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NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Jane Addams (1860-1935)
From Jan. 1998 NASW NEWS
The life and work of Jane Addams (1860-1935), founder of Hull House and Nobel Peace Prize winner, demonstrated the ethics and values that became the basis of the 100-year-old social work profession.
Addams established both Hull House and the American settlement house movement in 1889 on Chicagos West Side after being inspired by her visit to the worlds first settlement house, Londons Toynbee Hall.
Programs at Hull Houseincluding an employment bureau, lunchroom, childrens clubs and classes in music, languages, painting and mathematicsbecame models for other American settlement houses, according to the Encyclopedia of Social Work.
But settlement houses were more than clubs and classes. They grew out of Addams and her associates desire to rectify what they believed were gross and unjust differences in the opportunities available to the different social classes, wrote Frank J. Bruno in Trends in Social Work, 1874-1956.
Addams was driven to better understand the poor and improve their lives. She and other Hull House residentsincluding Julia Lathop, Florence Kelley, John Dewey, Alice Hamilton and Edith and Grace Abbottlived among the people they helped.
Hull House residents also shared an approach to social service that differed from their contemporaries who assisted the poor under the auspices of the Charity Organization Society (COS), according to a March 1990 Social Work article by Donald Brieland.
COS members acted as gatekeepers to aid by visiting poor peoples homes and making decisions about whether they needed and deserved assistance.
But Addams and her colleagues believed receiving aid neednt be a degrading experience. "We have all accepted bread from someone, at least until we were fourteen," she once remarked.
An expert practical reformer, Addams lobbied Illinois lawmakers for legislation to benefit the poor while serving as neighborhood sanitation officer. She also challenged powerful and often corrupt ward bosses, wrote Allen F. Davis in American Heroes: The Life and Legend of Jane Addams.
Concern about the effects of war on social progress led Addams to a prominent role in the formation of the National Progressive Party in 1912 and to her 1915 presidency of both the Womens Peace Party and the Womens International Peace Congress at The Hague. Afterwards, she persisted in her pacifist work, which won her the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize.