Jane Addams and children


Today, the spirit of alumna Jane Addams, Class of 1881, lives on at Rockford University. We believe each and every one of us has the ability to change the world, just as Jane did through her many societal contributions.

Her father was an Illinois legislator, a friend of Abraham Lincoln, and a Rockford University trustee. It is not surprising then, that John Addams insisted that his youngest daughter attend Rockford University (then Rockford Female Seminary), even though she begged to attend an “eastern school.” At Rockford University, she was elected president of her class and was chosen to deliver the 1881 valedictory address. With these words, she presaged the remarkable impact she would one day make: “We stand today united in a belief in beauty, genius and courage, and that these can transform the world.”

Jane Addams began her lifelong crusade for justice and equality not long after she graduated from Rockford University when, in 1889, she established Hull-House in Chicago. There, she created a myriad of programs – nurseries, university courses, art classes, sports leagues – for people of all beliefs and ethnic backgrounds. During the 1890s, Hull-House gained a national and international reputation as a radical, innovative, successful institution, and Jane became known as the nation’s leading change agent. She prodded America to respond to the terrible ills of industrial development: child labor, infant mortality, urban crowding and unsanitary conditions, unsafe workplaces, juvenile delinquency, unemployment and poverty wages.

As a social reformer, Jane was a force to be reckoned with. Her efforts led to Illinois’ first child labor law, the first eight-hour work day law for women, and the first juvenile court. As a suffragette, she championed women’s right to vote. As a humanitarian, she devoted her life to the causes of peace, freedom and justice. At one point, then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover proclaimed Addams to be “the most dangerous woman in America,” in part for her peace efforts.

Students at Rockford University today, like Jane Addams before them, are asked to think critically, act compassionately, and embrace the ideals of citizenship. Only time will tell if any will win the Nobel Peace Prize like Jane Addams did in 1931. In the meantime, they are learning how thoughtful, active citizens can make a very real difference in the world.

Biographies of Jane Addams

Jane Addams (1860-1935) was from Cedarville, near Freeport, Ill. Her father was a prominent businessman and a trustee of Rockford Female Seminary where Jane’s two older sisters also attended.


Since 1963, Hull-House has been maintained as a museum by the University of Illinois at Chicago. Toynbee Hall in London, which Jane Addams visited in 1888, was the first “settlement house.” It was the inspiration for her founding of Hull-House the following year. Funding and Development of Hull-House >>

The settlement house movement began in England as a way of meeting the needs of the poor at a time before government had accepted a role in social welfare. Until then, the poor, when they were considered at all, were often only considered subjects of charity. The settlement house movement helped give rise to social work as a profession.


Colleagues from Rockford University

Ellen Starr and Julia Lathrop met Jane Addams as students at Rockford Female Seminary. Starr went on to co-found Hull-House with Jane Addams. Lathrop joined them a short time later.

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

This organization was founded by Jane Addams with other peace activists in 1915. Her book, “Peace and Bread in Time of War,” describes the birth of the organization. It was her work with the WILPF that earned her a Nobel Prize in 1931. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom >>


The Writings of Jane Addams

Jane Addams found time among her many other activities to author 11 books and numerous articles. A few are available in full-text online.

Department Information

Office of Student Involvement and Orientation
Burpee Center, Student Life Suite
5050 E. State Street
Rockford, IL 61108