National History Day: Innovation in History

The Jane Addams Digital Edition, in association with the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, the Jane Addams Papers Project and the Teacher Education Program at Ramapo College, invite you to use this guide when brainstorming for National History Day.

History has always provided occasions for innovation.  When people wanted goods from another country, they found new, faster routes over land and water.  When farmers wanted to increase production, they created efficient machines like the plow. When citizens needed to communicate across the world, telegraphs, telephones and eventually email would link them.  Whatever the problem, humanity has been able to create a solution.

One of the most innovative solutions arose from the the Progressive Era of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  People living in this time faced issues from multiple sources: rapid industrialization brought farmers and immigrants to the cities in search of work.  This influx of people sent urban populations skyrocketing. People already living in cities felt pressured by all the new faces, but they were especially threatened by the arrival of immigrants.  Native-born Americans eyed their new neighbors with suspicion, fearing they would take away jobs due to their willingness to work for any price. In response to the overwhelming problems of the time, the settlement movement took shape.  Wealthy men and women turned houses in the poorest neighborhoods into havens for those living in cities. They provided advice and educational services for factory workers, recreation for children and social gatherings for immigrants and nonimmigrants to reconcile their differences.

Settlement houses strived to comfort and to bring hope to everyone they served, and no house accomplished this better than Jane Addams’s Hull House.  Founded in 1889, Addams quickly expanded her settlement to be one of the largest in the country, totaling thirteen buildings. Each building housed new and innovative programs for poor such as soup kitchens, a public bath and extracurricular classes for neighborhood children.  She continuously sought to know those she served and always made certain to put their needs first. Her pioneering spirit and creative outlook on settlements made Hull House one of the greatest innovations of the Progressive Era.

We encourage all students and teachers to look through the Jane Addams Digital Edition for documents written by Jane Addams that will aid their work.

Good luck!


Paige Drews