SHE HAD a congenital spinal defect, but always wanted the load of greater civic responsibility put on her back.
She studied medicine while young but, in a difficult turn, gave up that pursuit because of her own flagging health.
And her father was good friends with Abraham Lincoln and fought to save the nation in the Civil War, yet the daughter decades later objected to her nation’s entry into war — even getting ousted from the Daughters of the American Revolution as she rose to become president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
The life of Jane Addams held its share of ironic twists and social contradictions, yet the woman herself was clear and straight of purpose when it came to caring for the poor and sick and needy; seeking women’s suffrage and their greater social influence; and striving toward peaceful international relations.
For her work, Addams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.
Much of Addams’s legacy is tied to social work — including the establishment of Chicago’s famed Hull House in the late 1880s, which she and friend Ellen Gates Starr grew into a thriving hearth and hub for the underserved and underprivileged. According to the official site of the Nobel Prize, the Hull House helped and hosted 2,000 people each week by its second year of existence — and gradually added a public kitchen, a day-care center, various physical-fitness facilities, an art gallery and studio and classes and cultural groups, a library and a labor museum and an employment bureau. It became a place to renew and rebuild mind and body and soul — and a common ground to foster community.
Today, Google celebrates the 153rd anniversary of Addams’s Cedarville, Ill., birth by depicting Hull House itself in a pastel-hued home-page Doodle — as children are nurtured and nursed and taught.
Addams would become the first woman ever to receive an honorary degree from Yale; author of “Newer Ideals of Peace” and “Peace and Bread in Time and War”; chair of the Women’s Peace Party; and a humanitarian assistant to President Hoover.
In failing health for years after a heart attack, she spent her Nobel Prize award ceremony (in Oslo) being admitted to a hospital (in Baltimore). She died in 1935; her service was held, naturally, on the grounds of her Hull House.
Happy birthday, Jane Addams.