Of the 100 individuals awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, only 15 are women. Of the 15, 3 are from the United States. In 1931, the first female American won the Nobel Peace Prize for being a pioneer social worker in America. Jane Addams never wanted to raise children or stay at home, though her family wanted her to. When they took her to Europe in hopes of changing her mind, the trip instead inspired her to take action.
Jane Addams was born in Cedarville, Illinois on September 6, 1860. Her father was State Senator John Addams, a friend of President Abraham Lincoln. Her mother died when she was two, but she was inspired by her mother’s kindness to the poor to study medicine. Addams’ poor health caused by curvature in her back prevented her from attending medical school. While she was traveling in Europe, she came across Toynbee Hall, a settlement house. When she returned to Chicago, she and her friend, Ellen Starr, decided to open their own settlement house. The two women leased a large house built by Charles Hull; the house became known as the Hull House. The goal of the Hull House was “to provide a center 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 two women raised money by giving speeches and convinced young woman to help take care of children and nurse the sick. By the second year, it was hosting 2,000 people a week; kindergarten classes took place in the morning, elementary children clubs in the afternoon, and classes for adults in the evening. In 1905, she was appointed to Chicago’s Board of Education and in 1908, participated in the founding of the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy and became the first woman president of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections. She led investigations on midwifery, narcotics, child labor, and sanitary conditions.In 1910, she received the first honorary degree ever awarded to a woman by Yale University and in 1911, she became the vice-president of the National American Women Suffrage Association.
Before the United States entered the World War One, she became outspoken against the war and became expelled from the Daughters of the American Revolution. Though her publicity decreased, she continued to help the poor by working as an assistant to Herbert Hoover in providing relief supplies of food to the women and children of the enemy nations. In 1926 she had a heart attack that she never recovered from; in fact, she was at the hospital on the day the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to her in 1931. On May 21, 1935, she died after an operation reveled unsuspecting cancer. The funeral service was held in the courtyard of the Hull House and was attended by thousands of people
Jane Addams grew up knowing that her mother helped the poor and she wanted to follow her mother’s footsteps. Though her poor health prevented her from becoming a doctor, she instead found a new calling that allowed her to help thousands in the poor area of Chicago. When she realized the root of the problem were the lack of laws, she became involved in the government to create new laws to improve sanitary conditions. Addams had several setbacks, but continued to work toward her goal and because of her determination, thousands benefitted from her good will.