NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Edith Abbott (1876-1957)
Edith Abbott was born in Grand Island, Nebraska to active, civic minded parents. Her mother was an abolitionist and women's suffrage leader and her father was the first Lieutenant Governor of Nebraska. Her sister, Grace, was born two years later and their lives were intertwined with mutual interests and involvement in the public welfare and federal and state responsibilities involving social problems.
Abbott was graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1901 and earned her doctoral degree in economics from the University of Chicago in 1905. She also studied at the London School of Economics. Abbott taught economics at Wellesley College until 1908 when she became Assistant Director of the Research Department of the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy, which later became part of the University of Chicago, the School of Social Service Administration. Abbott was Dean of the School of Social Service Administration from 1924 to 1942.
Abbott's contributions were unique, significant, and extensive. She stressed the importance and the essential need of a public welfare administration; the need for a more humane social welfare system; the responsibility of the state in relation to social problems; and the social aspects of legislation.
Abbott helped establish the Cook County Bureau of Public Welfare in 1926. She assisted in drafting the Social Security Act of 1935. Abbott was a confidant and special consultant to Harry Hopkins, adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Abbott was President of the National Conference of Social Work and the American Association of Schools of Social Work. She was a founder of Social Service Review. Her publications, basic documents in the field of social work and public welfare, are numerous. Additional information may be found in Two Sisters for Social Justice: A Biography of Grace and Edith Abbott by Lela Costin.