Jane Addams was dubbed by some in the media as "the only American saint." Her outspoken pacifist stance during World War I, however, nearly destroyed her reputation. Shaped by her Quaker upbringing, since the early 1900s Addams had been involved in the peace movement. In 1915 she was invited to participate in the International Congress of Women at The Hague, Netherlands.
After returning, Addams delivered a speech at Carnegie Hall in New York City on July 9, 1915, in which she questioned nationalism (exceptionally strong support of one's own nation above all others) and support for war. She also criticized the glorification of war itself. Addams encouraged the public to recognize the futility of war and support other ways to resolve international disputes.
Addams was surprised by the strong negative reactions of the media and the public to her speech. She maintained her pacifist views even when the United States entered the war in 1917. Addams suddenly found herself used as a symbol of those considered disloyal to America and was cast in the role of national villain.
Addams regained a small measure of public respect in 1918 when she toured the United States on behalf of President Herbert Hoover's (1874–1964; served 1929–33) Department of Food Administration and lectured women on domestic efforts needed during the war. Addams spent much of the 1920s, however, in Europe and Asia working on behalf of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.
Addams also spoke out against intolerance. She called for a civilized approach to the problems facing America and the world. The media, however, once again criticized her when she pleaded for food relief for starving civilians in the defeated countries of Europe after the war ended. She also defended the legal rights of those arrested during the postwar Red Scare, the American government and public fear of communism and its perceived threat to American democracy that led to mass arrests of foreigners.
Addams considered free speech to be the greatest characteristic of the United States. As a result she helped found the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920 to ensure every person's right to believe and speak as he or she chose. Pacifists (those who believed in peace and would not fight in wars) and those who advocated social welfare were often connected with socialism (a society in which no one owns private property, but rather, the government or public owns all goods and the means of distributing them among the people) and communism in the United States. Because of her leadership on social issues at the time, Addams was attacked by some as a revolutionary and military intelligence labeled Addams as a "questionable" American.
With the 1930s bringing the Great Depression (1929–41; a time of economic crisis and high unemployment that began with the stock market crash in 1929) and the threat of a new war in Europe, Addams's pacifism seemed more reasonable rather than revolutionary. Isolationism (opposition to involvement in foreign wars) dominated the public's mood. With millions of Americans suffering economic hardships from the Depression, her achievements in social reform were once again viewed as an invaluable contribution to American society.
Jane Addams lived and worked out of Hull House until her death from intestinal cancer on May 21, 1935. She lay in state at Hull House for two days while thousands of mourners filed past her coffin. She was buried in the old family cemetery at Cedarville, Illinois.