Jane Addams: The Mother of Social Work


2 minutes

Jane Addams was a pioneering American social worker known for her progressive humanitarian efforts in the early 20th century in the United States.

Jane Addams was the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Her desire to improve the lives of others and her successes in advancing civic responsibility is part of her legacy. She is most known for founding the settlement house, Hull House, with her friend Ellen Starr. The home was the first of its kind in the U.S., providing educational programming, health services, libraries, and other resources to serve the underprivileged in the industrial districts of Chicago.

Hull House became an important symbol of the progressive movement and social reform in the U.S. The purpose of the House was to ensure that working class people, many of whom were recent immigrants, had social and educational opportunities. Hull House held classes in topics such as art, history, and domestic activities, as well as free lectures and discussions on current events. It also hosted a summer camp for children.

Addams’ interest in social work was fostered by her travels abroad.

It was on a trip to Europe that she found inspiration for what would become her life’s work. Addams and several friends, including Ellen Starr, traveled around Europe from December 1887 through the summer of 1888. While in London, Addams became deeply fascinated with Toynbee Hall, the world’s first settlement house. She described what she saw there as “so unaffectedly sincere and so productive of good results in its classes and libraries that it seems perfectly ideal.”

Then, in 1889, Jane Addams set out to establish this type of institution in the U.S. by turning a rundown mansion built by Charles Hull in Chicago into a settlement house - the first in the U.S.

Addams shaped the Progressive Movement of the early 20th century.

Addams’ notable achievements include becoming the first woman president of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections in 1909 and receiving the first honorary degree ever awarded to a woman by Yale University in 1910. She was also the first woman president of the National Conference of Social Work. By 1911, Hull House had grown to 13 buildings, and at its height, Hull House was visited each week by around two thousand people.

In addition to her social work, Addams is also known for being an advocate for peace and women’s rights. In January 1915, she became chair of the Women’s Peace Party, an American organization, and four months later became president of the International Congress of Women, which convened at The Hague. On December 10, 1931, Addams became the first American woman awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Jane Addams died on May 21, 1935, just three days after an operation revealed she had cancer.

As a passionate advocate for social change, she became a role model for those who wanted to improve their own communities. Her drive to help others and many achievements are all part of her lasting legacy, and her beliefs continue to influence reform today.

Ani Kington

Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ani is a fan of exploring new places through photography and the local cuisine. After earning her BFA in photography from NYU and gaining communications experience at International Planned Parenthood Federation, she joined InterExchange in 2012, and worked as the Marketing Producer until 2016.

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