Swarthmore College Peace Collection, 500 College Avenue, Swarthmore, PA 19081 U.S.A.





Papers, 1838-date
(bulk 1880-1935)


Historical Introduction

Laura Jane Addams was born on September 06, 1860 in Cedarville, Illinois, the youngest of four living children. She was the daughter of John Huy Addams (1822?-1881), a wealthy grist mill owner and Illinois state senator (1854-1870), and Sarah Weber (1817-1863). Her father married Anna Hostetter Haldeman (1828-1919) in 1864, which brought two step-brothers into the family.

Part of America's first generation of college-educated women, Jane Addams graduated as valedictorian from Rockford Female Seminary (Illinois) in 1881, and was granted a Bachelor of Arts degree in June 1882. She spent a semester at the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in 1881-1882, before undergoing medical treatment herself in March 1882. In the Fall of 1882, her brother-in-law (and step-brother) performed an operation to correct the curvature of her spine. In 1883-1885, Addams traveled in Europe with friends and with her step-mother, and again in 1887-1888 with friends Ellen Gates Starr and Sarah Anderson. She visited Toynbee Hall in London, England with Sarah Anderson in June 1888. These were formative years for Addams as she viewed the slum conditions in cities in Europe, thought deeply about human rights for women and for the poor as well as about world peace, and talked with persons involved in alleviating social problems.

In September 1889, Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr, a former Rockford classmate, opened Hull-House in Chicago's nineteenth ward. By 1893, Hull-House had become a center of some forty clubs, functions, and activities for the neighborhood's immigrant population. During the next forty years that Jane Addams resided there, Hull-House was to assume international significance as some of its more famous residents and associates -- Grace Abbott, Alice Hamilton, Florence Kelley, Julia Lathrop, and Henry Demarest Lloyd -- championed many causes including protection of immigrants, child labor laws, industrial safety, juvenile courts, recognition of labor unions, and woman suffrage. Addams herself served as the Inspector of Streets and Alleys in the neighborhood of Hull-House for three years, waged a fourteen-year battle for legislation to outlaw child labor, was president of the National Conference on Charities and Corrections, and helped establish the Children's Bureau as well as the National Association for Advancement of Colored People, to name a few involvements. She never drew a salary from Hull-House, but instead used her inheritance and the proceeds from her writings to live on as well as to underwrite the causes she championed.

Addams wrote many books that outlined her philosophy and the history of her endeavors: Democracy and Social Ethics (1902), Newer Ideals of Peace (1907), The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets (1909), Twenty Years at Hull-House (1910), A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil (1911), The Long Road of Women's Memory (1916), Peace and Bread in Time of War (1922), The Second Twenty Years at Hull-House (1930), and The Excellent Becomes Permanent (1932). With the publication of Newer Ideals of Peace, Jane Addams became known as a pacifist, a stand which brought her much ridicule and censure when the United States finally entered World War I (in January 1919, she was listed on Archibald Stevenson's "Traitors List" presented to the Overman Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee). Yet by 1931, public opinion had swayed to embrace her ideas and that year she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, shared with Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia University.

Early in 1915 Addams was elected chairman of the recently formed Woman's Peace Party of the United States. Later that year she was selected as president of the International Congress of Women at The Hague. She was chairman of the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace (1915-1919), a temporary organization which later became the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Working under the aegis of Herbert Hoover's Food Administration, she undertook a cross country lecture tour in 1918, encouraging increased food production to assist war victims. Elected president of WILPF at its founding in 1919, Jane Addams presided over the League's many international meetings, and, in 1929 at the Prague conference, was made the organization's honorary president for life. She convened the Pan-Pacific Women's Union, which met in Hawaii in 1928.

The M. Carey Thomas Prize, awarded by Bryn Mawr College to "an American woman in recognition of eminent achievement," was given to Jane Addams in 1931. Fifteen colleges and universities, including Yale and Smith, conferred honors upon her. In 1940, the U.S. Government included her as one of 35 persons in their Famous Americans series of commemorative stamps.

Jane Addams died of cancer on May 21, 1935 and was buried in Cedarville, Illinois.



Index to Checklist | Jane Addams Photograph Exhibit | Swarthmore College Peace Collection | Swarthmore College

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For more information contact Wendy Chmielewski, Curator, at wchmiel1@swarthmore.edu or call 610-328-8557.



This page written by Anne Yoder, Archivist. Last updated January 2005.