Jane Addams Is Born

Social reformer and pacifist Jane Addams was born on September 6, 1860 in Cedarville, Illinois.

After graduating from Rockford College in 1881, Addams left her native Illinois for Philadelphia where she enrolled at the Woman's Medical College. Forced by poor health to abandon her studies, Addams spent the next two years as an invalid. After regaining her strength, she embarked upon a tour of Europe. It was there that she found the inspiration for much of her work in social reform.

London's Toynbee Hall was the world's first settlement house. Operated by founder Samuel Barnett and resident university students, Toynbee tackled the problems of urban poverty by providing social services to residents of the city's deprived industrial district. Toynbee's success prompted Addams and her traveling companion, Ellen Gates Starr, to plan a similar center for Chicago. In 1889, the two women purchased a large vacant residence, the former Hull mansion, on Chicago's industrial west side and opened their doors to the neighboring, mostly immigrant, community.

Starr and Addams's Hull House initially provided welfare assistance to needy families and recreation facilities for slum children. The center eventually expanded to offer a wide array of services including boarding rooms for female workers, a nursery, a community kitchen, academic courses, social clubs, and meeting space for union activities. Today, Hull House continues to build on the enduring vision of Jane Addams through a rich array of services serving several hundred thousand people in Chicago.

Born in Cedarville, Illinois, Jane Addams was the youngest of six children born into a prosperous, loving family. Although she was the eighth child, two of her siblings died in infancy, leaving only six to mature. Her mother, Sarah Addams (née Weber), died from tuberculosis during pregnancy when Jane was just two years old. Jane's father, John H. Addams, was the President of The Second National Bank of Freeport, the Senator of Illinois from 1854 to 1870, and owned the local grain mill; he remarried when Jane was eight. Her father also was a founding member of the Republican Party and supported Abraham Lincoln. Jane was a first cousin twice removed to Charles Addams, noted cartoonist for The New Yorker. She was born with Pott's disease which caused a curvature of the spine and health problems for Jane throughout her life.

Addams' father encouraged her to pursue a higher education, but not at the expense of losing her femininity and the prospect of marriage and motherhood, as expected of upper class young women. She was educated in the United States and Europe, graduating from the Rockford Female Seminary (now Rockford College) in Rockford, Illinois. After Rockford, she spent seven months at the Women's Medical College of Philadelphia, but dropped out. Her parents felt that she should not forget the common path of upper class young women. After her father's sudden death, Jane inherited $50,000. In 1885, Jane set off for a two year tour of Europe with her stepmother, returned home, and felt bored and restless, indifferent about marriage and wanting more than just the conventional life expected of well-to-do ladies. After painful spinal surgery, she returned to Europe again for a second tour in 1887, this time with her best friend Ellen Starr and a teacher friend. During her second tour, Jane visited London's Toynbee Hall which was a settlement house for boys based on the new philosophy of charity. Toynbee Hall was Jane's main inspiration for Hull House.