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Jane Addams (1860–1935)

Portrait of Jane Addams from her book, Twenty Years at Hull-House, with Autobiographical Notes. New York: Macmillan, 1912.
Portrait of Jane Addams from her book, Twenty
Years at Hull-House, with Autobiographical Notes.
New York: Macmillan, 1912.

Jane Addams, activist, social worker, author, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, is best remembered as the founder of Hull-House in Chicago, a progressive social settlement that sought to reduce poverty through offering social services and educational opportunities to the poor immigrants and laborers of working-class Chicago. Addams became one of the country's most prominent women through her settlement work, her writing, and, later, as an international activist for world peace.

The eighth of nine children, Jane Addams was born in Cedarville, Illinois, and graduated from Rockford College in 1882. Her father was a wealthy industrialist and a friend of Abraham Lincoln. In 1888, Addams visited Toynbee Hall, a settlement house located in London's East End. The visit inspired her to undertake a similar effort in an underprivileged area of Chicago. In 1889, she leased and took residence in a large home built by Charles Hull, where she proposed "to provide a center for a higher civic and social life, to institute and maintain educational and philanthropic enterprises, and to investigate and improve the conditions in the industrial districts of Chicago."

To the largely immigrant population living and working in the industrial neighborhood, Hull-House offered kindergarten and day-care facilities for children of working mothers, an art gallery, libraries, music and art classes, and an employment bureau. By its second year, Hull-House was serving over 2,000 residents every week and, by 1900, had grown to include a book bindery, gymnasium, pool, cooperative residence for working women, theater, labor museum, and meetingplace for trade union groups.

Those who worked alongside Jane Addams in Hull-House included Florence Kelley, Alice Hamilton, Julia Lathrop, Ellen Gates Starr, Sophonisba Breckinridge, and Grace and Edith Abbott, all of whom became well-known activists as a result of their experiences at Hull-House. They became a powerful lobby, launching a number of innovative social programs, including the Immigrants' Protective League, the Juvenile Protective Association, the first juvenile court in the nation, and a Juvenile Psychopathic Clinic (later called the Institute for Juvenile Research). In addition, they helped convince the Illinois legislature to enact protective legislation for women and children, child labor laws, and compulsory education laws.

Jane Addams wrote prolifically on topics related to services at Hull-House, spoke in the US and abroad, and was active in many local and national organizations. She served as a founding member of the National Child Labor Committee, chartered by Congress in 1907, which led to the creation of the Federal Children's Bureau in 1912 and the passage of a Federal Child Labor Law in 1916.

A member of the Progressive Party, Addams was also a leader in the National Consumers League; the first woman president of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections (later the National Conference of Social Work); chair of the Labor Committee of the General Federation of Women's Clubs; vice president of the Campfire Girls; and on the executive boards of the National Playground Association, the National Child Labor Committee, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In addition, she supported the campaign for women's suffrage and the founding of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920.

Addams became active in the international peace movement in the early 20th century. She spoke out against America's entry into the First World War, both in a 1913 ceremony commemorating the building of the Peace Palace at the Hague and throughout the next two years as a lecturer sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation. Addams was attacked for her public opposition to the war and was expelled from the Daughters of the American Revolution. Nonetheless, she was later nominated to serve as an assistant to Herbert Hoover in providing relief supplies to the women and children of the enemy nations, a story she later told in Peace and Bread in Time of War (1922). She continued her pacifist work through the Women's Peace Party, which became the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in 1919. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

Addams continued to live and work at Hull-House until her death in 1935.

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