Near the Jane Addams statue in the Peace Garden at Fresno State on Sept. 14, there was a commemoration of Addams’ life. Addams was born on Sept. 6, 1860. In 1889, she founded Hull House, a “settlement house” where women lived who needed help with life issues. By the time of her death in 1935, she was the best-known female public figure in America.
Addams organized for women’s right to vote. She was instrumental in the passage of the federal child labor law in 1916. She stood up with other women against World War I. She was a founding member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and served as its first president. She was among the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
She was the first American woman to receive a Nobel Prize, the Peace Prize, in 1931. She is regarded today as the founder of social work as a profession.
One of the speakers at the event, Fresno State Professor Emeritus Dr. Sudarshan Kapoor, explained how a statue of Addams came to be placed in the Peace Garden, on the lawn to the side of the library. Dr. Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez and Gandhi had statues, and there was a complaint that there was no woman represented. The university commissioned a woman sculptor who made a figure of Addams holding up a child who is holding a globe. Dr. Kapoor noted that Addams had correspondence with Gandhi.
Dr. Katherine Fobear, who teaches gender and sexuality studies at Fresno State, summed up Addams’ influence today: “The thing about Hull House was that it was community living together. People coming from very different parts of the community, whether that’s middle class to the working class, and working together. Because separation and isolation have created incredible divisions in our society, which has just exacerbated economic inequality and social inequality.
“The biggest lesson that I’ve taught to my students is around that. If we want to make changes, we need to do that collectively, getting everybody involved, and to not lose hope because Jane didn’t, even in dark times.”