18 Radicals Who Fought Against Workplace Atrocities and Cruel Treatment

18 Radicals Who Fought Against Workplace Atrocities and Cruel Treatment

Donna Patricia Ward - November 1, 2018

18 Radicals Who Fought Against Workplace Atrocities and Cruel Treatment
Florence Kelley. Wikipedia.

3. A Divorced, Single Mom Forces Change: Florence Kelley

Florence Kelley was a radical in the settlement house movement. The daughter of a Philadelphia judge and congressman, Florence was born in 1858. She had four sisters, all of whom died before they were six years old. At just 16 she attended Cornell University with dreams of going on to law school. When the University of Pennsylvania denied her application based solely on her sex, she moved to Switzerland to attend the University of Zurich. While there she met a medical student and became a socialist.

Lazare Wischnewetzky married Florence Kelley in 1884. Their marriage produced three children, debt, and abuse. In 1891 the couple divorced and Kelley returned to the United States. She was asked to join the social experiment happening in Chicago. With her children in tow, Kelley arrived at Hull-House on a snowy morning after Christmas day. The first face that Kelley and her children saw was that of Jane Addams when she opened the door and welcomed them inside. Florence Kelley radicalized Hull-House and the settlement house movement in a way that no one else did.

Unlike many of her counterparts, Kelley was not deeply religious and refused to seek solutions to the plight of the working and immigrant classes through prayer, priests, and scripture. Instead, she demanded that the men and women of the settlement house movement act on the behalf of those men, women, and children who were living in overcrowded tenements and working 14 hours per day at factories six days per week for the fraction required to move into the middle class. Florence Kelley almost single-handedly turned settlement houses, particularly Hull-House, into sociological and economic research centers.

Florence Kelley’s life-long concern for the plight of working women and children led her to advocate for the improvement of the garment industry in Chicago. Already experienced in starting up guilds to assist working women with labor and living conditions, Kelley established the Bureau of Women’s Labor as an offshoot of the Chicago’s Women’s Club. Through this bureau, Kelley convinced the Illinois Bureau of Labor Statistic to hire her and she embarked on a study of labor conditions in Chicago’s garment industry. For the rest of her live, Florence Kelley advocated for the working classes and fought for labor rights and equality. She died in 1932.

18 Radicals Who Fought Against Workplace Atrocities and Cruel Treatment
Dr. Alice Hamilton, date unknown. Wikipedia.

2. “Get the Lead Out!” Pioneer in Industrial Medicine: Dr. Alice Hamilton

Born in New York, Alice Hamilton grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Throughout her life education was important and her family’s wealth allowed Alice to attended medical school in an era when most women were forced to marry to retain a level of economic comfort. Initially she attended medical school to become a medical missionary. When she determined that she would not be good as a missionary, she settled for being able to “care for the sick.” After graduating fro the University of Michigan Medical School she interned at two hospitals for women and children.

Alice developed an interested in bacteriology, a subdivision of microbiology. She traveled to Berlin to study there, but was turned away for being a woman. Instead she studied in Frankfurt, Munich, and Leipzig before returning to the United States to complete a one-year residency at the Johns Hopkins University Medical School. In 1897 she accepted a position as a professor of pathology at the Women’s Medical School of Northwestern University in Chicago. After hearing Jane Addams speak about the work being done at Hull-House, Dr. Alice Hamilton moved in and became a full-time resident at the famous settlement house from 1897-1919.

Dr. Alice Hamilton spent her days at Northwestern and her evenings teaching English, art, and sports at Hull-House. During her stay at Hull-House she headed a baby wellness clinic and a visiting nurses program. Through both of these ventures, Alice visited with neighborhood residents that worked in nearby garment and steel factories 14 to 16 hours a day and lived in overcrowded and unsanitary tenements. Early on at Hull-House, Alice began researching on the causes of typhoid and tuberculosis, diseases that were common and devastating in the poor, working-class neighborhood surrounding Hull-House.

After her years at Hull-House, Dr. Hamilton became a pioneer in the field of occupational epidemiology and industrial hygiene. Examining the impacts of chemicals and elements on the lives of workers and their children made Hamilton a powerhouse in public health and occupational reforms. Her research and advocacy led to industrial companies to be accountable for the work environments of their laborers. As a special investigator for the uS Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1925, she advocated for the removal of lead and mercury from common products such as gasoline and paint. In 1978 the United States had made it illegal to use or produce paint that contained led.

18 Radicals Who Fought Against Workplace Atrocities and Cruel Treatment
Portrait of Jane Addams by George de Forest Brush, circa 1906. Wikipedia.

1. Kicking Gender Norms to the Curb: Jane Addams

She was known simply as Saint Jane. Born in 1860 just months before the outbreak of Civil War, Jane’s young life was touched by death. Her mother died when she was 2 and many families in Cedarville, Illinois, had sons that were killed in battle. Jane was astute in the complexities of human emotions. She understood the sadness of the mothers and fathers that lost children while at the same time she had a drive to affect change. An outcast due to a childhood illness that left her with a limp, she dreamed of becoming a doctor. Fate had other plans for Jane Addams.

In September 1889, Jane Addams and a college friend, Ellen Gates Starr, opened Hull-House. Located in a poor, immigrant community, Jane defied gender roles and stepped out of the over-protected world of lady-like femininity and into the world of sociological research and reform. Scholars have written a great deal about the activities and sociological studies that came out of Hull-House. And while Jane Addams was a key player in that, it is often overlooked that she was excellent at convincing people to support her “social experiment.”

Public speaking is difficult but Jane had a gift. She often entered the home of Chicago’s wealthiest families or went on speaking tours to various organizations and turned beautiful phrases that garnered her with massive financial support. When speaking engagements were not scheduled, she invited the press to report on the social gatherings, classes, and theater performances occurring at Hull-House. Not all of the reports were favorable, but Jane Addams knew in 1889 that all publicity was good.

Jane Addams was critical of the federal government and its failure to protect children and women from industrialists’ profits. She was no fan of a free market economy and her outspoken published works led to numerous raids on Hull-House. Undeterred, Jane Addams continued to fight for peace and equity for immigrants and the poor. In 1931 she became the first woman awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Jane Addams died on 21 May 1935. As her casket left Hull-House, the city of Chicago shut down to pay its last collective respect to the woman that made the working poor and immigrants visible.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Bryan, Mary Lynn McCree and Allen F. Davis, eds. 100 Years at Hull-House. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1990.

Goldfield, David, Carl Abbot, Peter H. Argersinger, William L. Barney, Virginia DeJohn Anderson, Robert M. Weir, and Jo-Ann E. Argersinger. The American Journey: A History of the United States 4th ed. combined volume. Boston: Prentice-Hall, 2011.

Holli, Melvin G. And Peter d’A. Jones, eds. Ethnic Chicago: A Multicultural Portrait 4th ed. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Knight, Louise W. Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Miller, Donald L. City of the Century: The Epic Of Chicago and the Making of America. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1996.

Jane Addams Hull-House Museum

Settlement Movement – Wikipedia

Alice Hamilton – Wikipedia

Julia C. Lathrop Homes – Wikipedia

Sophonisba Breckinridge – Wikipedia

Hunter Robert – VCU Libraries

Frances Perkins – Wikipedia

Alzina Stevens – Wikipedia

Edith Abbott – Wikipedia

Grace Abbott – Wikipedia

Rachelle Slobodinsky Yarros – UIC

Mary Rozet Smith – Wikipedia