Edith Abbott

Edith Abbott

Edith Abbott, the sister of Grace Abbott, was born in Grand Island, Nebraska on 26th September, 1876. Both sisters were influenced by their mother's passionate belief in equal rights for women.

After graduating from college Edith Abbott worked as a school teacher in Grand Island while continuing her studies at the University of Nebraska.

Abbott moved to Chicago where she became a resident of Hull House and joined other women interested in social reform such as Jane Addams, Ellen Gates Starr, Mary Kenney, Grace Abbott, Mary McDowell, Alzina Stevens, Florence Kelley, Julia Lathrop, Alice Hamilton and Sophonisba Breckinridge.

In 1906 Abbott moved to London where she studied at University College and at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) where she was influenced by the socialist ideas of Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb.

After returning to the United States Abbott rejoined Sophonisba Breckinridge and over the next few years she become involved in the struggle for women's suffrage and achieving legislation that would protect immigrants, working women and children..

Edith Abbott (c. 1900)
Edith Abbott (c. 1900)

Abbott also worked with Sophonisba Breckinridge at the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy. In 1920 it was moved to the University of Chicago and Abbott helped establish it as the country's first university-based school of social work. Four years later she became dean of the school, a post she held for the next eighteen years.

In 1927 Abbott and Sophonisba Breckinridge established the Social Service Review and was its editor for many years.

Edith Abbott died at Grand Island, Nebraska, on 28th July, 1957.

Primary Sources

(1) Edith Abbott, Social Service Review (September, 1950)

Hull House and the old West side were full of newly arrived immigrants when Grace and I went to live there in 1908; we seemed to be surrounded by great tenement areas which have now given way to the factories and stores that have come with the business invasion. Chicago at that time was the rushing, growing metropolis of the West, but the crowded streets about Hull House with their strange foreign signs and foreign-looking shops that were often very shabby and untidy seemed strangely unrelated to the great, prosperous city that was called the 'Queen of the West'.

The foreign colonies were well established, and there were Italians in front of us and to the right of us; and to the left a large Greek colony. There was a Bulgarian colony a few blocks west of Halsted Street and along to the north that had almost no women; but large numbers of fine Bulgarian men seemed to have emigrated - and they were pitiful when they were unemployed.

Then you came to the old Ghetto as you followed Hull House a few blocks to the south, where the Maxwell Street Market with its competing pushcarts heaped with shoes, stockings, potatoes, onions, old clothes, new clothes, dishes, pots and pans, and food for the Sunday trade was as picturesque as it was insanitary.

The Greeks were our nearest neighbours, and many of them came to Hull House for classes and clubs. The Greek immigrants at that time were mostly young men working for money to bring over their relatives. The Hull House residents and club leaders organized Greek clubs of various kinds and Greek dances, when there were so few Greek women that the women residents, young and old, were called in to "help the Greeks dance."