- First President of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
- Was designated as a traitor by the Senate Judiciary Committee
- Early advocate of the welfare state
Born in Cedarville, Illinois in 1860, Jane Addams attended Rockford Seminary for Women and graduated as valedictorian in 1881. She wished to enter medical school but was dissuaded by the wishes of her father. Upon his death, she enrolled at the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia but withdrew after one semester because of illness.
Her father’s estate left Addams sufficient income to live at leisure. After recovering from her ailments, she made two trips to Europe. On a visit to London, she was horrified by the poverty in the city’s East End. On a subsequent visit, Addams visited Toynbee Hall, a settlement house designed to serve the urban poor in London, and she resolved to create a similar institution in the United States.
When Addams returned to Chicago, she and her friend Ellen Gates Starr co-founded Hull House, which would eventually become the best-known settlement house in America, in a somewhat dilapidated mansion on Halstead Street. In addition to its benign and charitable tasks of creating cultural and educational opportunities for working class immigrants and offering child-care to the working poor, Hull House quickly became engaged with the socialist movement.
Addams and Starr were soon joined by other women at Hull House, including the Marxist Florence Kelly, whose translation of Friedrich Engels’ Conditions of the Working Class in England was published in the United States in 1887. Kelly’s arrival signaled a radicalization in Hull House’s agenda.
Growing ever-more fond of socialism, Addams became increasingly vocal in her demand that the government supply welfare services to the poor. She developed into one of the earliest and most determined advocates of the welfare state.
Hull House staffers immersed themselves in the Chicago and Illinois politics of the day; Addams herself became the garbage commissioner of the city’s 19th ward; others were appointed to different state and local commissions. Addams also became embroiled in one of the great labor disputes of her time, the Pullman Strike of 1894. In writing of the strike, Addams made clear Hull House’s unequivocal support of trade unionism. She further insisted that capitalism conflicted with her group’s “ethical demands” not only for “social righteousness but for social order.”
As time passed, Addams became ever-more involved with pacifist causes as well as social and feminist issues. In 1909 she became a charter member of the NAACP; she was named the first Vice President of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association two years later; and she supported Theodore Roosevelt’s 1912 nomination for the presidency, though she earned Roosevelt’s scorn for her pacifist views.
In 1915 Addams became Chairman of the Women’s Peace Party, and in April of that year she attended the International Congress of Women at The Hague. From that Congress, the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace was born. Four years later the organization changed its name to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), and Addams became its first President, a post she would hold until 1929. Addams also worked on behalf of the League of Nations.
Addams suffered a heart attack in 1926 and never fully regained her health thereafter. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, and she died in 1935.
In 1919 the Senate Judiciary Committee had placed Addams’ name on its traitor list.