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date: 24 October 2017

Abbott, Edith

Abstract and Keywords

Edith Abbott (1876–1957) was a social worker and educator. She was Dean of the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago from 1924 to 1942 and she helped in drafting the Social Security Act of 1935.

Keywords: public welfare, social welfare, children's allowances, means tests, state

Edith Abbott, Dean of the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago from 1924 to 1942, was one of the chief architects of the new model of social work education. Abbott was born in Grand Island, Nebraska, the daughter of Elizabeth Griffin Abbott, a high school principal and a women's suffrage leader, and Othman Abbott, first Lieutenant governor of Nebraska. Her sister, Grace Abbott, was born two years later. Edith Abbott graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1901, received her PhD in economics from the University of Chicago in 1905, and studied at the London School of Economics. In 1908, after teaching economics at Wellesley, she became assistant director of the research department of the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy (later incorporated as part of the University of Chicago).

Abbott emphasized the state's responsibility in social problems, the importance of public welfare administration, the social aspects of legislation, and the need for a more humane social welfare system. She was president of the National Conference of Social Work and the American Association of Schools of Social Work and was a founder of and frequent contributor to the Social Service Review. Abbott helped in establishing the Cook County Bureau of Public Welfare in 1926 and in drafting the Social Security Act of 1935. At the 1951 National Conference of Social Work, accepting an award for her contributions to social work, she gave a fiery speech demanding abolishment of means tests and establishment of children's allowances. Her books include Immigration: Selected Documents and Case Records (1924), The Tenements of Chicago, 1908–1935 (1936), Public Assistance (1941), and Social Welfare and Professional Education (1942). See also Two Sisters for Social Justice: A Biography of Grace and Edith Abbott (1983), by Lela B. Costin.