wide variety of diplomats and civic leaders. In 1931, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first U.S. woman to win the prize. She donated her prize money to the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

Addams died on May 21, 1935, in Chicago, Illinois.

For additional speeches and materials by Addams, visit https://digital.janeaddams.ramapo.edu.