1860 – 1935
Laura Jane Addams was born in Cedarville, Illinois on September 6, 1860 youngest of nine children. Her father was a state senator, and a wealthy industrialist, but her childhood was not without challenges. Her mother died when she was two years old, and two years later she suffered from tuberculosis of the spine, which was to cause her pain and debilitation for much of her life.
In 1881 she graduated from the Rockford Female Seminary, one of the first women of her time to attend college, and briefly attended medical school. But even though she had a college degree, as a woman she faced limited opportunities. She was still expected to marry and devote herself to caring for a family, neither of which appealed to her. With her friend Ellen Gates Starr she visited Toynbee Hall in England, one of the first settlement houses established to help the poor. Since childhood Jane had felt a special affinity for those less fortunate than she, and a strong leaning towards the reform of society’s injustices. She returned home determined to open a settlement house of her own.
In 1899 she and Ellen opened Hull House, one of the first settlement houses in the United States in Chicago. The settlement house movement grew out of the reform movement of the time, and offered educational, vocational and domestic programs. Arts and craft classes, libraries, language classes, music, summer camp – all were geared to improving the lives of the less fortunate.
Hull House eventually grew to thirteen buildings; Jane Addams went on to become active in the suffrage movement, and supported Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive party in the 1912 election. As the effectiveness of Hull House and other settlement houses spread, she was called “the most influential woman in Chicago history.”
In later years she served as President of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, helped found the American Civil Liberties Union, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, (sharing it with Nicholas Murray Butler.) She died May 21, 1935, after spending most of her life campaigning for freedom and prosperity for the less fortunate in society. In 2012 Hull House closed its doors after 122 years of service, but the original mansion remains as a museum. For further information, visit www.uic.edu.