Jane Addams — activist, social worker, reformer and winner of the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize — was a humanitarian in every sense of the word. She founded the settlement house movement in the U.S., laying the foundations of our social service institutions of today, and worked to promote civil rights, unemployment and workers’ compensation, compulsory education forchildren, women’s suffrage, health care, labor reform and more.
After graduating from Rockford College in 1881, she returned to Chicago and established Hull House in 1889 along with her college friend Ellen Starr. The settlement provided food, shelter and medicine as well as social and educational services for men, women and children; demand was great and within a short period of time, the Hull House complex included 13 buildings. During the 1893 depression, Hull House served 2000 people per week.
Jane and her Hull House staff continued to add new services for the impoverished and exploited immigrants of Chicago, addressing issues from child labor, race relations and public health reform to garbage collection. Residents became involved in investigating health-related conditions such as tuberculosis, cocaine distribution and infant mortality. Jane also convinced well-to-do women to take an active role in educating the poor residents of Hull House.
Jane believed all people had the right to an education, and Hull House organised the Immigrants’ Protective League, which provided a range of services including English classes and vocational training. The courses were the beginning of the continuing education courses given at colleges and universities today.
Jane also helped establish labor unions, a factory inspection system and the Juvenile Protective Association — the world’s first juvenile court. Immigrant workers went to the Illinois state house to lobby for child protection laws, compulsory education and occupational safety laws. In 1910, she organised a labor strike involving 90,000 garment workers and used her own inheritance money to financially support them. She also became the first vice-president of the National American Women Suffrage Association in 1911.
If she were alive today, it’s easy to imagine her working with our Chicago-based President and First Lady on healthcare and economic reform efforts. Washington, D.C. would have been her new playground.