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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Julia Lathrop

Julia Lathrop was born in Rockford, Illinois in 1858. Her father William was a Republican politician who served in the state legislature. He was elected to Congress in 1876, and considered himself an abolitionist and supporter of women's right's. Julia's mother was also an active abolitionist and suffragette, and devoted much of her time to church activities in Rockford. Julia was the oldest of five siblings, and as such, helped her parents rear them (Stebner, 1997).

From 1876-1877, Julia attended the Rockford Female Seminary, an institution that Julia's mother graduated from in its first year. In 1877, Julia transferred from Rockford Seminary to Vassar College. During her senior year, younger sister Anna also attended Vassar as a freshman. She received her degree in 1880. It is noted that: "Lathrop found herself at thirty educated, cultivated, trained, and without the opportunity of responsibility" (Stebner, 1997, pg. 112). Not much scholarship has been done analyzing what Julia specifically wanted to pursue after graduation from Vassar. But some analysis reflects that she was emphatic about not being a teacher, which was a common profession for women of her training and age to pursue (Stebner, 1997). Julia returned home to Rockford, and became her father's personal secretary and law assistant, in addition to working for two other firms. By being her father's secretary, Julia was given the opportunity to read about law on her own, and acts on it (Stebner, 1997).

However, this routine changes when Ellen Gates Starr and Jane Addams travel to Rockford Seminary, their alma mater, to promote their idea of the Hull House settlement home to the students and the community. Inspired by their presentation, Lathrop moves to Hull House, situated in Chicago, in 1890. Julia becomes involved in social gatherings organized there, and founds the Hull House Plato Group: "A Sunday afternoon neighborhood discussion group composed mostly of older men, it debated philosophical and religious matters" (Morin, 1995, pg. 113). In another passage illuminating Lathrop's presence at Hull House, it is reflected that: "From her earliest years at Hull House, Lathrop exhibited a gentle but firm sense of confidence in her own thoughts and actions" (Morin, 1995, pg. 113). Clearly, Lathrop quickly became an asset to the organization.

She was the first resident of Hull House to receive a state position, appointed by Governor Altgeld to the Illinois Board of Charities. In her work with the board, Lathrop visited many facilities in and around Chicago, that collectively housed people who were mentally ill, aged, sick, or disabled. She advocated that separate facilities should be established that would attend to these specific groups. Lathrop also helped found the first juvenile court in the United States, where she sets up a psychiatric clinic for young offenders. In addition, Lathrop became active in the Chicago Women's Club, was a trustee of the Immigrants' Protection League, and a member of the National League of Women Voters (Morin, 1995).

In 1912, Lathrop's residence shifted to Washington D.C, when she was appointed chief to the Federal Children's Bureau. This moves ends a 22 year stay at Hull House. As chief of the Children's Bureau, Lathrop made issues like child labor laws and juvenile delinquency ones of extreme importance. It is shown that: "During its first two years of existence, the bureau produced and distributed free pamphlets on the health needs of pregnant women and the care of infants" (Morin, 1995, pg. 116). She resigned from the position in 1922, and instead lived with her sister in Rockford, Ill.

In her retirement, Lathrop became president of the Illinois League of Women Voters. She also joined as a charter member of the National Committee of Mental Illness, trying to dispel the myth of mental illness as a sign of moral defect. Through the efforts of Lathrop and others, the Sheppard-Towner Act of 1921 was realized, a law which provided grants for state use in the health care of mothers and children. Other critics of Lathrop's work reflect that: "The American Medical Association call this new law an 'imported socialist scheme' and opponents accused Lathrop and other women who supported the act of being part of a sinister 'spider's web' of Communist conspirators" (Morin, 1995, pg. 35). From 1925-1931, she participated as a member of the Child Welfare Committee of the League of Nations. Until her death in 1932, she fought against the capital punishment of juveniles (Morin, 1995).

In short, it is evident that Julia Lathrop was an instrumental figure in the field of social reform, engaging in over 50 years of activism. She cared deeply about alleviating the poor quality of life for a broad range of people, like women, children, immigrants, and workers, just to name a few. Of her involvement at Hull House, it is said that: "Although she held convictions especially regarding the care of society's most neglected people, she was known for her restraint from pushing her opinions on others" (Stebner, 1997, pg. 166). Lathrop was truly an inspiring individual, and contributed much to the field of the behavioral sciences.

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