Humanist Heroes: Jane Addams

It’s time for a new segment! In Humanist Heroes, we’ll have a look at some really important people in history who embodied Humanist values including equality, education, health care, feminism, children’s rights, reason, freethinking, and many other ways to be a positive influence on the world. Even though this blog is from a Secular Humanist point of view, not all of the Humanists featured here will be non-believers. I’ll be focusing instead on the example they set with their actions, as it’s entirely possible to be a Secular Humanist, a Christian Humanist, a Jewish Humanist, etc. As they say, it’s your behavior that makes you a good person, not your beliefs.

Our first Humanist Hero is Jane Addams. Born 153 years ago today, Jane was a pioneer in the Progressive movement of the early 1900’s. She founded Hull House in Chicago, which was a residence for around 25 women, and a community center that offered a kindergarten, music and drama classes, and continuing education for adults, as well as a gym, coffeehouse, art gallery, and services for new immigrants from Europe. They used the latest statistical methods to determine where things like overcrowding, poverty, illiteracy, infant mortality, cocaine use, and typhoid fever were at their worst. Because of their study and documentation, Hull House was able to make significant strides in the treatment and prevention of social ills. Jane was a pacifist, feminist, suffragette, and advocate for children, minorities, and immigrants. She set an example of compassionate service that had a direct impact on the lives of those she served and a legacy that would last more than 100 years, and for her efforts, she was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize.

If you’d like to read more about Jane Addams, you can scope out the above links, today’s Google Doodle or Part 1 and Part 2 of the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast.<

Edit: Here’s a fascinating article on Jane Addams, her partner Mary Rozet Smith, gender expression and sexuality during their time, and “Boston Marriages.”



2 thoughts on “Humanist Heroes: Jane Addams

  1. If you call your self a humanist, you are by definition (accepted by the community) as a non-believer). I don’t see how you can decide that some believers are humanists when by definition they are not.

    • Actually, I think it’s entirely possible to be a humanist (small “h”) and be a religious adherent at the same time. Humanism is about the belief that we all have a shared responsibility to our fellow man. The community you speak of, and of which I consider myself a part, are secular humanists. We take the step further that our shared responsibility is self-evident from our common experience as opposed to required by a divine being.

      As for the characterization of historical figures, I have no intention of declaring for another person what they do or do not believe, apart from their own explicit declarations. Instead I focus on their actions – which matter far more – and how they embody Humanist values and seek to uplift and affirm others.

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