Jane Addams

Settlement House Pioneer and Nobel Prize Winner

Jane Addams
Jane Addams. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Jane Addams Facts

Known for: founding of Hull-House; her work was foundational to the social work profession

Occupation: settlement house reformer, pacifist, women's rights advocate
Dates: September 6, 1860 - May 21, 1935
Also Known as: Laura Jane Addams

Jane Addams Biography

Jane Addams was born in Cedarville, Illinois. Her mother died when she was two, and she was raised by her father and, later, a stepmother, Anna Haldeman.

  Her father was an active politician as well as a wealthy businessman and active church  member.  He was one of the founders of the Republican Party, elected to the Illinois State Senate from that party in 1854 and serving until 1870.

Jane Addams graduated from Rockford Female Seminary in 1881, among the first students there to take a course of study equivalent to that of men at other institutions. She was valedictorian. Her father, whom she admired tremendously, died that same year, 1881.

Jane Addams attended Woman's Medical College in Pennsylvania, but she left the college, probably due to her ill health and her chronic back pain. Jane Addams toured Europe 1883-5 and then lived in Baltimore 1885-7, but did not figure out what she wanted to do with her education and her skills.  

At the time, an educated woman usually had few options outside of teaching school or becoming a missionary.  She later described this as a woman's choice between the "family claim" and the "social claim" -- to serve through having a family, or to serve society more broadly through social service work.

Settlement House

In 1888, on a visit to England with her Rockford classmate Ellen Gates Starr, Jane Addams visited Toynbee Settlement Hall and London's East End. Jane Addams and Ellen Starr planned to start an American equivalent of that settlement house. After their return they chose Hull mansion, a building which, though originally built at the edge of the city, had become surrounded by an immigrant neighborhood and was by then run down and being used as a warehouse.

Using an experimental model of reform -- trying solutions to see what would work, adapting as experiments worked or didn't -- and committed to full- and part-time residents to keep in touch with the neighborhood's real needs, Jane Addams quickly built Hull-House into an institution known worldwide. Much of her funding came from wealthy women in Chicago. Addams wrote articles, lectured widely and did most of the fund-raising personally and served on many social work, social welfare and settlement house boards and commissions.  Her approach, which also stressed the role of women in social welfare, was sometimes called social feminism.

Her first conception of the settlement house as a place for educated women to raise the cultural level of the poor fairly quickly evolved into an understanding that social services like child care, visiting services, rooms for young working women, and classes for immigrants were more important.  She developed her ideas into a robust theory of democracy as the empowerment of and participation of all members of the community.

More Social Reform

The Pullman strike of 1894, following a depression the year before, brought Addams' attention to the larger issues behind the individual struggles of those who were poor.

Her 1894 essay, A Modern Lear, analyzed the Pullman Strike by comparing George Pullman to King Lear.  She became involved in the Progressive movement and its wider efforts for social reform, including housing and sanitation issues, factory inspection, rights of immigrants, women and children, pacifism and the 8-hour day. 

The work of Addams and the residents of Hull-House to survey the neighborhood carefully, published as Hull-House Maps and Papers in 1895, was key in the founding of the scientific study of social conditions.  Her emphasis on not just data collection, but acting on the results, helped shape the early profession of social work.  

She worked closely with University of Chicago faculty.  John Dewey not only taught Greek philosophy to the Greek immigrant men coming to Hull House, but consulted with Addams on her work, and named his daughter after Addams.

 Sophonisba Breckinridge and Edith Abbott, also at the University of Chicago, drew Addams into influencing the early years of the School of Social Work at the University.

She served as a Vice President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association from 1911-1914.

In 1912, Jane Addams campaigned for the Progressive Party and its presidential candidate, Teddy Roosevelt. She worked with the Peace Party, helped found and served as president (1919-1935) of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and was a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Many of the leaders of progressive social reform, both in Chicago and nationally, were residents of Hull-House, including Frances PerkinsFlorence Kelley, Alice Hamilton, Mary Kenney O'Sullivan and Mary McDowell.

Nobel Prize

In 1931 Jane Addams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, shared with Nicholas Murray Butler, but her health was too fragile to attend the European ceremonies to accept the prize. She was the second woman to be awarded that honor.

Jane Addams died in 1935.

Books by Jane Addams, many of which were edited compilations of earlier essays and magazine articles, include Twenty Years at Hull-House and Democracy and Social Ethics.

In 1963, most of the buildings which had come to be included in what was called Hull-House were torn down to make room for the University of Illinois, Chicago campus (then called Circle campus). All that is left today is the original mansion and one more building. These are now used as a museum and educational site.

More About Jane Addams

Family Background:

  • Father: John Huy Addams
  • Mother: Sarah Weber

Places: Cedarville, Illinois; Chicago, Illinois.

Organizations: Hull-House, settlement house movement, National Woman Suffrage Association, Anti-Imperialist League, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Religion: Jane Addams was raised as a Quaker, joined a Presbyterian church in Chicago and maintained her membership there.

On most Sundays in Chicago she attended Unitarian church services or the Ethical Culture Society, where she served as "interim lecturer" (then the title for a position equivalent to clergy in Ethical Culture) for a brief time.