Isabel Eaton's "Special Report on Negro Domestic Service in the Seventh Ward" was a trailblazing documentation of the social and economic conditions of the single most prominent occupation among blacks in nineteenth-century urban America. Eaton's contribution to sociology and history, however, was largely ignored in reviews at the time The Philadelphia Negro was published and in critical assessments in the years since.
Eaton was born in 1858 into an established New England family. Her father, General John Eaton, was an educator noted for his assistance to slave "contraband" during the Civil War and for his position as the Superintendent of Education in Tennessee during Reconstruction. The younger Eaton embraced her father's passion for justice and was active in social reform, anti-racism, and anti-war activities throughout her life. She was graduated from Smith College in 1888 and received a Master of Arts degree from Columbia University ten years later, based on the research she conducted in Philadelphia's Seventh Ward.1 Her thesis was published a year later as the "Special Report."
Eaton was introduced to community-based social work by Jane Addams, the leading proponent of the social settlement house movement and the founder of Hull House in Chicago. As a member of the College Settlement Association (CSA), which co-sponsored the research for The Philadelphia Negro, and as a recipient of its Dutton Fellowship, Eaton did settlement work in New York City's East Side in the early 1890s, which enabled her to conduct a comparative study of the wages and living conditions of garment workers in New York City and Chicago.2 She continued her study of the working class when____________________