Organizer, peace activist and founder of Hull House, JANE ADDAMS died on this date (b: 1860). She was the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Throughout her life Addams was close to many women and was very good at eliciting the involvement of women from different classes in Hull House programs. Her closest adult companion, friend and lover was Mary Rozet Smith, who nurtured and supported Addams and her work at Hull House, and with whom she owned a summer house in Bar Harbor, Maine.
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’ 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.