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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Frances Alice Kellor
(1873 -1952)

by Marie Koesterer

Photograph of Frances Kellor from Endless Crusade: Women Social Scientists and Progressive Reform

Frances Kellor was a pioneering sociologist, advocate for workers, advocate for the naturalization of American immigrants and an authority on arbitration.


Frances Alice Kellor was born on October 20, 1873 to Daniel Kellor and Mary Sprau Kellor (American Council of Learned Societies, 1977; Miller, 1997). Her father abandoned the family during Frances' childhood or early teenage years. Ms. Kellor moved with her mother to Coldwater, Michigan where her mother supported the family by working as a laundress. Frances was called "Alice" during her youth, and was considered a "tomboy". She helped her mother with her domestic chores but also supplemented her mother's earnings by hunting with a rifle and slingshot (Faderman, 1999). Although Kellor was an accomplished student, she could not afford to finish high school and began working as a typesetter at the local newspaper when she was seventeen. The paper eventually promoted her and she became an investigative reporter. At twenty-two, Kellor moved in with Mary and Frances Eddy, two wealthy sisters who were active in local educational issues and who encouraged her to pursue her education.

With the financial and emotional support of the Eddy sisters, Ms. Kellor enrolled at Cornell Law School in 1895 (American Council of Learned Societies, 1977). At Cornell, she began using the name "Frances". Kellor earned her law degree in 1897. Kellor then moved to Chicago where she was given a scholarship to study sociology at the University of Chicago. While at the University of Chicago, Kellor earned supplementary income by working as a gymnastics instructor (Faderman, 1999; Fitzpatrick, 1990). She wrote her first academic article calling for the expansion of physical education for women to equal that of men's. Also while in Chicago, Kellor lived and worked at Hull House, an immigration settlement and services house (Miller, 1997).

As part of her studies in Chicago, Kellor began field work on southern prison institutions and their treatment of prisoners, particularly black prisoners. (Fitzpatrick, 1990). This work formed the basis of her first book, written in 1901, Experimental Sociology, Descriptive and Analytical: Delinquents. The book highlighted the role of social and economic deprivation in criminal behavior, disputed current beliefs about biological or genetic propensities for crime, and recommended rehabilitation for prisoners.

In 1903, Kellor moved to New York, where she worked and stayed at the Henry Street Settlement (Fitzpatrick, 1990). She also began a comprehensive study of joblessness by completing extensive field work posing as both a potential employee and a beginning employer. She found that "employment agencies" were often not what they claimed to be. Although some made up for a lack of social services by providing room and board for workers, some were little more than a corner meeting place in an existing business. The agencies rarely screened workers and provided no training. Kellor was particularly concerned with the poor treatment of immigrant and Black women. Kellor believed that current employment agency practices were creating a new "system of slavery" (Fitzpatrick, 1990, p.133). Northern agencies lured Southern Black female workers North with promises of employment opportunities. When the women arrived, destitute and dependent, they discovered that they were being offered only domestic positions. The continual recruitment of these laborers, and of immigrant labor, created a cheap and plentiful source of workers for the agencies and the employers. Kellor published these findings in her book, Out of Work, in 1904.

As a result of her work with employment agencies, Kellor met Mary Dreier, the head of the legislative league of a New York women's reform movement (Fitzpatrick, 1990). Dreier shared Kellor's interests and became her companion and patron until Kellor's death. The two women worked together to pass legislation in New York to correct the employment agency abuses that Kellor had uncovered. They also created the Inter-Municipal Committee on Household Research, a group dedicated to conducting and distributing ongoing research on domestic labor. In 1905, Kellor worked with an organization that sought to end prostitution. In 1906, she founded the National League for the Protection of Colored Women. The League worked to end the abuse of black women migrating North.

Kellor also began an extensive research project on the treatment of immigrants in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago (Fitzpatrick, 1990). Kellor's work on immigration caught the attention of then president, Theodore Roosevelt, who based policy on her recommendations. In 1908, Kellor conducted field research on immigration in New York City. The resulting report, called for the creation of a Bureau of Industries and Immigration. After intense lobbying by Kellor and Drier, the bureau was created in 1910. Under Kellor's administration, the agency provided arbitration between workers and employers, and information in the form of leaflets in the immigrant's native tongues that warned them about exploitative practices.

In 1912, Kellor became increasingly concerned with American attitudes toward immigrants and resigned her position at the Bureau to work with the Progressive Party (American Council of Learned Societies, 1977). Within the Party, Kellor worked at greater understanding for the concerns of immigrants and their problems in America (Fitzpatrick, 1990). Kellor, through her work for the "Committee of Immigrants in America", advocated the development of assimilation programs for immigrants that provided English language classes, vocational training, and lessons in American citizenship. Kellor also argued for the protection of immigrant workers and for their acceptance in American society.

However, as political tensions began to signal the involvement of America in World War I, Kellor and other immigration advocates became more concerned with immigrant's allegiance to America and with their quick and complete assimilation than with their rights or concerns. In 1916, Kellor wrote Straight America, in which she stressed the need for a coercive "Americanization" of immigrants (Fitzpatrick, 1990). Kellor later realized that her nationalistic approach had weakened the American cohesion that she originally desired (American Council of Learned Societies, 1977). In 1920, she wrote Immigration and the Future. In this work, Kellor sought to reaffirm her earlier commitment to empathy and acceptance for immigrants. It also signaled her growing interest in conflict resolution and arbitration.

Her studies on worldwide issues of conflict and arbitration made her a recognized authority on the topic (American Council of Learned Societies, 1977). She was an officer in the American Arbitration Association and prepared the Code of Arbitration in 1931. Kellor's interests regarding disputes between labor and industry led to her authorship of Arbitration in the New Industrial Society and Arbitration in Action.

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American Council of Learned Societies. (1977). Dictionary of American Biography,

Frances Kellor (Supplement 5: 1951-1955). [Electronic version]. Retrieved

November 24, 2002 from Gale Group Biography Resource Center.

Faderman, L. (1999). To Believe in women: what lesbians have done for

America - a history. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Fitzpatrick, E. (1990). Endless Crusade: Women Social Scientists

and Progressive Reform. New York: Oxford University press

Miller, J. (1997). Miss Americanizer. Policy Review. (83), 64-65. Retrieved

November 24, 2002 from Gale Group Biography Resource Center.

Further Reading
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For additional information regarding the life and work of Frances Alice Kellor:

Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism by John Higham
(New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1955)

Lost Sisterhood: Prostitution in America, 1900-1918 by Ruth Rosen
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982)

American Women in Civic Work by Helen Christine Bennett

The House on Henry Street by Lillian D. Wald

For additional information regarding Jane Adaam's Hull House:


For additional information regarding the Henry Street Settlement:


For additional information regarding the American Arbitration Association:


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