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Who was Jane Addams?

Well, for one thing she was the first American woman to win the Nobel prize.

She was a feminist and a pioneer and innovator in the field of social work (before the field actually existed as social work.)

Jane was born in 1860 to a prosperous and politically active miller who served as an officer in the Civil War. She was the last of nine children. She was born with a congenital spinal defect that limited her physical activity as a child, and even though it was corrected by surgery, she was never physically strong.

In 1881, at age 21, Jane grduated from Rockford Female Seminary. She then spent 6 years studying medicine, but was finally forced to give up the plan of practicing as a doctor because of her poor health and intermittent hospital visits. While trying to regain her health, she studied in Europe, and spent several years trying to decide what she wanted to do next At 27, while traveling in Europe with her friend Ellen Starr, Jane visited a settlement house called Toynbee House in the East End of London, which was set up to provide assistance, work training, and education for London’s poor. Jane thought that a similar establishment could and should be established in the working districts of Chicago.

In 1889, Jane Addams and Ellen Starr leased a large house in Chicago, moved in, and opened Hull House, one of the first settlement houses in America. They provided a night school for workers, nursed the sick, listened to the troubled, gave shelter to the homeless, and much more. There was a library, a music club, a book bindery, a swimming pool, even an art gallery.

They even brought women in from off the street, shocking society by finding value in those who were “no better than they should be.” The house was a beacon of hope in a harsh world.

But that is not all that Jane Addams did. She was a strong influence on the Chicago School of Sociology, and through her writing and her lectures she helped define the methodoloy of the new field of social work. She worked hard for social reform, such as an end to child labor and a recognition of the rights of women. She was adamantly opposed to war, and helped organize the Women’s Peace Party and the International Women’s Congress in an effort to avert World War I. This caused her to be expelled from the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Addams worked tirelessly for social justice, peace, and human rights until she sustained a heart attack in 1926, from which she never completely recovered. She was in and out of hospitals, and was hospitalized in Baltimore on December 10, 1931, when she became the first American female to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo,Sweden. Ironically, it was not her heart that killed her, but cancer. She died in 1935, but she left behind a legacy of service that should not be forgotten.