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Jane Addams, an American social worker and humanitarian, was born in Cedarville, Illinois. Her family was well-to-do and she received a good education. While travelling in Europe, she visited Toynbee Hall, an institution in London, England, which aimed at helping the poor through education, according to the philosophy of Arnold Toynbee. Addams was very impressed. In 1889, with her friend Ellen Gates Starr, she founded Hull House in the slums of Chicago. Based on the model of Toynbee Hall, Hull House offered help to the less fortunate by providing a kindergarten, library, lectures and clubs for all ages and a variety of interests. Addams was aided by many helpers, some paid workers and some volunteers, a number of whom lived at Hull House.
Addams also worked for labour law reform, and was a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. She also campaigned for international peace. She was the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize (in 1931, jointly with Nicholas Murray Butler, President of Columbia University).
Mackenzie King first met Jane Addams in 1895, when she was in Toronto speaking about Hull House. He was greatly inspired. "I never listened to an address which I more thoroughly enjoyed," he wrote. (Diary, July 20, 1895) The next day he spoke further with Miss Addams about her work, and wrote: "The history ..., taking it back to the influence and practical work of Arnold Toynbee was more than delightful to me." (Diary, July 21, 1895)
Later when he was in Chicago, King renewed his acquaintance with Addams, and he lived in Hull House, from November 1896 to January 1897. He left, after much soul-searching, to concentrate on his university studies, but he remained a great admirer of Jane Addams.