Florence Kelley - Social Reformer
Florence Kelley was a leader of social reform in the United States and helped pass many laws regulating child labor.
When most people think of the Jane Addams Hull House or the Settlement House movement for social reform, they associate Addams, Julia Lathrop, or Lillian Wald with movers for social reform. However, Florence Kelley's contributions to reform for labor and welfare at both the state and federal levels were truly outstanding.
Florence Kelley was born in 1859. Her father took her on a tour of factories that used child labor, and so began her lifelong commitment to helping children in these horrendous and abusive environments. She was educated at Cornell University and the University of Zurich. She read Fredrich Engel's works when she was in Switzerland, and these had a profound influence on her.
After coming back home to the United States, she started out working with Addams and while there, she found children working in abhorrent conditions for clothing manufacturers. She had a way with words and described the horrible circumstances in writing that has been compared to that of Charles Dickens. Her detailed studies of the environment in which children worked brought about the first important labor laws for women and children in the U.S.
She was asked to be the director of the National Consumers' League in New York and took the position. As a result of her work with this newly formed organization, clothing was required to be labeled with labels stating it had not been made with child labor.
Kelley was also deeply involved in improving labor conditions for women. Louis Brandeis was the attorney she used in reform for child labor, and she turned once again to him for reform of labor conditions for women. He published her research in the Brandeis Brief (still widely used today), and that was instrumental in getting a law limiting women's hours to ten per day passed in Oregon and upheld in the Supreme Court.
1903 marked another turning point for labor reform for women. Kelley was one of the founders of the National Women's Trade Union League. Working with Grace Abbot, who was the Immigrants' Protective League director, and others, this new organization was instrumental in getting laws passed that regulated minimum wages and other issues relating to labor.
Among her many other achievements, Kelley was also a mover in the suffragist movement. She helped establish the National Associate for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 and was one of the founding members of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in 1919. Juvenile courts in the United States were brought about partially by the work she did for that cause.
After a life of contributing to the well being of thousands of people, Florence Kelley died in Philadelphia in 1943.