There is an important story about women, peace and security that needs to be told.
We are putting the spotlight on women who have paved the way – the bold and the brave – and we know there are and can be many more of them.
We are pushing for #MoreWomenMorePeace.
Jane Addams fought her whole life to promote social issues, women’s rights and peace. Her fight for peace during the First World War resulted in her being labelled a dangerous radical. But she would receive her recognition: in 1931 she became the second woman ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
Jane Addams was born in 1860 into a wealthy family in Illinois as the eighth of nine children. Her father was a miller and local politician; he was a senator for 16 years and a friend of Abraham Lincoln.
As a young woman, Jane started studying medicine, but she was forced to abandon her studies due to her own poor health – she suffered throughout her life from back problems. Instead, she went to Europe, where she lived and studied for a couple of years. She visited a ‘settlement house’ in the poor parts of east London and had the idea of opening a house for disadvantaged people in Chicago.
In 1889, Addams and her friend Ellen G. Starr opened Hull House, which aimed to “provide a centre for a higher civic and social life; to institute and maintain educational and philanthropic enterprises and to investigate and improve the conditions in the industrial districts of Chicago.” The women focused attention on the social needs in the area, collected money and took care of children and sick people. After the first year, Hull House received some 2 000 people a week. Many of these were immigrants. Gradually the activities were added to: preschool classes, evening classes for adults, mobile libraries, employment services and more. Addams also worked to stop child labour and was a supporter of women’s suffrage.
Jane Addams is recognised today as being one of the founding figures of social welfare. Alongside her social welfare work, Addams was deeply committed to working for disarmament and peace, not least during the First World War. In 1915 she became president of the Woman’s Peace Party. Later the same year, she also became president of the Women’s Peace Congress, which was held in The Hague, the Netherlands. More than 1 100 women from countries on both sides of the conflict gathered to try to end the war.
The Congress led to the foundation in 1915 of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), of which Jane Addams became president. WILPF is one of the oldest peace organisations in the world, with national sections in 33 countries. The organisation’s goals are still largely the same as in 1915: to bring together women to work for peace and human rights, identify and address the root causes of conflict, and stop wars and armed conflicts.
Addams also tried to get US President Woodrow Wilson to mediate peace between the warring nations during the First World War. When instead the United States entered the war, Addams protested strongly. As a result, she was labelled a dangerous radical and a danger to national security.
Addams was also critical of the peace treaty concluded with Germany in 1919. She thought that the treaty was so humiliating that it would result in Germany seeking revenge through a new war in the future.
Addams broadened her social engagement to cover civic issues, and she was involved in everything from preventing drug abuse to working as a ‘garbage inspector’. In 1909 she became the first female president of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections and gave peace lectures at the University of Wisconsin and elsewhere. In 1910 she became the first woman ever to receive an honorary degree from Yale University. She also wrote a number of books, including Newer ideals of peace (1907) and The long road of women’s memory (1916).
In 1931, Jane Addams became the second woman ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.