Login Donate

Join  |  Renew  |  Contact

Author of Democracy and Social Ethics (1902); The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets (1909); Twenty Years at Hull-House with Autobiographical Notes (1910); Peace and Bread in Time of War (1922); The Second Twenty Years at Hull-House (1930); Excellent Becomes the Permanent (1932).

Jane Addams (6 September 1860-21 May 1935) was the youngest of eight children to John and Sarah Addams of Cedarville, Illinois. Addams’s mother died when she was two years old and her father remarried five years later. Addams’s father was the greatest influence in her life and she sought his approval in every aspect. He was a wealthy businessman, a state senator, and a strong supporter of Abraham Lincoln. He was considered a virtuous and distinguished man who believed that the different social classes should associate with one another. Addams’s father expected her to make a difference in society at a time when women were not encouraged to seek careers. Her father’s influence during her childhood and young adult life provided her with the incentive to be an activist in the progressive movement for social reform. These movements included reforms in schools and courts, women’s suffrage, temperance, and the abolition of child labor. Addams attended Rockford Seminary (now Rockford College), which was equivalent to a college education. She continued her education at Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia. The death of her father in 1881, her own illness, and depression led her to drop out of school. Addams had a chronic spinal condition that plagued her throughout her lifetime. Though she underwent surgery to correct the spinal condition, she continued to suffer bouts of illness, including a heart attack in 1926.

The loss of her father left her without a mentor. Addams’s stepmother wanted her to marry, settle down, raise a family, and live a cultured life. However, the influence of her father prevailed. For nearly eight years, Addams drifted, trying to decide what to do with her life. On a trip to Europe, she at last found a career to bring fulfillment to her life. During this visit, she became familiar with settlement houses, particularly Toynbee Hall which served one of London’s poorest neighborhoods. It offered recreational and educational programs to the poor.

Addams left England determined to set up a similar settlement house in the United States. When Addams returned to Chicago, she bought an old mansion in one of the city’s poor, industrial areas. Here, she and her friend Ellen Gates Starr founded the Hull-House, a settlement house similar to those Addams visited in England. Many European immigrants who had come to the U. S. seeking a better life lived in the neighborhood. They barely spoke English, lived in crowded, dirty tenements, and worked in nearby factories, earning barely enough money to feed their families. Addams hoped that Hull-House would bring some light into these people’s lives.

Addams believed that industrialization had brought unwarranted economic and social gaps between the classes. She believed not only in the convergence of classes, but also in understanding between generations. Hull-House embodied life with an art gallery, bakery, childcare, preschool, adult classes, and activities for children who were not in school. Hull-House also served as a place where immigrants shared the crafts of their original culture with the young. Hull-House was a model for other settlement houses in America.

John Dewey, a philosopher of education and leader of the progressive-democratic education movement, was a friend, trustee, and frequent visitor to Hull-House. He even conducted classes in the settlement. According to educational historian Arthur Zilversmit (2003, 41), “Dewey credited conversations with Addams as highly influential in developing his own philosophy of education.” Addams and Dewey believed that formal education should be connected with experience.

Addams became actively involved in politics in hopes of bringing social reform to Chicago and the nation as a whole. Her first political position was as garbage inspector for the 19th Ward in Chicago. This experience caused her to understand the democratic political machine. Later, she was appointed to the Chicago school board. During her appointment, she served as chair of the School Management Committee. The teacher union and educational reformers criticized her when she supposedly compromised with the political machine to bring about change in schools. Zilversmit (2003, 42) said that “Addams’s deep belief that she could promote social harmony through dialogue and compromise resulted in a conspicuous failure.”

Addams became active in the Progressive Party in 1912. She campaigned successfully for the election of Theodore Roosevelt. Unlike Dewey, who eventually supported World War I, Addams stayed committed to campaigning for peace and was criticized for her lack of patriotism. She organized the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, which worked to end the war. She wrote Peace and Bread in Time of War (1922) after World War I. This best described her commitment to peace. Addams’s critics eventually honored her by naming her the first of the 12 Greatest Living Women of America in 1931. During this same year, she also was named cowinner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Another vehicle Addams used to bring about change was her writing. According to Zilversmit (1999, 7), “The best introduction to Addams and Hull-House is her Twenty Years at Hull-House with Autobiographical Notes (1910).” Other books written by Addams during this time include Democracy and Social Ethics (1902) and The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets (1909). Addams published other books toward the end of her life. They include The Second Twenty Years at Hull-House (1930), Excellent Becomes the Permanent (1932), and My Friend, Julia Lathrop (1935).

Addams died three days after she was diagnosed with cancer. She sometimes referred to her ill health as a sign of personal weakness. The Swarthmore College Peace Collection houses the manuscripts of Jane Addams.

Contributed by: Colleen M. Eddy, Baylor University

References Zilversmit, A. 1999. Jane Addams. In Historical Dictionary of American Education, ed. R. J. Altenbaugh, 6–7. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. Zilversmit, A. 2003. Jane Addams. In Encyclopedia of Education, ed. J. W. Guthrie, 40–42. Macmillan Reference USA: Thomson/Gale. /p>

© 2019 Kappa Delta Pi, International Honor Society in Education. All Rights Reserved.

Join Renew Contact Us Advertise With Us Privacy Policy