The Norwegian Nobel Committee had waited so long to give the Prize to Jane Addams, that she was ill and unable to go to the award ceremony or to come later to present a Nobel lecture. In fact, on the very day of the award, December 10, 1931, she was being admitted to the hospital in Baltimore. ln failing health in her last years, Jane Addams died four years later.
Professor Halvdan Koht gave the presentation speech for Addams and her co-recipient, Nicholas Murray Butler, both of whom were absent. Since Koht was a specialist in American history, he must have known what an unlikely pairing this represented, for during the First World War, Butler had strongly denounced those, like Addams, who had opposed the war.
Koht paid due tribute to the war-time leadership of the International Congress of Women which met at The Hague in 1915 and led to a spectacular effort to end the war. He explained her opposition to the entry of the United States, which may well have kept an earlier Nobel committee from giving her the prize, in this way: “She held fast to the ideal of peace even during the difficult hours when other considerations and interests obscured it from her compatriots and drove them into the conflict.”
Toiling for peace during the war and for a true peace afterward, she spoke for the pacifist women of the world. For some reason Koht did not give specific mention of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the organization she helped found and continued to lead. As she asked, the WILPF is on her tombstone along with Hull House, the famous settlement house she established. Fortunately, Koht’s omission of WILPF is rectified in the official Nobel Foundation Directory.
Koht went on to say, “Even when her views were at odds with public opinion, she never gave in, and in the end she regained the place of honors she had had before in the hearts of her people.”
This was very true. The Chicago City Council for example proclaimed that “she was the greatest woman who ever lived.”
Koht spoke of how Goethe, Henrik Ibsen, and Björnson had all seen women as representing “the highest and purest moral standards of society.” Koht felt that women have a special role as peacemakers, speaking of “that love, that warm maternal feeling which renders murder and war so hateful to every woman.” Addams herself wrote that as a life-giver and a life-nurturer, woman has a special feeling about war and peace. To Koht, “Jane Addams combines all the best feminine qualities which will help us to develop peace on earth.”
Without superlatives, perceptive observers, in whose hearts Addams may not have lost a place of honor, have given her the highest praise. William James declared that “she inhabited reality,” and to Walter Lippman, “she was not only good, but great.”