The late 1800s was a time when many immigrants were coming to America, social classes were being distinguished, and a great deal of prejudices was sweeping over the United States. The upper and middle classes had extreme advantages over the lower class, which consisted of a large number of immigrants. These lower class individuals were looked down upon by the prestigious upper class, who were brought up with the best of everything for their time period. Despite her family’s honorable place in society, one woman rose above the gap between the classes in order to help individuals, who were less fortunate than she. Her name was Jane Addams and this paper will focus on her life-long contributions to help the poor.
Jane Addams was born on September 6, 1860, in Illinois. Her mother died when she was only three years old leaving her with only a father and 8 siblings. Her father became her backbone of her life and was responsible for her learning of the harsh conditions that many less fortunate people were forced to live with. He was the first thing that made her want to help others. “She was devoted to and profoundly influenced by her father, an idealist and philanthropist of Quaker tendencies and a state senator of Illinois for16 years” (Gale 54).
Her determination was seen early in her life. Even though many women were advised not to go to college because they were meant for marriage and not education, at the age of 17, Addams enrolled into a woman college called Rockford Seminary. “During her 4 years at Rockford, she took courses in German, Latin, Greek, history, literature, algebra, and trigonometry. She also studied science-geology, chemistry, mineralogy, and astronomy-as well as music, philosophy and Bible history” ( Kittredge 34). On top of taking these difficult courses, she scored nearly perfect in almost every class.
Knowing that her goal in life was to benefit others in some form or another, after graduating from Rockford, she went to the Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia. Unfortunately, her stay in this college was short-lived because depression and a back surgery caused her to drop out.
Besides being educated in academics, she wanted to learn about peopleall types of people. She did this by traveling abroad in Europe for a few years. While in London, she came across a settlement house called Toynbee. Here, she was impressed by the way a wealthy individual had started a house to help the poor back on their feet again. She was especially amused by the fact that this man also lived in the house. This experience filled her head with ideas for her home state of Chicago.
When she returned back to the states, Addams and her good friend, Ellen Starr observed the many slums of Chicago. While doing this, her mind was focused on starting a settlement house in Chicago. “Chicago seemed the place to look; it had large Italian colonies, and though bluff and grasping, it still remembered the easy democracy of the prairies” (Wise 128). “The once prosperous neighborhood had become home to thousands of European immigrants who had fled their native countries hoping to find a better life in America” (Kittredge 17).
After Addams picked out her house, Starr and herself renovated and decorated it with great excitement. “Jane Addams had dreamed of serving humanity” (Kittredge 15). She got this opportunity with the opening of her Hull House on September 18, 1889.
This settlement house became a place of opportunities for many of the poverty-stricken people of Chicago. Jane Addams supported most of this house from her own pocket. However, she got help from many volunteers, who wanted to help the poor as Jane had done. “By the end of the year twenty volunteers lived at Hull House, and others reported in on a weekly basis” (Kittredge 48). Hull House offered much to the poor people of Chicago. It had nursery schools, kindergartens, club meetings, craft classes, classes of art and music, and job placement opportunities. Addams also acknowledged that her settlement house contained many talented individuals. Because of this, she established a Hull House theater, and a museum to showcase their arts of work. “Hull House and its occupants became her true home and family” ( Kittredge 55). “She was 31and the settlement had already been open only two and a half years. But already important newspapers were publishing articles about Hull House and about Miss Addams”(Wise 145).
Addams’ Hull House also worked outside of the house and into the community. She encouraged mother and child outings, successfully rented out apartments to working girls agreeing to pay the first month of rent and having them pay the months to follow, established Chicago’s first public playground for children, and out of concern for children she established Chicago’s Juvenile Court because she feared for the lives of children that were forced to be placed in cells with adult convicts.
Addams had the uniqueness of having a compassion for the poor immigrants. In addition to her concern for the well being of the immigrants, she also wanted to help blacks. There were not many blacks around the Hull House area so she helped to make the Wendell Phillip Settlement for blacks. She also actively attended meetings of the National Association of Colored Women.
The streets of Chicago were extremely dirty. This angered and concerned Addams. She wanted to make the city clean and this became one of her number one priorities. She was eventually appointed as “ward garbage inspector”.This was the only salaried job she had ever taken. Unfortunately it was taken away as quickly as she received it. This was considered a job unsuitable for women.
In her lifetime she also did union work. However, she highly opposed strikes because they were so violent. She was even a member of a six-person committee that was assigned to work with both sides of the Pullman Strike. Pretty soon she only allowed union workers to accomplish what needed to be done at Hull House, such as buying goods from unions. Because of this, she lost the support of many of her supporters of Hull House.
Another involvement Addams had was to the Progressive Party. She heavily campaigned for Theodore Roosevelt and supported his many plans which included, an eight hour work day, a six days a week work rate, an end to child labor, and support of women suffrage. He did not win the election, but Addams was not disappointed.
In the spare time that this extremely active woman had she also wrote many books. Some of her most famous publications include, The Second 20 Years at Hull House, A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil, The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets, Twenty Years at Hull House, Democracy and Social Ethics, and Newers Ideas of Peace.
In her elderly age, she received the Nobel Peace Prize. “Now 71 years old, she had at last received official recognition for her tireless efforts on behalf of peace” (Kittredge 99). Addams was the second woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, however she was not able to accept it in person because she was in the hospital awaiting lung surgery. With her earnings for this honor she divided the money between Hull House and The International League for Peace.
On May 21, 1935, cancer consumed the life of Jane Addams. Many were greatly grieved by the loss. “At Hull House where Addams’s body lay in state a stream of neighbors, friends, and admirers filed past her casket at a rate of 2000 per hour” (Kittredge 105). This showed how powerful this woman was to the lives of many in the American Society.
In conclusion, this woman was a pioneer to the wealthy all over the world. Her message was to reach out and help someone who is in need of your help. Although this happened decades ago, the message is still clear in the world today. Many of us should look at the life of this woman and see how we could apply it to everyday life. If everyone exerted as much compassion as this woman did than the world would be a much better place.