In 1917, Theodore Roosevelt called Jane Addams "the most dangerous woman in America." Five years before, she had seconded his nomination for president as a third-party candidate; he welcomed her support in his unsuccessful campaign. Five years before that, Roosevelt had helped to initiate one of the first intergovernmental peace conferences, a project that she carried further in co-founding the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.
Theodore Roosevelt, like most Americans, admired Jane Addams for co-founding Chicago's Hull House in 1889, but he was shocked when she committed herself to something as "radical" as resisting the war effort in 1915. Such were the shifting, changing responses to this major figure in the American tradition of nonviolence: a person who learned as she went along, taking whatever action seemed appropriate, no matter what the public response.
Although she enjoyed much admiration for her work among poor immigrants, Addams repeatedly risked censure-and the loss of public favor in addressing the causes of poverty and working for peace during a "popular" war. Her defense of political radicals, especially after the Justice Department imprisoned or exiled them to Europe during the Red Scare of 1919, is particularly noteworthy. "Providing a voice of reason in the midst of hysteria," as Michael A. Lutzger wrote, she defended the loyalty of aliens in Chicago and the liberties they had lost:
The cure for the spirit of unrest in this country is conciliation and education-not hysteria. Free speech is the greatest safety valve of our United States . Let us give these people a chance to explain their beliefs and desires. Let us end this suppression and spirit of intolerance which s making America another autocracy.
Born September 6, 1860 , in Cedarsville , Illinois , Jane Addams was the eighth of nine children of Sarah Weber and John Huy Addams. Her mother died when Addams was three years old. Her father, a successful miller and eight-term state senator, encouraged his daughter to attend Rockford Female Seminary (now Rockford College ) near Chicago , where she excelled as a student and won the admiration of her contemporaries. Among various Victorian writers whom she admired, John Ruskin, art historian and social critic, occupied a special place. Following several bouts of ill health in the l880s, she left Woman's Medical College in Philadelphia after one semester and traveled extensively in Europe on two separate occasions.
On the second tour, accompanied by Ellen Gates Star-later a co-founder of Hull House-Addams was deeply impressed by Toynbee Hall, a settlement house in London's East End where university students influenced by Ruskin taught and learned from workers.
Subsequently, Addams and Starr convinced a number of educated women to support their determination to live among the poor in Chicago , where three-fourths of the resident were foreign born. After moving in to an old mansion in the heavily populated and predominantly Italian West Side in September 1889, Addams, Starr, and their compatriots provided or arranged for childcare, educational programs, and medical assistance for neighborhood immigrants. Almost immediately, they found themselves caring for "a forlorn little baby who, because he was born with a cleft palate, was most unwelcome even to his mother"(he later died of neglect), and for "a little Italian bride of fifteen" who sought shelter with them in order to escape her husband's nightly beatings.
Two of us officiated quite alone at the birth of an illegitimate child because the doctor was late in arriving, and none of the honest Irish matrons would "touch the likes of her"; we ministered at the deathbed of a young man who, curing a long illness of tuberculosis, had received so many bottles of whiskey through the mistaken kindness of his friends that the cumulative effect produced wild periods of exultation, in one of which he died.
The community of educated women and college students who gathered around Hull House provided programs in the arts as well as the elemental necessities for those in need. Faculty from the new University of Chicago (Robert Morss Lovett, for example); editors and artists responsible for a "Chicago Renaissance" (Margaret Anderson); socialists and anarchists (Sidney and Beatrice Webb and Peter Kropotkin); workers and scientists "from the river wards of the city" and "from the far corners of five continents": all contributed to the noble experiment and the spirit of community emerging from it. Within four years of the founding of Hull House, Addams and other notable women were assisting and entertaining 2000 people a week in a variety of functions and activities, including theater performances and concerts.
In the wider community, Hull House exerted considerable influence on movements for child labor laws, unions, and workers' benefits. In 1909, Addams was elected the first woman president of what would be come the National Conference of Social Work. In 1910, she was the first woman to receive an honorary degree from Yale University and published her most widely read book, Twenty Years at Hull House , an important autobiography. Traveling extensively in this country and abroad over the next half-century, Addams nonetheless made Hull House her home for the remainder of her life.
Spurred by the enthusiasm of the progressive era, the women's movement, and powerful ideas associated with Early Modernism, Addams became increasingly interested in international issues. She had been deeply impressed by her conversations with Leo Tolstoy, elderly Russian novelist and Christian anarchist, in 1896. Although Tolstoy's habit of eating peasant porridge and black bread while guests dined in style made her uncomfortable, she took to heart his teachings about justice and community as the bases of world peace. During the Spanish American War, Addams-together with such notables as Mark Twain, William James, and Andrew Carnegie-initiated the Anti-Imperialist League, aware of the links between violence among Chicago 's immigrant poor and the U.S. government's imperial policies toward the Philippines .
Haltingly, and in a manner that disconcerted admirers of Hull House, Addams became increasingly involved in efforts to build nongovernmental organizations committed to world peace; inevitably, as a result of these efforts, she became embroiled in controversy. To an impressive social vision linking religious, moral and aesthetic concerns, Addams added another concern: the disastrous effects of war on social reform.
With the outbreak of the war in Europe in August of 1914, she worked hard at home and abroad to keep the U.S. neutral so that it might serve as a mediator between the two warring parties. In 1915, as head of the Woman's Peace Party, she traveled to the Western front and met with leaders in an attempt to stop what Ernest Hemmingway later called "that senseless slaughter."
Over the next two years, Addams watched Woodrow Wilson's gradual drift toward war and the country's increasing belligerence. Wilson and his advisers thought active involvement would strengthen his hand in settling the peace-a belief, as Addams maintained, which turned out to be naïve. In the midst of increasing criticism from the Daughters of the American Revolution, American Legion, and similar self-appointed patriots, Addams persisted-as did Eugene Victor Debs, Emma Goldman, Bertrand Russell, Randolph Bourne-in pointing to the disastrous effects of an uncritical endorsement of war policies.
Before the armistice in 1998, Addams was already working to distribute food and to provide relief in war-torn countries. The International Congress of Women, which had met in the Hague during the war and in Zurich just after the war ended, included many women who survived the war only to face additional hardships. Warning that the Versailles peace settlement sowed the seeds of another war, the women formed a permanent organization, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), with Addams as president. In spite of criticism, she continued to work with groups committed to nonviolence and the protection of human rights, including the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). It was to WILPF, however, that she gave the money accompanying her Nobel Prize for Peace in 1931.
By that time, some of the criticism that had dogged Addams since she opposed the war in 1915 was muted or forgotten. Never entirely comfortable with her total commitment to pacifism, she worked persistently, patiently, and modestly, nonetheless, to understand the implications of nonviolent social change. In 1922, describing the isolation she felt among friends supporting the war, she indicated why she remained faithful to that lonely, often misunderstood, ethic: "in order to make the position of the pacifist clear it is perhaps necessary that at least a small number of us should be forced into an unequivocal position." In doing so, Addams offered a number of models for "making peace" in concrete ways.
Books by Jane Addams
Books About Jane Addams