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Jane Addams

A Concern For Fellow Citizens, War On Poverty, Juvenile Justice, Peace Activist

Born September 6, 1860 (Cedarville, Illinois)

Died May 21, 1935 (Chicago, Illinois)

Social reformer

By the early 1900s Jane Addams was one of the most famous and respected women in America. Her practical approach to charity, business, and reform worked well within the American free enterprise system (the freedom of private businesses to operate competitively for profit with minimal government regulation). Through her social activism to assist the poor and the young, Addams inspired the creation of the Illinois juvenile justice system, the first in the nation. The Illinois state system served as a model for other states and the federal government.

Addams also focused on pacifism (opposing war and violence) to promote nonviolent solutions to problems. She pursued her humanitarian work for a better American society throughout her lifetime. In 1931 Addams became the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The prize recognized her commitment to social reform and her work to promote peace in the world.

"When a great party pledges itself to the protection of children, to the care of the aged, to the relief of overworked girls, to the safe-guarding of burdened men, it is inevitable that it should appeal to women."

Based in part on her influence on the U.S. criminal justice system, in 1912 Addams became the first woman to make a nominating speech at a national political convention. She Jane Addams. (© Bettmann/Corbis)

seconded the nomination of presidential candidate Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; served 1901–09). A staunch supporter of women's suffrage (right to vote), Addams served as vice president of the National American Suffrage Alliance from 1911 to 1914. In 1913, seven years before the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted women the right to vote, Addams helped secure the vote for women in local Chicago elections.

In 1915 Addams was the first woman to organize and chair a Women's Peace Party in the United States. She was cofounder of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and served as its president for many years. Another direct influence on criminal justice came in 1920, when she helped found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The ACLU became a leading organization in protecting the rights of defendants in the criminal justice process by a variety of actions, including raising public awareness, funding defense lawyers, and initiating test cases or joining existing cases. Addams served on its national committee for a decade. Popular as a lecturer and writer, many organizations sought Addams's participation. Between 1904 and 1935, she received honorary degrees from fifteen universities. In 1910 she was the first woman to receive an honorary degree from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

For More Information


Addams, Jane. The Second Twenty Years at Hull House. New York: Macmillan, 1930.

Davis, Allen F. American Heroine: The Life and Legend of Jane Addams. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Felder, Deborah G. The 100 Most Influential Women of All Time: A Ranking Past and Present. New York: Citadel Press, 1996.

Kelley, Colleen E., and Anna L. Eblen, eds. Women Who Speak for Peace. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002.

Web Sites

"1889 Jane Addams Hull House." Chicago Public Library. http://www.chipublib.org/004chicago/timeline/hullhouse.html (accessed on August 15, 2004).

"Jane Addams—Biography." Nobel e-Museum. http://www.nobel.se/peace/laureates/1931/addams-bio.html (accessed on August 15, 2004).

Urban Experience in Chicago: Hull-House and Its Neighborhoods, 1889–1963. http://www.uic.edu/jaddams/hull/urbanexp/ (accessed on August 15, 2004).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law