In September 1877, as he had long intended, John Addams drove his youngest daughter to Rockford Seminary. In Twenty Years Jane Addams recalls, “I was greatly disappointed at the moment of starting to humdrum Rockford.” This feeling mingled with another that she had not forgotten when she was seventy-four years old and, hesitantly, was willing to name. She confessed to her nephew Weber Linn, “I was … resentful, I suppose you might call it.”1
The seminary was “humdrum” in part because it offered no B.A. but also for other reasons. For one thing, it was entirely familiar. She knew some of the teachers—Sarah Blaisdell, who had taught Latin to Alice and Martha and now would teach her; Sarah Anderson, who had been a student with Alice and now taught art and gymnastics; and the principal, Anna Sill, whom she had first met when she was a child.2 For another thing, the seminary was in Illinois and therefore enrolled “western” students, not the sophisticated “eastern” students likely to attend Smith College.
But life at the seminary would be a greater adventure for Addams than she realized. For the first time she would be living in a place organized not around family but around learning and gender. Rockford Seminary was something entirely new to her—a community led by women that encouraged young women to have large dreams. She would thrive under such nurturing conditions. These conditions were artificial, to be sure, when compared to the worlds of Cedarville and Freeport, not to mention the wider world. Eventually, as Addams thought about her future, she would sense that her dreams clashed with expectations outside the seminary's walls and that this fact would have consequences. As her first year began, however, she was thinking only of the present and that she did not want be at Rockford Female Seminary.