National History Day: Communication in History

With the generous support of the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, the Jane Addams Papers and Teacher Education program at Ramapo College of New Jersey, the Jane Addams Papers Project has developed this guide for teachers and students participating in National History Day.

At the Jane Addams Papers Project, students have access to thousands of letters, telegraphs, speeches, book excerpts, and articles that were used to communicate the key ideas of Addams and the organizations she was a member of. Students can see that these methods of communication changed across the decades as technology advanced. During the 1800s, most of Jane Addams’  letters and the letters she received were handwritten, but as time progressed into the early 1900s, the majority of letters were typed. In the years leading up to World War I, Addams also began receiving more telegraphs, especially since she was often communicating with women across the United States and in Europe to organize a peace conference at The Hague. Technology has changed rapidly over the last century and students can analyze how it was changing during the early twentieth century and late nineteenth century.

In looking at Addams’ communications, students can study not only how a national organization, like the National American Woman Suffrage Association, communicated with the public, but how the women involved communicated with each other to make decisions for the organization. With local organizations spread across the country, the decisions of national organizations often seem lateral but there is a great deal of communication between individuals to make these decisions. Given Addams’ involvement in a variety of Progressive movements, not all of which were popular, people had no problem making their differing opinions clear and Addams received a great deal of positive and negative feedback in personal letters sent to her from people around the world. 

Language as a method of communication can also be an area of study, as specific language was chosen to convey messages throughout these letters, speeches, etc. In addition to the final copies and articles written about many of Addams’ speeches and articles, the database also has the drafts and students can observe how Addams’ language changed over the course of her writing. In her activism, Addams targeted her speeches and writings towards specific audiences. In advocating for suffrage,. sometimes Addams focused on how the public sphere influenced the private sphere and how women needed the right to vote to be better wives and mothers. Other times, she focused on the necessity for working women and immigrant women. These choices were made for a specific reason and students can analyze how and why these messages were chosen. 

Looking beyond the methods of communication used, students can also explore how Addams communicated with individuals or how Hull-House served as a tool of communication. Because the Jane Addams Digital Edition covers decades of communications, students can see the evolution of Addams’ relationships with major Progressive Era leaders. Addams was connected to some of the most important figures of the Progressive Era and had periods of frequent communication with the likes of Theodore Roosevelet, Carrie Chapman Catt, Woodrow Wilson, Alice Stone Blackwell, and many more.

In the Jane Addams Digital Edition you will find letters, speeches, articles, and other documents that illuminate this year's themes. We have highlighted a few research topics to get you started, but you can find other topics, subjects, and events that will also fit the theme.

Happy researching!

If you are a teacher and would like to provide feedback on this guide, please fill out this form so we can continue to improve the Jane Addams Digital Edition.

If you are a student and would like to provide feedback on this guide, please fill out this form. Thank you!


Renee DeLora


Renee DeLora