Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Jane Addams, founder of Hull-House, is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

At age 71, Jane Addams (1860-1935) became the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, an honor which she shared with Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia University. Described at that ceremony as a spokesperson for all peace-loving women of the world, Addams had been actively engaged in the peace movement since 1914. Her struggle for peace was not easy. During the war, she was attacked as unpatriotic and demonized as an advocate of socialism and communism.

Prior to the beginning of World War I, Addams devoted most of her time to the Hull-House, a Chicago settlement house and educational center that attracted countless numbers of poor immigrants, and to political activities aimed at abolishing child labor. She was a natural leader, and, in spite of her frequent illnesses, she was at the forefront of the struggles for women's suffrage, immigrant education, health care, children's rights, housing, peace and progressive education.

Born in 1860, Jane was the eighth child of nine. Her mother died during childbirth when Jane was two and a half. Her father, John Addams, was a major influence in her life. He was a prosperous sawmill owner in rural Illinois and was concerned with public interest issues. Among John Addam's accomplishments, he helped to organize the first church and school in their home town and ran the first town library out of their house. Later in his life he was elected a state senator, as a staunch supporter of Abraham Lincoln, who would become a role-model for Jane in her early years.

Jane attended Rockford Female Seminary and, after her father's death in 1881, enrolled in the Women's Medical College of Philadelphia. After a few months, however, she quit, possibly due to illness. In 1882, after an operation on her spine, she was told that she could never have a child. This, according to James Linn, her nephew and biographer, was her greatest grief. She had a deep love for children, as reflected in her writings and lectures. In August of 1883, Addams left for her first tour of Europe, where she traveled until June of 1885. Her second trip was in 1887 and it was during this journey that she met up with her friend and former classmate Ellen Starr. In London they were inspired by the People's Palace where the working poor could go and use meeting rooms, workshops and clubrooms. They were also greatly impressed by the pioneer social settlement Toynbee Hall. Here they saw a collective, social action project aimed at assisting the urban poor, and began to discuss the idea of creating something similar in Chicago.

Soonafter, in 1889, Addams and Starr moved into a once-elegant brick mansion built in 1856 by Charles J. Hull, a real-estate developer, and founded the first Chicago settlement house, which would soon be known as one of the most important settlement houses in the country. Hull-House was located in the heart of a poor immigrant Chicago neighborhood. At that time, immigrants represented three-quarters of the city's one million inhabitants. Addams and Starr sublet the second floor and set out to find other women with interests similar to their own who would offer instruction and work with the Chicago urban poor. Very soon, Hull-House had become a complex of thirteen buildings including an art gallery, gymnasium, theater, dining hall, dispensary, playground, and apartments for staff. It provided art, music, sewing and cooking classes, job training, kindergarten and day-care facilities for children of working mothers, an employment bureau, a cooperative boardinghouse for working girls, summer camps, and meeting places for local groups and trade unions. Each week, approximately two thousand people entered the doors of Hull-House.

Hull-House, through its residents and volunteers, followed two main lines of activities. First, it delivered a variety of programs to help individuals improve their quality of life, with a focus on educational programs for the immigrant population. Second, anticipating what later would be known as 'participatory action research', it worked with neighbors to collectively investigate common problems and find common solutions. Led by Jane Addams, the residents of Hull-House were at the forefront of the struggle for parks, playgrounds, housing, health care, safe streets, women's rights, compulsory education, labor standards and fair wages. Hull-House also had a labor museum, in which immigrants from different parts of the world could share different methods of production and preserve their heritage. The celebration of the diversity of immigrant cultures was complemented with dancing, music and drama courses, recitals, and presentations.

A large part of the success of Hull-House was due to Addams' ability to obtain the help of outstanding personalities of that time, like John Dewey and William James. Dewey occasionally lived and worked at Hull-House, and remarked that Addams was a personification of his educational idea that people learn by doing. Later, upon Jane's death in 1935, Dewey would dedicate to her one of his most important books, "Liberalism and Social Action." William James admired her work and told her that "you utter the truth we others vainly seek". Like Dewey and James, she was concerned about education and democracy, and devoted great energy to public speaking and writing. Like them and many others, she was an advocate of child-centered education and of social reforms leading to the construction of a more egalitarian and humanitarian society. In the words of Alexander Rippa,

    Basic to the philosophy of education that Addams developed during the forty-four years she lived at Hull-House was a vision of society in which all people, regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic status, would have a chance to develop individual talents and interests. She believed that personally enriching experiences for the immigrants were vital in a society based on democracy as a way of life. At the settlement house, she tried to solve the daily problems of new citizens. The result was a humane institution in which the immigrants were able to grow and eventually contribute to community affairs. (1997: 141-2)

Jane Addams was a vital part of the progressive education movement that rose at the dawn of the twentieth century. She believed in self-expression, learning to play, and active engagement. In 1902, she expressed her impatience "with the schools which lay all stress on reading and writing", and asked for a relevant curriculum that adds 'human significance' to a person's life. Ten years later, in the midst of the "cult of efficiency" she asked, "are the educators, like the rest of us, so caught in admiration of the astonishing achievements of modern industry that they forget the children themselves?"

At Hull-House, children received special attention, expressed in the activities undertaken in the nursery, the kindergarten, and a variety of classes and clubs. During those years, Addams' concern about the dangers of child labor propelled her into an intense political militancy. This political activism against child labor took many of her energies until her later years, when she devoted most of her efforts to promote peace and international cooperation.

Throughout her life, Jane Addams had a very active involvement in public affairs. She constantly propagated her ideas through a variety of venues such as public speeches, written documents and radio addresses. She helped to found the National Child Labor Committee in 1904 and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909. In 1912, as a delegate to the first national convention of the Progressive Party, she gave campaign speeches on social justice, and seconded the nomination of Theodore Roosevelt as presidential candidate. In 1913, she attended the Conference and Congress of International Woman's Suffrage in Budapest. In 1915 she co-founded the Women's Peace Party and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, in 1917 she strongly contributed to the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act, and in 1920 helped to organize the American Civil Liberties Union. Her work with reform groups resulted in improved education, housing, working conditions, and a better way of life for her Chicago neighbors and for people all over the country.

Addams was the author of eleven books and numerous articles on a variety of subjects including education, settlement life, industrial conditions, juvenile justice, woman suffrage, civil rights, municipal reform and planning, immigration and ethnicity, child welfare, and international peace. Her continuous struggle for peace and social justice, as well as her passion and energy to promote a better world, are an inspiration for all.

Other links to look at: Jane Addams (National-Louis University)


Addams, Jane (1902). Democracy and Social Ethics. New York: The Macmillan Company.

Addams, Jane (1912). The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets. New York: The Macmillan Company.

Addams, Jane (1960). Twenty Years at Hull-House. New York: The Macmillan Company.

McCree Bryan, Mary Lynn (1994). Laura Jane Addams. In Maxine Schwartz Seller (ed.) Women educators in the United States, 1820-1993. A bio-bibliographical sourcebook. CT: Greenwood Press.

Reynolds, Moira Davison (1991). Women Champions of Human Rights. London: McFarland & Company Inc.

Rippa, Alexander (1997). Education in a free society. An American History. New York: Longman.


Citation: Author (2002). Title. In Daniel Schugurensky (Ed.), History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century [online]. Available: (date accessed).

DS Home Page     Back to Index     Suggest or Submit a Moment

Website © 1996-2002 Daniel Schugurensky. All Rights Reserved. Design and maintenance by LMS.
Last updated on September 15, 2002.