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Jane Addams
Stories of inspiration from Smart Girl Stories across the globe. Jane Addams – One Of The Most Influential Social Reformers Of The 20th Century

Jane Addams – One Of The Most Influential Social Reformers Of The 20th Century

Most people know the name Jane Addams, but few know her story. She was the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and is considered one of the most influential women of the 20th century. Many people don’t know that she was an inspiration to young women everywhere. She showed them that they could make a difference in their communities and in the world. Her work continues to inspire young women today.

A Tragic Childhood

Jane was born on September 6, 1860, in the small farming town of Cedarville, Illinois. She was the eighth child out of nine. However, only five of the Addams’s children survived infancy and her mother tragically in childbirth when she was only 5 years old.

Despite having a tragic start in life, Jane grew up with privilege as her father was among the wealthiest people in her community. He fought in the Civil War, owned a profitable mill, and was a local politician. He was also good friends with Abraham Lincoln.

Helping Others

In 1881, Jane graduated at the top of her class from the Rockwood Female Seminary. Though she was very religious, she wanted to put her education to better use by helping others. She attempted to study medicine but had poor health, herself which hindered her studies.

In 1888, when visiting her friend, Ellen Gates Starr, she went to Toynbee Hall, a settlement house that provided assistance to poor industrial workers. She wanted to create a place like this in the U.S., where industrialization and immigration were booming. Together, they created the Hull House in the poor and industrial side of Chicago’s west side. It became the first settlement house in the United States.

The goal of the Hull House was for educated women to offer all different kinds of knowledge to the people in the neighborhood. Jane and Ellen were joined by many women who would go on to become reformers, too, including Florence Kelley, Julia Lathrop, Sophonisba Breckenridge, Alice Hamilton, Grace and Edith Abbott.

The Hull House faculty created a variety of ways to help the community: kindergarten and daycare for working mothers, job training, English lessons, cooking, and acculturation classes for immigrants. They also created an employment agency, a community center, a gymnasium, and an art gallery.

A Better Society

Jane spent many years working on projects to help better society in different ways. These included lobbying for a juvenile court system, more preferable sanitation and factory laws, protective labor registration laws for women, and adding kindergartens and playgrounds throughout the city. She was a co-founder of the National Child Labor Committee, which, in 1916, was beneficial in the passage of a Federal Child Labor Law. She headed an initiative to create a School of Social Work at the University of Chicago, creating corporate championing of a new career path for women. She also served as the President of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections for six years, being the first woman to do so.

Jane knew no boundaries when paving the way for others, so she became an activist in the women’s suffrage movement and became an officer in the National American Women’s Suffrage Association. She eventually became a pro-suffrage newswoman and was a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

World Peace

During WWI, Jane found another calling in world peace. She protested against the U.S. entering the war even though it affected her reputation in society. But she didn’t succumb to public opinion and continued to fight and advocate because she believed that people were capable of solving disagreements without war or violence.

She joined a group of women who toured the countries at war, trying to create peace. She began leading the Women’s Peace Party in 1915 and became President of the International Congress of Women. She wrote reports and gave speeches globally encouraging world peace. In 1919, she helped create the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, serving as their President until 1929 and then as honorary President until her death in 1935. Jane suffered a heart attack in 1926, which took a toll on her health, and although she pushed through, she never fully recovered.

Throughout her life, Jane wrote many books promoting world peace. She also released a biography on her work at Hull House. To this day, Jane continues to be an inspiration to young women everywhere who believe in helping society and advocating for world peace.

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This blog post was co-written by Hannah and Sarah, a contributing writer to SMS.



Founder, Smart Girl, Survivor, Champion of womens rights and kids rights


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