Jane Addams was born into an affluent family in 1860. Upon completing high school, she enrolled in Rockford (Illinois) Seminary, a post-secondary school devoted to teaching Christian principles to women who would become wives and mothers or Christian missionaries, neither of which was a part of Addams’s personal agenda.
Although Rockford was not a degree-granting institution, Addams took enough courses at nearby Beloit College to meet the requirements for admission to the Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia in 1881. Shortly before she began her medical studies, her father, whom she adored, died suddenly. Although she felt compelled to follow through with her educational plans, she had little interest in becoming a physician. The burden of coping with her father’s death put her under additional strain. Although her grades were excellent, Addams left medical school after one semester, undergoing major surgery the following April to correct a long-standing spinal problem.
Following a long recuperation, she visited Europe with her stepmother and others to regain her strength. At this time, she lacked any clear idea of what her future might be and she had not come to grips with her own sexuality and with her attachment to Ellen Starr, her classmate at Rockford and lifelong companion, with whom Addams founded Hull House.
On her European trip Addams first saw the squalor in which the poor lived. In Bavaria she saw women hauling huge containers of hot beer to cooling stations, dangerous work that paid a pittance for a fourteen-hour day. In London’s slums, she saw the abjectly poor fighting over rotting food. In London she also visited Toynbee Hall and the People’s Palace, settlement houses that offered refuge to the destitute.
Returning home in 1885, Addams spent two years in Baltimore before returning to Europe in 1887 with Starr and other Rockford friends. On this trip, she and Starr, after visiting Europe’s major cathedrals,...
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