Social reformer and pacifist Jane Addams was born on September 6, 1860, in Cedarville, Illinois. After graduating from Rockford Female Seminary in 1881, Addams left her native Illinois for Philadelphia where she enrolled at the Woman’s Medical College. Poor health caused her to abandon her studies and she spent the next two years as an invalid. After regaining her strength, Addams embarked upon a tour of Europe where she would ultimately find the inspiration for much of her work in social reform in the world’s first settlement house, London’s Toynbee Hall.
Toynbee Hall was operated by its founder, Samuel Augustus Barnett, and resident university students. Toynbee Hall tackled the problems of urban poverty by providing social services and community enrichment to residents of the city’s deprived industrial district. Toynbee’s success prompted Addams and her traveling companion and college classmate Ellen Gates Starr, to plan a similar center for Chicago. In 1889, the two women rented a large vacant house, the former Hull mansion, on Chicago’s West Side and opened their doors to the neighboring, mostly immigrant, community.
Starr and Addams’ Hull House initially provided welfare assistance to needy families and recreation facilities for poor children. Hull House eventually expanded its services to include providing boarding rooms for female workers, a day care center, English literacy classes, academic courses, social clubs, and meeting space for union activities.
As Addams began to recognize the power of political organization to improve the living conditions of the people Hull House served, the center also became an important training ground and meeting place for social reformers. Investigations into a range of social problems took place at Hull House and it was a locale for developing national campaigns for labor rights and women’s suffrage.
Addams lived and worked at Hull House until her death in 1935. Just four years earlier, in 1931, she received the Nobel Peace Prize — the first American woman so honored. Her dedicated work towards peace included serving as an outspoken member of the peace movement, and protesting the United States’ entry into World War I, a cause of much public condemnation at the time. Addams also chaired the Woman’s Peace Party, organized and directed the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and served as the first woman president of the organization now known as the National Conference of Social Work (1910).
- Search Chronicling America, the historic American newspapers database, on phrases such as “Jane Addams” and “Hull House,” to read contemporary news coverage.
- Read clippings relating to Addams in Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911.
- Read personal accounts of immigrants who knew Jane Addams and participated in Hull House activities. Search on Hull House in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940.
- Read: Hull-House: a social settlement at 335 South Halstead Street, Chicago: an outline sketch, February 1, 1894. [S.l.: s.n., 1894]
- Learn more about women’s suffrage, one of the many causes championed by Addams, in the following collections: