Basic Biographical Information
Jane Addams was born in 1860 in Cedarville, Illinois (USA). Although her parents were attentive and wealthy, her early childhood was marked by family tragedy with the deaths of three of her siblings and the death of her mother when she was only two. Additionally, she had a congenital spinal defect, which compromised her health for the rest of her life.
Addams was educated in the United States and Europe. She graduated in 1881 from the Rockford Female Seminary. During a tour of England, she visited Toynbee Hall, a settlement house for underprivileged and neglected boys in London’s East End. Taking inspiration from this model, she and her close friend Ellen Starr cofounded Hull House in 1889 in Chicago, Illinois. After the establishment of the first settlement house in the United States, she continued to achieve numerous socially beneficial outcomes until her death by cancer in 1935.
Today, Addams would rightly be considered a social worker, a community organizer, a social scientist, a peace advocate, a feminist, and a philanthropist. The agency she cofounded, Hull House, was a residence for women, a school for lifelong education, and a safe meeting space for neighborhood immigrants. Also, it functioned as a social laboratory and a training site for educating young people in social service theory and practice. Moreover, Addams strongly influenced the research practices of the Chicago School of Sociology, including its thematic emphases on ethnic group interaction, community conflict, stakeholder succession in community institutions, and social reform.
Over time, Addams assumed many leadership positions. For example, in 1908 she assisted with the founding of the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy, in 1909 she was selected as the first woman president of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections, and in 1911 she joined the board of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1915 Addams was instrumental in creating the Women’s Peace Party and became its first president. As an ardent advocate for resolving world conflicts peacefully, she even publicly opposed the American intervention in World War I, which led to her being publicly chastised as unpatriotic and naïve. True to form, Addams defended her pacifist ideals, and worked collaboratively with President Herbert Hoover to provide relief and food to women and children in war-torn enemy countries. Her humanitarian contributions to fostering peace on a global scale were eventually recognized when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.