Quest for a New World Order of Permanent Peace
Laura Jane Addams was born in Cedarville, Illinois, on September 6, 1860, as the youngest of eight children. Her father, John Huy Addams, was a staunch Union supporter and founding member of the Illinois Republican Party, serving as an Illinois State Senator (1855–70) and supporting his close friend Abraham Lincoln in his candidacies, for senator (1854) and the presidency (1860), as well as being a wealthy man with several thriving businesses. Her mother, Sarah Addams (née Weber), died when Jane was two years old. Her father remarried shortly afterwards in 1868, to Anna Hostetter Haldeman, of whom Jane Addams had a close and positive relationship.
Jane Addams attended the nearby Rockford Female Seminary (now Rockford University) in Rockford, Illinois, graduating from Rockford in 1881 with a collegiate certificate and membership in Phi Beta Kappa. While she oriignally hoped to transfer to Smith College, many students including Addams pushed for Rockford's installation as an official college, as Addams hoped to pursue her dreams of becoming a doctor.
That summer, John Addams died unexpectedly from a sudden case of appendicitis, leaving a fairly large inheritance for his children (as each child inherited the equivalent to $1.23 million today; the majority of this inheritance would be used later for the founding and maintanence of Hull House).
In the fall of 1881, Jane Addams transferred to the Woman’s Medical College in Philadelphia, completing a full year of medical training before falling ill; her numerous preexisting conditions, a spinal operation, and a nervous breakdown led her to withdrawing from the school and returning to Cedarville.
In 1883, Jane Addams set out on a Grand Tour of Europe, a rite of passage that was common for wealthy and privileged women and was seen as a way to become cultured. Alongside her stepmother and several other friends, Addams toured all the major sites of Europe and spent several months living in Dresden, Berlin, and Paris. Addams was appalled by the poverty and squalor witnessed in her travels, including the East End slums in London.
In June 1887, Addams returned to Cedarville and lived with her stepmother, sinking into a deep depression fueled by unsure ambition and reluctance to accept the conventional lifestyle expected of a privileged young woman. She spent this time writing extensively to her friend, Ellen Gates Starr, who would later become a co-founder of the Hull House Settlement House, as well as reading several books that would influence her greatly, including What to Do? and My Religion by Leo Tolstoy and The Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill.