Jane Addams: The First Founder of Hull House and First American Woman to Win the Nobel Peace Prize
(1860-1935), settlement house founder and peace activist. Addams, one of the most distinguished of the first generation of college-educated women, rejected marriage and motherhood in favor of a lifetime commitment to the poor and social reform. Inspired by English reformers who intentionally resided in lower-class slums, Addams, along with a college friend, Ellen Starr, moved in 1889 into an old mansion in an immigrant neighborhood of Chicago. Hull-House, which remained Addams's home for the rest of her life and became the center of an experiment in philanthropy, political action, and social science research, was a model for settlement work among the poor. Addams responded to the needs of the community by establishing a nursery, dispensary, kindergarten, playground, gymnasium, and cooperative housing for young working women. As an experiment in group living, Hull-House attracted male and female reformers dedicated to social service. Addams always insisted that she learned as much from the neighborhood's residents as she taught them.
Having quickly found that the needs of the neighborhood could not be met unless city and state laws were reformed, Addams challenged both boss rule in the immigrant neighborhood of Hull-House and indifference to the needs of the poor in the state legislature. She and other Hull-House residents sponsored legislation to abolish child labor, establish juvenile courts, limit the hours of working women, recognize labor unions, make school attendance compulsory, and ensure safe working conditions in factories. The Progressive party adopted many of these reforms as part of its platform in 1912. At the party's national convention, Addams seconded the nomination of Theodore Roosevelt for president and campaigned actively on his behalf. She advocated woman's suffrage because she believed that women's votes would provide the margin necessary to pass social legislation she favored.
Addams publicized Hull-House and the causes she believed in by lecturing and writing. In her autobiography, 20 Years at Hull-House (1910), she argued that society should both respect the values and traditions of immigrants and help the newcomers adjust to American institutions. A new social ethic was needed, she said, to stem social conflict and address the problems of urban life and industrial capitalism. Although tolerant of other ideas and social philosophies, Addams believed in Christian morality and the virtue of learning by doing.
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