Florence Kelley was born in Philadelphia in 1859 into a cultured and affluent family. Her family was actively devoted to social reform. Her father, Congressman William (Pig Iron) Kelley, fought passionately to persuade government to uphold the rights of the poor and weak. He strongly believed that every child in America, whether born rich or poor should be afforded the same opportunities and chances in life. Florence was conditioned from a very early age to despise the sight of little children hard at work.
Her father was a dominating influence throughout Florence's life. He taught her to read at the age of seven. He provided books that focused on child labor and children who were far less fortunate1. He took her on a midnight tour of factories where young boys helped in the manufacturing of steel and glass. There she witnessed the deplorable and dangerous conditions children were forced to work under. She often contends that through this experience, she developed her enthusiasm to advocate for child labor reform. She wrote while still a very young woman, "We that are strong, let us bear the infirmities of the weak."2
1 Goldmark, Josephine Clara, "Florence Kelley's Life Story: Impatient Crusader". 1953. University of Illinois Press, Urbana. ISBN# 0-8371-9011-8
2 *http://www.idbsu.edu/socwork/dhuff/history/extras/kelly.htm*, "Florence Kelley -- A Woman of Fierce Fidelity."
Florence's mother, Caroline Bartram-Bonsall, lost her parents at a very young age. Caroline's adoptive family Isaac and Elizabeth Pugh, were close friends of her parents. It was through them that Florence was connected to Sarah Pugh. Florence's Great-Aunt Sarah was a leading abolitionist who advocated on behalf of the women's suffrage movement, the oppression of women, free trade, peace, and a single standard of morals for men and women.
Sarah was feisty and strong. She confided to Florence that she never used sugar and she only wore linen undergarments. Her reasoning, she explained was "cotton was grown by slaves and sugar also. 3 I decided many years ago never to use either and to bring these facts to the attention of my friends." It was through these influences that Florence developed her passion for socialism.
Florence was mature beyond her years. Her school attendance was often interrupted due to illness. She was highly susceptible to infection. To make up for her sporadic attendance she was educated mainly at home and spent endless hours in her father's library reading. 4
In 1876 Kelley enrolled at Cornell University; she was among the first generation of college-educated women. She graduated from Cornell in 1882 earning her Bachelor of Science degree.
3 Goldmark, Josephine Clara, "Florence Kelley's Life Story: Impatient Crusader". 1953. University of Illinois Press, Urbana. ISBN# 0-8371-9011-8
4 Goldmark, Josephine Clara, "Florence Kelley's Life Story: Impatient Crusader". 1953. University of Illinois Press, Urbana. ISBN# 0-8371-9011-8
She applied but was denied entry to the University of Pennsylvania graduate school simply because she was a female. She taught for a brief period and then enrolled in postgraduate studies at the University of Zurich in Switzerland where women were permitted to obtain postgraduate degrees. There she applied her developed passions for Socialism. 5
In following her new commitment she married a medical student, a radical Russian Jew named Lazare Wischnewetzky. Soon after she gave birth to their first child. It was also during that period that she made what is still considered the finest translation of Friedrich Engels' book "The Condition of the Working Class in England." She saw to its publication and promotion in the United States and began corresponding with Engels.
In 1886, Kelley returned with her family to New York. She quickly gave birth to two more children. She tried and failed to make a place for herself in the largely German-speaking, male dominated Socialist Labor Party.
At the end of 1891 her marriage deteriorated. To escape her mentally unstable husband, who had grown violent, she fled with her children to Jane Addams's Hull House in Chicago.
5*http://www.biography.com/cgi-bin/biomain.cgi*, "Kelley, Florence (Molthrop)"
For the next eight years she lived and worked with Hull House residents and supporters. These were women of her class who strongly believed that they belonged in the public arena calling attention to the working conditions of children and women, social injustice and democracy for all.
During her years at Hull House she led a successful campaign for the appointment of women as factory inspectors, she worked for the organization of trade unions and was appointed to the Illinois Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In 1893 she achieved success in her battle to improve the working conditions. The State Legislature passed the first factory law prohibiting employment of children under the age 14, limited the workday to eight-hours and banned the tenement of sweatshops in Illinois. Even though these laws were passed, adherence was scarce. Kelley growing agitated with the government's lack of prosecution earned her law degree and battled for enforcement of these laws.
She continued working to reform labor practices. In 1899 she became the general secretary of the National Consumers' League. She played a prominent role in federal legislation for child labor minimum wages. She helped form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. She worked so hard to promote child labor legislation that she was often accused of being a communist. 6
6 http://www.biography.com/cgi-bin/biomain.cgi Kelley, Florence (Molthrop)
Florence Kelley was one of the first reformers to use scientific data to support and influence the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. She was creative in her ability to visualize the long-term outcomes of her short-term actions. She proposed and fought to legally require states to register births, employers to document workers' ages and for enforcement of mandatory school attendance. All of these short-term actions applied to her long-term goal to end child labor.
Florence Kelley remained a faithful to her cause until her death in 1932 at the age of 74. 7
7 http://www.idbsu.edu/socwork/dhuff/history/extras/kelly.htm,"Florence Kelley -- A Woman of Fierce Fidelity"
Goldmark, Josephine Clara, "Florence Kelley's Life Story: Impatient Crusader". 1953. University of Illinois Press, Urbana. ISBN# 0-8371-9011-8
Washington, Dr. Shirley. "Outstanding Women Members of Congress" (The United States Capitol Historical Society, 1995. ISBN: 0-916200-13-2
Lane, Ann J. "To Herland and Beyond: The Life and Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman" Publisher: University Press of Virginia, 1997. ISBN: 0813917425
Stearns, Liza. "The World of Barilla Taylor: Bringing History to Life through Primary Sources." OAH Magazine of History (Fall 1997). p. 38-45.
Stetz, Debbie. "Maria Israel and the Old Loma Point Lighthouse." OAH Magazine of History (Fall 1997). p. 12.
Lee, Antointette J. "Supporting Working Women: YWCA Buildings in the National Register of Historic Places." OAH Magazine of History (Fall 1997). p. 5-6.
The History Channel.
WIC-Women's History in America.
Pathfinder for Women's History.
National Association of Women.
A Woman of Fierce Fidelity.
Kelley, Florence (Molthrop).
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