Kelley, Florence

Kelley, Florence,

1859–1932, American social worker and reformer, b. Philadelphia, grad. Cornell, 1882, and Northwestern Univ. law school, 1894. Married in 1884 to a Polish doctor, Lazare Wishnieweski, she divorced him six years later and became a Hull House resident. A confirmed socialist and active in many reforms, Kelley devoted most of her energies toward securing protective labor legislation, especially for women and children. From 1899 she served for many years as director of the National Consumer's League, which strove for industrial reform through consumer activity. Her writings include Ethical Gains through Legislation (1905) and Modern Industry (1914).


See J. Goldmark, Impatient Crusader (1953); D. R. Blumberg, Florence Kelley (1966); K. Sklar, Florence Kelley and the Nation's Work (1995).

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Kelley, Florence (Molthrop)

(1859–1932) social reformer; born in Philadelphia, Pa. Raised in a middle-class family and influenced by the Quakers, she was educated mainly at home before attending Cornell (B.A. 1882). Denied entry to the University of Pennsylvania graduate school because of her sex, she taught for awhile and then studied at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. There she adopted Socialism and translated Friedrich Engel's Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. She also married a Russian medical student, Lazare Wischnewetzky; they came to New York City in 1886 and became involved in the Social Labor Party, but they separated in 1891; she moved to Illinois, got a divorce, adopted her maiden name, and gained custody of their three children. She joined the Hull House (1891–99) and played a major role in calling attention to working conditions of children and women. Impatient with the prosecution of violations of new laws, she got a law degree at Northwestern University (1894) and continued working for improved conditions. In 1899, she became the general secretary of the newly founded National Consumers' League and moved to New York City, and for the rest of her life she dedicated herself to using public pressure to force reform in labor practices. Her best-known book was Some Ethical Gains Through Legislation (1905) and she played a prominent role in federal legislation for child labor minimum wages. In 1909 she helped form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); in 1919 she helped form the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. After World War I she worked so hard to promote child labor legislation that she was often accused of being a communist.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.