Girl History Month – Jane Addams, Social Reformer And Nobel Prize Winner

English: American social reformer, Jane Addams

English: American social reformer, Jane Addams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jane Addams was a founder of the Settlement House Movement in the United States. She was the first American Woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

On a trip to England as a young woman, Jane was introduced to the founders and the workings of Toynbee Hall, a settlement house in the slums of London. After her return to the United States, she and her traveling companion, Ellen Starr, committed themselves to the idea of starting a settlement house in Chicago. They founded Hull House in the slums of Chicago in 1889. Most everything they needed Jane was able to procure with the generosity of patrons. Money poured in. Within a few years, Hull House offered medical care, child care and legal aid. It also provided classes for immigrants to learn English, vocational skills, music, art and drama.

In 1893 a severe depression rocked the country. Hull House was serving over two thousand people a week. As charitable efforts increased, so too did political ones. Jane realized that there would be no end to poverty if laws were not changed. She directed her efforts at the root causes of poverty. The workers joined Jane to lobby the state of Illinois to examine laws governing child labor, the factory inspection system, and the juvenile justice system. They worked for legislation to protect immigrants from exploitation, limit the working hours of women, mandate schooling for children, recognize labor unions, and provide for industrial safety.

She became a very controversial figure while working on behalf of economic reform. When horrible working conditions led to the Haymarket riot, Jane was personally attacked for her support of the workers. It resulted in a great loss of donor support for Hull House. She supplemented Hull House funding with revenue from lecture tours and article writing. She began to enjoy international acclaim. Her first book was published in 1910 and others followed biennially. Her biggest success in writing came with the release of the book, Twenty Years at Hull House.

Addams foresaw World War I. In 1915, in an effort to avert war, she organized the Women’s Peace Party and the International Congress of Women. This latter organization met at The Hague and made serious diplomatic attempts to thwart the war. When these efforts failed and the U.S. joined the war in 1917, criticism of Addams rose. She was expelled from the Daughters of the American Revolution, but it did not slow her down. 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 a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). She was a charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), having answered the “call” in 1909 that led to the organization’s formation. These positions earned her even more criticism than her pacifism. She was accused of being a socialist, an anarchist and a communist.

Hull House, however, continued to be successful. When the depression of the 1930’s struck, Addams saw many of the things that she had advocated and fought for become policies under President Franklin Roosevelt. She received numerous awards during this time including, in 1931, the Nobel Peace Prize.

9 thoughts on “Girl History Month – Jane Addams, Social Reformer And Nobel Prize Winner

  1. Jueseppi B. says:

    Reblogged this on The ObamaCrat.Com™ and commented:
    Thank you Ms. DeLong, for another great “Girl History Month” entry in your series.

  2. Sundry says:

    I read Twenty Years at Hull House about 15 years ago, and loved it. It held up very well and was fascinating.

  3. Rick Visser says:

    Thanks much for this. I appreciate the refresher. Best, Rick

  4. Yet another heroine of mine!
    My fifth grade teacher took us to Hull House on a field trip (followed by the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago and lunch in Chinatown – she was a remarkable teacher). We were able to see many of the rooms in Hull House and the experience gave me my first real glimpse into social justice. Years later, I found a pictorial book of Hull House by Wallace Kirkland, who lived with his family and photographed Hull House before moving on to LIfe Magazine. I was doubly fascinated as his son was my doctor, who kindly shared some of his experiences growing up in Hull House and knowing Jane Addams as a child.

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