Communicator of the Month: Jane Addams

Original artwork with a green and blue background with to hands in black and white over a red megaphone that says Stop the War!

Co-Author: Catie Carreras

Our Communicator of the Month series showcases individuals whose voices have made a lasting impact on our country. In 2023, we recognize 12 Proponents of Peace who were dedicated to resolving conflict and envisioned a world without violence. Whether they advocated for civil education classes or found the common link between the civil rights and peace movements, the efforts of these activists mitigated hostile conditions in many of the world’s most divided countries — including our own. Their cooperative processes led to negotiation, reconciliation and growth — and are still teaching us how to connect back to our shared humanity, even in times of strife.

 

“Nothing could be worse than the fear that one had given up too soon, and left one unexpended effort that might have saved the world.” — Jane Addams

 

September 6, 1860 — May 21, 1935

Jane Addams — a name synonymous with feminism, social work and dedication to international peace — was born in Cedarville, Illinois, on the eve of the Civil War. Her principles were deeply rooted in social and political reform, as her father was an Illinois state senator who fought as an abolitionist during the Civil War. Her intrinsic motivation to promote peace for the greater good grew from there; in 1931, she would go on to become the second woman ever — and the first American woman — to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Young Jane excelled at Rockford Female Seminary (now Rockford University), graduating as valedictorian in 1881. However, a congenital spinal abnormality postponed her pursuit of medicine at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. Instead, Addams spent nearly two years in Europe, crossing paths with and absorbing knowledge from social reform advocates from around the world. Her time traveling further inspired her to dedicate herself to activism, which led to her work as a peacemaker.

At the age of 27, she stumbled upon Toynbee Hall, a settlement house in London’s East End. This inspired Addams to establish the first settlement house in the United States in 1889 — known as Hull House — alongside her friend and former Rockford classmate Ellen G. Starr. Settlement houses were important reform institutions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, often large buildings in crowded immigrant neighborhoods within industrial cities such as New York, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia. Settlement residents were educated and typically middle- to upper-class individuals who helped workers in their community struggling with poverty and other challenges resulting from urbanization and immigration.

In 1906, Addams began lecturing at the University of Wisconsin’s summer sessions, and in 1907 she published Newer Ideals of Peace, which outlined the problems that America was facing at the intersection between industrialism, militarism and patriotism. A committed pacifist, she was a vocal critic of war and militarism, particularly during World War I. She was involved in various peace conferences and efforts to prevent war and promote disarmament. Addams advocated for international cooperation and diplomacy as an alternative to armed conflict.

In April 1915, Addams served as chair of the International Congress of Women, alongside other prominent feminist leaders. This would later establish the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), an organization in which Addams was a key figure, contributing to its growth and its mission of promoting peace and freedom and serving as its first president. She used her international influence to advance the goals of WILPF and advocate for peaceful conflict resolution and disarmament.

In addition to these advocacy efforts, Addams also played a pivotal role in the suffrage movement and co-founded the NAACP. Her work to promote peace was characterized by her commitment to social reform, her pacifist beliefs, and her efforts to bring about a more just world through activism and advocacy. Addams’ lifelong dedication to improving society left an indelible mark on our world and paved the way for other “New Women” to be empowered for decades to come.