How Jane Addams Changed the World

How Jane Addams Changed the World


I’m Mr. Beat
Here’s the story of one of the most important people in American history. But her impact as a reformer goes way beyond
the United States. In my opinion, she’s the face of the entire
Progressive Era, that period of widespread reform and activism between the 1890s and
1920s. Who am I talking about? Why Jane Addams, of course. Jane Addams was born in Cedarville, Illinois
on September 6, 1860. The youngest of eight children, by most measures
Jane’s family was very well off. Her dad, John, was a successful businessman
and a member of the Illinois Senate who even knew Abraham Lincoln. Jane adored her father. He definitely was a big influence on her life. Sadly, she never really knew her mother, who
died in childbirth when Jane was just two. Growing up, Jane was mostly taken care of
by her older sisters. When Jane was four, she got Pott’s disease,
which was basically tuberculosis of the spine. This caused a curvature in her spine, which
led to health problems the rest of her life. Growing up, she had a limp due to this, and
often could not run as quickly as the kids she played with. Jane’s father remarried when she was eight
to Anna Haldeman. Jane and Anna got along quite well, and Jane
was quite influenced by Anna’s devotion to the poor who lived in Cedarville. That, combined with reading about the poor
in Charles Dickens novels, would eventually cause Jane to want to devote her life to helping
the poor. With the encouragement of her father, Jane
decided to attend college, which is not something most girls did in the 1870s. But Jane was extremely smart, and college
wasn’t no thing, yo. She graduated from Rockford Female Seminary,
which is now Rockford University, in 1881 at the top of her class, also among the first
there to ever get a bachelor’s degree. That summer, Jane’s father suddenly died
of appendicitis. I’ve had appendicitis, by the way, and it
sucks. I didn’t die from it, though. Anyway, this video isn’t about me. Jane and her sibling each inherited $50,000,
which today translates to nearly $1.3 million. Jane decided she wanted to study medicine. That fall, she joined her sister Alice to
go to the Woman’s Medical College of Philadelphia. While she was ambitious, a few
things came up that took her away from her goals. First of all, she still had health problems. Her spine was still giving her trouble, and
her brother-in-law Harry performed surgery to attempt to straighten it. She ended up having a nervous breakdown which
caused her to have to withdraw from med school. After this, Jane returned to Cedarville to
take care of her stepmom, Anna, who had gotten very sick. Meanwhile, Jane was in a funk, now not knowing
what to do with her life. So she went to Europe. Beginning in August 1883, and over the following
four years, she would travel all over Europe, occasionally coming back home, but constantly
looking for direction while struggling with the despair associated with not knowing her
true purpose. Through her travels, research, and conversion
to Presbyterianism, she realized she didn’t have to be a doctor to help the poor. She also realized she didn’t need a man. Indeed, many historians today speculate that
she was not sexually attracted to men at all, and in fact was in at least two romantic relationships
with other women. In the summer of 1887, Addams read a magazine
article that would change her life forever. The article was about a new idea called a
settlement house. A settlement house was a safe place in the
middle of the city, usually poverty-stricken, immigrant neighborhoods, where folks could
get medical care, food, and job, education, and other services. Jane loved the idea. In December 1887, she and some of her friends
went to London to check out Toynbee Hall, the first settlement house. Jane was amazed. She later described it: “It is so free of
‘professional doing good,’ so unaffectedly sincere and so productive of good results
in its classes.” Addams came back home wanting to start her
own settlement house. She told her good friend, who today historians
call her first girlfriend, Ellen Gates Starr, and Starr was so excited about it that she
wanted to join her. The two found a run-down mansion in the Near
West Side area of Chicago that had been built by a dude named Charles Hull back in 1856. That’s why folks called it Hull House. Due to some donations, Addams and Starr were
able to start renting the house. However, Jane invested much of her own money
into repair costs and buying furniture for it. Eventually, wealthy folks like Helen Culver,
Louise DeKoven Bowen, and others contributed to rent and maintenance costs. Addams and Starr were the first two to live
in the house, but eventually they were joined by 23 other women. They opened it up to the public on September
18, 1889. Word got out, and soon the Hull House became
not only a place that offered social services, but it became kind of like a college, as it
became a center for research, study, and debate. Some of the research included looking at housing
concerns, the spread of diseases, drug use, and kids not going to school. One big goal of Addams and Starr was to get
young, educated folks in direct contact with the rest of the city. In other words, get them out of their bubbles. Once Hull House started offering services
to anyone who showed up, this happened quite a bit. In 1891, Dr. Harriett Rice, an African American
who could not practice medicine in any American hospital due to the racism of the time, joined
the Hull House to offer medical treatment for poor families. That same year, Hull House was already hosting
2,000 folks each week. The first facility Jane added to the Hull
House was an art gallery. She took great pride in her art program. Addams designed it to challenge the industrialized
education of the time, in which students were only trained for one specific job. She saw the arts as a way to break free from
that system, allowing students to expand their horizons. The second facility Jane added was a public
kitchen, open to anyone who wanted a free meal. Next came a coffee house, a gym, a swimming
pool, a boarding club for girls, a book bindery, an art studio, a music school, a drama club,
a library, an employment bureau, and even a museum. Eventually, Hull House expanded to 13 buildings. Hull House also offered night school for working
adults, various clubs for kids, a day care, a bathhouse, and a theater. Addams and her colleagues helped people get
jobs through training programs. With the help of folks like Florence Kelly,
the country began to take notice of Hull House. Kelley, who deserves a video all her own,
lived at Hull House from 1891 to 1899, and was instrumental getting laws passed based
on what they were researching there. She went around talking about crazy ideas
like an 8-hour work day, a minimum wage, and children not working in factories. By 1893, the Illinois legislature had passed
the first law limiting factory work for women to 8 hours a day and a law banning children
under age 14 from working. This was the beginning of the Progressive
Era, and much of the credit went back to Jane Addams, who was now asked to go around and
speak about her PROGRESS at Hull House. See what I did there? In addition to going around giving speeches
and writing articles for Ladies Home Journal, Addams began to lobby for progressive legislation
just like Kelly did. Issues important to Jane included giving women
the right to vote, getting kids out of factories and in school, establishing safe areas where
children could play, and increasing the political power of the poor and immigrants. Addams literally was a big reason why the
entire field of sociology became a thing. Thanks to her efforts at Hull House, the University
of Chicago established the first Sociology department in 1892. Addams would later teach at that university,
by the way. In 1894, Jane founded the Chicago Federation
of Settlements to promote expanding the settlement house movement in the city. The next year, Jane became fed up with the
nasty conditions around Hull House that caused rats to terrorize the alleys and streets nearby. The root of the problem? People just dumping their trash wherever. She had complained to the city for years,
but they ignored her, so she installed garbage incinerators near Hull House herself. Chicago did recognize her efforts, and appointed
her the garbage inspector of the 19th Ward, paying her $1,000 a year. In 1898, she joined the Anti-Imperialist League
to protest the United States annexing the Philippines. In 1901, Jane, along with her colleagues at
Hull House, founded what would later evolve into the Juvenile Protective Association,
an organization that created a special court for kids who got in trouble with the law….this
was all before the government handled this, mind you. Meanwhile, she had become very close to Mary
Rozet Smith, a fellow activist and rich donor of Hull House. The two eventually also had a romantic relationship
and lived exclusively together. Even though women could not marry other women
back then, they acted as a married couple for at least 30 years. In 1905, Chicago’s Board of Education appointed
Addams chairman of the School Management Committee. Three years later, she helped found the Chicago
School of Civics and Philanthropy. In 1909, she went national, becoming the first
female president of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections. By this time, Jane Addams was not only well
known in the country, but well known in the world for her work, and she had already traveled
all over the place letting everyone know what she and her colleagues had learned at Hull
House. Many of her lectures were turned into books. In 1911, members of the extremely influential
National American Women’s Suffrage Association elected Addams as their Vice President. The next year, she supported the newly created
Progressive Party, aka Bull Moose Party, the political party led by followers of Teddy
Roosevelt. She nominated Roosevelt at the party convention
on August 5, 1912, even though she disagreed with Roosevelt’s more aggressive foreign
policy. After World War One broke out in 1914, Addams
decided to dedicate the rest of her life making war no longer a thing. For starters, she was a vocal opponent of
the United States entering that war. In 1915, members of the Woman’s Peace Party
elected her to be the national chairman, and she also presided over the International Congress
of Women, the first international effort to end the war. Emily Balch, who worked with Jane at the conference,
wrote about her in her journal: “Miss Addams shines, so respectful of everyone’s views,
so eager to understand and sympathize, so patient of anarchy and even ego, yet always
there, strong, wise and in the lead. No ‘managing’, no keeping dark and bringing
things subtly to pass, just a radiating wisdom and power of judgement.” Regardless, in 1917 the United States joined
the war, and many Americans turned on her, calling her a traitor to her country, a naive
idealistic reformer, and even calling her “emotional.” Heck, the Daughters of the American Revolution
even kicked her out. Still, she assisted Herbert Hoover providing
humanitarian aid to women and children displaced by the war. After the war was over, Jane escalated her
pacifism activism. Hey that rhymes! She helped start the Women’s International
League for Peace and Freedom and denounced the Treaty of Versailles, which they said
would ultimately not help bring world peace since it was all about revenge. Hmmm. I think they were later proved right? Yeah. In 1920, she helped start the American Civil
Liberties Union. That same year, women FINALLY got the right
to vote. By the 1920s, there were around 500 settlement
houses in the United States. Remember, Jane started the very first one, and
Hull House continued to be a powerhouse at this time. And Addams continued to travel everywhere
giving lectures. Eventually this would take a toll on her health. In 1926, Jane suffered her first heart attack,
and she was never quite the same after it. She suffered her second heart attack on the
same day she also became the very first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. December 10, 1931. She never fully regained her health. She died of abdominal cancer on May 21, 1935. Her family buried her in her hometown of Cedarville. The next day, the New York Times wrote of
the most flattering obituaries I’ve ever seen: Miss Addams has been called ‘the greatest
woman in the world,’ the ‘mother of social service,’ ‘the greatest woman internationalist’
and the ‘first citizen of Chicago.’ With her idealism, serene, unafraid, militant,
was always paramount. Devoted to the cause of social and political
reform, to the betterment of the economic condition of the masses, to world peace and
to internationalism, Miss Addams’s influence was world-wide. She was, perhaps, the world’s best-known
and best-loved woman. Dang, New York Times. That sums it up way better than I ever could. So I guess we’ll end the video right there. So this video is part of a collaboration called
Project Herstory. It features a bunch of history YouTubers,
and we all released videos about important women throughout all of history. So check out the entire playlist. I’ve linked it in the description. In case you didn’t know, March is Women’s
History Month, but I challenge us to make EVERY freaking month women’s history
month. Eh? Thanks for watching.