Jane Addams was a Victorian woman born into a male-dominated society on September 6, 1860 in Cedarville, Illinois. Her father was a wealthy landowner and an Illinois senator who did not object to his daughter’s choice to further her education, but who wanted her to have a traditional life. For years after his death, Addams tried to reconcile the family role she was expected to play with her need to achieve personal fulfillment.
Jane was born into a rich family and could have very easily become a housewife with few worries. As a little girl, she once tried on a beautiful coat and asked her father, John Addams, if she could wear it to church. Jane’s father advised her to wear an old cloak instead, which would keep here warm without making the other girls at Sunday school feel badly about their own clothes. He added that, "it was very stupid to wear the sort of clothes that made it harder to have equality even (in church.)"
John Addams was a rich man who was respected by his neighbors and practically worshipped by Jane. Although he was not a member of any particular religious sect, he helped build the first Methodist Church in Cedarville, Ill., and the area’s first library was housed in the Addams’ home. A miller by trade, he invested in railroads, helped construct a school for area children and was a founder of the Second National Bank of Freeport. When he sought a Senate seat as a Whig in 1854, he easily won and was elected seven more times as a Republican.
Sarah Addams died on January 14, 1863, when Jane was only a girl. Her father remarried in 1867 to a widow named Anna Hostetter Haldeman, who had two sons that John Addams raised as if they were his own. The new couple fought a great deal over money and...
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...She died as one of the most respected women in American history on May 21, 1935. She never married and apparently never had a romantic relationship with a man. Today, modern scholars debate whether or not Addams ever had an intimate relationship with Mary Rozet Smith or other women at Hull House, but the question has never been definitively resolved.
While Addams was a great organizer and reformer, it must be noted that she had the help of several ambitious women at Hull House who were progressive thinkers in their own right. Furthermore, she would have never been able to achieve so much without the many donations that she was able to secure from philanthropists. Today, the 13 buildings that surrounded the Hull House settlement have been destroyed, but the original mansion still stands as a museum. The Jane Addams Hull-House Association still operates in Chicago.
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