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Jane Addams

1860 - 1935

Inducted October 1989

 "It is as if our cities had not yet
developed a sense of responsibility
in regard to the life of the streets,
and continually forget that
recreation is stronger than vice,
and that recreation alone can
stifle the lust for vice."
~Jane Addams

Born in Cedarville, IL, Laura Jane Addams was the daughter of John and Sarah Addams. John Addams, a prominent businessman, was president of the local bank, owner of two mills, a member of the Illinois Assembly, and friend and colleague of Abraham Lincoln. Due to her mother’s death, Addams’ father instilled upon her the values of philanthropy and caring for the citizens of their community at an early age. Upon her father’s encouragement to pursue a higher education, Addams enrolled at nearby Rockford Female Seminary from 1877- 1881, where she developed an interest in philosophical, economic, and social issues. After graduation, Addams traveled abroad to Europe. While touring England she was introduced to Toynbee Hall, a settlement house in the slums of London. This experience marked the beginning of her calling to the social work profession.

Within a few years of returning to the United States, Jane Addams and her travel companion, Ellen Gates Starr, committed themselves to the idea of starting a settlement house in Chicago. On September 18, 1889, Hull House was founded to offer social services targeted towards the urban poor. At its height, approximately two thousand individuals visited Hull House weekly. Its facilities and staff of volunteers provided disadvantaged families with social services and activities in one central location. This included programs such as medical treatment, childcare, temporary shelter, and legal aid. Hull House also provided classes for immigrants to learn English, vocational skills, music, art and drama—a forerunner of the continuing education classes offered by today’s community colleges.

Jane Addams entered the recreation field in 1893 when she acquired a nearby building to Hull House and transformed it into a coffee house and gymnasium. She also obtained a nearby housing slum and converted it into a playground. Addams was in the forefront of a national movement promoting the importance of organized play in urban environments. Demonstrating that recreation served as an ideal training ground for democratic citizenship, she stressed that recreation was more than sport and physical education; it was the source of creativity. In 1906, Jane Addams was one of the founding members of the Playground Association of America (PAA) and served as a member of its first Board of Directors.

Her writings, especially her book, The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets, alerted the American people to the significance of recreation as a basic human necessity. She was elected second vice-president of the PAA at its organization meeting and took a vital interest in the recreation movement. Her conviction that recreation and social work were closely interrelated was clearly revealed in her speech, “Recreation and Social Morality” at the Play Congress in 1907.

In addition to Hull House and the recreation movement, Jane Addams was a leader in the plight for women and the peace movement. In 1915, in an effort to avert World War I, Jane Addams organized the Women’s Peace Party and the International Congress of Women. In 1919 she was elected first president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, a position she held until her death. She was a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). She was a charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), having answered the “call” in 1909 that led to the organization’s formation.

Jane Addams, U.S. Postage Stamp 1940
Jane Addams, U.S. Postage Stamp 1940


When the depression of the 1930’s struck, Addams saw many of the things she had advocated and fought for become policies under President Franklin Roosevelt. In recognition of her work for world peace, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, becoming the first American woman to receive this honor. Jane Addams was one of the nation’s most influential advocates for social issues of her time. It was no accident that a woman such as her should share in the building of the recreation movement–a movement for a more abundant life.


Adapted from: Hartsoe, C, Sanders, D & Bridges, M (2009), Profiles in Leadership: Robert W. Crawford Recreation and Park Hall of Fame

  • Addams, J. (1909). The spirit of youth and the city streets. New York: The Macmillan Company.
  • Addams, J. (1910). Twenty years at Hull-House. New York: The Macmillan Company.
  • Braucher, H. (June 1935). Jane Addams, Recreation.135.
  • Butler, G.D. (1965). Pioneers in public recreation. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing Company.
  • Hartsoe, C. (2007). Building better communities: The story of the National Recreation Association (1906-1965). Champaign, IL: Sagamore Publishing.
  • Ibrahim, H. (1989). Pioneers in leisure and recreation. Reston, VA: American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance.