A Concern For Fellow Citizens
Jane Addams was born in 1860 in Cedarville, Illinois. Also called Jenny, she was the youngest of eight children born to Sarah Weber and John Huy Addams, a personal friend of President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; served 1861–65). Her family followed the Quaker faith (Christians opposed to war, oathtaking, and rituals) and valued hard work, a simple lifestyle, and social change through peaceful efforts.
Jane was just two when her mother died, leaving her father to raise her and her siblings. John Addams was a Republican state senator and an abolitionist (person opposed to slavery) and became the primary intellectual and moral influence in Jane's life. Jane suffered physically throughout her life with a painful curved spine, which caused her to walk pigeon-toed, with the toes turned inward. It made her very self-conscious about her appearance. Academically, she was an outstanding student and graduated from high school in 1877.
Jane next studied at Rockford Female Seminary in Rockford, Illinois, one of the oldest institutions for female education in the area. While at Rockford, Jane and a friend became concerned about the place of women in American society. They successfully lobbied the seminary to offer course work equivalent to that of men's colleges. Jane served as class president all four years at Rockford and in 1881 was valedictorian (top student of her graduating class).
Only a few months after her graduation, Jane's father died suddenly of a ruptured appendix. Jane was devastated by his untimely death, though left a very wealthy woman. She decided to pursue her plan of attending the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. During her first year, Jane's spinal condition forced her to undergo back surgery and withdraw from her studies. She spent the next several years in recovery while traveling throughout Europe. She returned to the United States in 1885 and settled in Baltimore, Maryland.