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Jane Addams serves as an outstanding example of how compassion and dedication can be used to support others. In this lesson, we will provide a brief background of her life but more specifically an in-depth look at her impact on education in the U.S.

Introduction to Jane Addams

In this video, we will learn about the life of Jane Addams and consider the impact she had on public education in the United States. There are many words that could be used to describe Jane: activist, philanthropist, Nobel laureate, sociologist, leader.

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However, maybe the best word used to describe Jane Addams would be ‘reformer.’

Jane Addams’ Background

Jane was born into a fairly successful family on September 6, 1860 in Cedarville, Illinois. Her father was an accomplished businessman and a state senator. Because of her father’s status, Jane enjoyed many privileges that accompany wealth and prestige.

Even so, Jane could hardly be described as ‘spoiled.’ While she may have been born wealthy, she also grew to be a woman with strong convictions and a dedication to seeing a more fair and just society. In order to do this, Jane turned to both her words and her actions.Jane graduated in 1881 as the class valedictorian from Rockford Female Seminary, later named Rockford College for Women. After receiving her bachelor’s degree, Jane studied medicine for a period of time.

However, her own poor health hindered her studies. It would not necessarily be her schooling that would shape her future, though, but rather her experiences.In 1887 and 1888, Jane toured Europe with a friend, Ellen Gates Starr. During this tour, Jane and Ellen visited a settlement house called Toynbee Hall, which was located in London, England.

A settlement house is basically a place, usually in the inner city, designed to provide services to the community in an attempt to combat poverty and other social ills. After visiting Toynbee, Jane and Ellen had the idea to start a similar facility in Chicago. In 1889, Hull House opened in Chicago, Illinois, with a mission of serving the immigrant population and those living in poverty in the Chicago area.

Hull House

Hull House would become a major part of the Chicago area, and by its second year of existence, it served as host to nearly 2,000 people a week. It became a place where research, debate, and education were all welcome. Simultaneously, more direct needs, such as shelter and clothing, were also met.

From the standpoint of education, Hull House served as an early start for children and a chance to continue education for adults.It is no secret that the founding and operation of Hull House was probably Jane Addams’ most well-known work. While Hull House certainly helped those that were able to spend time there, it also had a lasting effect as a form of social reform and education. There are several lessons to be learned from Hull House that can be applied directly to today’s education system. First, Hull House was community-based, with a focus on bettering the community through collaboration and cooperation.

These are characteristics that are also at the heart of public education today.Second, Hull House was a place filled with diversity and welcoming to everyone. With Hull House, Addams encouraged integration during a time when the United States was very much a segregated place on many levels. Through Hull House, Addams sought to reconnect members of the community who may have been pushed aside due to race and class differences. These ideals are incredibly important when considering the structure of today’s public education system.Finally, Addams placed a great emphasis on the arts within the educational structure of Hull House.

She saw art as a medium for connecting culturally and for expressing individualism. This was in contrast to much of the formal education system at the time, which was more industrial-based. Current trends in education, such as the differentiation of instruction, the encouragement of creativity, and the emphasis on play for children, would have fit in well in Addams’ Hull House.

Major Accomplishments

While the purpose of this video is to give a more in depth look at how Jane Addams impacted education in the United States, it would be unfair to leave out some of the most important parts of her life. Addams was certainly a feminist and a wonderful champion of women’s rights.

She fought long and hard for women’s suffrage, or the right to vote, and she became a member of the American Sociological Society in 1905. In 1905, she would also begin serving on the Chicago Board of Education. She was an avid peace activist who used her prestige to speak out against war.

In 1931, in fact, her life’s work and activism resulted in the awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize.

Lesson Summary

Jane Addams is considered one of the greatest women activists of the Progressive Era, which is a term used to describe a time in American history from about 1890 until the 1920s, where the focus was on returning to a more directly democratic government. From a philosophical standpoint, Addams would be considered a pragmatist, or someone who believes that thought is a tool used to problem solve. To learn more about this approach from an education standpoint, consider learning more about the philosophy of John Dewey.Unfortunately, Addams’ health began to fade in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

In 1935, Jane Addams passed away. However, she left behind quite a legacy. Her standpoint of promoting equality and peace through inclusion, creativity, and humility has survived long after her, and thankfully, is at the heart of progressive public education today.

Learning Outcomes

Once you are done with this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Outline Jane Addams’ background and life accomplishments
  • Explain what experience inspired Addams to establish Hull House
  • Describe how the organization and structure at Hull House made an impact on public education

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