Women's Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society

Students, as part of an advanced seminar, examined and wrote about the lives of these women, their intellectual contributions, and the unique impact and special problems that being female had on their careers.

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Grace Abbott

Grace Abbott was a well-known American social reformer, teacher, and writer during the first half of the twentieth century. Abbott was born in Grand Island, Nebraska on November 17, 1878. Grace Abbott is the sister of Edith Abbott, who is also a well-know social reformer. Both sisters were influenced by their mother's avid belief in equal rights for women (Lengermann& Niebrugge-Brantly 1998). This gives obvious reasoning to the fact that both sisters made a tremendous impact on social welfare, during this time period when social living was not at it's highest standards.

Abbott attended the Grand Island Baptist College, and went on to teach high school in Grand Island and in Broken Bow, Nebraska. In 1907, she left for Chicago to continue her education at the University of Chicago. In 1909, Abbott received her master of philosophy degree from the University of Chicago.

Abbott began her social work career in 1908, working with immigrants at the Hull House in Chicago, where she was a resident from 1908-1917. For nine years, she worked as the director of the Immigrants Protective League, which was a program designed to help immigrants adjust to their new life, and protect them from mistreatment. She held this position until 1917. From this experience with working with immigrants, she wrote several books, including The Immigrant and His Community, which was published in 1917 (Lengermann& Niebrugge-Brantly, 1998).

Concerned about the welfare of children and infants, particularly the low pay and long hours required of children working in factories, Abbott became a leader in the fight for federal legislation protecting children's rights. In 1917, she became the director of the Industrial Division of the Children's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor. This position made her responsible for developing enforcement plans for the first federal child labor law passed by Congress in 1916. After being given proper authority, Abbott directed an investigation of a majority of the shipbuilding plants on the Atlantic coast, Gulf of Mexico, and the Great Lakes. This inspection was performed in 1919.

Her concern for the welfare of children also enabled her to get the Sheppard-Towner Act passed into law. This act allowed for federal and state aid for mothers and children. This law provided the first federal grants to aid the social welfare of children. This law also authorized government cooperation with the states in promoting maternal and child health. In 1921 President Warren Harding appointed Abbott as head of the Children's Bureau in the Department of Labor. As head of the Bureau, Abbott administered the Sheppard-Towner Act provisions. She continued as head of the Bureau until 1934 when she resigned and became a public welfare professor at the University of Chicago.

Abbott's concern for child welfare inspired her to write a book entitled Child and the State. This book, written by Abbott herself, concentrates on dependent children and the aid the state is liable to pay. Not only does it look at what the state was currently responsible for, but also how they can more adequately meet the needs of dependant children.

Another important aspect the book covers is state aid to single mothers' of dependant children. Abbott states the fact that aid should be provided for low-income women with children. She believed that with proper financial aid, women would be more likely to raise and educate their children (Abbott, 1938).

Abbott was also responsible for including social statistics and research into legislative policy- making. Her leadership helped fund more than one hundred social research investigations and publications, usually administered by the School of Social Service Administration. Some of the important research includes: "Maternal Morality in 15 States", " Children in Agriculture", " Children in Street Work"' " Illegally Employed Minors and Workmen's Compensation"' and " Youth and Crime". Abbott also took advantage of television and radio to make others informed about the best methods of childcare and kept the public informed about the state's responsibility for child welfare.

Another accomplishment achieved by Abbott was the development of systems for collecting data from the state child labor, juvenile delinquency, and statistics on the work of local private and public agencies. In 1920 Abbott responded to the depression by advocating for federal aid for relief, and was responsible for collecting and distributing relief reports from 203 cities, to national agencies.

From 1922 to 1934, Grace Abbott served as the official representative of the U.S. on the League of Nations' advisory committee on child welfare. She was the President of the National Conference of Social Work in Paris. This was the first conference on social work ever held. From 1930 to 1931, Abbott established wide spread support for the position as Secretary of Labor in the President's cabinet and in 1931 she was named one of the "Twelve Greatest Living American Women" in a nation wide poll conducted by a popular women's magazine.

In 1934, Grace Abbott resigned as chief of the Children's Bureau. Upon her resignation, Franklin D. Roosevelt portrayed her career as one of "inestimable value to the children, the mothers, and the fathers of the country, as well as to the Federal and State governments."

From 1934 until her death, Abbott remained active in the field of social work. She held a professorship at SSA and was the editor of the Social Service Review. During these years Abbott also served on President Roosevelt's council on economic security and helped to draft the Social Security Act. She also continued to chair international labor conferences and state committees dealing with the issue of child labor.

On June 19, 1939, Grace Abbott died in Chicago (Kirkland, 1989). For thirty years Abbott fought for child labor, juvenile delinquency, and for the immigrants in our country. Abbott had been named one of America's Most distinguished Women by Good Housekeeping in 1931. Also a children's playground park in Grand Island was named in the honor of Grace Abbott. Abbott was also voted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame in 1976.


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