NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Grace Abbott (1878 - 1939)
Grace Abbott was a political activist and social reformer whose pioneering contributions were in the areas of child labor legislation, child welfare issues, protection of immigrants' rights, women's rights, and social security. Throughout her career, Abbott was able to utilize her intellectual talents, sense of humor, and quick sense of wit in order to tirelessly fight for the causes in which she believed.
Abbott completed a bachelor's degree at Grand Island College in 1898 and a master's degree at the University of Chicago in 1909. In 1898, Abbott became a high school teacher, and in 1908 Sophonisba Breckenridge arranged for Abbott to be appointed as director of the Chicago Immigrants' Protective League. Through writings, lobbying, and testifying before Congress, Abbott proved herself to be a staunch supporter of immigrant's rights. During this period, Abbott was living at Hull House with her sister, Edith and together they became active in a number of other political activities including the fight for women's rights.
From 1917 to 1919, Abbott worked as an administrator with the Children's Bureau where she undertook the task of ensuring child labor protection. In 1919, Abbott returned to Chicago and was appointed by the governor to be the director of the newly-established Illinois Immigration Commission. By 1921 Abbott returned to the Children's Bureau as the director. At the Bureau, she undertook the task of enforcing and administering the controversial Sheppard Towner Act. Although considered to be "a concession to communism," the Act ensured the establishment of health care for children and prenatal women, and provided grants-in-aid to the states to develop health care programs.
In 1934, Abbott retired from the Children's Bureau and became a professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. While in this position, she continued her public service efforts both nationally and internationally, and was an instrumental factor in the passing of the Social Security Act. From 1934 to 1939, Abbott was an editor of the