The Life of Jane Addams

Jane Addams was born on September 06, 1860, in Cedarville, Illinois. She was the eighth of nine children born to Sarah Weber Addams and John H. Addams. Jane’s mother died of tuberculosis during her ninth pregnancy, when Jane was two years old. Jane herself suffered from Pott’s disease, which caused her to have curvature of the spine, as well as other health problems throughout her life.

Jane attended the Rockford Female Seminary in Illinois, and after graduating began studies at the Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia. Unfortunately she had to leave after 7 months for health reasons. Soon after that her father died, bequeathing her $50,000. She used this money to travel abroad, and it was during her second trip to Europe in 1887, along with Ellen Gates Starr, that she visited London’s Toynbee Hall. This was a settlement home for young boys which became the inspiration for her own Hull House in Chicago, which she co-founded in 1889 with Miss Starr. Hull House was the very first settlement house in the United States. Jane used some of her inheritance to fund it, along with donations. She later used proceeds from various books that she wrote, including Twenty Years at Hull House, A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil , Peace and Bread in Times of War and the Second Twenty Years at Hull House. As many as two thousand people passed through it’s doors every week, without even the need of a background check.

In 1905 Jane Addams was appointed to Chicago’s Board of Education, where she eventually served as Chairman of the School Management Committee. In 1908 she was influential in founding the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy. The following year she became the first woman president of the National Conference of Charities and Correction and was a charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Yale University took note of her accomplishments and in 1910, awarded her the first honorary degree ever awarded to a women by the institute.

Addams, who had campaigned diligently for Roosevelt in 1912, became disillusioned when he abandoned his previous platform. Seeing that war was on the horizon, she organized the Women’s Peace Party in 1915, along with the International Congress of Women. Despite her efforts, she failed to convince the president not to enter the war, and her verbal objections and speeches caused her to be expelled from the Daughters of the American Revolution. She then became the first president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She remained in that position until her death.

Despite continuous criticism and accusations of being a pacifist, a socialist, and anarchist, and even a communist, Jane Addams received numerous awards during her life culminating in the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.It was in that year that her health began to fail, though she continued her work, including writing the biography entitled My Friend Julia Lathrop, which was published in 1935, the same year Jane Addams died. Her funeral was held at her beloved Hull House and was attended by thousands of people before her body was returned to Cedarville to be laid to rest.

Additional information on the life and accomplishments of Miss Jane Addams may be found at the following resources: