Education Matters: Rockford University’s prominent graduate Jane Addams

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Over the years, Rockford University has had prominent graduates. One graduate is known as a leader for social reforms, women’s rights and world peace issues. Her name is Jane Addams. Addams is perhaps the University’s most well-known graduate.

In 1881, Addams graduated from what was then known as Rockford Female Seminary. The campus was located on the banks of the Rock River near Seminary and Morgan Street.

Addams has been referred to as the “mother of social work.” Rockford University’s Isabel Ross Abbott Professor of History and Women’s Studies Dr. Catherine Forslund says that’s a bit of a misnomer.

“People think of her, ‘Oh she was a social worker.’ no, she was not a social worker,” Forslund said.

Forslund believes Addams was more interested in society and what we can do to make it a better place. Addams, along with Ellen Gates Star, a friend from Rockford Seminary, founded Hull House in Chicago in 1889. It was one of the nation’s first settlement houses serving as a community center.

“She wanted Hull House to be a critical neighbor within the neighborhood,” Forslund said. “She not only created programs to work with and help the neighbors,like they started the first kindergarten there, the first gymnasium.”

Addams was a community activist, focusing on issues important to creating a strong neighborhood.

“She became the garbage warden for the ward that she was in. And went around and checked. Are they picking up the garbage? And when they weren’t she was going down to aldermen and city hall talking to them,” Forslund said.

Addams was an active campaigner for women’s rights. She was also a leader in pacifist movements.

“She was involved with the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom and was one of the early leaders in it,” Forslund said. “They were very active in the World War I era, trying to keep the United States out of the war and got a lot of criticism for it because that was seen as unpatriotic.”

She ultimately received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 for her peace activism. She died in 1935 at the age of 74.

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