Women and Adversity: Jane Addams

Nobel Peace Prize winner, social reformer

Jane Addams struggled with health issues her entire life but was vigorous in her ambition:

  • to relieve the hardships of the poor
  • improve the status of women
  • reform labor practices
  • provide education for all ages from preschool to adults
  • encourage the wealthy to care for those less fortunate
  • end war

Some of her wide-ranging achievements:

  • 1889 – established Hull House in Chicago with friend Ellen Gates Starr for newly arrived immigrants, the first settlement house in the United States
  • 1905 – member of Chicago’s Board of Education
  • 1908 – participated in the founding of Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy
  • 1910 – 1st woman president of National Conference of Charities and Corrections (Renamed National Conference of Social Work)
  • 1910 – first woman to receive an honorary degree from Yale University
  • 1911 – established National Federation of Settlements
  • 1919-1929 – president of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
  • 1931 – co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, 1st American woman to receive this award

Laura Jane Addams was born in 1860 of a wealthy family in the northern Illinois town of Cedarville. She was the eighth of nine children, five of whom died in infancy. She was a toddler when her mother died, but her father, a prosperous miller and political leader with influential friends, including Abraham Lincoln, became her role model. A defect in her spine limited her physically, but she was driven to find her niche in life.

Jane graduated from Rockford Female Seminary in 1881 and a year later was granted a bachelor’s degree when the school became accredited as Rockford College for Women. She entered Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia but had an operation on her spine, which ended her medical education.

The visit in 1887 to the settlement house at Toynbee House in London with her friend Ellen Gates Starr inspired the pair to establish Hull House in Chicago, the first settlement house in the U.S. This facility offered day care, kindergarten, educational classes, public kitchen, social programs and other assistance to those in need. It grew to include more than 10 buildings.

In 1963 University of Illinois established its Chicago campus, which demolished the buildings except for the original Hull House, now a National Historic Landmark and museum. However, the Jane Addams College of Social Work is part of UIC.

Jane Addams delivered speeches, wrote essays and a dozen books, some of which are:

  • Twenty Years at Hull House
  • Peace and Bread in Time of War
  • The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets

This social reformer had a heart attack in 1925 and never fully recovered. She died in Chicago on May 21, 1935 at the age of 74.

More information:




Biography: Jane Addams: Spirit in Action by Louise W. Knight


Article By: Jo Ann Mathews

I published three ebooks in 2020: Women and Adversity, Honoring 23 Black Women; Women and Adversity, Recognizing 23 Notable Mothers; and Women and Adversity, Saluting 23 Faithful Suffragists to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. These books are meant to be study guides for all students from grade school through college to help in choosing topics for assignments and to learn more about these noteworthy women. Go to amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and goodreads.com to learn more.

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