Since feminism is rooted in the desire for basic equality for all humans, there is no clear and direct path in feminism’s history. The most important and impactful period in the history of feminism got its start in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Jane Addams was one of the most important figures in this period, pushing for gender equality throughout society. However, her primary objective was to improve the quality and availability of education for women of all ages.
Her Early Life
Jane Addams was born into a large family consisting of eight other children and a father who was thoroughly involved in the government (Nobel Media). Beyond serving as a state senator for Illinois, her father was friends with Abraham Lincoln and fought for the Union in the Civil War. Jane Addams would continue the heavy involvement of politics with her interest in social activism. However, she struggled her whole life with health issues, including the congenital spinal effect, but she did not let her poor health prevent her from achieving greatness. Addams graduated as the valedictorian of her small college class of seventeen women and continued to succeed in the field of education.
The Beginnings of Hull House
She studied in Europe for nearly two years while she was in and out of hospitalization due to her health, and she spent an additional two years considering her options for the future. Eventually, she would revisit Europe with her friend, Ellen G. Starr. They visited a settlement house in London which helped them realize their goal of opening a similar house in Chicago to provide services for those in the underprivileged sectors of society.
Addams and Star leased a house built by Charles Hull and officially opened their settlement house, called Hull House, in 1889. Hull House became a sort of all-day school with classes for young children in the mornings, clubs for older children in the afternoons, and clubs and various courses for adults in the evening. The pair successfully gathered attendance and funding for their house, and Hull House received two thousand attendees by its second year.
Her Continuation into Politics
The success of Hull House offered further ventures in social activism to Addams. Because of her life experience and recognition for her education contribution, she was appointed to the Board of Education in Chicago. She became the chairman of the School Management Committee. From this position, Addams was able to influence the structure of education in all of Chicago instead of just her settlement house. In a long string of subsequent successes, Addams also became the first female president of the National Conference of Charities and Correction. From her position of influence, she would continue to research areas of concern in society: midwifery, narcotics, and sanitation. She sought to improve the community as a whole and believed that this process needed to include women in legislation (Michals).
Beyond the movement for women’s suffrage, Addams saw the inclusion of women in government as something obvious because to improve the wellbeing of women, women needed to make decisions and changes for themselves. Addams’ lobbying included protective labor legislation for women and better sanitation in factories, a common industry for women. Furthering her presence in politics, she led the Women’s Peace Party in 1915. She became president of the International Congress of Women, writing articles and giving speeches around the world promoting peace. In 1931, she was the first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her extensive philanthropy efforts.
Feminism = Equality
Addams’s lifelong dedication to general peace demonstrates the core of feminism, but unfortunately, many people nowadays forget these roots. Jane Addams displayed the care for humanity and peace that feminism is all about. Feminism is the sentiment of equality because of the historic role of power men typically have in society.