Jane Adams

Jane Addams

Even as a little girl in the serene community of Cedarville, in northern Illinois, Jane Addams was "busy with the old question eternally suggested by the inequalities of the human lot."(Pg.47 Ch.1) There were not many inequalities in Cedarville, but even there were poverty and frustration: the war widows, the desolate old couple who had lost all five of their sons, the farmers who were victims of the postwar depression, and the newcomers who could never really get started. And when she visited the neighboring town, she was shocked by the appearance of the dwellings and, characteristically, wondered what could be done to make them less horrid. She could sympathize with the misfits and the victims of society for she herself felt very less than perfect as she describes; "an ugly, pigeon-toed little girl whose crooked back obliged her to walk with her head held very much upon one side,"(pg.44 ch.1). She was constantly afraid that she might embarrass the handsome father she adored. Her father John Adams was a successful businessman and politician who tried to pass on to his daughter his ideals of hard work, achievement, democracy, and equality. He taught her tolerance, generosity, and strong work ethics which were all traits of his Quaker faith. He encouraged her to pursue higher education but not at the cost of losing her femininity and the prospect of marriage and motherhood. John Addams was Cedarville's most respected citizen. A prosperous miller, Jane would sometimes hangout at her father's flourmill where she would romp in the empty bins. The piles of bran and shorts were as good as sand to play in. He was also a local political leader who served for sixteen years as an Illinois state senator from 1854 -1870. A friend and admirer of Abraham Lincoln, John also fought as an officer in the Civil War. He was quiet and hard working and had a hatred of tyranny and injustice in the world.
At the age of seven years old, a new woman entered the life of Jane Addams. Her father married Anna H. Haldeman, a widow with two sons. Jane felt no deep warmth for her stepmother, but this demanding and intelligent woman did contribute to her education, especially in the areas of music and literature. Sometimes the elder Addams would take the family on excursions. A most memorable one was the sixty-five-mile trip to Madison, Wisconsin, to visit not only the state capitol building, but also its illustrious inmate--"Old Abe," war-eagle of the Eighth Wisconsin. This ride in the family buggy went north through the rolling countryside.
Not all of her buggy rides were as pleasant as the one to Madison. On a winter trip in 1875, when she was fifteen, she came to a turningpoint in her life. Word arrived that Polly, the old family nurse, was dying in a lonely farmhouse about four miles away,
and Jane was the only one who at that moment could go to her. Struggling through a snowstorm, Jane reached the farmhouse just before Polly succumbed.
In 1877 Jane attended the Rockford Female Seminary. Despite her own interests, Jane followed the wishes of her father by attending Rockford. One disappointing aspect of Rockford was that they offered certificates to its graduate's rather then conventional degrees. Religion and the study of classic literature dominated the curriculum at this educational institution.
The following years for Jane Addams became the most difficult in her life. In 1881, John Addams the man she so very much loved and admired passed away. Feeling lost and a sense of uncertainty that fall, Jane enrolled at the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania. For a woman in the 1880's, studying to become a doctor was more unusual than going to college. Her passion for the sciences and medicine had never left her heart. Jane's goal was to provide medical care for the poor. Due to health reasons and lack of ambition for medicine, she withdrew after six months. In August of 1883, Jane had recovered and was ready to continue living out her dreams and aspirations. With her stepmother they traveled to Europe to spend some leisure time. It was in London that Jane Addams was reacquainted with the poor. Jane Addams was no longer confused about her future. She desperately wanted to understand the problems of the world and help