It’s an important birthday this week. On September 6th 1860- one of the most important American social welfare activists was born. You might not be familiar with her by name, but I bet you’ve heard of some of her accomplishments as they helped shape the settlement house movement across the country. So, who was Jane Addams?
Jane Addams won worldwide recognition in the early twentieth century for her contributions as a pioneer social worker, feminist and activist in America. It all started with her founding of a famous place called Hull House in 1889.
Addams began her mission with her friend, Ellen Starr, and expressed her mission statement to be- “providing 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.” With the founding of Hull House and this mission statement, the settlement house movement began.
Addams and Starr hit the ground running. They made speeches about the needs of the lower class, raised money, recruited young female well-to-do volunteers, and provided childcare and nursing services.
Jane Addams’ Hull House Legacy
By the second year of Hull House’s existence, it was providing services to two thousand people a week. They had morning kindergarten classes, afternoon classes for older children and night school for adults. They also eventually offered an art gallery and studio, a public kitchen and cooking and sewing classes, a gymnasium and swimming pool, a boarding house for girls, a music school, a library, and an employment bureau.
In 1892, Addams published her findings, entitled the “three Rs”, on what made the settlement house a success. Residence, Research and Reform became the pillars for the settlement house movement. These were described as “close cooperation with the neighborhood people, scientific study of the causes of poverty and dependence, communication of these facts to the public, and persistent pressure for [legislative and social] reform…”
These published findings traveled the nation and soon settlement houses sprang up in other working class areas of cities nationwide.
As Addams became more famous for her successful efforts, she was drawn into more areas of civic needs. In 1905, she was elected to the Chicago Board of Education. She was later made chairman of the School Management Committee. She worked to create the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy and also became the first female president of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections. To continue her research on causes of poverty and needs for reform, she led investigations of midwifery and childbirth conditions, narcotics consumption, milk supplies, and sanitary conditions in lower class areas.
I am not one of those who believe – broadly speaking – that women are better than men. We have not wrecked railroads, nor corrupted legislatures, nor done many unholy things that men have done; but then we must remember that we have not had the chance. – Jane Addams
Addams was an ardent feminist and an involved suffragette. But she went even further than supporting women’s voting rights. She believed that not only should women vote, but they should push to participate in legislation and politics.
Addams was also a pacifist and had a lifelong objective to rid the world of war. She gave lectures at universities across the country and wrote a book entitled the Newer Ideals of Peace. Addams spoke out against America’s entry in the First World War and served on many boards of women pacifist organizations. She eventually became the president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
In 1931, Jane Addams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She was the second woman to ever receive this honor.
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