Laura Jane Addams was born September 6, 1860, in Cedarville, Illinois to Sarah and John Huy Addams, a senator and businessman from Illinois. She was the eighth of nine children and struggled with health problems from early on. in 1881, she graduated from the Rockford Female Seminary in Illinois and briefly attended medical school. On a trip to London with a friend, she visited Toynbee Hall in London, an institution designed to help fight poverty. This inspired her to want to create a a similar settlement house in Chicago.
The Hull House
Addam's dream came true in 1889 when she and her friend, Ellen Gates Starr, established their own settlement house in Chicago, which was one of the first in the United States and the first in Chicago. It was named the Hull House for the former owner of the large building and served the poor members of society and recently arrived immigrants by providing services such as day care, educational classes, libraries, and an employment office. It grew rapidly and served 2,000+ people per week in only its second year of operation. Hull House eventually consisted of 13 buildings and included a gymnasium, cooperative housing for working women, and meeting space for trade union groups by 1900. There were many Hull House women interested in social reform that petitioned the Illinois state government to enact mandatory education rules, child labor regulations, and laws supporting women and children living in poverty.
"Nothing could be worse than the fear that one had given up too soon, and left one unexpended effort that might have saved the world."
- 1905: Served on the Board of Education in Chicago and was a chair member of the School Management Committee
- 1910: Wrote her autobiography 20 Years at Hull-House in which she promoted the importance of helping immigrants adjust to American customs while valuing their own traditions and values
- 1910: Became first female president of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections (later known as the National Conference of Social Work)
- 1911: Founded the National Federation of Settlements which advocated progressive efforts in employment, social security, and labor policies.
- 1914-1918 (WWI): Tried to persuade Woodrow Wilson to negotiate a conference to end WWI as war was detrimental to reform movements and gave public addresses promoting additional food production to aid the starving in Europe
- 1919: Co-founded the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, serving as president until her death in 1935
- 1931: Received the Nobel Peace Prize for her international work to end war
Death and Legacy
Jane Addams died due to declining health and a heart attack in 1935. She is revered as a pioneer in social work public philosopher, sociologist, author, leader in women's suffrage and world peace, and her role as one of America's top pacifists.