Addams, Jane

Jane Addams (1860-1935) was the first American woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize and was a pioneer in the field of social work. She was also a prominent political activist and advocate of women’s suffrage who played a leading role in Theodore Roosevelt’s 1912 presidential campaign.

Newspaper article titled Protect Our Immigrants Is Jane Addams' PleaAddams was born in Cedarville, Illinois. Although her mother Sarah died when she was two, Addams and her father were very close. John Huy Addams was a founding member of the Illinois Republican Party and a staunch supporter of his friend Abraham Lincoln’s campaigns.

After brief stints at two colleges and several European sojourns, Addams, inspired by her visit to Toynbee Hall in London, decided to create a settlement house. Settlement houses were community centers designed to bring together people from different socioeconomic statuses and provide vital services like education, daycare, and healthcare. In 1889, Addams and Ellen Gates Starr co-founded Hull-House, a settlement house in Chicago. Additionally, Addams wrote extensively about democracy, ethics, and politics and became involved in the peace movement.

Theodore Roosevelt visited Hull-House several times during and after his presidency and he and Addams became political allies. They worked closely together on Roosevelt’s 1912 presidential campaign, as Addams was heavily involved in the Progressive Party. At its convention in Chicago, Addams argued that to achieve their policy goals, Progressives would “require a leader of invincible courage, of open mind, of democratic sympathies, one endowed with power to interpret the common man and to identify himself with the common lot.”1 She thought Roosevelt was that person and seconded his nomination while emphasizing the importance of women’s suffrage in achieving their policy agenda. In Roosevelt, Addams found her political champion for suffrage; at a campaign stop in Vermont, Roosevelt defended Addams and the other women who participated in the convention from some negative press coverage, arguing, the “real issues affect women precisely as much as men” and women “have precisely the same right to speak in politics.”2

After Roosevelt’s loss in 1912, he and Addams remained connected. In 1915, Roosevelt asked for Addams’ assistance in assessing the validity of a man claiming to be a former soldier and seeking veterans’ benefits. After the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in May 1915 and the escalation of World War I, Roosevelt grew frustrated with the pacifistic Addams’ continued calls for peace, thinking that she misunderstood the severity of Germany’s actions and was misleading the American public because of that. Addams spent the rest of her life advocating for peace, despite much opposition to her absolutist position on pacifism, and in 1931 won the Nobel Peace Prize. However, Addams was too ill to attend the ceremony and died a few years later in 1935.

1. First National Convention of the Progressive Party, Theodore Roosevelt Papers, Library of Congress Manuscript Division,, Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library, Dickinson State University, 196.
2. Mr. Roosevelt's Speech on Suffrage,, Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library, Dickinson State University, 3.

Sources and Further Reading:

“About Jane Addams.” Jane Addams Hull-House Museum.

Addams, Jane. Twenty Years at Hull-House with Autobiographical Notes. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1912.

“Jane Addams.” Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site. National Park Service.

“Jane Addams – Biographical.” Nobel Media AB.

Knight, Louise W. Jane Addams: Spirit in Action. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.

Stone, Tanya Lee, and Kathryn Brown. The House That Jane Built: A Story About Jane Addams. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2015.

Entry contributed by John Hest, M.A.