One of the most influential, if underrated, women of the 20th century has to be Jane Addams.  Throughout her life the role that she will be most remembered for is that of a social activist and reformer.  In the early part of the 20th century she was part of the progressive movement: an amorphous ideology which sought to provide greater equality in American society.  Besides being a key figure in the progressive movement she was an early member of the NAACP and the ACLU.  Despite those accomplishments the activity that she is most remembered for is the Chicago settlement for women called Hull House.

Considering the upbringing of Jane Addams, it is fair to conclude her social justice work is a case of nobleese oblige.  Not to suggest that her motives were patronizing all, but it proves that people in the upper classes can understand the problems facing impoverished people.  Her progressive values were instilled in her by her father who was an abolitionist and a member of the Illinois state legislature.  After finishing college, she rebelled against the housewife heroine stereotype of women, and decided to use her fortune and connection to help the immigrant community living in Chicago at that time.  The function of Hull House was that of a community organization which helped mostly women and children, but was an asset to the entire community.

The most glaring spotlight of her activism has to be her participation in labor disputes that was prevalent in the early 20th century.  She took the role of a mediator who was sympathetic to the side of labor.  She witnessed first-hand how low wages was connected to social problems that took place outside of work.  Her sympathies to working people alienated some of her wealthy donors who immediately ceased contributions to Hull House.  Another movement that she was a part of was the anti-war movement protest America’s entry into the first world war.  At that time, she founded the Woman’s Peace Party to promote peace and women’s rights.

Another activity she was passionate about was child labor laws: she had lobbied for labor legislation to reform sweatshops that employed small children.  She also fought to have safer conditions for workers, establish a minimum wage, widow’s pensions, and unemployment insurance.  Most, if not all of the reforms she fought for are accepted practices today.   She could not have accomplished what she did without recognizing a problem and the determination to fix it.  None of those battles were easy despite her high status in society, but she was passionate and believed she could change society for the better.

The goals Jane Addams fought for are not that much different from Making It to The Finish Line.  We are a community organization dedicated to improving the lives of people who live in urban areas.  The situations are somewhat different and this is about 100 years later, but there is much that we, and society could learn from the work she promoted.  Jane is a pioneer of women’s right and she deserves a place in the history books taught in schools.   A great resource for Jane and other people who fought to improve society you can check out the source cited at the bottom.

Dreier, P. (2012). The 100 greatest Americans of the 20th century: A social justice hall of fame. New York: Nation Books.


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