Poor people living in cities in the 1800s and early 1900s endured contaminated water and food, pollution, unsafe houses, and much more. Jane Addams opened the first public house in the country.
- Jane Addams was born in 1860 near Chicago, Illinois. Her family lived in a big, comfortable home in the country.
- Jane’s mother died when she was two. Later, Jane got tuberculosis, which left her with a deformed spine. Because of her challenges, she was very empathetic to others.
- Jane’s father was a successful businessman with several flour mills. Sometimes he would take Jane with him on his rounds to the mills. Jane loved going with him. The outing usually ended with ice cream or candy.
- One day when Jane was with her father, she noticed the homes around the flour mill. They were tiny, dirty, and stacked together. Children in ragged clothes ran through the streets. Jane asked her father why the people lived chose to live there. Her father told her that they didn’t have enough money to live anywhere else.
- Jane said that when she grew up she would live in a big house in the middle of a poor neighborhood. She would help the poor people.
- Jane was very adventurous. She loved to go exploring with her brother in the caves near her house. One night, she lowered George over a cliff to look at an owl nesting there.
- In 1877, Jane went to Rockford Seminary. The all-girls school had previously focused on preparing women to run a household; Jane studied science, math, Latin, and literature.
- When she graduated, she wasn’t sure what to do. Women usually had two options – get married and raise a family or become a teacher. To make matters worse, Jane’s father died, leaving her sad and confused.
- Jane spent eight years trying different things. She went to medical school, but her deformed spine caused her so much pain that she had to drop out. Later she traveled to Europe. In London, she visited Toynbee Hall, a place where poor people could get help and education. She decided she’d like to do something similar in Chicago.
- In 1889, Jane and her friend Ellen Gates Starr rented an old mansion, the Hull House, in a poor part of Chicago. The first night Jane stayed in the house, she forgot to lock the door. No one disturbed her and she decided to always leave the door unlocked from then on so anyone who needed shelter could come in.
- Most of the people living in the neighborhood were immigrants who had come from Europe looking for a better life. They worked long hours in factories and made barely enough to feed their families.
- In this house, Jane started a day care. Immigrant mothers had no one to watch their children. Next she opened a kindergarten and a youth program so children would have something to do besides run in the street. People could come to the house for food, shoes, a place to sleep or help finding a job. Jane realized that people had nowhere to bath, which led to disease. She put in a public bath house. She created the first playground in Chicago for the children.
- Jane’s father had left her an inheritance. Jane used this money to fund Hull House and asked other wealthy people for money too.
- By 1907, Hull House had grown from one building to thirteen buildings, including a coffee house, kitchen, music school, art gallery, theater, and gymnasium.
- By the 1920s, 9,000 people visited Hull House every week. The neighborhood was no longer a sad, dark place, but a place of hope.
- Community centers sprang up across the country and are still a part of life today.
- Jane was awarded the Nobel peace Prize in 1931 for her work.
- Empathetic: able to care for and sympathize with others
- Inheritance: money left for survivors after a loved one’s death
Questions and Answers
Question: When did Jane die?
Answer: Jane died in 1935 at the age of 74. She had spent her entire adult life serving others. Thousands of people in Chicago paid respect to her at Hull House and people around the world mourned her death. Today you can visit the Jane Addams-Hull House Museum in Chicago.
Watch a video about Jane Addams.