(American social reformer and pacifist, co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1931)
Jane Addams was born 'Laura Jane Addams' on September 6, 1860; she was the daughter of a well-to-do gentleman, and her mother was known to be a very kind, gentle woman. However, Jane never really got to know her mother, for she was only two when her mom died...leaving Jane's father with five children to raise. He remarried and her new stepmother brought two new step-brothers into the family.
Jane became very close to her dad and began to mimic everything and eagerly learned everything he had to teach her including tolerance for others, philanthropy, and a the importance of a strong work ethic. He encouraged her to seek a higher education, and Jane attended the Rockford Seminary for young women, excelling in all of her studies. It was there that she developed her strong leadership traits. She decided to pursue a career in medicine, but her parents felt that she had enough education and were afraid this would affect her decision to marry and have children...something expected form upper class women in those days.
Her parents felt that that perhaps they could get Jane's mind off medical school by taking her and several of her friends to Europe for a year or two. It was while they were away that Jane first began to show signs of illness. Then unexpectedly, her dad died of acute appendicitis. This set Jane into a deep depression and left her with a sense of guilt that somehow she had upset him due to her insistence on attending medical school...and her illness was getting worse. By now, she could barely walk or move without great pain. Although it has been said that Jane's illness was stress related, we do know that she did have a slight curvature of the spine. Eventually, she had surgery and was an invalid for almost two years. Then, when she recovered she headed to Europe again.
She returned to the states in 1887 with a Rockford classmate, Ellen Gates...this time with a new vision and dream for her future. While in Europe, the pair had visited Toynbee Hall in London, a settlement house...and she and Ellen were determined to create something much the same, and once commited, there was no stopping them, especially Jane. Thus, Hull House was born. Jane and Ellen acquired a large vacant residence built by Charles Hull and moved into it on September 18, 1889. The house provided services for the immigrant and poor population of the neighborhood. People flocked to her, and within a few years, Hull House offered medical care, child care, and legal aid...as well as classes for immigrants to learn English and vocational skills.
In 1893 a severe depression hist the country, and Hull House was serving over 2,000 people weekly. Jane realized that if laws were not changed, there would be no end to poverty, so now she turned her efforts to the root causes of poverty. She worked diligently towards goals including the first juvenile court law, tenement house regulation, 8 hour working days for women, factory inspection, and workers' compensation. She strove for justice for immigrants and blacks and supported women's suffrage. In 1915, in an effort to avert war, she organized the Women's Peace Party and the International Congress of Women. In 1919 she was elected first president of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, a position she held until her death. She was involved in the founding of the ACLU in 1920 and was co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.
Hull House continued to be successful, and when the depression of the 1930's struck, Jane saw many of the things she had advocated and fought for become policies under President Franklyn Roosevelt. In 1931, just after winning the Nobel Prize, her health began to fail, but she continued her work until her death from cancer in 1935. At the time of her death she had written 10 books, more than 2,000 articles, and had given hundreds of speeches. Thousands of people came to her funeral at Hull House. Jane Addams was truly an extraordinary woman. She is one of the reasons society lives the way they do.
(Family at Hull House)