Barack Obama not the first Chicago community organizer scourged by right-wingers to win the Nobel Peace Prize
Barack Obama is only the latest Chicago community organizer to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
The first was Jane Addams (above), who had ties to Rockford, by the way, and who, like Obama, was at one time loathed by political reactionaries.
Addams was a social reformer, educator, author, lecturer, feminist, pacifist, political radical, acquaintance of kings and presidents, and a servant of the powerless and dispossessed. She was alternately the most admired and most despised woman in America.
Jane Addams was born in 1860 in Cedarville, a few miles north of my own native Freeport. She grew up amid wealth and privilege but lived most of her adult life among the poor. She attended what later became Rockford College (and earned the school’s first academic degree), founded Hull House, the famed social settlement in Chicago, and forged a career in social reform that is unparalleled in our nation’s history.
Addams, universally recognized as the godmother of modern social work, was instrumental in the establishment of juvenile courts, child-labor laws, public-health reforms, the 8-hour workday and countless other advances. She also was a founding member of both the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, among other organizations.
In a national poll in 1910, Addams was named the most admired woman in America. But barely 10 years later, because she was a pacifist who had tried to keep the country out of World War I, she was widely scorned as a dangerous radical.
The Daughters of the American Revolution canceled her lifetime membership and convicted her of treason in a mock trial. American Legionnaires stoned a train on which she was riding on her way to a speaking engagement. Editorials denounced her.
The disapproval eventually waned, however, and by 1929, Addams was again widely lauded for her work. She received numerous honorary degrees and awards and, in 1931, became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Upon her death in 1935, Addams was eulogized in more than a thousand American newspapers and countless others around the world. Some editorials characterized her as a saint. One said: “Lucky the man who dies on the day of Jane Addams’ death. The doors of heaven, on that day, will be open so wide that all may enter.”
In 1998, Life magazine empaneled a group of historians to rank the 100 most influential people in the world over the previous 1,000 years. Jane Addams was ranked 66th, higher than any other American woman.