Florence Kelley (Wischnewetzky) (1859-1932)


Florence Kelley (Wischnewetzky), social reformer, settlement house director, and suffragist, is best known for her social work at the Hull House and Henry Street settlements, investigations of factory exploitation, opposition to child labor, and women’s labor reform. Her leadership of the National Consumers’ League organized women’s consumer power as an economic weapon to press for protective labor laws, shorter hours, a minimum wage, and safe working conditions for women. Kelley was an organizer of the National Child Labor Committee, Vice President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and a founder of the NAACP and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Her vigorous intellect and commitment to reform helped shape 20th century social policy and paved the way for much New Deal legislation.

Kelley attended university at Zurich, became a convert to Socialism, and translated the economic writings of Engels and Marx into English. Her marriage to Russian medical student and socialist, Lazare Wischnewetsky, by whom she had 3 children, failed. She divorced and joined Chicago’s Hull House settlement, forming lasting friendships with America’s leading women reformers. She wrote Our Toiling Children (1889), and her study of slums, published in Hull House Maps and Papers (1895), helped create the field of urban sociology. Her work brought passage of an Illinois factory law limiting women’s work hours, prohibiting child labor, and controlling sweatshops. The governor appointed her chief factory inspector. She moved to New York’s Henry Street settlement and, as General Secretary of the National Consumers’ League (1899-1932), organized women’s consumer power for labor reform. Devoting her later years to the fight to abolish child labor, she helped organize the National Child Labor Committee (1904) and campaigned for a child labor amendment. She died at 72.


Works Cited:

  • Reprinted from NWHM Cyber Exhibit "Rights for Women"
    Author Kristina Gupta
  • PHOTO: Florence Kelley, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division (mnwp 153003)