Florence Kelley (Social & Political Reformer)

florence-kelley.jpgFlorence Kelley (September 12, 1859 – February 17, 1932) was a social and political reformer from Philadelphia. Her work against sweatshops and for the minimum wage, eight-hour workdays, and children's rights is widely regarded today.

Florence Moltrop Kelley was the daughter of Congressman William Darrah "Pig Iron" Kelley, a self-made man who renounced his business activities to become an abolitionist, a founder of the Republican party and a judge, and worked for numerous political and social reforms, including the NAACP. William D. Kelley was the son of Hannah and David Kelley.

Florence had two brothers and five sisters; all five sisters died in childhood. Three of the sisters were Josephine Bartram Kelley, Caroline Lincoln Kelley, and Anna Caroline Kelley. Josephine died at the age of seven months. Caroline died at the age of four months. Anna died at six years of age.

Florence Kelley was an early supporter of women's suffrage. In Zurich, she met various European socialists, including Polish-Russian medical student Lazare Wischnewetzky, whom she married in 1884 (the couple divorced in 1891).

She is well-known for her translation of Die Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England, written in 1844 by Friedrich Engels, with whom she corresponded frequently. As The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, it has been in print ever since. She appears there as 'Mrs. F. Kelley Wischnewetzky' and was also known as Florence Kelley.

Kelley studied at Cornell University from 1876 to 1882, graduating with the class of 1882. She attained Phi Beta Kappa honors, before taking up post-graduate studies at the University of Zurich. She was a member of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, an activist for woman suffrage and African-American civil rights. She was a follower of Karl Marx and a friend of Friedrich Engels' whose book, The Condition of the Working Class in England, she translated into English. The translation she made is still used today.

After returning from Europe, she set out to write a book on the condition of the working class in the United States, but discovered that there were no adequate statistics. She campaigned first for state statistical bureaus and finally for the creation of the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, which has been the basis of much of the labor research in the United States since.

Kelley's father had toured her through glass factories at night when she was little. Kelley fought to make it illegal for children under the age of 14 to work and to limit the hours of children under 16. She fought to give them the right of education, arguing children must be nurtured to be intelligent people.

From 1891 through 1899, Kelley lived at the Hull House settlement in Chicago, where in 1893, Governor Altgeld made her the Chief Factory Inspector for the state of Illinois, a newly-created position and unheard-of for a woman. Hull House resident Alzina Stevens served as one of Kelley's assistant factory inspectors.

In the course of her Hull House work, she befriended Frank Alan Fetter when he was asked by the University of Chicago to conduct a study of Chicago neighborhoods. At Fetter's motion, she was made a member of Cornell's Irving Literary Society as an alumna, when he joined the Cornell Faculty.

Kelley was known for her firmness and fierce energy. Hull House founder Jane Addams' nephew called Kelley "the toughest customer in the reform riot, the finest rough-and-tumble fighter for the good life for others, that Hull House ever knew,"

In 1913, she studied the federal patterns of distribution of funds for education. She noticed a lot of inequitable distributions for White schools as opposed to Black schools (Athey, 1971). This launched her to create the “The Stirling Discrimination Bill” which was an attack against the Sterling Towner Bill.

This bill proposed a federal sanction of $2.98 per capita for teachers of colored children and $10.32 per capita children at While schools in 15 schools in the South and Washington, D.C. The NAACP held the position that this would perpetuate the continual discrimination and neglect of the public schools for the Colored. She and W.E.B. DuBois disagreed on how to attack this bill.

She wanted to add the language that guaranteed equitable distribution of funding regardless of race. W.E.B. DuBois believed that there should be a clause added specific to race, because it would require the federal government to enforce that the schools for the Colored would be treated fairly. Kelley believed that if they added anything about race in there, it would not pass through Congress. She wanted to get the bill passed through Congress and then change the language.

So when the bill was passed, it called for equal distribution to the schools to be handled by the states based on population. The issue remained on whether or not the states would distribute the money equally.

From 1899 through 1926 she lived at the Henry Street settlement house in New York City. From there she founded the National Consumers' League, which was strongly anti-sweatshop. She worked tirelessly to establish a work-day limited to eight hours. In 1907 she threw her influence into the Supreme Court case Muller v. Oregon, which sought to overturn limits to the hours female workers could work in non-hazardous professions.

Kelley helped file the famous "Brandeis Brief", which included sociological and medical evidence of the hazards of working long hours, and set the precedent of the Supreme Court's recognition of sociological evidence, which was used to great effect later in the case "Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas".

In 1909 Kelley helped create the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and thereafter became a friend and ally of W. E. B. Du Bois. She also worked to help the child labor laws and the working conditions.

In 1917 she again filed briefs in a Supreme Court case for an eight-hour workday, this time for male workers, in the case "Bunting v. Oregon".

Related Links:
Florence Kelley on Wikipedia