Born on September 6, 1860 in the small farming town of Cedarville, Illinois, with a deep sense of social mission, a progressive social reformer and activist, Jane Addams was on the frontline of the settlement house movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
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She later became internationally respected for the peace activism that ultimately won her a Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, the first American woman to receive this honor.
In 1889, Addams and Starr founded Hull House in Chicago’s poor, industrial west side, the first settlement house in the United States. The goal was for educated women to share all kinds of knowledge, from basic skills to arts and literature with poorer people in the neighborhood.
Addams expanded her efforts to improve society. Along with other progressive women reformers, she was instrumental in successfully lobbying for the establishment of a juvenile court system, better urban sanitation and factory laws, protective labor legislation for women, and more playgrounds and kindergartens throughout Chicago. In 1907, Addams was a founding member of the National Child Labor Committee, which played a significant role in passage of a Federal Child Labor Law in 1916. Addams led an initiative to establish a School of Social Work at the University of Chicago.
Addams also served as president of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections from 1909-1915, and became active in the women’s suffrage movement as an officer in the National American Women’s Suffrage Association and pro. She was also among the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
During World War I, Addams found her second major calling: promoting international peace. An avowed pacifist, she protested US entry into World War I, which dinged her popularity and prompted harsh criticism from some newspapers. Publicly opposed to America’s entry into the war, Miss Addams was attacked in the press and expelled from the Daughters of the American Revolution, but she found an outlet for her humanitarian impulses as an assistant to Herbert Hoover in providing relief supplies of food to the women and children of the enemy nations, the story of which she told in her book Peace and Bread in Time of War (1922).
Addams, however, believed human beings were capable of solving disputes without violence. She joined a group of women peace activists who toured the warring nations, hoping to bring about peace. In 1915, she headed the Women’s Peace Party and shortly thereafter also became president of the International Congress of Women. Addams wrote articles and gave speeches worldwide promoting peace and she helped found the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1919, serving as its president until 1929 and honorary president until her death in 1935.
She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in 1931, the first American woman to receive the award. She also wrote a book about her work at Hull House, as well as other books promoting peace. A heart attack in 1926 took a toll on her health and though she pushed on, she never fully recovered. Addams died on May 21, 1935.