American Portraits

Jane Addams, Hull House, and Responsibility

In this lesson, students will learn about Jane Addams’ role in running a settlement house and fighting against war. Students will consider how they can be responsible like Addams.

Founding Principles

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Private Virtue image

Private Virtue

The idea that only a knowledgeable and virtuous citizenry can sustain liberty.


Jane Addams believed she had a great responsibility to help people. After graduating from Rockford Female Seminary in 1881, she decided she could best help others by becoming a doctor. After Jane’s father died soon after her graduation, she and the rest of her family moved to Philadelphia. There, Jane, her sister Alice, and her brother-in-law Harry all attended medical school. Unfortunately, after the first year, Jane had to drop out due to her own ailments. Jane’s stepmother also fell ill, and the family decided to move back to Illinois….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can you act responsibly and help others?

Virtue Defined

Responsibility is accountability to myself and others.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn about Jane Addams’ role in running a settlement house and fighting against war. Students will consider how they can be responsible like Addams.


  • Students will analyze Jane Addams’ responsible actions.
  • Students will evaluate how Jane Addams’ actions helped others.
  • Students will apply their knowledge to determining ways they can be responsible in their own lives.


Laura Jane Addams was born in Cedarville, Illinois in 1860. She attended Rockford Female Seminary and one year of medical school in Philadelphia before returning to her home state. After reading a magazine article about settlement homes, Jane visited London to see the first settlement home. Upon her return, Jane worked to open her own settlement house, Hull House, in 1889.

Jane was also a pacifist who did not believe in war. She worked towards peace during World War I and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 for her efforts.


  • Seminary
  • Settlement house
  • Nobel Peace Prize
  • Ailments
  • Affluent
  • Abounding
  • Assimilate
  • Suffrage
  • The Hague

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • What was Jane Addams’ identity when she started Hull House? What was her identity when she won the Nobel Peace Prize?
  • What was Jane Addams’ purpose in starting Hull House and fighting for peace?
  • What responsible actions did Jane take?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

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