JANE ADDAMS, born; American social worker, and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (d. 1935) Although she would not have used the word Lesbian, she did have lasting intimate and romantic relationships with women throughout her life.
After returning from a Grand Tour of Europe, Jane resumed friendship with Ellen Gates Starr, now a teacher. A female love of Starr’s had moved away and she was heartbroken. She wrote to Jane, “The first real experience I ever had in my life of any real pain in parting came with separating from her. I don’t speak of it because people don’t understand it. People would understand if it were a man.” Soon Addams would become the object of Starr’s affection. It is not clear whether Jane returned the affection. In 1889 she and Starr co-founded Hull House in Chicago, Illinois, one of the first settlement houses in the United States. At its height, Hull House was visited each week by around two thousand people. Its facilities included a night school for adults, kindergarten classes, clubs for older children, a public kitchen, an art gallery, a coffeehouse, a gymnasium, a girls club, a swimming pool, a book bindery, a music school, a drama group, a library, and labor-related divisions. She was probably most remembered through the institution of her adult night school which set the stage for the continuing education classes offered by many community colleges today.
Hull House also served as a women’s sociological institution. Addams was a friend and colleague to the early members of the Chicago School of Sociology, influencing their thought through her work in applied sociology and, in 1893, co-authoring the Hull-House Maps and Papers that came to define the interests and methodologies of the School. She worked with George H. Mead on social reform issues including promoting women’s rights, ending child-labor, and the mediating during the 1910 Garment Workers’ Strike. Although academic sociologists of the time defined her work as “social work”, Addams did not consider herself a social worker.
The term Lesbian was coined in 1890, one year after Addams founded Hull House. Although she would not have used the term to define herself, by today’s standards, Jane Addams would be a Lesbian. Mary Rozet Smith arrived at Hull House one day in 1890, the daughter of a wealthy paper manufacturer. Over the years she became Jane’s devoted companion, virtually playing the role of a traditional wife: tending to her when she was ill, handling her social correspondence, making travel arrangements.
Unfortunately, we will never know the full extent of Jane’s relationship with Mary Smith. Toward the end of her life, Jane destroyed most of Mary’s letters to her. Perhaps she was trying to cover up a sexual component of their relationship. “I miss you dreadfully and am yours ’til death,” Addams wrote to Smith. Smith wrote back, “You can never know what it is to me to have had you and to have you…I feel quite a rush of emotion when I think of you.”
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of Addams’s life and the one which won her the most notoriety was her involvement in the peace movement. Addams declared herself a pacifist and spoke out against World War I. Although she would eventually win a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts, it was an unpopular stance to take in 1914.
Addams believed women had a social responsibility to work for peace because working men would never be against war. She took on a leadership role in the Woman’s Peace Party. In March 1915 Addams was invited to speak at an International Congress of Women in the Netherlands. Addams presided over the event and one participant said, “She towered above all the others and again and again when she rose to speak and when she closed the audience would stand and applaud…She led without dominating and with extraordinary parliamentary skill clarified and interpreted for the polyglot congress of women.”
Jane Addams won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. True to her cause, Jane gave all her prize money away.