Sophonisba Breckinridge was born in 1866 in Lexington, Kentucky. She graduated from Wellesley College in 1888 and in 1895 she was admitted to the Kentucky bar. Due to gender discrimination, however, her law practice was never successful.
As a result, she moved to Chicago. She earned her Ph.D. and her J.D. degree from the University of Chicago, and taught part time there in the Department of Household Administration.
At the same time, Breckinridge lived on and off at the Hull House and was involved in many progressive reform efforts, including woman suffrage, African American civil rights, labor reform, and pacifism.
Breckinridge was also instrumental in the foundation of social work as an academic discipline. With Edith Abbot, she taught at the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy. In 1920, Breckinridge and Abbot oversaw the incorporation of the Chicago School into the University of Chicago as the University’s Graduate School of Social Service Administration. Together with Abbot, Breckinridge ran the graduate school, and through their teaching, publications, and research, they defined social work as a profession and as an academic discipline. Breckinridge became a full professor in 1925, and in 1929 was named Samuel Deutsch Professor of Public Welfare Administration. She remained active in the graduate school almost until her death in 1948.
Sophonisba Breckinridge, Library of Congress,