Jane Addams (born September 6, 1860 – May 21, 1935) was an American settlement activist, reformer, social worker, sociologist, public administrator and author. She was an important leader in the history of social work and women's suffrage in the United States and advocated for world peace. She co-founded Chicago's Hull House, one of America's most famous settlement houses. In 1910, Addams was awarded an honorary master of arts degree from Yale University, becoming the first woman to receive an honorary degree from the school. In 1920, she was a co-founder for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
In 1931, she became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and is recognized as the founder of the social work profession in the United States. She was a radical pragmatist and the first woman "public philosopher" in the United States. When Addams died in 1935, she was the best-known female public figure in the United States.
In the Progressive Era, when presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson identified themselves as reformers and social activists, Addams was one of the most prominent reformers. She helped America address and focus on issues that were of concern to mothers, such as the needs of children, local public health, and world peace. In her essay "Utilization of Women in City Government," Addams noted the connection between the workings of government and the household, stating that many departments of government, such as sanitation and the schooling of children, could be traced back to traditional women's roles in the private sphere. Thus, these were matters of which women would have more knowledge than men, so women needed the vote to best voice their opinions. She said that if women were to be responsible for cleaning up their communities and making them better places to live, they needed to be able to vote to do so effectively. Addams became a role model for middle-class women who volunteered to uplift their communities.
Generally, Addams was close to a wide set of other women and was very good at eliciting their involvement from different classes in Hull House's programs. Nevertheless, throughout her life Addams did have romantic relationships with a few of these women, including Mary Rozet Smith and Ellen Starr. Her relationships offered her the time and energy to pursue her social work while being supported emotionally and romantically. From her exclusively romantic relationships with women, she would most likely be described as a lesbian in contemporary terms, similar to many leading figures in the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom of the time.
Her first romantic partner was Ellen Starr, with whom she founded Hull House, and whom she met when both were students at Rockford Female Seminary. In 1889, the two had visited Toynbee Hall together, and started their settlement house project, purchasing a house in Chicago.
Her second romantic partner was Mary Rozet Smith, who was wealthy and supported Addams's work at Hull House, and with whom she shared a house. Historian Lilian Faderman wrote that Jane was in love and she addressed Mary as "My Ever Dear", "Darling" and "Dearest One", and concluded that they shared the intimacy of a married couple. They remained together until 1934, when Mary died of pneumonia, after forty years together. It was said that, "Mary Smith became and always remained the highest and clearest note in the music that was Jane Addams' personal life". Together they owned a summer house in Bar Harbor, Maine. When apart, they would write to each other at least once a day – sometimes twice. Addams would write to Smith, "I miss you dreadfully and am yours 'til death". The letters also show that the women saw themselves as a married couple: "There is reason in the habit of married folks keeping together," Addams wrote to Smith.