Florence Kelley and the Nation's Work


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The Rise of Women`s Political Culture, 1830-1900

Kathryn Kish Sklar

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This masterful biography by one of America's foremost historians of women tells the story of Florence Kelley, a leading reformer in the Progressive Era. The book also serves as a political history of the United States during a period of transforming change when women worked to end the abuses of unregulated industrial capitalism. Kelley's story shows how changes in women's public culture combined with changes in men's public culture to produce results that neither could have achieved alone.

In this volume, the first of two, Kathryn Kish Sklar explores the decades between 1830 and 1900, an era when women's organizations lent unprecedented power to their activism. After analyzing how earlier generations set the stage for women's centrality in the 1890s, she depicts the first forty years of Florence Kelley's life, telling of her childhood as a member of an elite Philadelphia family, her graduation from Cornell University in 1882, her immersion in European socialism, her search for a meaningful place within American political culture, and her rise to extraordinary public power in Chicago as a resident at Jane Addams's Hull House.
Kelley's long career demonstrates that women's activism embodied the most deeply rooted characteristics of the American polity, particularly American traditions of voluntarism and limited government, the weakness of class as a vehicle for political mobilization, and the strength of gender. During the crisis-ridden years of massive immigration, industrialization, and urbanization between 1870 and 1900, Florence Kelley and other women offered an effective alternative to the male-dominated status quo.

Kathryn Kish Sklar is Distinguished Professor of History at the State University of New York Binghamton. She is the author of Catharine Beecher, and has edited The Social Survey in Historical Perspective, Women and Power in American History, and U.S. History as Women's History.

"The facts of Florence Kelley's life speak directly and eloquently, and Kathryn Kish Sklar has added richly to the history of women who have done, as she puts it, the nation's work."—Dorothy Gallagher, New York Times Book Review

"Authoritative, superbly researched, this carefully crafted study brings Florence Kelley and a fascinating group of U.S. reformers to life. Comparative history at its best, it makes gender central to the history of Progressivism. The history of the Progressive era will never be the same. A great achievement."—Gerda Lerner, Robinson-Edwards Professor of History, Emerita, University of Wisconsin

"Sklar has used her extraordinary talent as a biographer to reveal both intensely personal aspects of Florence Kelley's life and the dynamics of social reform in late nineteenth- century America. The consistency of Kelley's quest to impose social regulation on industrial life and the variety of movements through which she endeavored to employ her education and expertise toward that goal provide the author with a singular opportunity to explore the political culture within which Kelley functioned. Sklar makes the most of that opportunity."—David Montgomery, Farnam Professor of History, Yale University

"This volume should be purchased by every library with substantial holdings in American history."  --Choice

"With the publication of the first volume of Kathryn Sklar's long-awaited biography of Florence Kelley, one of the major builders of the US welfare state can assume her rightful place at the center of its history. . . . Sklar guides the reader skillfully through Kelley's complex intellectual and political development. . . . Sklar has once again created a conceptual framework capacious enough to accommodate not only her immediate subject but an entire era of women's history."—Sonya Michel, Women's Review of Books

"A stunning achievement. . . . [A] detailed, telling, and extensive analysis. . . . Magisterial."—Lois Scharf, Reviews in American History

"Sklar's richly illustrated an meticulously researched biography, 15 years in the making, is a stunning synthesis of the personal experience ad historical events that shaped Kelley's life and made her great. . . . [Kelley] has knit together personal history with social context and has herself evolved from historian and biographer into a scholar who impressively bridges the boundaries of many fields."—American Journal of Sociology

"In Florence Kelley Sklar reaffirms her position as one of the nation's most gifted biographers. . . . Sklar's new biography elucidates the public culture of the late nineteenth century as it explores the life of a leading American reformer. . . . [A] beautifully written and profoundly important work."—Robyn Muncy, Journal of American History

"Sklar's Florence Kelley is a fascinating and important reformer: visionary, intelligent, aggressive, ambitious, and radical. Sklar excels in providing comparative history, and in unsnarling complex legal and political issues. . . . Scholars . . . will rejoice in Sklar's important achievement."—Nancy C. Unger, History

"Sklar has given us a much-needed comprehensive biography of one of the nation's most energetic, creative, and influential social reformers. . . . Sklar demonstrates convincingly that women like Kelley were able, despite their exclusion from mainstream political reform culture, to fundamentally shape the modern American welfare state."—Susan Levine, International Labor & Working Class History

"Sklar's wonderfully written volume greatly enhances our understanding of the forces which can shape a person's life. She has also added great depth to the literature on the development of women's political culture. . . . Personally, I can't wait to read the second volume so I can discover just how far such influences took Kelley in the cause of feminist-pacifism."—Harriet Hyman Alonso, Peace & Change

"Sklar's is an ambitious biography, based on exhaustive research. She fully chronicles Kelley's active and complex life. . . . Sklar does an excellent job of moving between the details of Kelley's life and the wider world within which she acted."—Gary L. Bailey, Pennsylvania History

"Florence Kelley lived a remarkable life, one certainly worthy of a great biography. Kathryn Kish Sklar is among our most accomplished biographers of American women. In this case, subject and author combine to produce a work of great significance. . . . Florence Kelley's life was simply quite extraordinary, and Sklar does a wonderful job of telling her story (with an appropriate emphasis on her work in the sphere of public social reform). I, for one, can hardly wait for the next installment."—John L. Rury, American Journal of Education

"A splendid addition to the literature of Progressive era politics, this first-rate biography deserves all the praise it has received. Sklar's admirers eagerly await the next installment."—Nancy Woloch, Barnard College, Political Science Quarterly

"A compelling tapestry of individual biography, organizational analysis, and reconstruction of the social settings in which women made history, but not exactly as they pleased. . . . In reconstructing Kelley's life, Sklar has produced an elegant and compelling double portrait of life and times."—Elisabeth S. Clemens, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Engrossing. . . . Based on voluminous research [and] written with a compelling narrative command . . . Florence Kelley and the Nation's Work is a model of biography that captures the subject while using her to illuminate historical processes of which her life was part."—Dana Frank, Nation

Winner of the 1998 Outstanding Book Award given by the ARNOVA-the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations

Voluntary Action Winner of the 1996 Women Historians Book Prize given by the Berkshire Conference

Awarded a 1995 Honorable Mention in the History category given by the Association of American Publishers Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division (AAP/PSP) Awards
ISBN: 9780300072853
Publication Date: August 25, 1997
458 pages, 7 x 10
53 b/w illus.
Women's Rights and Transatlantic Antislavery in the Era of Emancipation

Edited by Kathryn Kish Sklar and James Brewer Stewart

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