Know it all about Jane Addams the pioneer activist

Early Years

Her father was a prosperous miller and local political leader who served for sixteen years as a state senator who fought as an officer in the Civil War, and was a friend of Abraham Lincoln. Jane Addams was born in September 6, 1860, in Cedarville, Illinois. But because of a congenital spinal defect, Jane was not physically vigorous when young nor truly robust even later in life. Later, her spinal difficulty was remedied by surgery. Jane Addams was a pioneer American settlement activist and reformer, social worker, public philosopher, sociologist, author, and leader in women’s suffrage and world peace. Addams was one of the most prominent reformers of the Progressive Era. She helped America to address and focus on issues that were of concern to mothers, such as the needs of children, local public health, and world peace. She said that if women were to be responsible for cleaning up their communities and making them better places to live, they needed to be able to vote to do so effectively. She became a role model for middle-class women who volunteered to uplift their communities. She is increasingly being recognized as a member of the American pragmatist school of philosophy.

Jane Addams and Ellen Starr moved into Hull House on September 18, 1889. They started their program by inviting people living in the area to hear readings from books and to look at slides of paintings. After talking to the visitors from the neighborhood it soon became clear that the women of the area had a desperate need for a place where they could bring their young children. Addams and Starr decided to start a kindergarten and provide a room where the mothers could sit and talk. Within three weeks the kindergarten had enrolled twenty-four children with 70 more on the waiting list. Soon after a day-nursery was added.

Jane Addams_1906_charity in chicago_Yosef Meystel

Image courtesy of Cliff at

The Hull House

She created the first Hull House. In an era when presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson identified themselves as reformers and social activists. Hull House was a settlement house in the United States that was co-founded in 1889 by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr. Located in the Near West Side of Chicago, Illinois, Hull House opened its doors to recently arrived European immigrants. Situated at 800 S. Halstead Street in the run-down Nineteenth Ward of Chicago, most of the people living in the area at the time were recently arrived immigrants from Europe, including people from Germany, Italy, Sweden, England, Ireland, France, Russia, Norway, Greece, Bulgaria, Holland, Portugal, Scotland, Wales, Spain and Finland. The Hull mansion and several subsequent acquisitions were continuously renovated to accommodate the changing demands of the association. By 1911, Hull House had grown to 13 buildings. In 1912 the Hull House complex was completed with the addition of a summer camp, the Bowen Country Club. With its innovative social, educational, and artistic programs, Hull House became the standard bearer for the movement that had grown, by 1920, to almost 500 settlement houses nationally.

The Hull House building was designated a Chicago Landmark. Then, it was designated as a U.S. National Historic Landmark. On October 15, 1966, which is the day that the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 was enacted, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Hull House was one of the four original members to be listed on both the Chicago Registered Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places list. Addams remained head resident of Hull House until her death in 1935. Hull House continued to be active on Halsted Street until the 1960s, when it was displaced by the University of Illinois’ new urban campus. Jane Addams Hull House Association filed for bankruptcy due to financial difficulties, after 122 years. On Friday, January 27, 2012, Hull House closed unexpectedly and all employees received their final paychecks. Employees learned at time of closing that they would not receive severance pay or earned vacation pay or health care coverage. Union officials said that the agency closed while owing employees more than $27,000 in unpaid expense reimbursement claims. Today it continues under the name of Jane Addams Hull House Association, an umbrella organization composed of several social service centers across the city. An additional building and the original Hull House survive today as a museum.

Yosef Meystel found out that in addition to her work at the Hull House, Addams began serving on Chicago’s Board of Education in 1905, later chairing its School Management Committee. Five years later, in 1910, she became the first female president of the National Conference of Social Work. She went on to establish the National Federation of Settlements the following year, holding that organization’s top post for more than two decades thereafter.

Continuing in my series of Chicago history, I am now reading about Jane Addams and Hull House._charity in chicago_Yosef Meystel

Image courtesy of Laurie Chipps at

Nobel Peace Prize

She unsuccessfully tried to persuade President Woodrow Wilson to call a conference to mediate a negotiated end to hostilities during World War I. During the war she spoke throughout the country in favor of increased food production to aid the starving in Europe, claiming that the war benefited only munitions makers and encouraged political repression. She was vilified for her opposition to American involvement. After the armistice she helped found the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, serving as president from 1919 until her death in 1935. A decade later she became a national heroine and Chicago’s leading citizen. In 1931, her long involvement in international efforts to end war was recognized when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Final Years

While often troubled by health problems in her youth, Jane Addams’s health began to seriously decline after a heart attack in 1926. She died on May 21, 1935, at the age of 74, in Chicago, Illinois. Today, Addams is remembered not only as a pioneer in the field of social work, but as one of the nation’s leading pacifists.


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