Jane Addams (1860 - 1935)

Jane Addams was a powerful, central figure in what is known as America's Progressive Era. She, and the activists she inspired, fought for social justice for children, immigrants, workers, and women. In 1889, she and her companion, Ellen Gates Starr, co-founded Chicago's world-renowned Hull House, a community service center.

At Hull House, according to Ellen, she and Jane “had our own bedroom.”[1] The women had grown close as classmates. Early on, Miss Starr thought “[i]t would be so easy to love Miss Addams. I think her face is beautiful.”[2] With kindred affection, Jane proposed, “Let's love each other through thick and thin and work out a salvation.”[3] Yet, in 1890, Addams met Mary Rozet Smith, with whom she had an intimate relationship until Smith's death in 1934.[4] While on a business trip, Jane wrote her sweetheart: “[Y]ou must know, dear, how I long for you all the time—and especially during the last three weeks. There is reason in the habit of married folk keeping together.”[5]

In Addams' own words, Hull House was located where “streets [were] inexpressively dirty, the number of schools inadequate, factory legislation unenforced,” “the sweating system” [i.e., the system of sweatshops] abounded, and “richer inhabitants seem[ed] anxious to move away.”[6] The diversity of its immigrant working-class neighborhood manifested her belief that “a standard of social ethics is not attained by travelling [sic] a sequestered byway, but by mixing on the thronged and common road where all must turn out for one another.”[7]

In the large house, vocational training classes happened, labor groups met, impoverished neighbors ate well in its kitchen, and children attended its kindergarten, Chicago's first. As well, Ellen Starr created a literary club for working women and taught history and art. Her attitude about art reflected her commitment to social justice for workers. In her essay "Art and Labor" published in 1895, she wrote that “modern civilization” believes “that they, the workers, the makers, need not know what grace and beauty and harmony are.”[8] In contrast, she declared “art and all good fruit of life to be the right of all.”[9]

Starr worked for child labor reform and endeavored to improve working conditions for garment workers. In fact, she was a charter member of the Illinois branch of the National Women's Trade Union League, a coalition for female wage workers.[10] In 1914 she was arrested and jailed while attending a picket by waitresses' striking over wages and to establish a six-day work week. According to an account of the strike published in 1915, she went there to monitor the “attitude of [hired] gun-men and police” who had been subjecting the female strikers to “brutal treatment.”[11] Already one striker's arm had been broken and another's collar bone dislocated from forceful handling by the strikebreakers and cops. Starr was acquitted of the charge of “interfering with a police officer in the discharge of his duty.”[12]

Serving as a trustee of the National Child Labor Committee, Addams, like Starr, pushed to have child labor abolished.[13] As an officer of the Immigrants' Protective League, she strived to see that “civic, social and philanthropic resources of the city may be applied to the needs of foreigners in Chicago.”[14] In co-chartering the National Consumers League, she aimed to safeguard consumer interests.[15] And, to promote racial equality, in 1909 she joined scholar W. E. B. Dubois (who had lectured at Hull House [16]) and others on the National Committee of Forty, which gave birth to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.[17][18] She then served on the NAACP's first executive committee.[19]

Through Addams' direct efforts and influence, segregation of Chicago's schools was fought, sweatshops were investigated, legislators were pressed to pass Illinois' first factory safety law, and a national law banning child labor was aggressively championed. Among those endeavors was the opening of the Children's Bureau in 1912. Conceived by two prominent female social reformers, Lillian Wald and Florence Kelley, it was the first federal agency devoted to the welfare of children. To head it, many in Congress anticipated a male director. But Addams wired the President that “the Chicago group” preferred a woman.[20] Julia Lathrop, a former Hull House activist, became the bureau's first chief.

Addams was highly regarded. Canned goods (“Jane Addams Mixed Vegetables”) were even named after her.[21] But “Saint Jane” became the “most dangerous woman in America” after she came out against war—all war, including the first “world war” then raging overseas.[22][23] Seeking to end the fighting, in 1915 she attended a women's international peace convention in Europe, becoming the first president of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom started then.[24]

Addams' pacifism had teeth. Could not women object “to extending the franchise” to men, she asked in her Ladies Home Journal article from 1913.[25] After all, “you [men] are so fond of fighting . . . You’d very likely forget that the real object of the State is to nurture and protect life, and out of sheer vainglory you would be voting away huge sums of money for battleships, not one of which could last more than a few years, and yet each would cost . . . more money than all the buildings of Harvard University represent . . . Every time a gun is fired in a battleship it expends, or rather explodes . . . as much as a college education costs . . . and yet you would be firing off these guns as mere salutes, with no enemy within three thousand miles, simply because you so enjoy the sound of shooting.”[26]

Years earlier, in her book Newer Ideals of Peace, she rejected “patriotism founded on military prowess.”[27] To move out of “narrow national considerations” and into “new reaches of human effort and affection,” she advocated “cosmic patriotism.”[28]


1. Lillian Faderman, To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done for America—A History (Boston: Mariner, 2000), 121.

2. Faderman, 119.

3. Faderman, 120.

4. “Jane Addams 1860-1935,” Portland's Walk of the Heroines, Portland State University, http://woh.pdx.edu/heroine/6589.

5. Katherine Joslin, Jane Addams: A Writer's Life (N.p.: University of Illinois, 2004), 72, http://books.google.com/books?id=qb0l059P64oC&q=long#v=snippet&q=long&f=false.

6. Jane Addams, “The Objective Value of a Social Settlement,” PDF, http://www.swarthmore.edu/library/peace/DG001-025/DG001JAddams/objvalue.pdf.

7. Jane Addams, Democracy and Social Ethics, Citizen's Library (New York: MacMillan, 1902), 6, http://books.google.com/books?id=RygAAAAAYAAJ&q=sequestered#v=snippet&q=sequestered&f=false.

8. Ellen Gates Starr, "Art and Labor," PDF, http://media.pfeiffer.edu/lridener/DSS/Addams/hh9.html.

9. "Art," n.p.

10. “Biographical Note,” Ellen Gates Starr Papers, Five College Archives and Manuscript Collections, http://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/sophiasmith/mnsss64_bioghist.html.

11. “History of the Henrici, Knab, Powers and Efting Strikes,” The Mixer and Server: This Is the Official Journal of the Hotel and Restaurant Employe's [sic] International Alliance and Bartender's International League of America 24, no. 6 (June 15, 1915): 51, http://books.google.com/books?id=uXhAAAAAYAAJ&pg=RA5-PA51&lpg=RA5-PA51&dq=ellen+gates+starr+arrested+waitress&source=bl&ots=vpIT3raTJW&sig=FTtPcOJ4UfUXPywlKJ6kpWM9SX8&hl=en&sa=X&ei=NPxRUeeyHbij4AP_n4DgCw&ved=0CEIQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=ellen%20gates%20starr%20arrested%20waitress&f=false.

12. “Biographical Sketch,” Ellen Gates Starr Papers: An Inventory of the Collection at the University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, http://www.uic.edu/depts/lib/specialcoll/services/rjd/findingaids/EGStarrf.html.

13. National Child Labor Committee, Child Labor Facts 1928, Publication No. 343 (New York: 1928), inside front cover.

14. Immigrants' Protective League, Seventh Annual Report of the Immigrants' Protective League for the Year Ending January 1st, 1916 (Chicago: N.p., n.d.), 6.

15. “NCL's Early Years,” History, National Consumers League, http://www.nclnet.org/about-ncl/history.

16. Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull-House with Autobiographical Notes (New York: MacMillan, 1910), 255.

17. “Jane Addams, NAACP Founder, Memorialized,” The Crisis, May 1968, 168, http://books.google.com/books?id=zFsEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA168&lpg=PA168&dq=jane+addams+naacp+executive&source=bl&ots=j_nKS82hn5&sig=bfHEhAYSFbYB9OLspZX28G0uDhg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=VxyFUaveFMfX0gGd-4CICQ&ved=0CFwQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=jane%20addams%20naacp%20executive&f=false.

18. “Platform of the National Negro Committee, 1909,” NAACP: A Century in the Fight for Freedom 1909-2009, Library of Congress, http://myloc.gov/Exhibitions/naacp/earlyyears/ExhibitObjects/PlatformNationalNegro.aspx.

19. Robin K. Berson, Jane Addams: A Biography, Greenwood Biographies (Westport: Greenwood, 2004), 48, http://books.google.com/books?id=JXTKtFs1BOEC&pg=PA48&lpg=PA48&dq=jane+addams+naacp+executive&source=bl&ots=aRGyEQVPmg&sig=na6Q61Lwxe2gFKYFEb2MLimoSQU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=VxyFUaveFMfX0gGd-4CICQ&ved=0CFkQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q=jane%20addams%20naacp%20executive&f=false.

20. Robyn Muncy, Creating a Female Dominion in American Reform 1890–1935 (New York: Oxford University, 1994), 47, http://books.google.com/books?id=RFaEDMh6eKkC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=expectedd&f=false.

21. Judith Bloom Fradin and Dennis Brindell Fradin, Jane Addams: Champion of Democracy (New York: Clarion, 2006), 94.

22. Fradin, 125.

23. Fradin, 158.

24. “The United States Section of WILPF,” WILPF, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, http://www.wilpf.org/US_WILPF.

25. Jane Addams, “If Men Were Seeking the Franchise,” Ladies Home Journal, June 1913, [1], PDF, http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/gilded/power/text12/addams.pdf.

26. Ladies, [1]-2.

27. Jane Addams, Newer Ideals of Peace, Citizen's Library (New York: MacMillan, 1907), 216, http://books.google.com/books?id=EeUSAAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.

28. Newer, 237.

29. National Child Labor Committee, Child Labor Facts 1928 (New York: Herald-Nathan, 1928), 2.

30. Fradin, 133.

31. "Preliminary Programme," International Women's Congress, Holland (N.p.: n.p., 1915), [4]

32. "Preliminary," [3].

33. Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Report of the Fourth Congress of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Washington, May 1 to 7, 1924, English Edition (Washington USA: Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, US Section, [1924]), viii.