Women and the Fight for ReformWomen 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
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
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
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 or abused.
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
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.
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