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April 2012Vol. 13, No. 3Grace Abbott's Legacy

A column in the December 2011 and January 2012 issues of Prairie Fire, a Nebraska-based newspaper, featured the life's work of child welfare maven Grace Abbott and her legacy of social change. The column, "Sonny's Corner," focuses on justice and civil rights issues and explores the lives of heroes who made a difference in our society.

The December 2011 column highlights Abbott's work with the Immigrants' Protective League. Author Jane Renner Hood describes Abbott's family background, education, and early work.

Abbott's family had strong roots in Nebraska as well as in social reform. Her mother, Elizabeth, was a suffragette. Abbott's father, O.A., was an attorney and Nebraska's first Lt. Governor. Abbott and her sister Edith would later move to Chicago where, through Jane Addams' Hull House—a settlement house for immigrants—she began her work with the Immigrants' Protective League, fighting to provide immigrant families with the same rights and protection as other Americans. Among her immediate efforts was the regulation of banks that often treated immigrants unfairly.

Abbott recommended to the Bankers' Association that private banks should be regulated and all agents in the foreign exchange business be licensed and inspected. These recommendations laid the foundation for Illinois State legislation in 1917 that safeguarded money sent from immigrants in the U.S. to their families abroad.

Abbott later traveled to many of the immigrants' home countries to better understand the plight families faced when entering life in America. Upon her return, she was quoted as saying, "A great means of enriching our national life is lost if we give those who are coming from the various nations of Europe the impression that we desire to neglect all but the Anglo-Saxon element in our population."

The January 2012 column in Prairie Fire, also written by Hood, focused on Abbott's work with the Children's Bureau, with a particular focus on the 1916 Child Labor Law. The law prohibited child labor in mines for children under 16 and those under 14 in mills and factories. The law also banned children from working more than 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, or at night. Abbott worked on the law's implementation, establishing the rules and regulations, and evaluating which States were in compliance and which were not.

Hood also highlighted Abbott's influence in the passage of The Sheppard-Towner Act of 1921, the first major piece of Federal legislation aimed at improving maternal and infant health. That same year, Abbott became Children's Bureau Chief. She served under four presidents during her tenure with the Children's Bureau from 1921 to 1934.

The December 2011 issue of Prairie Fire is available here:

The January 2012 issue of Prairie Fire is available here:  

Related Item

Chicago's Hull House, founded by Jane Addams in 1889, closed its doors in January 2012 after more than 120 years. Addams spearheaded the social reform movement on behalf of immigrants, children, and women. Abbott began her work to better the lives of immigrants and children at Hull House, along with her sister Edith.

For more information on Hull House, visit the Jane Addams Hull House Association website: