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Edith Abbott Edit Profile

economist , educator , Social worker , author

Edith Abbott was an American economist, social worker, educator and author. Recipient survey award, National Conference Social Workers, 1952.


Abbott, Edith was born on September 26, 1876 in Grand Island, Nebraska, United States. Daughter of Othman A. and Elizabeth (Griffin) Abbott.


In 1893, Abbott graduated from Brownell Hall, a girls' boarding school in Omaha. However, her family could not afford to send her to college, so she began teaching high school in Grand Island. She took correspondence courses and attended summer sessions until she earned a degree from the University of Nebraska in 1901. After two more years as a teacher, Abbott attended the University of Chicago and received a Ph.D. in economics in 1905.

In 1906-1907, Abbott received a Carnegie Fellowship and continued her studies at University College London, and the London School of Economics. She learned from social reformers Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb, who championed new approaches to dealing with poverty. The Webbs influenced the direction of Abbott's career. The Webbs were in favour of repealing the British "poor laws" that they viewed as demeaning to people in poverty, and they supported establishing programs to eliminate poverty. While studying in London, Abbott lived part of the time in a social reformers' settlement in a poverty-stricken area of the East End, where she gained experience in social work.


Instructor political economy, Wellesley College, 1907-1908. Associate director Chicago School Civics, 1908-1920. Resident Hull-House, 1908-1920, 49-53.

Member of faculty University of Chicago, 1913-1953, professor, dean School of Society Service Administration, 1924-1942, dean emeritus, 1942-1953.


  • Abbott was a prominent immigration expert, working for reforms that would end exploitation of immigrants. She was appointed chair of the Committee on Crime and the Foreign Born of the Wickersham National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement (1929-31).

    In 1935, Abbott helped draft the Social Security Act. From 1942 to 1953, Abbott taught and edited the Social Service Review, which she had co-founded with Breckinridge in 1927.

    Abbott was known to be a confidant and special consultant to Harry Hopkins, adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

    Abbott was also notable for being appointed to a single case on the California Supreme Court in 1950, making her the first woman to sit on the state's supreme court.

    She became the first woman in United States history to become the dean of a major American university graduate school (University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration).

    During her career, Abbott wrote over 100 books and articles on a variety of topics. For this reason, she was known as the "passionate statistician." In her writing, Abbott 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.


  • book

    • "Women in Industry",

    • The Real Jail Problem

    • The Delinquent Child and the Home

    • Truancy and Non-Attendance in the Chicago Schools

    • Social Welfare and Professional Education

  • journal

    • Social Service Review

  • The University of Chicago Social Service Series of books and monographs

    • Immigration: Select Documents and Case Records

    • Historical Aspects of the Immigration Problem: Select Documents



Edith Abbott was among the most important Americans who were involved in the establishment of social work as a profession — a profession akin to those of law, medicine, and theology, requiring not merely the “good intentions” of its practitioners, but a scrupulous intellectual education and rigorous practical training.


Fellow American Statistical Association. Member American Association U. Women, National Child Labor Committee. Member American Economics Association, American Association Social Workers, Women’s Trade Union League, Phi Beta Kappa, Delta Gamma.

President National Conference of Social Work, 1937, Illinois Conference of Social Work, 1939. Clubs: College (Chicago), Cosmopolitan (New York City).


Othman A. Abbott - American

The first Lieutenant Governor of Nebraska

Elizabeth (Griffin) Abbott - American

An abolitionist and women’s suffrage leader.

Edith Abbot left a trust for a collection of non-fiction books in memory of her mother.

Grace - American


Sidney Webb

Social reformer

Beatrice Webb

Social reformer

An American author and Abbott's friend:
Willa Cather
Willa Cather - An American author and Abbott's friend of Edith Abbott

Abbott worked as an assistant to Sophonisba Breckinridge:
Sophonisba Preston Breckinridge

Director of social research at the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy