Democracy and Social Ethics, 1902
Newer Ideals of Peace, 1907
The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets, 1909
Twenty Years at Hull House, 1910
A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil, 1912
The Women at the Hague, 1915 (with Emily Greene Balch and Alice Hamilton)
The Long Road of Women’s Memory, 1916
Peace and Bread in Time of War, 1922
The Second Twenty Years at Hull House, 1930
The Excellent Becomes Permanent, 1932
My Friend, Julia Lathrop, 1932
Jane Addams was born into an affluent family in 1860. Upon completing high school, she enrolled in Rockford (Illinois) Seminary, a post-secondary school devoted to teaching Christian principles to women who would become wives and mothers or Christian missionaries, neither of which was a part of Addams’s personal agenda.
Although Rockford was not a degree-granting institution, Addams took enough courses at nearby Beloit College to meet the requirements for admission to the Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia in 1881. Shortly before she began her medical studies, her father, whom she adored, died suddenly. Although she felt compelled to follow through with her educational plans, she had little interest in becoming a physician. The burden of coping with her father’s death put her under additional strain. Although her grades were excellent, Addams left medical school after one semester, undergoing major surgery the following April to correct a long-standing spinal problem.
Following a long recuperation, she visited Europe with her stepmother and others to regain her strength. At this time, she lacked any clear idea of what her future might be and she had not come to grips with her own sexuality and with her attachment to Ellen Starr, her classmate at Rockford and lifelong companion, with whom Addams founded Hull House.
On her European trip Addams first saw the squalor in which the poor lived. In Bavaria she saw women hauling huge containers of hot beer to cooling stations, dangerous work that paid a pittance for a fourteen-hour day. In London’s slums, she saw the abjectly poor fighting over rotting food. In London she also visited Toynbee Hall and the People’s Palace, settlement houses that offered refuge to the destitute.
Returning home in 1885, Addams spent two years in Baltimore before returning to Europe in 1887 with Starr and other Rockford friends. On this trip, she and Starr, after visiting Europe’s major cathedrals, hatched the idea of creating a “cathedral to humanity.” By January, 1889, the two women were living together in Chicago and seeking support, both financial and moral, to implement their idea, although Addams anticipated providing most of the money from her inheritance.
Later that year, Addams and Starr rented the Charles Hull mansion in a decaying portion of Chicago inhabited largely by immigrants. Calling their establishment Hull House, they opened the first settlement house in the United States. Employing volunteers as teachers, Hull House established a nursery school and a kindergarten. By 1891 it had established Jane Club, a residence for working women. Two years later, it opened the first public playground for children.
In establishing Hull House, Addams and Starr spawned a movement that grew quickly in urban centers throughout the United States. By 1891 the nation had six settlement houses; by 1898 it had more than one hundred. Addams’s work involved her in labor relations and social reform, the emphases of her first book, Democracy and Social Ethics, in which she articulates the idea that social classes are interdependent. Her views reflected those of her civic-minded father, who served seven terms in the Illinois State Senate.
The United States’ involvement in the Spanish-American War (1898) caused Addams to think deeply about the validity of war among civilized people and to emerge as a committed pacifist. Newer Ideals of Peace and A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil both examine questions of human conflict and its resolution. Addams’s efforts to keep the United States out of World War I caused many to revile her as a traitor and caused Theodore Roosevelt, whose candidacy for president she had strongly supported, to ridicule her publicly. Her pacifist views resulted in her expulsion from the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Nevertheless, it was such views that resulted in her being considered for the Nobel Peace Prize as early as 1920 and in her sharing that prize in 1931 with Nicholas Murray Butler. Addams also actively supported women’s suffrage, finally granted nationally in 1920.
As a member of President Herbert Hoover’s Food Administration in 1918, Addams observed the devastation the war had visited upon Europe. She urged the United States to distribute food throughout the shattered Continent, evoking public rage by demanding that starving German children as well as those of the allies be fed. Her Peace and Bread in Time of War is a strong pacifist statement relating to this work.
Addams’s favorite book, The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets, deals with the social problems urbanization creates and is a sound sociological study. Her Twenty Years at Hull House and The Second Twenty Years at Hull House remain standard sources for those wishing to understand Addams’s most celebrated social contributions.
By the time she died on May 21, 1935, Addams had regained much of the respect that her unpopular stands in preceding decades had eroded. Caught in the grip of the Great Depression, the nation came to share many of her once-unpopular views.