Jane Addams Essay

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Feminist pragmatist, social settlement leader, and Nobel Laureate, Jane Addams was a charismatic world leader with an innovative intellectual legacy in sociology and one of the most important sociologists in the world. From 1890 to 1935, she led dozens of women in sociology, although after 1920 most of these women were forced out of sociology and into other fields such as social work, applied psychology, and pedagogy.

Jane Addams was born on September 6, 1860, in Cedarville, Illinois. In 1887, accompanied by her college friend Ellen Gates Starr, Addams visited the social settlement Toynbee Hall in London’s East End. It provided a model in 1889 for the friends to co-found their social settlement, Hull-House, in Chicago.

Hull-House became the institutional anchor for women’s gender-segregated work in sociology and liaisoned with the most important male sociological center during this era, the University of Chicago. Addams led an international social movement which brought together all classes; social groups; ages, especially the young and the elderly; and the oppressed to form a democratic community able to articulate and enact their ideals and needs. She described her work in Twenty Years at Hull-House (1910) and The Second Twenty Years at Hull-House (1930). Her combined thought and practice is called ”feminist pragmatism”: an American theory uniting liberal values and a belief in a rational public with a cooperative, nurturing, and liberating model of the self, the other, and the community. Education and democracy are mechanisms to organize and improve society, learn about community, participate in group decisions, and become a ”citizen.” Democracy emerges from different groups with distinct perspectives, histories, communities, and structures of the self. She discussed these concepts in Democracyand Social Ethics (1902); Newer Ideals ofPeace (1907); The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets (1909).

Addams’ intellectual legacy as a feminist prag-matist articulated radical changes in American life and politics, altering the possibilities for human growth and action, especially for the poor and oppressed.


  • Deegan, M. J. (1988) Jane Addams and the Men ofthe Chicago School, 1892—1920. Transaction Books, New Brunswick, NJ.

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