Grace Abbott, local lady and reformer of child labor laws, is in the spotlight for the blog today. Grace, born in November of 1878, headed the Child Labor division of the Children’s Bureau before directing the Bureau itself (according the website, “The Children’s Bureau is the first federal agency within the U.S. Government—and in fact, the world—to focus exclusively on improving the lives of children and families”). She later moved to these parts to teach at the University of Chicago.
Grace took after her mother in her activism, as her mom, Lizzie, was involved both in the suffragist and abolitionist movements. After graduating from college and teaching high school for a time, Grace moved to Jane Adam’s Hull House (described here as “a community of university women” whose main purpose was to provide social and educational opportunities for working class people (many of them recent European immigrants) in the surrounding neighborhood. The “residents” (volunteers at Hull were given this title) held classes in literature, history, art, domestic activities (such as sewing), and many other subjects. Hull House also held concerts that were free to everyone, offered free lectures on current issues, and operated clubs for both children and adults”).
One of the amazing stances Grace Abbott took was her view that immigration and immigrants were not unsavory, though this opinion was not held by the masses. Seeing many immigrant families begin to assimilate into Chicago, Grace felt that she needed to know more. She, therefore, traveled to Eastern Europe to experience the cultures of the majority of these new arrivals for herself. She wrote a book about her experiences.
It was Abbott who first petitioned at the federal level for a ban on child labor and Abbott who went on to design a program and foster public knowledge of prenatal care. Even with her health in decline Abbott was asked to and participated in forming a draft of the Social Security Act of 1935.
The Nebraska State Historical Society has given Grace the epitaph, “the foster mother to the nation’s 43 million children.”
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