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Who Was Jane Addams?

I recently came across an interesting article written about Jane Addams and ashamedly realized that I knew little of her history and achievements. Her name should ring a bell as she was the second woman to become awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which she earned in recognition of founding the social work profession in the United States. During the progressive era, along with Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, she considered herself a reformer and social activist, and when she died in 1935, her name was widely known across the United States.

As a child growing up in Cedarville, Illinois, she had a dream that everyone in the world was gone except herself and that the responsibility of building a wagon wheel rested solely upon her shoulders. She shared, “I stood in the blacksmith shop pondering on how to begin, and never once knew how, although I fully realized that the affairs of the world could not be resumed until at least one wheel should be made and something started.” Though she never actually built a wagon wheel, she did create something truly unique, a settlement to feed the hungry, care for the sick, educate and entertain the public, nurture children, and give comfort to the elderly.

Per Modern Americans, “She went to live in one of the poorest and most wretched parts of Chicago. There she furnished her house exactly as if it had been in some beautiful street. She called her home a settlement and invited her neighbors to come in daily for comfort and cheer.” Hull House, founded in 1889, became a welcoming place on Halstead Street for all, especially embracing immigrant communities.

Addams was drawn toward education and civic responsibility. In 1910 she received the first honorary degree ever awarded to a woman by Yale University. As a feminist in the days before women’s suffrage, she believed that the voices of women should be heard in legislation, and she supported the right for women to vote. Among her noble goals was to rid the world of war. She also wanted to help people who were suffering from social injustice, poverty, racism, oppression, unregulated labor, and poor housing conditions.

Addams founded the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1919 and chaired a women’s conference for peace held in the Netherlands. When the US entered World War I, she spoke out against it and was viewed as a radical. Not only was she attacked by the press, but she was also expelled from the Daughters of the American Revolution.

As shared by nobelprize.org, Addams discovered an outlet for her humanitarian efforts by assisting Herbert Hoover in providing relief supplies to women and children of enemy nations. She was critical of the peace treaty at the war’s end, believing that Germany would be left bitter and wanting revenge. However, in 1931, she was awarded the Noble Peace Prize jointly with Nicholas Murray Butler, “for their assiduous effort to revive the ideal of peace and to rekindle the spirit of peace in their own nation and in the whole of mankind.”

Despite some controversy, Jane Addams was an overall force for goodness and peace. Proudly, the original Hull-House is now a visitable museum, operating as part of the College of Architecture and the Arts at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and is open to the public. Its establishment as a social, educational, and artistic program became the catalyst for the creation of other settlement houses during the progressive movement. To learn more about Jane Addams and other social reformers and to connect to this important piece of history, visit JANE ADDAMS HULL-HOUSE MUSEUM to reserve a visit or take a self-guided virtual tour from the comfort of your home.


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Frank Bublitz
8 months ago

Jane Adams’ Hull House was where Viola Spolin( Spolin) founded “Theatrical Improvisation” or ” Improv”. As a mental health professional who teaches improv to severely mentally ill people have part of their recovery I am even more grateful for people like Jane Addams. They stuck to their principles they did things outside of conventional thinking. The more I try to show people the benefits of arts like in Prague the more their traditional thinking gets in the way. Thank you for writing this insightful and informational article about Jane Addams. It will be motivating for me to press onward.

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