Jane Addams Essay

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American social worker, educator, suffragist, and social and political activist and commentator, Jane Addams (1860–1935) was born in Illinois. She is best known for cofounding Hull House in 1889 with friend Ellen Gates Star r. This revolutionary settlement house was located in Chicago’s predominantly immigrant area. Addams used her influence to fight for decreases in infant mortality, and for childhood immunizations; children’s literacy; better sanitation; and the rights of women, factory workers, tenants, newsboys, railroad workers, and midwives. She waged protracted campaigns against disease, truancy, prostitution, drug use, and alcoholism. A staunch advocate for peace, she also helped to redefine roles for women of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

After leaving Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia for health reasons, Addams traveled to Europe in 1893. In London, she visited Toynbee Hall, a settlement house that became the model for Hull House. Addams gathered a revolving group of her friends of both sexes at Hull House, which boasted day nurseries, a kindergarten, boys and girls clubs, a gym, public baths, and a swimming pool. Hull House brought theater, concerts, and extension courses on a range of subjects into the lives of Chicago’s poor immigrants.

Addams became involved in local politics to promote her causes, engaging in direct battle with Chicago’s political machine. She was named sanitation inspector and served on the Board of Education and various committees. She also served on a number of national committees and made history by nominating Theodore Roosevelt as presidential candidate for the Progressive Party in 1912. Addams soon became disillusioned with Roosevelt and supported Democrat Woodrow Wilson in 1916 because of his promise to keep the United States out of World War I (1914–1918). When Wilson was unable to fulfill that promise, Addams broke with the Democratic Party and voted for Socialist candidate Eugene Debs in 1920.

World War I changed the public’s image of Addams. Her propeace stance during a time of world war and high national patriotism resulted in Addams, once one of the most admired women in the country, becoming one of the most reviled. In 1929, Addams was named president for life of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. In 1931, she shared the Nobel Peace Prize with fellow peace advocate Nicholas Murray Butler. Three years later, however, her reputation suffered again when she was identified as a dangerous radical by Elizabeth Patrick Delling in The Red Network: A Who’s Who and Handbook of Radicalism for Patriots.

Addams’ early written work appeared as essays to promote her views on social causes. Such was the case with A Modern King Lear (written in 1894 but not released publicly until 1912), a controversial essay about the 1894 Pullman strike. Her major works include Democracy and Social Ethics (1902), a commentary on the conflict between American democratic ideals and the realities of the Industrial Revolution, and Newer Ideals of Peace (1907), a rejection of Enlightenment theory, as well as the autobiography in Twenty Years at Hull House (1910), The Second Twenty Years at Hull House (1930), and numerous later works.

Bibliography:

  1. Addams, Jane. Forty Years at Hull House. New York: Macmillan, 1935.
  2. Davis, Allen F. American Heroine:The Life and Legend of Jane Addams. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000.
  3. Elshtain, Jean Bethke. Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy: A Life. New York: Basic Books, 2002.
  4. Knight, Louise W. Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.
  5. Lasch, Christopher, ed. The Social Thought of Jane Addams. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965.

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