In 1871, when she was twelve years old, Florence’s father, United States congressman, William Darrah “Pig Iron” Kelley, (a self-made man who renounced his business activities to become an abolitionist, a founder of the Republican party and a judge, and worked for numerous political and social reforms, including the NAACP), took her to a Pennsylvania glass factory on a tour. When she went inside she observed dirty, exhausted children laboring with pots full of acid and crouching over fires in sweltering heat. She discovered that there were over 1 million children working in these hot, crowded and unsafe conditions. Every year tens od thousands of children died or were seriously injured in work related accidents. Kelley knew something had to be done.
Kelley moved to New York City where she married a fellow member of the Socialist Labor Party, the Polish-Russian physician, Lazare Wischnewetzky in 1844. The marriage ended in divorce in December 1891, after many years of estrangement (it was said he was physically and verbally abusive). She changes her name back to ‘Kelley’, and assumes custody of the three children, who also adopt her maiden name. She left Lazare and moved to Chicago (where it was easier to attain a divorce) with her children. Soon after arriving in the city she joined Jane Addams, Ellen Gates Starr, Alzina Stevens, Mary McDowell, Edith Abbott, Grace Abbott, Julia Lathrop, Alice Hamilton, Sophonisba Breckinridge and other social reformers at Hull House, an amazing group of women, whose faith, strength and intelligence made a huge difference in how women, African Americans, and children were regarded and treated.
In 1899 Kelley helped establish the radical (for its time), watchdog group, the National Consumer’s League (NCL). The main objective of the organization was to achieve a fair minimum wage and a limitation on the working hours of women and children. Kelley, the first head of the NCL, traveled the country giving lectures on abhorrible working conditions in the United States; this helping to educate consumers, so they in turn put pressure on companies, who were prospering off their paychecks.
An example of this type of “pressure” was the NCL White Label, thought up by Kelley. The program offered the NCL’s White Label for display in advertising and businesses to employers whose labor practices met with the NCL’s approval for fairness and safety. The NCL then urged consumers to boycott all companies that failed to meet the NCL’s standards.
[Two girls wearing banners with slogan “ABOLISH CH[ILD] SLAVERY!!” in English and Yiddish, one carrying American flag; spectators stand nearby. Probably taken during May 1, 1909 labor parade in New York City.
George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress).]
In September 1905, Kelley joined with Upton Sinclair and Jack London to form the Intercollegiate Socialist Society. Over the next few years she was a frequent speaker on American campuses. This led to meeting Frances Perkins, a students she recruited to the cause, who was eventually to become the country’s first woman cabinet minister and responsible for bringing an end to child labor in America.
Some other groups Kelley was involved with dealt with women’s suffrage and African American civil rights issues. Kelley helped to establish the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909. A committed pacifist, Kelley opposed USA involvement in the First World War and was a member of the Woman’s Peace Party (WPP) and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).
Kelley wrote several books including, Some Ethical Gains Through Legislation (1905), Modern Industry in Relation to the Family (1914), The Supreme Court and Minimum Wage Legislation (1925) and Autobiography (1927).
Florence Kelley, 74, died in Germantown (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) on 17th February, 1932.
Florence Kelley is someone who inspires me.