My Start Story Celebrates: Suffragist Jane Addams

By: Start TV Staff     Posted: August 22, 2020, 8:00AM

Jane Addams was born Laura Jane Addams in 1860 in Cedarville, Illinois. She grew up in an affluent family, but was troubled by the deplorable living conditions of immigrants in the 1880s. She and her close friend Ellen Gates Starr opened one of the first settlement houses in the United States, Hull House, in Chicago in 1889.

As a pioneer in the field of social work, Addams also fought for women's rights and advocated widely on behalf of universal suffrage. Addams believed that with the vote, women could influence politics in effort to protect children, health services, education, and other social causes. In addition to lobbying politicians, Addams lectured at several women’s colleges, including Mount Holyoke and Rockford College. She was also an ardent peace activist, and in 1931 Addams was named co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. She died four years later at the age of 74 in Chicago.

About the narrator:
Folk Singer, Songwriter 

Kristin Lems comes from a family with a long history of ties to Jane Addams. In 1889, when Addams and Starr opened Hull House, Lems' great-great grandmother’s family was just moving into an apartment across the street. One night, her great grandmother, Nellie Wicks, ran to Hull House because her drunken father was beating her mother, who was in childbirth. Addams and Starr rushed across the street and chased him off. It was the beginning of a decades-long friendship between Nellie Wicks and Jane Addams.

Lems’ grandmother, Edna Wicks, attended the Mary Crane Day Nursery at Hull House. And Jane Adams knitted a sweater for Lems’ mother Carol when she was born in 1924. After reading memoirs written by her grandmother, great-aunt and great-grandmother, which detailed the family’s relationship with Addams, Lems, who is a veteran folk singer/songwriter, decided to write a musical, called St. Jane and the Wicked Wicks, based on the material. Given the current pandemic, the play will initially be performed and recorded for radio.

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