Jane Addams distinguished herself as a social activist, a public philosopher, a pacifist, and a pioneer in the women's suffrage movement. Born on September 6, 1860, she was the youngest of eight children in a well-to-do Illinois family. Her mother died when she was two, and at four, Jane suffered tuberculosis of the spine. By the time she was eight, four of her siblings had died, so she learned early lessons in sorrow and compassion.

These harrowing experiences may have been part of her motivation to start Hull House, together with her college friend and paramour Ellen Gates Starr. Created in 1889 by restoring a run-down mansion in Chicago, this first settlement treatment house in the United States could house a couple of dozen women at a time. The residents took advantage of classes, a gym, a bathhouse, a music school, and a library. For them it was a refuge and a sanctuary for renewal. Over time, Hull House grew into a 13-building settlement complex that modeled pragmatic and imaginative ways of living well.

In a letter to the New York Times, Louise W. Knight, author of two books about Addams, states: "What is most impressive about Addams is that under the pressure of experience she grew into a political activist. … She became the first truly national female leader in American history, so famous and respected that Theodore Roosevelt considered naming her to his cabinet if he won the presidency in 1912 (she would have been the country's first female cabinet member)."

Addams spoke up for peace around the world and was the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize (1931) for her efforts to enlist the role of women in peace-keeping. She understood that, in her words, "the good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated in our common life" and that "true peace is not merely the absence of war. It is the presence of justice."

To Name this Day . . .

Spiritual Practice

In How to Be Happier Day by Day, Alan Epstein suggests:

"Volunteer your time. There are an infinite number of organizations or services that would love to have you spend a few hours helping them, so pick one and pay a visit.

"Think of what you would like to do to help the organization and feel good about yourself at the same time. Is it sitting with a few elderly people and listening to them tell you about their lives? Delivering supplies for a homeless shelter in your community? Or answering the phone for a local fundraising project? At any given moment, a project that you would like to see become more effective could use your help. If you only have an hour to give, then give an hour. If you can devote some time on a regular basis, your cause would find that most welcome.

"When you volunteer, think about how much pleasure you are deriving from your efforts and how much they are appreciated. Volunteer at the same place, or spread your time around many causes, whichever feels right."