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Jane Addams: Social Worker, Political Activist, Nobel Peace Prize Winner

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Jane Addams: Social Worker, Political Activist, Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Jane Addams (1913?)

Photo:Lewis Wickes Hine (Library of Congress)

Introduction: Jane Addams 1860-1935.:

Jane Addams was a Nobel Peace Prize winner and perhaps the most famous social worker from the United States. She was also the lover of women and lived in a Boston Marriage with another woman.

Jane Addams' early life:

Jane Addams was born in 1860 in Cedarville, Illinois. She has been described as a sickly child, with a spinal curvature. Her mother died when she was two years old. She was close to her father, her three surviving sisters and her brother. Three children in her family died in infancy.

Jane Addams at Boarding School:

Jane was a smart young girl who dreamed of attending Smith College in Massachusetts. Her father would not allow her to go. Instead she attended a school closer to home. At the all-female boarding school Jane would learn the importance of female friendships. She began her life-long friendship with Ellen Gates Starr, co-founder of Hull House. Although many of her classmates dropped out of school to get married, there is little evidence that Addams ever dated a member of the opposite sex.

Life after Boarding School for Jane Addams:

Jane Addams went on to study medicine after college. But she found the work hard and uninspiring. She returned to Cedarville, as women of her era did, to take care of her family. After her father died, Jane fell into a depression. A brilliant woman with nothing to do, she felt her life had no purpose. Jane desperately wanted to make a difference in the world. Her stepmother took her to Europe to recover and study art. Some of Jane's vigor returned, but she questioned her purpose in life.

Addams Friendship with Ellen Starr:

After returning from Europe, Jane resumed friendship with Ellen Starr, now a teacher. A female love of Starr's had moved away and she was heartbroken. She wrote to Jane, "The first real experience I ever had in my life of any real pain in parting, came with separating from her. I don't speak of it because people don't understand it. People would understand if it were a man." Soon Addams would become the object of Starr's affection. It is not clear whether Jane returned the affection.

Jane Addams starts Hull House:

Starr and Addams travelled to London together and there Jane visited Toynbee Hall, the settlement house that inspired her to start Hull House. Hull House's purpose was two-fold. It's primary purpose was to serve the poor inner city residents. Its other purpose would be a cure for the uselessness she and other educated women of her time experienced. Addams founded Hull House on Halsted Street in Chicago in 1889.

The Hull House Model:

Previoulsy, social worked was based on a "Friendly Visitor" model. Rich would visit the poor and model for them behavior that would help them better their situation. Addams came to see that poverty was not due to character deficits, but social conditions that needed to be changed. Thus, in addition to helping people meet their immediate needs, Hull House worked for social change, addressing such issues as child labor, public health reform, garbage collection, labor laws and race relations.

The Love of Jane's Life: Mary Rozet Smith:

The term lesbian was coined in 1890, one year after Addams founded Hull House. Although she would not have used the term to define herself, by today's standards, Jane Addams would be a lesbian. Mary Rozet Smith arrived at Hull House one day in 1890, the daughter of a wealthy paper manufacturer. Over the years she became Jane's devoted companion, virtually playing the role of a traditional wife: tending to her when she was ill, handling her social correspondence, making travel arrangements.

Jane and Mary's Relationship:

Unfortunately, we will never know the full extent of Jane's relationship with Mary Smith. Toward the end of her life, Jane destroyed most of Mary's letters to her. Perhaps she was trying to cover up a sexual component of their relationship. "I miss you dreadfully and am yours 'til death," Addams wrote to Smith. Smith wrote back, "You can never know what it is to me to have had you and to have you...I feel quite a rush of emotion when I think of you."

Jane Addams: Nobel Peace Prize Winner:

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of Addams's life and the one which won her the most notoriety was her involvement in the peace movement. Addams declared herself a pacifist and spoke out against World War I. Although she would eventually win a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts, it was an unpopular stance to take in 1914.

Addams believed women had a social responsibility to work for peace because working men would never be against war. She took on a leadership role in the Woman's Peace Party. In March 1915 Addams was invited to speak at an International Congress of Women in the Netherlands. Addams presided over the event and one participant said, "She towered above all the others and again and again when she rose to speak and when she closed the audience would stand and applaud...She led without dominating and with extraordinary parlimentary skill clarified and interpreted for the polyglot congress of women."

Jane Addams won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. True to her cause, Jane gave all her prize money away.

Jane had a heart attack in 1926. She never fully regained her health. As a matter of fact, she was being admitted to a Baltimore hospital on the very day, December 10, 1931, that the Nobel Peace Prize was being awarded to her in Oslo. She died in 1935. The funeral was held in the courtyard of Hull-House.

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