(1859-1932), advocate for children, working women, and consumers
KAREN E. ALTMAN
Florence Kelley's achievements during the early decades of the twentieth century spanned industrial, political, and legal reform, but the unwavering focus of her life's work was labor reform for working women and children. Her rhetorical accomplishments included the ability to adapt to widely differing audiences and to analyze social problems, advocate specific solutions, and motivate others to action. Beginning with her bachelor's thesis in 1882 and continuing until her death in 1932, she built a corpus of translations, books, speeches, articles, editorials, organizational reports, social scientific surveys, congressional testimony, radio addresses, book reviews, correspondence, and an autobiography.
Widely recognized for her thirty-three year leadership of the National Consumers' League (NCL), Kelley contributed so much to changing social policy that, twenty years after her death, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter concluded that she was "a woman who had probably the largest single share in shaping the social history of the United States during the first thirty years of this century" ( Goldmark, 1953:v).
Among the many reforms to which Kelley contributed as the voice of the NCL were the Louis Brandeis brief that undergirded Muller v. Oregon ( 1908), the first federal case upholding the constitutionality of protective labor legislation for women; enactment and enforcement of numerous minimum wage, maximum hour, and child labor laws; establishment of the U.S. Children's Bureau; passage of woman suffrage; and arguments, organizations, and networks that transformed much of nineteenth-century philanthropy into the profession of social work.
Florence Kelley was born and raised in Philadelphia. Her Irish Protestant father William Darrah Kelley was a lawyer and judge who worked with Abraham Lincoln to form the Republican party and capped his career with thirty years service in the U.S. House of Representatives. Her mother Caroline Bartram Bonsall grew up in the Quaker family of Isaac and Elizabeth Pugh, a household that included abolitionist Sarah Pugh. William and Caroline Kelley were the parents of eight children; only Florence and one brother reached adulthood.
Kelley's earliest challenges were illness and loneliness. Her mother was occupied with the sicknesses and deaths of many children; her father was often away for congressional work. She herself spent many years out of school due to illness.
During time spent at her maternal grandparents' home, Kelley absorbed Quaker values along with family commitments to anti-slavery and woman suffrage,