Frances Kellor and the American Arbitration Association

By Partridge, Sandra K. | Dispute Resolution Journal, February-April 2012 | Go to article overview

Frances Kellor and the American Arbitration Association


Partridge, Sandra K., Dispute Resolution Journal


Frances Kellor, a well-known social activist in the early 20th century, was the only female founder of the American Arbitration Association. This article looks at the path that led her to the AAA and her beliefs about the benefits of arbitration.

It is 1948 and Frances Kellor, one of the founders of the American Arbitration Association (AAA), is reflecting on the time before arbitration became readily available to people, before there were advocates for the process, and before collective bargaining agreements came into general use:

Generally speaking, unawareness was the phenomenon of this early period. Americans were unaware of the contribution that arbitration could make to their national economy, or of the service that arbitration could render in the advancement of goodwill, good faith, confidence and co-operation in its commercial relations. They were also unaware of the latent power of arbitration for advancing international peace and security through world trade. The era had not yet arrived for resumption by the individual of the exercise of his natural right of self-regulation in matters of dispute, a right he had been steadily regulating to rigid processes of law.1

From this description we can glean Kellor's hopes for the good that arbitration could do for people and the world. She saw benefits to the national economy through increased goodwill, good faith, confidence and cooperation; to international peace and security through world trade; and to individuals through self-regulation. This article explores Kellor's beliefs about arbitration, but first it looks at the path that led her to the AAA, where she spent 27 years promoting and writing about arbitration, both international and domestic. Since her accomplishments are so numerous, this is a mere sketch rather than a full portrait.

A Lawyer and Social Activist

Frances Kellor was many things, including a lawyer; social pioneer; progressive political acti vist; intellectual; champion of women's athletics; crusader against injustice to wo men, people of color, and im migrants; an arbitration and mediation expert; and a prolific writer of books and articles about her work.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1873 to a working-class single mother, Frances Alice Kellor grew up in Coldwater, Mich., and studied law in New York. She graduated from Cornell Law School in 1897 and then studied sociology part time at the University of Chicago.2 While there, she re searched a number of social problems and began bringing attention to these problems by writing articles and books.3

In 1903, Kellor moved to New York, where she became known as a social reformer and leader of the Americanization Movement.4 Its goal was to help immigrants assimilate into American society.5 Kellor became interested in helping immigrants and women after she investigated unemployment, employment bureaus, and labor camps in New York.6 She went on to create organizations to assist women and immigrants through various means, including proposing remedial legislation.7 In 1908, New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes ap - pointed Kellor to the New York Immigration Commission. In 1910, he made her director of New York's Bureau of Immigration and Industry, the first woman to head a state bureau.8

Kellor came to the attention of Theodore Roose velt and, in 1912, helped run his unsuccessful campaign as the Progressive Party candidate for president.9 She continued to work for the Progressive Party and became the only female on its national executive board. After the party lost its steam, she joined the Republicans and worked on the 1916 presidential campaign of Gov. Hughes.

Kellor remained committed to Americani zation throughout and even after World War I, but Americanization with a slight change-one that appreciated diverse cultures. After the war, she wrote a book about immigration policy that criticized U.S. deportation of immigrants, saying it showed bad faith and undermined international treaties containing anti-discrimination provisions. …

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