Abbott, Grace, 1878-1939

Birth 1878-11-17
Death 1939-06-19

Biographical notes:

Edith Abbott was born in Grand Island, Nebraska, in 1876. She received her A.B. from the University of Nebraska in 1901 and her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1905. From 1906 to 1908, she continued post-graduate studies in economics and political science at the University of London. In 1908, Edith returned to Chicago and became a resident of Hull House until 1920. Between 1908 and 1920, she served as Associate Director of the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy at the University of Chicago. Edith was a member of the University of Chicago faculty from 1913 to 1953, Dean from 1924 to 1942 and Dean Emeritus from 1942 to 1957. She was the first female dean of any graduate school in the United States when appointed as the Dean of the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. She pioneered college courses for social workers, which emphasized the importance of formal education in social work and the need to include field experience as part of that training. During her professional career, Edith published more than 100 articles and books on juvenile delinquents, women in industry, problems in the penal system, rights of children, child labor laws, and social workers' education. She spent her last years at the family home in Grand Island, Nebraska. Edith died of pneumonia on July 28, 1957.

Grace Abbott was born in Grand Island, Nebraska, in 1878. She received ha degree from Grand Island College in 1890 and attended the University of Nebraska. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1909. Grace continued to study law while intermittently teaching secondary school. Like her sister Edith, she became a resident of Hull House and became involved with social issues. In 1915, she became the first director of the newly organized Immigrant's Protection League formed to protect immigrants from exploitation and to assist in their adjustment to American life. In 1917, she was appointed to a position in the Child Labor Division of the United States Children's Bureau and served as chief of the bureau from 1921 to 1934. Through the use of motion pictures and radio, she sought to inform mothers about the best methods of child care and to keep the public informed about state responsibility for child welfare. In 1929, in response to the depression, she became an advocate for federal aid and relief. Grace served as the official representative of the United States on the League of Nations' advisory committees on traffic in women and on child welfare. In 1931, Good Housekeeping magazine named her one of the twelve greatest living American women. She was inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame in 1976. Grace joined Edith at the University of Chicago and, from 1934 to 1939, served as Professor of Public Welfare and Editor of the Social Service Review. Until her death, Grace chaired international labor conferences and state committees dealing with child labor and remained involved in peace movements and women's rights. She died in Chicago on June 19, 1939 due to conditions relating to tuberculosis.

In the press, Edith and Grace where known as the Abbott Sisters from Nebraska. They had two brothers, Othman A. Abbott, Jr. and Arthur O. Abbott. Their father, Othman A. Abbott, was a Civil War veteran officer who became the state's first Lieutenant Governor as well as a member of the Nebraska State Senate. Their mother, Elizabeth Griffin Abbott, was an early leader of the Nebraska Women's Suffrage Movement and helped to establish the Grand Island Public Library system.

From the guide to the Edith and Grace Abbott, Papers, 1905-1976


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Ark ID:


  • Child labor--Law and legislation
  • Social service--History
  • Social work education
  • Social reformers--United States
  • Immigrations--Law and Legislation
  • Women social reformers--United States


  • Social workers


  • Hull-House (Chicago, Ill.) (as recorded)
  • Chicago, IL, US
  • Grand Island, NE, US