Women and the Fight for Reform
Women in the late 19th century, except in the few western states
where they could vote, were denied much of a role in the governing process.
Nonetheless, educated the middle-class women saw themselves as a morally
uplifting force and went on to be reformers.
Jane Addams opened the social settlement of Hull House in 1889. It
offered an array of services to help the poor deal with slum housing,
disease, crowding, jobless, infant mortality, and environmental hazards.
For women who held jobs, Hull House ran a day-car center and a
boardinghouse. Addams was only one of many early reformers to take up
social work. Jane Porter Barrett, an African American, founded the Locust
Street Social Settlement in Hampton, Virginia, in 1890. Her settlement
offered black women vital instruction in child care and in skills of a
being a homemaker.
Lillian Wald, a daughter of Jewish immigrants from New York City,
began a visiting- nurse service to reach those too poor to pay for doctors
and hospitals. Her Henry Street Settlement offered a host of vital
services for immigrants and the poor. Wald suggested the formation of a
Federal Children's Bureau.
By the end of the 19th century, many women reformers focused on the
need for state laws to restrict child labor. Young children from poor
families had to work late hours in mines and mills and were exploited by
plant managers. No state laws prevented the children from being overworked
One of the first to challenge the exploitation of orphaned or
dependent children was Sophie Loeb, a Jewish immigrant from Russia Once
her father was deceased, she watched the desperation of her mother as the
family slipped into poverty. As a journalist, Loeb campaigned for window's
pensions when this was still a new idea.
Helen Stuart Campbell, born in 1839 in New York, began her public
career as an author of children's books. Then she used novels to expose
slim life's damaging effect on women. In 1859 she wrote a novel about two
women who break from their dependence on men and chart new lives. Campbell
also wrote how easy it was fir women's lives to be ruined by poverty and
despair. Some women went beyond advocating reform to promoting revolution.
There are many other famous women who helped lead the fight to
reform. Like Florence Kelley. In 1891 Kelley worked with Addams at Hull
House and became an investigator for the Illinois Bureau of Labor, and then
was appointed the U.S. Commissioner of Labor. In 1891 Kelley returned to
New York City and worked with Wald's Henry Street Settlement and helped
create the U.S. Children's Bureau. In 1921 secured passage of the Infant
and Maternity Protection Act.
More than anyone else, Ida B. Wells exposed lynchings as a crime
against humanity. er 40 years of unrelenting effort failed to stop the
crime and did not produce a federal anti lynching law. However, lynchings
decreased by 80 percent after her campaign began, and her documented
evidence on the crime of lynching and her commitment to justice roused the
world's conscience. By the time Wells died in 1931, other women and men
had picked up her touch.