Jane Addams, social reformer and peace activist, led the American settlement house movement, founding its most famous settlement, Chicago’s Hull House (1889).
Addams was born in Cedarville, Illinois in 1860 and graduated from Rockville College in 1882. In 1889, she founded Chicago's Hull House, where she lived and worked until her death in 1935. A home and gathering place for reformers who “settled” in the neighborhoods they served, settlements brought a broad range of social services to immigrants and the urban poor. Believing settlements were a space where all classes could meet to solve problems of urban industrialization, Addams assembled a cohort of brilliant women around her whose innovative solutions shaped 20th century social policy.
Responding to community needs, the women of Hull House pioneered in bringing social services to immigrant and working class neighborhoods. They set up day care for children, founded playgrounds, delivered health services, and studied toxic substances in factories. They investigated slums (founding the profession of urban sociology), brought about passage of factory inspections, pushed for ending child labor, improved tenement conditions and sweatshops, fought for shorter hours, higher wages, protective labor laws, and established the nation’s first juvenile court.
An outspoken supporter of labor, Addams was also a gifted lecturer and prolific writer. Her most famous book was Twenty Years at Hull House (1910). A staunch suffrage supporter, she was Vice President of the NAWSA, and wrote and spoke widely about the vote’s importance to women. She founded and chaired the Woman’s Peace Party (1915), was first president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (1919), and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (1931) for her years of peace activism. The abridgment of civil liberties and attacks on pacifists in World War I (she was vilified as a traitor for opposing the war), led Addams to help found the American Civil Liberties Union (1920). She died at 74, her work for social justice having impacted every aspect of American life.