Florence Kelley

Lived:September 12, 1859—February 17, 1932 (aged 72)
Career:Social and political reformer
Education:Law degree, Northwestern University

Florence Kelley was an American social and political reformer who fought for government regulation to protect working women and children. She was the first female factory inspector in the United States.

Kelley was born on September 12, 1859. Her father was William D. Kelley, an abolitionist, founder of the Republican Party, judge and longtime U.S. Congressman. Her family were Philadelphia Quakers deeply committed to the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage and the education and literacy of women. She graduated from Cornell University in 1882 and studied law and government at the University of Zurich. As a student, she was a member of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, a member of the German Social Democratic party, and an activist for woman's suffrage and African American civil rights. Her English translation of Friedrich Engels' book, "The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844," is still in print today. She earned her law degree from Northwestern University in 1895.

From 1891 through 1899, Kelley lived at the Hull House settlement in Chicago. In 1892, the Illinois Bureau of Labor Statistics hired her to investigate the "sweating" system in the garment industry and the federal commissioner of labor asked her to survey Chicago's 19th ward. In 1983, she was appointed chief factory inspector, a newly created position, by Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld.

From 1899 through 1926, she lived at the Henry Street settlement house in New York City. In 1899, she founded and served as the first general secretary of the National Consumers League (NCL), a position she held for 30 years. Through her work at the NCL, she helped prepare the Brandeis Brief, a defense of 10-hour workday legislation for women that set the precedent of the Supreme Court's recognition of sociological evidence, used later in Brown v. Board of Education. She also helped launch a minimum-wage campaign that eventually lead to the passage of 14 state laws for women, and then she later helped extend the legislation to male workers. In 1902, Kelley was a founder of the National Child Labor Committee. In 1909, she helped organize the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1919, she was a founding member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. She also served as vice president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association for several years. She continued to advocate for working women and children until her death.

Kelley died on February 17, 1932, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.