National Reformer

National Reformer

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In 1860, two members of the Sheffield Secular Society, Charles Bradlaugh, and Joseph Barker, formed a new journal called the National Reformer. Bradlaugh and Barker believed that religion was blocking progress and advocated what they called an atheistic Secularism. The newspaper advocated a whole range of reforms including universal suffrage and republicanism.

Sales of the National Reformer reached 5,000 but in 1861 Joseph Barker left the journal because he disagreed with Bradlaugh's advocacy of birth control. Bradlaugh became ill in 1863 and John Watts became the new editor. Charles Bradlaugh returned in 1866 and soon afterwards helped form the National Secular Society.

In 1874 met Annie Besant, a member of the Secular Society in London and an advocate of women's rights. Bradlaugh recruited Besant to work on the National Reformer, and over the next few years wrote a series articles on marriage and the political status of women. In the 1880s Edward Aveling also contributed a large number of articles on science and religion.


The Reformation (alternatively named the Protestant Reformation or the European Reformation) [1] was a major movement within Western Christianity in 16th-century Europe that posed a religious and political challenge to the Catholic Church and in particular to papal authority, arising from what were perceived to be errors, abuses, and discrepancies by the Catholic Church. The Reformation was the start of Protestantism and the split of the Western Church into Protestantism and what is now the Roman Catholic Church. It is also considered one of the events that signify the end of the Middle Ages and beginning of Early modern period in Europe. [2]

Prior to Martin Luther, there were many earlier reform movements. Although the Reformation is usually considered to have started with the publication of the Ninety-five Theses by Martin Luther in 1517, there was no schism between the Catholic Church and the nascent Luther until the 1521 Edict of Worms. The edict condemned Luther and officially banned citizens of the Holy Roman Empire from defending or propagating his ideas. [3] The spread of Gutenberg's printing press provided the means for the rapid dissemination of religious materials in the vernacular. Luther survived after being declared an outlaw due to the protection of Elector Frederick the Wise. The initial movement in Germany diversified, and other reformers such as Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin arose. Key events of the period include: Diet of Worms (1529), formation of the Lutheran Duchy of Prussia (1525), English Reformation (1529 onwards), the Council of Trent (1545–63), the Peace of Augsburg (1555), the excommunication of Elizabeth I (1570), Edict of Nantes (1598) and Peace of Westphalia (1648). The Counter-Reformation, also called the Catholic Reformation or the Catholic Revival, was the period of Catholic reforms initiated in response to the Protestant Reformation. [4] The end of the Reformation era is disputed.

A Reformer's Parlor

For Lucy, Josiah, and Margaret Caldwell-and for many middle-class and prosperous people in the mid- l 800s-a parlor like this was the center of the family's religious and social life. Its warm stove, comfortable furnishings, lamps, and abundance of goods provided an idealized setting for a home life that nurtured "good morals and steady habits."

The Caldwells' parlor was also a center for antislavery activity in the community. Here Lucy held meetings of the Ipswich Female Anti-Slavery Society, one of the many groups organized in the 1830s to work for the immediate abolition of slavery.

Disability History: Educational Reform

Exterior of the Volta Bureau building.

Photo by Jonathan Coffey (CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

Education for people with disabilities developed in an era shaped by the Civil War, abolition, and scientific discoveries. These events impacted education and the reformers who pushed for it. The reform of education for people with disabilities in the 1800s was a reaction to the absence of educational opportunities for these populations.

Various historic places are associated with educational reform and how American society taught and teaches individuals with disabilities. Gallaudet University, originally named the National Deaf Mute College, opened in 1864 in Washington DC. Famed architects Olmsted, Vaux & Co. designed Gallaudet. This was and continues to be the only American university specifically for deaf people (though the National Technical Institute for the Deaf is a college that serves deaf individuals, as well). Gallaudet has contributed to the rights of the Deaf community into the 21st century. Read the article on the Disability Rights Movement for more information.

Samuel Gridley Howe and Alexander Graham Bell were among two promoters of educational reform for individuals with disabilities in the 1800s. They also helped research causes and possible cures for certain conditions. In 1832, Howe opened the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts. As the first school for the blind in the US, the Perkins Institution (as it was then called) applied techniques inspired by European models. Howe developed an embossed letter system for blind people to read. This reading format was used until Braille came into common use by the late 1800s. Howe also worked with deaf students, though he opposed sign language as a method of communication. Instead, he preferred to teach lipreading and oral communication, a method known as oralism. Both Howe and Alexander Graham Bell preferred this method of communication, which would prove controversial in later years. Howe worked with famed students including Laura Bridgman and Helen Keller .

Keller met Howe through Alexander Graham Bell. Bell, the inventor of the first telephone in 1876, supported Keller's learning. Bell also worked as a speech trainer. In 1887, he founded the Volta Laboratory. The Laboratory served as an information center for deaf and hard-of-hearing persons. He advocated "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge relating to the Deaf." He also worked with an organization which is today known as the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf.

Like some physicians and politicians at the time, Bell supported eugenics as a means of eliminating disabilities. Eugenics was the misguided belief that controlling genetics could improve the human race. Though there were many who opposed eugenics, there were unfortunately several advocates for it beginning in the 1800s. Arguments for and against eugenics persisted well into the 1900s. Support of eugenics influenced many spheres, including education.

Exterior of the Montana State Training School.

Photo by Kate Hampton, from the National Register of Historic Places Nomination.

The Montana State Training School Historic District shares some of this challenging history associated with eugenics. Built in the 1910s, this state-funded school provided education, treatment, and residential housing for children with intellectual disabilities. The physicians of the Montana State Training School also practiced forced sterilization, or the removal of one’s ability to have children, on certain patients. This was unfortunately a common practice in the early 1900s. In the mid- to late part of the 1900s, activists and politicians pushed to close these schools and programs. They advocated for new kinds of care, treatment, and education.

Education opportunities for people with disabilities have transformed in the 20th and 21st centuries largely because of federal legislation. The 1975 Education of all Handicapped Children Act and its amendments guaranteed free public education for all students with disabilities. The four purposes of PL 94-142 were to (1) “assure that all children with disabilities have available to them… a free appropriate public education which emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their needs,” (2) “assure that the rights of children with disabilities and their parents… are protected,” (3) “assist states and localities to provide for the education of all children with disabilities,” and (4) “assess and assure the effectiveness of efforts to educate all children with disabilities.” In 1990, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) replaced PL 94-142. Amendments to IDEA have continued to assist students with disabilities in a variety of classrooms. As the Department of Education has described, “Whereas Public Law 94-142 issued a national challenge to ensure access to education for all children with disabilities, the 1997 Amendments to IDEA articulated a new challenge to improve results for these children and their families… IDEA has been a primary catalyst for the progress we have witnessed.” [2]

This article is part of the Telling All Americans’ Stories Disability History Series. The series focuses on telling selected stories through historic places. It offers a glimpse into the rich and varied history of Americans with disabilities.

Early Public Schools

Early public schools in the United States took the form of “common schools,” which were meant to serve individuals of all social classes and religions.

Learning Objectives

Describe the public school system of the early nineteenth century

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Educational reformer Horace Mann promoted locally controlled, often one-room “common schools” in which children of all ages and classes were taught together. Common schools were one of the earliest forms of public schools in the United States they were free and open to all white children, who generally attended from the ages of six to fourteen.
  • Schools were funded by local taxes and overseen by an elected local school board.
  • Children typically learned reading, writing, arithmetic, history, geography, and math.
  • Grading systems varied widely, but most schools had some form of end-of-the-year recitations.

Key Terms

  • Horace Mann: An American education reformer (May 4, 1796–August 2, 1859) who is credited with creating the common-school system.
  • school board: A governing body of people elected to oversee management of an educational district and to represent the interests of residents.
  • common school movement: A public educational effort in the United States or Canada in the nineteenth century, with the aim of serving individuals of all social classes and religions.

Early Public Schools in the United States

After the American Revolution, an emphasis was put on education, especially in the northern states, which rapidly established public schools. By the year 1870, all states had free elementary schools and the U.S. population boasted one of the highest literacy rates at the time. Private academies flourished in towns across the country, but rural areas (where most people lived) had few schools before the 1880s. By the close of the 1800s, public secondary schools began to outnumber private ones.

The earliest public schools were developed in the nineteenth century and were known as “common schools,” a term coined by American educational reformer Horace Mann that refers to the aim of these schools to serve individuals of all social classes and religions.

Horace Mann, American educational reformer: Horace Mann was an influential reformer of education, responsible for the introduction of common schools—non-sectarian public schools open to children of all backgrounds—in America.

The Common School

Students often went to common schools from ages six to fourteen, although this could vary widely. The duration of the school year was often dictated by the agricultural needs of particular communities, with children receiving time off from studies when they would be needed on the family farm. These schools were funded by local taxes, did not charge tuition, and were open to all white children. Typically, with a small amount of state oversight, an elected local school board controlled each district, traditionally with a county school superintendent or regional director elected to supervise day-to-day activities of several common school districts.

Because common schools were locally controlled and the United States was very rural in the nineteenth century, most common schools were small one-room centers. They usually had a single teacher who taught all of the students together, regardless of age. Common-school districts were nominally subject to their creator, either a county commission or a state regulatory agency.

Typical curricula consisted of “The Three Rs” (reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic), as well as history and geography. Grading methods varied (from 0–100 grading to no grades at all), but end-of-the-year recitations were a common way that parents were informed about what their children were learning.

Many education scholars mark the end of the common-school era around 1900. In the early 1900s, schools generally became more regional (as opposed to local), and control of schools moved away from elected school boards and toward professionals.

National Reformer - History


A Look Back on 100+ Years of Advocacy

“To live means to buy, to buy means to have power, to have power means to have responsibility.”

–Florence Kelley, first General Secretary, National Consumers League

For more than 100 years, the National Consumers League has followed these founding principles: That the working conditions we accept for our fellow citizens should be reflected by our purchases, and that consumers should demand safety and reliability from the goods and services they buy.

Promoting a fair marketplace for workers and consumers was the reason for the League’s founding in 1899 and still guides us into our second century.

NCL’s Early Years

During the late 19th century’s Progressive Era, social justice movements emerged to protect the interests and promote justice for working people. As part of that movement, the National Consumers League was chartered in 1899 by two of America’s leading social reformers Jane Addams and Josephine Lowell. These two women were pioneers in achieving many social reforms in communities and workplaces across the country. Under the direction of its first general secretary, Florence Kelley, the National Consumer’s league exposed child labor and other scandalous working conditions. Kelley was to become one of the most influential and effective social reformers of the 20th century. During the early 1900s, she led the League in its efforts to:

  • protect in-home workers, often including whole families, from terrible exploitation by employers
  • promote the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 and the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906
  • write and then champion state minimum wage laws for women
  • defend and ultimately convince the US Supreme Court to uphold a 10-hour work day law in the landmark Muller v. Oregon case of 1908
  • advocate for creation of a federal Children’s Bureau and federal child labor restrictions

Along with New Jersey Consumers League Director Katherine Wiley and Louis Brandeis (who later became a Supreme Court justice), Kelley achieved a lifetime’s worth of accomplishments in her 33 years as leader of the League. She worked alongside many other reform-minded women and men to achieve her goals and served as inspiration and mentor to FDR’s Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, the first woman ever to serve in as a cabinet member and a close confidant and influential advisor to the FDR.

Mid-Century Challenges

The leadership of the National Consumers League struggled to contend with Kelley’s death in 1932, facing the burden of maintaining the group’s vigor after losing its long-time leader. Lucy Randolph Mason directed the League for the next five years, and Mary Dublin (Keyserling) directed from 1938-1940. In 1939 Dr. Caroline Ware began advising Dublin regarding activities in Washington, D.C. under the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

With first lady Eleanor Roosevelt serving as vice president of the League and testifying on behalf of the organization on numerous occasions, during this time the League focused on passage of the 1938 federal Fair Labor Standards Act. This comprehensive, landmark legislation addressed issues the NCL had raised since its inception including child labor, minimum wage, restrictions on hours worked, and industrial homework. Taking advantage of the expanding definition of social welfare as seen through the ideas of the Roosevelt administration, the League also advocated for:

  • national health insurance
  • improved food and drug safety laws
  • federal pesticide monitoring
  • social security legislation especially for the elderly or disabled
  • unemployment insurance

From 1943-1958 Elizabeth Magee directed the NCL, transferring the group’s office to Cleveland, Ohio, her home. Magee placed new emphasis on:

  • health assistance for migratory workers
  • Medicare and Medicaid
  • wholesome meat and poultry
  • Truth-in-Packaging legislation
  • food additive and color testing
  • worker safety in atomic industries

During the 1970s and 80s, NCL Executive Director Sandra Willett (Jackson) increased attention to consumer education through the “Assertive Consumer” project. The League also promoted consumer participation in government decision-making, which helped open the doors of federal agencies to consumers and their views. During this period, such national figures as Esther Peterson served as vice president of the League. Peterson, a renowned labor and consumer leader, regularly testified on behalf of the League. Peterson became head of the White House Office of Consumer Affairs under President Jimmy Carter and had served as consumer advisor to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson before that.

The 1980s saw significant changes develop in the nation’s health care system. Responding to the need to provide consumers with useful information about these changes, the League, under Barbara Warden’s leadership, organized a major Consumer Health Care Conference, launched a series of consumer health care guides, and established a Medicare education program. The League also:

  • supported enhanced enforcement powers for the Federal Trade Commission
  • opposed the revival of industrial homework sweatshops
  • defended Social Security and Medicare

Under the direction of Linda Golodner (1985 – 2007), the League expanded significantly, continuing to develop its consumer education programs and increase its activism in opposing exploitative child and sweatshop labor. In the late 80s, the group established both the Alliance Against Fraud in Telemarketing and the Child Labor Coalition. The Alliance led to the League’s long-term program, the National Fraud Information Center (later called NCL’s Fraud Center, now simply, established in 1992 to assist consumers directly with telemarketing fraud inquiries. Under Golodner, NCL took over the LifeSmarts program, the Ultimate Consumer Challenge, a fast, fun, gameshow-style Internet based consumer education competition for teens and tweens. (Complete information can be found at

The 21st Century and Beyond

Under the leadership of Sally Greenberg, Executive Director (2007 – present), NCL is focused on four key priority areas: fraud, child labor, LifeSmarts, and health care reform, while continuing to promote a range of additional general protections for consumers and workers. NCL has been instrumental in uniting consumer and labor groups on issues of common interest and in leading the call on Congress and the President to adopt pro-consumer policies, including reinstating the Office of Consumer Affairs in the White House.

  • spearheads efforts to promote the safe use of medication, including convening a multi-faceted, multi-stakeholder campaign to promote better medication adherence (ensuring that patients adhere to their medication regimen) in conjunction and with the support of a federal agency
  • comments frequently on matters of concern to consumers and workers before the Department of Agriculture, Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission, Food and Drug Administration, and Department of Labor
  • promotes better working conditions for migrant farmworker families and teen workers, both internationally and at home through the Child Labor Coalition
  • is fighting to improve product safety, as well as misleading or confusing labeling on food and beverage products
  • maintains several consumer-friendly Web sites, where consumers may download current publications and alerts on current issues ranging from avoiding fraud to maintaining one’s mortgage, to understanding bloodthinners.
  • participates in the Safe Food Coalition, which promotes effective meat and poultry inspection
  • distributes tens of thousands of publications annually, on topics including food and drug interaction, safe over-the-counter medication use, budgeting and credit, and telephone service
  • convenes a consumer-labor coalition that meets regularly, bringing union and consumer groups together for discussions and joint activities of concern to workers and consumers.

As the League enters its second century, it faces many of the same questions of social justice and consumer protection that Florence Kelley confronted in 1899, except now the marketplace is global in a way that neither Kelley nor her colleagues could have imagined. How do we eliminate child labor? How do we ensure food safety? What is a decent minimum wage for workers? How can privacy be effectively protected?

These questions and the new ones that will inevitably arise will challenge the National Consumers League in its next 100 years. We look forward to building the organization and meeting the challenges facing consumers and workers today.

Our Impact

The work of the National Consumers League is making a difference in people’s lives across the country. Meet some of the consumers touched by our programs.

Preventing yet another victim

Paige, 55, a Nashville wife and mother of two, answered an employment ad for secret shoppers. Before sending payment to the scammers, she reached out to NCL.

Building a stronger generation

A grease fire flared up in Decklan’s kitchen. As his family scrambled and panicked, fearing that the whole house might erupt in flames, Decklan remained calm. He hurried over to the pantry, grabbed some baking soda, and dumped it on the fire quickly extinguishing the blaze.

Script Your Future saved my life

Cincinnati resident Charles, 45, lost his computer business — and health insurance— during a time of economic downturn. A diabetic, Charles was now unable to afford his medication. He stopped taking it which made him seriously ill and put his life at risk.

For a safer workplace

Jeremy is a fast-food worker who has been employed at a number of Chipotle restaurants in New York City. When he was just 20 years old, he took part in an NCL research project that revealed that management practices within the fast food chain were putting workers—and food safety for customers—at risk.

Our Programs

About NCL

Our Work

Where We Stand

National Consumers League


WASHINGTON, DC, April 20, 2021 – Today, the National Consumers League (NCL), along with a coalition of patient advocacy organizations dedicated to advancing the health of mothers and infants, announced the launch of the >Preterm Birth Prevention Alliance .

Members of the Alliance are joining forces in an effort to preserve patient access to the only Food & Drug Administration-approved class of treatments for pregnant women who have previously had an unexpected, or spontaneous, preterm birth. Together, Alliance members seek to ensure that the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) hears concerns from the full range of stakeholders about the potential risks and impact of withdrawal for at-risk pregnant women and their providers.

For the fifth year in a row, the U.S. preterm birth rate has increased (to 10.2 percent of births), and preterm birth and its complications were the second largest contributor to infant death across the country. Preterm birth also represents a significant racial health disparity, with Black women in America experiencing premature delivery at a rate 50 percent higher than other racial groups throughout the country.

However, in 2020, the FDA >proposed withdrawing hydroxyprogesterone caproate, commonly called “17P” or “17-OHPC”, the only FDA-approved class of branded and generic treatments to help prevent the risk of preterm birth in women with a history of spontaneous preterm birth. The FDA is currently determining whether to hold a hearing on the status of 17P, based on conflicting efficacy data from two studies composed of vastly different patient populations, one inclusive of women in the U.S. most vulnerable to preterm birth and one not.

“We’re fighting for a more inclusive healthcare system that gives everyone an equal chance to have the best outcomes possible,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League . “We don’t believe that removing 17P from the market without gaining a better understanding of who could benefit the most from its use is in the best interests of patients, nor their healthcare providers, particularly as there are no other approved treatment options available.”

To date, 14 organizations have joined NCL to advocate for the health interests of at-risk pregnant women and infants, including: 1,000 Days 2020 Mom American Association of Birth Centers Black Mamas Matter Alliance Black Women’s Health Imperative Expecting Health Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Montana HealthyWomen Miracle Babies National Birth Equity Collaborative National Black Midwives Alliance National Partnership for Women & Families Sidelines High-Risk National Support Network and SisterReach.

“As a trained obstetrician and gynecologist, I know firsthand the impact of preterm birth on Black women and birthing people. I also know that racism – not race – is the driving factor leading the disproportionate impact of preterm birth on Black women and birthing people thereby exacerbating systemic inequities in maternal and infant health. To achieve birth equity, which is the assurance of the conditions of optimal births for all people with a willingness to address racial and social inequities in a sustained effort, we must work to protect and uphold a standard of care for spontaneous, recurrent preterm births and ensure it remains accessible and affordable for all who stand in need,” added Dr. Joia Crear Perry, founder and president of the National Birth Equity Collaborative.

The Preterm Birth Prevention Alliance is calling for the FDA to grant a public hearing to fully consider all of the data, additional research methods, and stakeholder perspectives before deciding whether to withdraw approval of this critical class of therapies. The health of America’s moms and babies warrants the utmost care and consideration.


The Preterm Birth Prevention Alliance is a coalition of maternal and women’s health advocates who share a common concern about the state of preterm birth in the United States and the proposed market withdrawal of 17P, the only FDA-approved class of treatments to help prevent spontaneous, recurrent preterm birth. Formed in 2021 by the National Consumers League, we seek to improve preterm birth outcomes in the United States by maintaining access to safe, FDA-approved treatment options and advocating for more diverse medical research that adequately represents the experiences of women and newborns of color. Women of color need a seat at the table. To learn more, visit .

Initial support for the Preterm Birth Prevention Alliance is provided by Covis Pharma.

Social Reformers

Decades come and go but what remain are the impression and great acts of the social reformers. India is privileged to have number of great souls like Dayanand Saraswati and Raja Ram Mohan Roy. They managed to bring revolutions by making radical changes in the society. Some of the reformers took up the challenges of breaking the jinx of prevailing caste-system while some fought for the introduction of girls'-education and widow remarriage. The contributions, made by these, simple yet eminent souls towards humanity are really extraordinary. Their activities and thoughts guided the nation to a new beginning.

Acharya Vinoba Bhave was a freedom fighter and a spiritual teacher. He is best known as the founder of the 'Bhoodan Movement' (Gift of the Land). The reformer had an intense concern for the deprived masses. Vinoba Bhave had once said, "All revolutions are spiritual at the source.

From a child born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Baba Amte later transformed his life into a social activist. He devoted his entire life to serve the downtrodden people of the society. He left his lucrative profession to join India's struggle for independence.

Dr B R Ambedkar, popularly known as Babasaheb Ambedkar, was one of the architects of the Indian Constitution. He was a well-known politician and an eminent jurist. Ambedkar's efforts to eradicate the social evils like untouchablity and caste restrictions were remarkable.

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar is considered as one of the pillars of Bengal renaissance. In other words, he managed to continue the reforms movement that was started by Raja Rammohan Roy. Vidyasagar was a well-known writer, intellectual and above all a staunch follower of humanity. He brought a revolution in the education system of Bengal.

Jyotiba Phule was one of the prominent social reformers of the nineteenth century India. He led the movement against the prevailing caste-restrictions in India. He revolted against the domination of the Brahmins and for the rights of peasants and other low-caste fellow.

Mother TeresaMother Teresa was a true follower of humanity. Many people considered Mother as the "reincarnated form of Lord Jesus". Mother Teresa devoted her entire life in serving the needy and abandoned people of the society. Although her mission started in India, she succeeded in bringing the people of all societies under one roof, i.e. humanity.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy is considered as the pioneer of modern Indian Renaissance for the remarkable reforms he brought in the 18th century India. Among his efforts, the abolition of the sati-pratha-a practice in which the widow was compelled to sacrifice herself on the funeral pyre of her husband-was the prominent.

Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa was a popular saint of India. He had a strong faith in the existence of god. He regarded every woman of the society, including his wife, Sarada, as holy mother. Swami Vivekananda was one of the prominent disciples of Ramakrishna, who later formed the Ramakrishna Mission.

King Shahu Chhatrapati was considered as a true democrat and social reformer. He was an invaluable gem in the history of Kolhapur. Shahu was associated with many progressive activities in the society including education for women. He was greatly influenced by the contributions of social reformer Jyotiba Phule.

Dayanand Saraswati was a reformer and believed in pragmatism. He preached against many rituals of the Hindu religion such as idol-worship, caste by birth, animal sacrifices and restrictions of women from reading Vedas. He was not only a great scholar and philosopher but also a social reformer and a political thinker.

Swami Vivekananda is known for his inspiring speech at the Parliament of the World's Religions at Chicago on 11 September, 1893, where he introduced Hindu philosophy to the west. But this was not the only contribution of the saint. He revealed the true foundations of India's unity as a nation. He taught how a nation with such a vast diversity can be bound together by a feeling of humanity and brother-hood.

Kelley, Florence

Introduction: Florence Kelley was a social reformer and political activist who defended the rights of working women and children. She served as the first general secretary of the National Consumers League and helped form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

Kelley was born on September 12, 1859 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of U.S. congressman William Darrah Kelley (1814-1890). Her father was an abolitionist of strict principles. He taught his daughter about child workers, and several times took her to see young children working in steel and glass factories under dangerous conditions. These visits would influence Kelley in her decision to turn toward advocacy for child labor reform.

In 1876, at the age of sixteen, Kelley enrolled at Cornell University. Due to illness that forced her to leave college for over two years, she did not graduate until 1882. After one year spent in teaching evening classes in Philadelphia, Kelley went to Europe to continue with her studies. At the University of Zürich she came under the influence of European socialism, particularly the works of Karl Marx. In 1887 she published a translation of Friedrich Engels’s The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844.

Kelley married in 1884 to a Russian medical student, Lazare Wischnewetzky, and moved with him to New York City two years later. The couple separated in 1889 and Kelley moved to Chicago with her three children. After obtaining a divorce, she reverted to her maiden name.

Social Welfare Career: In 1891 Kelley joined Jane Addams, Julia Lathrop, Ellen Gates Starr, and other women at Hull House. Kelley’s first job after coming to the Hull House settlement was to visit the area around the settlement, surveying the working conditions in local factories. She found children as young as three or four working in tenement sweatshops. The report of this survey, along with other following studies, was presented to the state, resulting in the Illinois State Legislature bringing about the first factory law prohibiting employment of children under age 14. Based on that success, Kelley was appointed to serve as Illinois’s first chief factory inspector. Kelley was subsequently appointed the first woman factory inspector, with the task of monitoring the application of this law. To advance her credibility as an inspector, Kelley enrolled to study law at Northwestern University, graduating in 1894, and was successfully admitted to the bar.

In 1899 Kelley moved to Lillian Wald’s Henry Street Settlement in New York City and became general secretary of the National Consumers League (NCL). The league was started by Jane Addams and Josephine Shaw Lowell as the Consumers’ League of New York and had the objective of encouraging consumers to buy products only from companies that met the NCL’s standards of minimum wage and working conditions. Kelley traveled around the country giving lectures and raising awareness of working conditions in the United States. One important initiative of the NCL was the introduction of the White Label. Employers who met the standard of the NCL by utilizing the labor law and keeping the safety standards had the right to display the White Label. The NCL members urged customers to boycott those products that did not have a white label.

Kelley led campaigns that reshaped the conditions under which goods were produced in the United States. Among her accomplishments were the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and laws regulating hours and establishing minimum wages. In 1905 Kelley, together with Upton Sinclair and Jack London, started the Intercollegiate Socialist Society. She gave a series of public lectures in numerous American universities on improving the conditions of labor. During one of these lectures she met Frances Perkins, who became Kelley’s friend and an important asset in the fight for her cause. Perkins became America’s first woman cabinet minister, and contributed toward passing the law in 1938 that effectively banned child labor for good. She also helped organize the New York Child Labor Committee in 1902 and was a founder of the National Child Labor Committee in 1904.

In 1909 Kelley helped with the organization of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and thereafter became a friend and ally of W.E.B. Du Bois. Kelley possessed enormous energy and ability to describe the oppressive conditions of the working classes. She was particularly zealous in her efforts to improve working conditions for women. However, she met numerous obstacles, including decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court that legislative reforms brought on the state level were unconstitutional. Nevertheless, Kelley persisted. She helped Josephine Clara Goldmark, director of research at the NCL, to prepare the “Brandeis Brief” for the Muller v. Oregon case, argued by Louis D. Brandeis. Through the use of statistics from medical and sociological journals the case was able to prove that long working days (often 12 to 14 hours) had a devastating effect on women’s health. In its decision, the Supreme Court declared the legality of Oregon’s ten-hour work day for women. This was an important victory not only in regulating women’s work, but also in the greater battle for improving general conditions of work in America. In the year following Muller v. Oregon, the NCL launched a minimum wage campaign that would lead to the passage of laws in fourteen states.

Kelley lobbied Congress to pass the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act of 1916, which banned the sale of products created from factories that employed children aged thirteen and under. In 1919 Kelley was a founding member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and for several years she served as vice president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

Florence Kelley died in the Germantown section of Philadelphia on February 17, 1932. She is buried at Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery.

For further reading and research:

Bobick, Ruth (2015). Six Remarkable Hull-House Women. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Peter E. Randall.

Goldmark, Josephine (1953). Impatient Crusader: Florence Kelley’s Life Story. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Kelley, Florence (2009). The Selected Letters of Florence Kelley, 1869 – 1931. Edited by K. Sklar and B.W. Palmer. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Sklar, Kathryn Kish (1995). Florence Kelley and the Nation’s Work. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Trattner, Walter I. (1970). Crusade for the Children: A History of the National Child Labor Committee and Child Labor Reform in America. Chicago: Quadrangle Books.

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): “Florence Kelley” (2008, April 3). Florence Kelley (1859-1932): Social reformer, child welfare advocate, socialist and pacifist. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from

Resources related to this topic may be found in the Social Welfare History Image Portal.

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Reformers and Crusaders

Alexis de Tocqueville, a French traveler who wrote a classic report on American society, Democracy in America (1835), wrote, "in my view, more deserves attention than the intellectual and moral associations in America." He observed that "Americans of all ages, all stations of life and all dispositions are forever forming associations. There are not only commercial and industrial associations in which all take part, but others of a thousand different types - religious, moral, serious, futile, very general and very limited, very large and very minute."

What de Tocqueville encountered during his travels to the United States in the 1830s was the keen desire of many American citizens to come together to eradicate evil from 19th-century life and perpetuate the evangelical and liberal belief in the perfectibility of humankind. Mindful of their right to act on behalf of their beliefs, citizens from throughout the nation came together to right perceived wrongs and crusade on behalf of their causes, including observance of the Sabbath, crime and punishment, hours and conditions of work, poverty, care of the handicapped, temperance, women's rights, the abolition of slavery, and education, to name a few.

The reform efforts of the 1830s and 1840s are evidence of the belief held by many citizens that just as society is the creation of the people, so the improvement of society rests with the people. Ralph Waldo Emerson, speaking fondly of the reformers and reforms, may have summed it up best when he asked, "What is man made for, but to be a Reformer, a Remaker of what man has made?"

Abolitionist and Reformer Lucretia Mott

January 3, 2018, would have been Lucretia Coffin Mott’s 225th birthday. When it came to birthdays, Mott had a particular way of celebrating: she made candies without sugar for her guests. Mott is well known as an educator, an abolitionist, and a pioneer of women’s rights. But what did she have against sugar?

Adelaide Johnson, known as the "sculptress of the women's rights movement," made this bust of Lucretia Mott between 1890 and 1920. Before Johnson carved Mott’s likeness into marble, Mott carved a legacy for herself in history through her activism.

This medallion was a popular symbol for the abolition movement, first in Britain and then in the United States.

"We know this lady well, and for kindness, hospitality, benevolence, and purity of life, she had no superior," the editor of a Pittsburgh abolitionist newspaper wrote, "but . . . we should not be surprised if she should so far forget the true dignity of womanhood in her intractable zeal for what she terms ‘principle,’ as to attempt to take her seat as a delegate in the ‘World’s Anti-Slavery Convention.’ If she does, and mutual distrust, heart-burnings, and confusion result from such a step, upon her and her advisors will rest the tremendous onus of putting back the day of the slave’s redemption, and sacrificing mercy and righteousness to an insane caprice."

A group of five women that included Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott drafted the Declaration of Sentiments on this table at the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. Based on the Declaration of Independence, the Declaration of Sentiments proclaimed that "all men and women are created equal." The table is on display in American Democracy. Gift of National American Woman Suffrage Association. The distinctive cloak worn by Lucretia Mott shown here must have fully engulfed the woman who, always petite, was said to weigh only 76 pounds near the end of her life. It disguised an outsize spirit, however. "I must tell you how mother came in from the roadside," her daughter-in-law Marianna Mott once said. "Under that deceiving cloak of hers, which is supposed to be merely a covering for her little wire threads of legs, she carried eggs by the dozen, chickens and ‘a little sweet piece of pickled pork,’ mince pies, the vegetables of the season. She concealed how much of the way she had walked from the station or how broad a trail of dropped eggs she left behind her." Gift of Lucretia Mott (Churchill) Jordan.

Mott’s bonnet and shawl are on display in Religion in Early America through May 2018. Gift of Lucretia Mott (Churchill) Jordan.

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