The Making of Jane Addams
College and Her 20's






The Making of Jane Addams

Her Childhood

College and Her 20's




Hull-House Firsts

Classes Offered at Hull-House

Hull-House Maps and Papers: Sociology in the Settlement

Living at Hull-House

A Community of Women

Jane and Ellen and Mary

Being Saint Jane

The Legacy of Hull-House



Chronology of Jane Addams’s Life


Additional Resources

Jane Addams’s Work Online

Sites About Jane Addams’s Legacy





As Jane grew up, she became aware of a difference between the boys and girls in her family.  All of the children in the Addams family were educated in a similar fashion, but only the boys were going on to careers.  George planned a career in medicine, but Jane was discouraged from seeking similar employment.23  In the late 1800s, this was not unusual; in fact it was her family’s encouragement to seek education at all that was unusual.  

Jane wanted to be a real college woman.  She and George were going to leave the local schools at the same time.  He was bound for Beloit in Wisconsin, and she wanted to go to Smith College in Massachusetts.  Unfortunately, her father was dead set against it.  He was a member of the board of trustees of Rockford Female Seminary, and Jane’s older sisters, Mary and Alice, had both attended there.  His plan was that Jane attend the seminary for four years and then travel in Europe where she would be “finished.” Despite Jane’s desires, John Huy Addams’s word was law.  She matriculated at Rockford in 1887.24

At Rockford, Jane received a classical education.  She studied Greek, Latin, French, natural science, ancient history, literature, calculus, rhetoric, oratory, and the class that attracted her the most, “Mental and Moral Philosophy.”25, 26, 27  She also wrote for and edited the Rockford Seminary Magazine.

Believing that labor alone is happiness, and that the only true and honorable life is one filled with good works and honest toil, we will strive to idealize our labor and thus happily fulfill woman’s noblest mission.

Jane Addams, in a college essay28

Rockford was a Christian school where great emphasis was placed on moral development.  It was encouraged, but not required, that one accept Christ as one’s personal saviour.29  Along with the other students, Jane was required to attend chapel daily, prayer meetings weekly, and church and Bible school on Sunday.  There were monthly fast days, a week of prayer every January, and the two evening study periods were separated by a period of personal prayer.30  She also found herself one of the special projects of the principal and founder, Miss Anna Sill.  

Sill had intended to be a missionary until she discovered a talent for teaching.  She had come west to Rockford to create a training ground for young missionaries.  Missionaries at the time were generally married, and quite a few young women from Rockford married men from Beloit’s theological school and set out on the road to spread the Christian faith.  Sill spotted something rare in Jane, a firmness of character and a worth that would stand a missionary in good stead.  She spent weeks pressuring Jane to accept baptism, but Jane did not feel that her personal beliefs could mesh with the stricter, more intolerant ones of Ms. Sill’s faith.31

In addition to the tempering of her convictions, Jane’s life was profoundly affected by the time spent at Rockford.  She was profoundly interested in her philosophy courses.  It was the first time that she had lived entirely in the company of women her own age.  It was also at Rockford that she met Julia Lathrop, who would become her friend and coworker, and Ellen Starr Gates, who became her first love.  Gates left Rockford to become a teacher after one year, but the two maintained a correspondence and planned to meet again when Jane was certified.32

All that subtle force among women which is now dream fancy, might be changed into creative genius.

Jane Addams, in a college essay

In 1881, Jane received a certificate from Rockford Female Seminary.  She was valedictorian of her class of seventeen students.33  When, the following year, Rockford was accredited as Rockford College, Jane was one of two students in her class who had elected to continue their studies.  In 1882, Jane and Catherine Waugh attended a second commencement ceremony and received the first two Bachelor of Arts degrees offered by the new college.34  The diploma seemed to give Jane new life.  During the summer following her original certification, her father had died of what is now known to have been a ruptured appendix.35

Jane had faced a dilemma.  She wanted to go to medical school.  Her younger stepbrother, George, was about to go to Johns Hopkins Medical School.36  Her older stepbrother, Harry, had married Jane’s older sister Alice, a fact that had caused great consternation to her father.37  Her stepmother had long wanted Jane to marry George, and her relationship with Jane had grown bitter over the girl’s lack of interest in the young man.  Now Anna Haldeman was encouraging Jane to become the family’s maiden aunt and take over the running of the family’s businesses.  However, without her father’s stubbornness, it was Jane who won this argument.  Jane went to Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia in the fall of 1882.38

It is odd that with Jane’s interest in philosophy, and her seeming lack of interest in science, that she would consider a career in medicine.  But it is understandable when you consider that she generally spoke of it as becoming a doctor in order to help the poor.  Being a doctor would give her access to the poor; people then generally liked, opened up to, and trusted physicians.39

Unfortunately, while Jane was in Philadelphia, her back problems resurfaced.  She was hospitalised there.  By June she was well enough, if barely so, to return to Rockford to receive her A.B.  Afterwards she went to Cedarville; she did not return to her studies.40  Finally, on a trip to visit her married sister Alice, she was operated on by her brother-in-law.  She spent six months in bed recuperating under Alice’s care.  She then spent a year wearing a special corset of whalebone and steel, which relieved her pain but was extremely uncomfortable to wear.  She bore it in grim silence.41

During that time, to take her mind off both her recuperation and the grief she still felt over the loss of her father, it was decided that she would go to Europe as her father had originally planned.  In August of 1883, she, her stepmother, and four others left to spend two years in Europe.42

When they returned, Jane felt no better, spiritually speaking.  She spent some time in Baltimore, where George was enrolled in school.  Anna renewed her pressure on Jane to marry George, but she refused.  Instead she returned to Cedarville, where she sought comfort with the company of her sister Mary and her nieces, who lived nearby.  Finally, in the hope that it would bring her the solace she sought, she arranged to be baptised by Mary’s husband, who was a minister in the local Presbyterian church.  It seemed to help alleviate her depression, but it did not provide the answers she sought.  However, shortly thereafter, her father’s estate was settled, and she decided to use some of her money to go abroad again.43

Jane traveled to Europe with Ellen Gates Star and another friend, Sarah Anderson, in December of 1887.  They visited France, Germany, Rome, and Madrid.  It was there, while watching a bullfight, that Jane once again began to ask herself all of the questions that had been running through her mind since her father’s death.  What should she do with her life? How could she help the people whom she felt were crying out for relief? Suddenly she remembered talking with her father in the slums of Freeport.  She wanted to live in her big house in the midst of the “horrid little houses.” Only now, there was a name for her dream.  She wanted to live in a settlement house.44

During her previous visit to Europe, while in London, she had heard of an experiment going on in the East End.  Young men, most of them from Oxford, were trying to solve the problems that had bedeviled her.  She returned to London now, charged with a new spirit.  She soon arranged a letter of introduction to Canon Samuel Barnett, who was living and working in the first settlement house, Toynbee Hall.  There she toured the People’s Palace, which held meeting rooms, a gymnasium, and space for clubs and people to work at crafts.  It would become the model for Hull-House.  Barnett, shared his philosophy with Jane, and became her lifelong advisor.45

In January of 1889, Jane returned to the states, where she moved into a boarding house in Chicago with Ellen Gates Starr.  Together they spent many months searching for the perfect place to found their settlement house.  Finally, on 18 September, they sublet the second story of a mansion at the corner of Halstead and Polk, in Chicago’s 19th ward.  It was a mansion that had been built by real estate mogul Charles J. Hull.46, 47  They named it Hull-House.  It was to be Jane’s home for the next 46 years.

Previous: The Making of Jane Addams, Her ChildhoodNext: Opening Hull-House


23.  Meigs, Cornelia. Jane Addams: Pioneer for Social Justice.  Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1970.  p. 34.

24.  idem.  p. 21.

25.  Hassencahl, Fran.  “Jane Addams.” Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925: A Biocritical Sourcebook.   Karlyn Kohrs Campbell (ed.).  Westport, CT; London: Greenwood Press, 1993.  p. 2.

26.  Reynolds, Moira Davison. Women Champions of Human Rights: Eleven U.S. Leaders of the Twentieth Century. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1991. p. 2.

27.  Meigs, Cornelia.  p. 21.

28.  Addams’s college essays were quoted in Moira Davison Reynolds’s Women Champions of Human Rights, page 2.

29.  Reynolds, Moira Davison.  p. 2.

30.  Davis, Allen Freeman. American Heroine: The Life and Legend of Jane Addams.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.  p. 11.

31.  Meigs, Cornelia.  pp. 27-28.

32.  Murphy, Marilyn.  “Would Knowing This Have Made a Difference?” Are You Girls Traveling Alone? Los Angeles: Clothespin Fever Press, 1991.   p. 47.

33.  “Jane Addams.” Nobel e-Museum. (online 15 May 2001).

34.  Meigs, Cornelia.  p. 33.

35.  ibidem.

36.  idem.  p. 34.

37.  Davis, Allen Freeman.  p. 7.

38.  Hassencahl, Fran.  p. 2.

39.  Meigs, Cornelia.  pp. 34-35.

40.  “Jane Addams.” Celebrating Women’s History Month. (online 15 May 2001).  

41.  Meigs, Cornelia.  p. 35.

42.  idem.  p. 38.

43.  Meigs, Cornelia.  pp. 38-39.

44.  idem.  pp. 40-41.

45.  idem.  pp. 41-44.

46.  Hassencahl, Fran.  p. 3.

47.  Brown, Victoria.  “Advocate for Democracy: Jane Addams and the Pullman Strike.” The Pullman Strike and the Crisis of the 1890s: Essays on Labor and Politics.  Richard Schneirov, Shelton Stromquist, and Nick Salvatore, ed.  Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999.  p. 130.