Jane Addams (September 8, 1860 – May 21, 1935) was the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and is recognized as the founder of the social work profession in the United States.
Addams’ award is well-deserved as she devoted her life to social work in America. Addams is known as the “mother” of social work, was an activist/reformer, public philosopher, sociologist, author and leader in women’s suffrage and world peace.
Living in Chicago, she founded the Hull House used to house recently arrived European immigrants. She helped America address and focus on issues that are of concern to mothers, such as the needs of children, local public health and world peace.
An advocate for women to become involved in politics, she was convinced that women would have more knowledge than men, so women needed the vote to best voice their opinions.
A role model for middle-class women, she urged women to volunteer in uplifting their communities.
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Addams developed “ethical principles” for social settlements to teach by example, to practice cooperation, and to practice social democracy.
By documenting social problems, she brought attention to the fact that poor workers were bearing the brunt of the illnesses. She brought attention to political corruption that caused the city bureaucracy to ignore health, sanitation, and building codes. Her campaign resulted in municipal reform. Addams worked with the Chicago Board of Health.
Addams’ life was very busy as she scheduled many public lectures around the country, especially on college campuses. In addition, she offered college courses through the Education Division of the University of Chicago. She declined offers from the university to become affiliated as a professor as she wanted to maintain her independent role outside of academia. Furthermore, she wanted no university controls over her political activism. Remember, “academic freedom” as we know it today was not prevalent during her teaching years.
Addams was also involved in the peace movement and staunchly opposed the U.S. annexation of the Philippines. She supported Theodore Roosevelt for the presidency. She would speak and campaign for Roosevelt’s 1912 presidential campaign.
While there is no record of Addams speaking on behalf of the eighteenth amendment that supported prohibition, she nonetheless supported prohibition on the basis that alcohol “was of course a leading lure and a necessary element in houses of prostitution, both from a financial and a social standpoint.” She repeated the claim that “professional houses of prostitution could not sustain themselves without the 'vehicle of alcohol.'”
In honoring Jane Addams, The Jane Addams College of Social Work is a professional school at the University of Illinois at Chicago.