American Philosophy

Jane Addams

What are some highlights of Jane Addams’ life that led her to found Hull House?

Addams’ father was a mill owner and politician in Cedarville, Illinois. Her mother died when she was two, while giving birth to her ninth child. Addams attended Rockford Seminary (a women’s college), failed in medical school, and became depressed for a decade, during which she traveled throughout Europe. Along the way she visited London’s Toynbee Hall, which was a young men’s community that helped poor Jewish and Irish immigrants in East London by working within these people’s neighborhoods. Addams resolved to duplicate this plan, and in 1889 she founded Hull House in the Near West Side community of Chicago. Hull House was run and operated by women. Addams had long-term relationships with her cofounder and college friend, Ellen Gates Starr, and, later on, with her colleague Mary Rozet Smith.

Addams’ work at Hull House, and other settlement houses based on it, made her well known; she became a very popular public speaker. She was involved in the founding of other progressive organizations, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Former President Theodore Roosevelt asked her to second his nomination for the presidency by the “Bull Moose” Progressive Party in 1912. (Roosevelt had served three years as U.S. president after 1901, and a full term after 1904.) The Progressive Party strongly supported women’s rights and suffrage.

However, Addams became a target for intense public criticism when she expressed both pacifist and feminist views before World War I. Toward the end of her life, she dedicated herself to world peace and African American civil rights.


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