Jane Addams: Creating Social Reform Through Music, Leadership, and Advocacy

Jane Addams, one of the most prominent social reformers of the nineteenth century, worked to change the culture of immigrant and working class life in Chicago in the Progressive Era. Born in 1860, Addams grew up in a well-educated and politically-involved Illinois household, providing the basis for her future passion towards progressive ideals. After visiting Toynbee Hall settlement house in London as a young adult, Addams was inspired to take up a similar cause for the struggling residents of Chicago. Addams opened Hull house in 1889 with the goal of providing “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” (“Jane Addams (1860–1935)”). Hull House welcomed women, children, immigrants, and laborers, and helped them to build a more stable life within the industrial city.

One way that Addams made Hull House stand apart was through her implementation of the arts into the curriculum, making it a distinguishing feature of the settlement as a whole. Residents of Hull House were strongly encouraged to take part in the arts, and the settlement quickly became known for the unique musical and artistic talent it produced. Addams pushed for music education for the residents because she believed that music is “the most potent agent for making the universal appeal and inducing men to forget their differences” (Addams 380). Addams brought on Eleanor Smith as head of the music school, and together they brought Hull House music into the public sphere through various publications and performances. In the foreword to Hull House Songs, a compilation of five politically-charged songs relating to the struggles of those residing within the settlement, Addams indicates her belief that music can offer “an escape from the unnecessary disorder of actual life”. Concerts were held every Sunday, and audience size increasingly grew week by week, allowing Hull House to spread its messages to the surrounding community (Vaillant).

Jane Addams continued beyond Hull House to create change across the United States with her assistance in various other social reform programs. Addams helped to found the National Child Labor Committee, served on the executive board for the NAACP, advocated pacifism through the Women’s Peace Party, and much more. She worked to better the lives of those similar to those she saw struggling every day at Hull House, and in 1931 won the Nobel Peace Prize, the culmination of Addams’ lifetime of service to others.


Addams, Jane. Twenty Years at Hull-House: With Autobiographical Notes. New York: MacMillan, 1912. A      Celebration of Women Writers. University of Pennsylvania. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.

Jane Addams. N.d. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington D.C. Jane Addams. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.

“Jane Addams (1860–1935).” Open Collections Program: Immigration to the US,. Harvard University Library, n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.

Smith, Eleanor. Hull House Songs. Chicago: Clayon F. Summy, 1915. Print.

Vaillant, Derek. Sounds of Reform: Progressivism & Music in Chicago, 1873-1935. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2003. Print.


Diana Boone