There is an instinct among people to help one another. It is a natural reaction to bring a casserole to a mourning family or drive a sick friend to a doctor, to help build a neighbor’s barn or rescue a drowning child. It is our heritage to care for each other. Since the founding of America, neighbor has reached out to neighbor in times of trouble. These traditional gestures of friendliness and concern began in a largely rural setting. But by the mid-1800s, this country changed. With western expansion, increased urbanization, and waves of immigrants, society was immersed in social complexity. The new and varied needs could no longer be casually handled. Americans began to realize that a new kind of action was required—one that would help their fellow citizens.
In the battle against overcrowding, child labor, poverty and disease, the usual spirit of neighborliness was not enough. Improved health and human services were called for. What was to be done? How was the challenge to be met? And who would do it? History shows us that certain men and women always appear when leadership is called for. These individuals may seem ordinary on the surface, but they are gifted with a dedication that reaches out and meets the challenge head on. What guides them? Perhaps it is a flash of anger at injustice, a moment of pity, or a sense of their own power to solve a problem. They take action and change American life for the better. They volunteer their lives to create or shape human services organizations. They are our inspiration. Jane Addams is one of these inspiring people. She founded the U.S. Settlement House movement and was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. A Norwegian professor, speaking at the award ceremony, praised her, saying in part, “She is the foremost woman of her nation, not far from being its greatest citizen…”