It has been 100 years since the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution* and women began to cast their votes in federal elections. Many sorority members were involved in the efforts that led to the passage of this piece of landmark legislation and so much more to advance a variety of women’s rights. In an effort to celebrate and commemorate the dedication of these women, we will be featuring one suffragist a month during 2020. We will share how these women played a role in the suffrage movement and in her sorority community.
Sorority women have been making change since the founding of our organizations. Grace Abbott, an alumna of Delta Gamma, was no exception. She paved her own path and inspired the future generations of women to do the same.
Grace’s success has much to do with her drive for education. She attended Grand Island College where she graduated in 1898. She then attended both the University of Nebraska and the University of Chicago to obtain her graduate degrees. During her tenure at the University of Nebraska is when Grace joined the Kappa chapter of Delta Gamma along with her sister, Edith. The girls were only two years apart, Edith being the eldest sister, and they maintained a close relationship their whole lives. Their mother, Elizabeth Abbott was very active in the women’s suffrage movement, hosting meetings and events in their home. The family was close with Susan B. Anthony who often stayed with them.
Growing up in a family of activists influenced Grace’s lifelong advocacy work. She spent many years fighting and advocating for immigrants, serving as director for the Immigrants’ Protective League of Chicago and working closely with legislation and Congress. This role inspired her to write a book entitled, The Immigrant and the Community, which was published in 1917.
In 1907, Grace moved to Chicago where she started her career as a social worker. She became a fierce advocate in the fight against child labor and during her lifetime helped improve the health care of children in America. She was also one of the first women broadcasters that reached a national audience when she hosted a radio show entitled “Your Child” on NBC in the 1920s. The press came to recognize her as “Mother of America’s 43 million children,” due to her work improving the lives of countless children.
Appointed by President Warren G. Harding, Grace served as the head of the Children’s Bureau. She served in this role from 1921-1934, making her the highest-ranking woman in the U.S. government for over a decade. In addition, she was the first woman to be nominated for a Presidential cabinet position for the Secretary of Labor.
After resigning from the Children’s Bureau in 1934, she then was selected to be a professor of public welfare at the University of Chicago in their School of Social Service Administration. Not too long after, she was on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Council of Economic Security, helping plan the social security system.
Grace’s passion led her to places in government that very few women found themselves during this time. Over the years, her accomplishments spoke louder than words paved the way for future women. Through her passion, leadership and desire to help others, she continues to inspire the sorority women still to this day.
*NPC and The Sorority Life acknowledge the 19th Amendment didn’t automatically create equality for all women and that for these last 100 years many women have had to continue to challenge privilege granted to others based on ethnicity, race, identity and sexuality. Yet as a women’s-only organization, we also want to acknowledge that the 19th Amendment was a major first step for all of our members.
Art of the Day – Stanleymuseum.uiowa.edu
Edith and Grace Abbott, Delta Gamma, #WHM18, #notablesororitywomen – Franbecque.com
Grace Abbott, American Social Worker – Britannica.com
Cover Photo: Grace Abbott
Photo: Library of Congress
Digital ID cph 3c11723