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Edith and Grace Abbott, Social Work Papers

Identifier: MS-0129

Scope and Contents

The papers of Edith Abbott contain professional and personal correspondence, lecture notes for courses taught at the University of Chicago School of Social Administration (SSA), articles, the draft of the unfinished biography of Grace Abbott, and biographical materials. The papers reflect Edith's interests centered on the status of women in industry and the establishment of high professional standards in social work education. The papers of Grace Abbott contain personal and professional correspondence, articles, speeches, radio broadcasts, biographical material, and materials relating to the United States Children's Bureau and the the Child Labor Amendment of 1924-25. Grace devoted her career to the conditions of child labor and to maternal and child health issues. Both sisters shared an interest in the problems of the immigrant and the public assistance programs of the New Deal. Within the collection, correspondents include Jane Addams, Sophonisba Breckinridge, Julia Lathrop, Frank Norris, Frances Perkins, Samuel Ratcliffe and Julius Rosenwald. Subjects include child labor laws, child welfare, immigration, philanthropy, and public welfare administration.


  • Creation: 1866-1978


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Property rights reside with the University of Nebraska. Copyrights are retained by the creators of the papers/records or their designees. For permission to reproduce or to publish, please contact Archives & Special Collections. 

Biographical / Historical

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 a degree from Grand Island College in 1890 and attended the University of Nebraska. She received her Ph.M. 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


10 Linear Feet (20 boxes)

Language of Materials


Related Materials

RG 05-10-01, Samuel Avery, Correspondence, 1908-1928, on honorary degree for Edith Abbott at University of Nebraska RG 31-01-06, on Abbott collection RG 12-22-10, James M. Reinhardt, Papers, reference to Edith Abbott RG 32-01-01, Erwin H. Barbour, Papers, reference to Edith Abbott, 1904, 1905

The University of Chicago Library houses selected papers of Edith and Grace Abbott, including correspondence, speeches, academic and professional materials, and biographical information. Access to the finding aid for the collection is available from the Special Collections Research Center. In addition, papers relating to the Abbott Family, and a finding aid, can be located at the History Nebraska.

Original finding aid created by Ginger Uzendoski; Machine-readable finding aid encoded by Karen Anderson (2008) and Ginger Uzendoski (2006), University of Nebraska–Lincoln Libraries 2004
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Repository Details

Part of the Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries Repository

Archives & Special Collections
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries
P.O. Box 884100
Lincoln NE 68588-4100 United States