Thoughts about Jane Addams Day

AAUW’s Jane Addams Day 2015 is Saturday, December 5th. This year, we are featuring the amazing Kristin Lems who will sing songs about Jane Addams while she and her mother talk about their family’s amazing personal history with Jane Addams and Hull House. “Jane Addams” herself—that’s me—will also give a speech. This year, Jane will be speaking on the meaning of the Devil Baby. She will seriously consider this interesting phenomena, and explore why the story is so compelling to so many people.

Simply put, Jane Addams is amazing. I think there is hardly anything worthwhile that happened in Chicago, the USA, or the world at large that she didn’t have a hand in. Besides her work at Hull House, she is best known nationally/internationally as the first American woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize! Here is a brief biography of her:

I’m still learning about the amazing things she did. At a recent talk for the Chicago Humanities Festival in November about Addams and the arts, I learned that Viola Spolin, who wrote a book on improvisation games, taught the games at Hull House. Her son, Paul Sills,would later found Second City. Damn!

Most folks probably don’t know the backstory of the event. The short version is that Dongola Unit School teacher Cindy Vines and a team of five eighth-graders decided to advocate for a Jane Addams state holiday, since there were no holidays named for women in Illinois at that time (and very few anywhere else). Think about it. Can you think a single day that is dedicated to a woman? State or federal? AAUW-Illinois’ Carbondale Branch, located near the students, decided to support them in this noble task. After tireless hours spent writing letters, making phone calls, visiting legislators, and more, a bill was eventually signed into law in 2006. It became effective on January 1, 2007, so the first Jane Addams Day was celebrated later that year. You can read a fuller account here:

And yet, does anyone know when Jane Addams Day actually is? Does anyone celebrate it? It’s December 10th and yes, Hull House certainly knows. And so do AAUW chapters in Metro Chicago. But otherwise, it’s a day that comes and goes with little fuss.

Now here’s the personal part of this story: AAUW-Illinois was committed to celebrating Jane Addams Day (because Jane Addams had once been a member of AAUW-Illinois), and the leader of this effort was Jan Lisa Huttner (who had been a state board member in 2007). Jan, who started as a mentor and is now a good friend, organized annual celebrations every year. In 2010, the first year I went the special guest was Louise W. Knight who had recently published a biography called Jane Addams: Spirit in Action. Ms. Knight’s presentation was called “Jane Addams & the Progressive Tradition.” Jan, wearing a costume designed for her by someone at Timeline Theatre, played our hostess: Jane Addams in person! You can read a fuller account here:

Of course, I was hooked immediately. For several years, I had been participating in historical reenactments all around the city. I was literally giving voice to Chicago women, famous and infamous. I played Minna Everleigh (famous madam of the Levee), a temperance worker, denizen of Captain Streeter’s Streeterville, a vendor of snake oil, and much more. When Jan moved to Brooklyn in 2012, she suggested that I become Chicago’s new Jane Addams. She connected me with Lori Switzer of AAUW Chicago, and Lori became a big advocate for ideas I had for 12/10/12—the auspicious date of my debut as Jane.

At the time, I was used to participating in other people’s events, but I had never put on one of my own before. This was an opportunity to celebrate one of Chicago’s greatest people. It would be my first event and it would be showcasing the words of such an amazing woman.  I spent time researching, writing and directing the event, focusing on one of the many projects Jane worked on. I chose the Pullman Strike because she had written a very powerful essay “A Modern Lear” that looked closely at the relationship between industry and labor. Needless to say, it’s all history from there. This is year three at Hull House for me. I hope it will be an annual tradition for years on end. Each year would deal with a different area that Jane dealt with.

Also, this process taught me that I could plan long term projects without the structure of school. Without a doubt, this led to my oral history project, which is now on the verge of 50 interviews.

I’m excited about this year. I hope you will all join us at 2 PM at the Resident’s Dining Hall at the Hull House Museum. I promise that it will be magical.


Jane Addams
Logo by Dan Carroll


Dan Carroll (Logo Design) is an editor and freelance cartoonist based in Chicago. His comic work can be seen at For editing or design work, he can be reached at



One thought on “Thoughts about Jane Addams Day

  1. Wonderful account of Jane Addams Day. We are so lucky to have you as “Jane.” Thank you for all your hard work and planning.

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