The Life of Julia Clifford Lathrop

Topics: Jane Addams

In the early years of social work, there was a great need for individuals who wanted to help people in need, Julia Clifford Lathrop was one of those people. As an activist, social reformer, and first woman to serve as director of a United States federal bureau; she advocated for the mentally ill, equal rights for women, and child welfare. During her life, Julia Lathrop was pivotal in the reformation of the juvenile jail system. She was a woman before her time, fierce and confident, who worked tirelessly to advocate for those who needed it.

Julia Clifford Lathrop was born into an influential family in Rockford, Illinois on June 29th, 1858. Her parents were William Lathrop and Sarah Adeline Potter. William Lathrop was a successful lawyer and politician, who was a friend of Abraham Lincoln and helped establish the Republican Party. William Lathrop was elected into Congress in 1877 and served until 1879, he was reform-minded and supported various social welfare issues. Julia’s mother, Sarah, was active in the woman’s suffrage movement.

Julia Lathrop was the oldest of five children, she had one brother and three sisters. Julia’s friend and colleague, Jane Addams, described the Lathrop household as a place where independence and ambition were encouraged in both the sons and the daughters, equally.

As a child, Ms. Lathrop attended public schools and was a graduate of Rockford High School in 1876. As a child, she was described as a good, but a shy student. After she graduated from Rockford High School, Ms.

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Lathrop spent one year as a student at Rockford Female Seminary. After her time at Rockford Female Seminary, Julia transferred to Vassar College as a sophomore in 1877. With the transfer to Vassar, Ms. Lathrop moved to Poughkeepsie, New York and she stayed there until she graduated in 1880 with her bachelor’s degree.

After Ms. Lathrop completed her schooling and with few career opportunities for women, she returned to Rockford to become her father’s secretary in his law office. While Ms. Lathrop was employed at her father’s law office, she became increasingly interested in social reform and how the mentally ill, children, and women were treated. In 1888, a visit to her alma mater, Rockford Female Seminary would forever change her life. Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr went to Rockford Female Seminary to promote Hull House to the students.

In 1890, at the age of 32, Julia Clifford Lathrop moved and became a resident of the Hull House settlement. Ms. Lathrop quickly became involved in Hull House activities and was a volunteer for Cook County charities. She worked to document potential abuses in jails, orphanages, and mental health facilities. After two years, Ms. Lathrop’s findings were published in Hull-House Maps and Papers. In 1893, Julia Clifford Lathrop was appointed to the Illinois State Board of Charities to conduct further studies on asylums and county facilities to make recommendations for their improvement.

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The Life of Julia Clifford Lathrop. (2022, May 13). Retrieved from

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