Jane Addams was born in 1860 in Cedarville, Illinois, the eighth of nine children. Her father was a wealthy industrialist. Addams graduated from Rockford College in 1882, but for a time she was unable to find an outlet for considerable intellect and ambition. In 1888, with Ellen Gates Starr, she visited Toynbee Hall, the first settlement house in London.
In 1889, with the assistance of Starr, Addams founded the Hull House in Chicago, and remained there until her death in 1935. Under the leadership of Addams, Hull House became the premier settlement house in the United States, providing a variety of services to Chicago residents.
Addams also became a prolific writer and lecturer, and together with many of the women at Hull House, she became actively involved in numerous local, state, and national reform efforts. She was involved with the creation of the Federal Children’s Bureau in 1912, with the National Consumer’s League, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, the National Conference of Charities and Corrections, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, to name a few. She was also deeply involved with the woman suffrage movement and with the Progressive Party and Teddy Roosevelt’s campaign for president on the Progressive ticket in 1912.
Addams also became heavily involved in the women’s international peace movement. She helped found the Women’s Peace Party and was participated in the creation of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. During World War I, she was severely attacked for her pacifist stance, and, as a result, she helped found the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920. In 1931, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Addams is often consider the premier female figure of the Progressive Era.