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Jane Addams: biography of this American philosopher

Jane Addams: biography of this American philosopher

June 14, 2024

Jane Addams (1860-1935) was an American reformer, philosopher and activist who co-founded the first social residence in the United States, the Hull-House, dedicated to working on behalf of the immigrant population as well as in different educational and social policies. She was also the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 and the first public philosopher of the same country.

In addition, it belonged to the first generation of upper-middle class women who had access to higher education; experience that led him to problematize the tensions that women lived between social and family demands; and own professional desires. Next we will see a brief biography of Jane Addams .

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Jane Addams: biography of a social reformer

Jane Addams was born on September 6, 1860. Daughter of Sarah Weber and John Huy Addams, Republican politician and American businessman. She was the youngest of five children and was raised at the dawn of civil war, in a small town north of Illinois. His mother died when Jane was just two years old, while his father served, at the hands of Abraham Lincoln, as a state senator of the Republican Party in the second half of the nineteenth century.

From the influences of her social and family environment, Jane Addams was formed between values ​​and principles such as community responsibility , human rights and the civilizing link of Christian ethics and the arts.

Likewise, she was part of the first generation of women who had access to a high level education, at Rockford Female Seminary, from 1877 to 1881. In fact, she was the first student to receive an official degree from that university.

It was a social context that opened schools for women, which responded in part to their need for autonomy and professional development, although in the end it did not offer many possibilities for public exercise. At the same time, Jane Addams lived in a family context where it was expected that the youngest daughter would take care of the home .

As well as other women who lived in similar environments, Jane Addams faced different psychic and somatic discomforts for years, which among other things led her to develop her philosophy and activism. He worked especially with Ellen Gates Starr, who had also studied at Rockford and shared his interest in strengthening community and social support. In addition, he understood well the tension that women faced. Fruit of this last one was the creation of the first social and progressive residence in the United States: the Hull House .

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The family imperative

In the midst of strong domestic demands on women, Jane Addams was in a tension between pursuing her desire to reform social support in the public sphere; and social approval, whose demands went in the opposite direction.

After having to give up their professional projects, and from the conflicts that this generated, both she and other women of the same age underwent the "cure of rest" prescribed by Dr. Weir Mitchell, and that consisted of spending some time tied up in bed. Later, Addams herself explained that she was in a paralyzing situation between what she called "the family imperative", centered on the cult of the domestic; and the longings for an autonomous life dedicated to social activism (García Dauder, 2005).

The cure of Jane Addams came not so much because of the rest but afterwards, when she ended up making some resignations in the domestic and found, together with Ellen Gate Starr, the Hull House. He also dedicated himself to writing and developing a philosophical line related to social progress, the emancipation of women, diversity , the ethics of care and actions for peace.

The Hull House: a "squat house"?

The Hull House was named because it was installed in a residence located in a working-class immigrant district in Chicago. This residence was free and had been built by Charles Hull in 1856.

They moved to it in 1889 and grew gradually, reaching several buildings that offered nursery, gym, community kitchen, meeting spaces for working girls, and occupations and training workshops, as well as different playgrounds. All available to the population of the neighborhood, the immigrant majority . It was also an important meeting point for different workers and social reformers of the time, who came to live in the same center and collaborate with their tasks.

Political impact and social recognition

The works of Addams influenced the laws on working conditions for women and children , the inspection of factories, and the demands of justice for women, the black population and the immigrant population. In 1910 Addams was the first woman president of the National Conference of Social Work; in 1915 she was the president of the International Congress of Women of The Hague, and in 1931 she was the first winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Currently Hull-House has become a museum dedicated to Jane Addams and women who worked together for education and social development.

Theoretical and philosophical development of Jane Addams

Jane Addams worked so that her theoretical development did not move away from the reality that she lived. And vice versa, I wanted the implications of his activism to be reality at the theoretical level. Thus, Jane Addams' works are full of examples of her experiences at the Hull House, and addresses unusual topics ranging from folk tales of the immigrant population and prostitution to garbage collection (Hamington, 2018).

From his work at Hull House, as well as from his personal experience, the theoretical perspective of Addams develops an ethic of care that is not limited to the parent-child relationship , but extends to the notion of community and social development. As a result of his academic activity, Addams published a dozen books and more than 500 articles in which he also problematizes in an important way the North American pragmatic tradition, in which he had originally been trained.

Bibliographic references:

  • Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2018). Jane Addams American Social Reformer. Retrieved July 4, 2018. Available at //
  • Hamington, M. (2018). Jane Addams Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved July 3, 2018. Available at //
  • García Dauder, S. (2005). Psychology and Feminism. Forgotten history of pioneering women of psychology. Narcea: Madrid.
  • Bissell, V. (2000). Addams, Jane. American National Biography Retrieved July 3, 2018. Available at //

Jane Addams: A Fascinating Study of One of the Most Intriguing and Important Women in History (1999) (June 2024).

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