Davis, Katherine Bement

Davis, Katherine Bement

(1860–1935) social worker, penologist; born in Buffalo, N.Y. Forced by her family's financial situation to teach during her twenties, it was 1892 before she took her degree from Vassar. She took graduate courses in food chemistry and nutrition at Columbia University, and after teaching and demonstrating domestic economy in 1893, she turned to social work, running a settlement house in Philadelphia (1894–97). She then attended the University of Chicago, taking a Ph.D. in political economy in 1900. She became the superintendent of the Reformatory for Women at Bedford Hills, N.Y. (1901–14) and pioneered in various progressive ways of treating prisoners. On a trip to Europe in 1909, she gained international recognition for her efforts to help the Sicilians recover from the great Messina earthquake of that year. Appointed New York City's first female commissioner of corrections, she introduced several reforms during her brief tenure (1914–15), then became chairperson of the city's parole board (1915–17). She moved on to become general secretary of the Bureau of Social Hygiene, a branch of the Rockefeller Foundation (1917–28), and extended her interests to such matters as prostitution and public health. She worked both during and after World War I to relieve suffering of women and children. She published many articles in professional journals and found time to work for various other social causes before retiring to California in 1928.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.