I hope you have at least heard of Jane Addams, for she is one of the most important reformers and social activists in the history of the U.S.!
Born on this date in 1860, Addams was active during the Progressive Era. According to Wikipedia, she “helped turn the US to issues of concern to mothers, such as the needs of children, public health, and world peace.”
She was a sort of social worker and public philosopher; she was a public speaker and author and teacher; she was a leader in women's suffrage and in world peace. She was also very practical; she was a pioneer in creating settlement houses, working with other women to create Hull House in Chicago.
What's a settlement house?
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, people had a goal of getting the irch and poor in society to live more closely together and to form community bonds. The main idea was to establish “settlement houses” in poor urban areas, and then to invite middle class volunteers to live there and provide services such as day care and health care to, and to share knowledge and culture with, the low-income neighbors.
The settlement movement started in London, and that's where Addams went to study the nuts-and-bolts of running a settlement house. By 1913 there were more than 400 settlements in 32 U.S. states.
Addams started Hull House with her friend Ellen Gates Starr, and the two of them were the first two residents of the huge, run-down mansion. Partly due to Addams's money and energy, Hull House included a night school for adults, clubs for kids, a public kitchen, a gymnasium, a bathhouse, a book bindery, a music school, and drama group and theatre, an art gallery, apartments, a library, meeting rooms, an employment bureau, and a lunchroom. Eventually it became a 13-building complex that included an outdoor playground and a summer camp.
Residents of Hull House did research and analysis, study and debate. What did they research and study and debate? Everything from housing and overcrowding, midwifery and garbage collection, to cocaine and tuberculosis, typhoid fever and fatigue. Residents of Hull House, including Addams, grew from working on establishing good relations with their neighbors, and helping them in very practical ways, to city- and state-wide campaigns for stricter child-labor laws, protection of working women, and other policies and laws. Addams even helped start the new Progressive Party and supported Theodore Roosevelt in his attempt to win back the U.S. presidency under the banner of that party.
Addams was the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Now, that's an amazing honor!
To find out more, check out this short video.
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