Kelley, Florence, 1859-1932

Alternative names
Birth 1859-09-12
Death 1932-02-17

Biographical notes:

Florence Kelley was an activist, lawyer, and sociologist who worked at the vanguard of urban and social reform movements in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and headed the National Consumers' League for thirty-four years.

From the description of Florence Kelley papers, 1836-1932 (bulk 1881-1932). (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 85856966

Florence Kelley (A.B., Cornell, 1882) was born in Philadelphia. In 1884 she married Lazare Wischnewetzky; they had three children. In 1891 Kelley divorced him, reclaimed her maiden name, and became a resident of Chicago's Hull-House. In 1892 the Illinois Bureau of Labor Statistics hired her to investigate the "sweating" system in the garment industry and the federal commissioner of labor asked her to participate in a survey of city slums. Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld later appointed her chief factory inspector. She earned her law degree at Northwestern in 1894 and in May 1899 became General Secretary of the National Consumers' League. In 1909 she helped organize the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and in 1919 was a founding member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. For additional biographical information, see Notable American Women, 1607-1950 (1971).

From the description of Papers, 1889-1934 (inclusive), 1923-1934 (bulk). (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 232007315

Florence Kelley was a prominent Progressive-Era social reformer known for her advocacy of protective legislation on behalf of working women and children. She was born in 1859, the daughter of William Darrah Kelley, U.S. Congressman from Philadelphia, and his second wife Caroline Bonsall. Kelley graduated from Cornell University in 1882 and pursued graduate study in law and government at the University of Zurich in 1883. While in Europe she began translating the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and began a long-standing correspondence with Engels. In 1884 she married Polish socialist Lazare Wischnewetzky. The couple moved to New York City, but divorced in 1891. Kelley took their three young children, Nicholas (1885-1965), Margaret (1886-1905) and John (1888-1968) with her to Chicago where she began living and working at Jane Addams' Hull House.

During her years of work in the settlement house movement in Chicago, Kelley participated in the documentation of urban poverty, was appointed Chief Factory Inspector by Illinois Governor John P. Altgeld, and obtained a law degree from Northwestern University. In 1899 she returned to New York to assume the leadership of the National Consumers League, an organization created to harness the purchasing power of the public to support firms with good labor practices and boycott others. She remained with the organization for over thirty years.

Kelley's strong Quaker background influenced her pacifist opposition to the U.S. entry into World War I, a stance for which she faced persistent public attack. Her continued efforts on behalf of public health and welfare helped create the Sheppard-Towner Act of 1921, authorizing federal aid to states in order to reduce infant mortality and improve maternal and child health care.

Kelley lived near Gramercy Park in New York City and also kept a home in Naskeag, Brooklin, Maine. She died in 1932.

From the guide to the Florence Kelley papers, 1836-1932, 1881-1932, (The New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division.)


Loading Relationships

Constellation Information

Ark ID:


  • Quakers
  • Labor laws and legislation--United States
  • Child labor
  • African Americans--Employment
  • Feminists--Political activity
  • Women's rights
  • Social settlements
  • Child labor--Law and legislation
  • Working class--United States
  • Feminists--United States--Political activity
  • Social legislation
  • Working class
  • Women--Legal status, laws, etc
  • Labor laws and legislation


  • Lawyers
  • Pacifists
  • Sociologists
  • Social reformers
  • Socialists


  • United States (as recorded)
  • Illinois--Chicago (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Chicago (Ill.) (as recorded)