Jane Addams was born in Cedarville, Illinois, on September 6, 1860, the child of Pennsylvania settlers of English and German descent. One of the first generation of women graduating from Rockford Seminary (later Rockford College) in 1881, she spent one term at the Womens Medical College in Philadelphia, but had to drop out due to ill health. For seven years, she searched for a vocation of significance, rejecting the traditionally "female" occupations of teaching and charity work. On her second visit to Europe, she became acquainted with the social reform movement in England. Returning to the United States, she decided to establish an institution similar to Toynbee Hall, a settlement house in London. In 1889, she acquired the old Hull mansion in Chicago, and built it into one of the first and the most important settlement house in the United States. Hull House became a complex of 13 buildings, with a staff of 65 men and women, many recent college graduates. The house and its staff offered sanctuary, social counseling and a range of activities ranging from bookbinding to theatricals to men, women and children burdened with problems and in need of inspiration. In 1910, Addams described the work done at Hull House in her book, Twenty Years at Hull House. A prolific writer, her other works include Democracy and Social Ethics (1902), The Spirit of Youth and City Streets (1909) and Peace and Bread in Time of War (1922).
While she was criticized for allowing anarchists into Hull House, contemporaries generally held her to be "the only saint America had produced." While the myth and reality of Jane Addams were far from identical, she was nevertheless effective in applying a practical, tactful, common-sensical approach to helping poor people in Chicago. Having become a pacifist from her experience in an immigrant neighborhood and her reading of the works of Leo Tolstoy, she was active in the world peace movement from the start of World War I to the end of her life In 1915, she became chair of the Womens Peace Party and president of the International Congress of Women at the Hague. In addition, she served as president of the Womens International League for Peace and Freedom. Because of her views on world peace in the midst of an increasingly isolationist nation in the wake of World War I, Addams was expelled from the Daughters of the American Revolution. In 1931, however, she and Nicholas Murray Butler were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She died in Chicago four years later, on May 21, 1935.