Profiles of LGBT people, from the past and today – and celebrating their birthdays! All Birthdays →

Jane Addams

One of the most impressive social justice activists of the early twentieth century, Jane Addams threw herself into a broad range of issues over the course of a long life of public engagement. The youngest of nine children and born in Cedarville, Illinois, she grew up in a wealthy politically-minded family. Her father was a founder of the Illinois Republican party, a friend of Abraham Lincoln, and an elected official. Addams was educated at Rockford Female Seminary and began medical studies. But she wanted a life of idealistic pursuits and, in 1888, travelled to London and visited Toynbee Hall, the first so-called “settlement house,” where economically privileged individuals put themselves at the service of working-class neighborhoods. Excited by it, Addams and some friends opened Hull House in Chicago in 1889. Located in an immigrant working-class neighborhood west of downtown Chicago, Hull House became a model for the settlement house movement in the U.S. and Jane Addams’ residence for the rest of her life. She threw herself into the life of the neighborhood, advocating for better wages and working conditions for the employees of the city’s factories. She especially fought for increased access to resources for the children of immigrant, working-class families, so that they might attend school rather than be forced into factories at a young age. Addams was a founding board member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People [NAACP]; a vocal proponent of suffrage for women; and an international peace activist. When World War I broke out in Europe, she and others tried to organize women across national borders as a force for peace, and she helped found the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Her efforts led to her being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. Addams wrote many books, including a memoir, Twenty Years at Hull House (1910); The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets (1909); and a critique of women’s exploitation in the sex trade, A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil (1912). For over 30 years, Addams was in an intimate relationship with Mary Rozet Smith, another Chicago activist for social justice.