Frances Kellor

Frances Kellor (1873-1952) was an activist who be lieved that the government could most effectively bring about social reform.

A social scientist who believed that government was the most effective vehicle for bringing about social reform, Frances Kellor played an important role in Theodore Roosevelt's 1912 presidential campaign. Her career in the 1910s illustrates the new political influence that educated women could exert through the application of their expertise on a range of social issues.

Early Achievements

Born in Columbus, Ohio on 20 October 1873, Francis Alice Kellor was raised by her mother, Mary Sprau Kellor, in a single-parent household. When Frances Alice Kellor was two, her mother took her two daughters to live in the small town of Coldwater, Michigan, where she supported her two children by working as a housekeeper and washerwoman. Kellor later listed her pastor at the First Presbyterian Church as one of the people who motivated her social reform. After earning a law degree from Cornell University in 1897, Kellor enrolled at the University of Chicago to study sociology part-time. There she studied aspects of unemployment and crime, arguing in her first book, Experimental Sociology (1901), that the origins of crime were to be located in disadvantaged childhoods, low levels of education, and unemployment and asserting the importance of reforming criminals in prisons. In 1900 she traveled in the southern states to study the living and working conditions of African Americans and subsequently published a series of articles recommending improvements in public schooling and the establishment of vocational-training schools, employment bureaus, and labor unions. In 1902 Kellor began studying women's employment bureaus in the urban North. The result of her research was Out of Work: A Study of Employment Agencies (1904), which concluded that the federal government ought to become involved in solving the systematic economic problems that led to unemployment. Her emphasis on government as the vehicle by which social reforms could best be achieved was the approach that many social-science-minded reformers took during the Progressive Era.


Municipal Reform

In 1904 Kellor became general director of the Inter-Municipal Committee on Household Research, and the following year she moved to New York City to live with Mary Dreier, head of the organization's legislative committee, which prepared legislative bills on child labor, tenement-house law, and employment agencies. Kellor and Dreier lived together until Kellor's death in 1952. In 1906 Kellor was instrumental in organizing the National League for the Protection of Colored Women, which sought to educate African American women who had recently migrated to New York City and to assist those women in finding places to live and jobs. Kellor served as the first executive secretary of the organization. Appointed to the New York State Immigration Commission in 1908, Kellor joined the other commissioners in investigating urban immigrant living and working conditions, and—finding these conditions to be appallingly poor—they asserted the need for a state bureau to examine further their problems. Accordingly, in 1910 Kellor was appointed head of the New York State Bureau of Industries and Immigration. Under Kellor's direction the bureau championed worker safety and educational services.


Progressive Party

The Progressive Party of 1912 was an expression of the will to power of several groups in American society who agreed to work together in coalition to further each of their goals. Among the two most important elements in the Progressive Party that year were social scientists. For years social scientists such as Kellor had been urging social reform through the use of the state. Indeed, the Progressive Party platform adopted a plank on "social and industrial justice" that a group of social scientists had put forward at the annual National Convention of Charities and Corrections in June 1912. Kellor was head of the Progressive Party's National Service Committee, the party's administrative board. During the presidential campaign in 1912 Kellor led the party's research and publicity committee, prepared campaign statements, and roused support for Roosevelt and the party among other social reformers. She was also instrumental in shaping Roosevelt's campaign agenda. According to historian John Higham, Kellor "did more than anyone else to direct Roosevelt's growing reformist zeal toward the special plight of the urban immigrant."


New Interests

In the 1916 presidential campaign Kellor supported the candidacy of Republican Charles Evans Hughes. In the same year she also directed the National Americanization Committee, and following World War I she became an expert in international arbitration. She was a founding member of the American Arbitration Association in the mid-1920s, and published Arbitration in the New Industrial Society in 1934.

Further Reading on Frances Kellor

Ellen Fitzpatrick, Endless Crusade: Women Social Scientists and Progressive Reform (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).

John Louis Recchiuti, "The Origins of American Progressivism: New York's Social Science Community" (Ph.D., Diss., Columbia University 1992).