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A Celebration of Edith Abbott (Guest Post by Kim Wilkens)

Originally Posted at Kim’s Blog

Edith Abbott

I had an assignment this past semester to research 5 educational leaders and besides the very well-known like Montessori, there wasn’t a lot of source material for women.  As a women in tech, I’m used to the being in the minority and my gender underrepresented in the media, but I was a little surprised to find the same issue in education.  As David from the Cooperative Catalyst writes, “The majority of teachers in this country are women, their impact on the history of education is vast, but only a few are covered in textbooks on education or talked about among the major thinkers in the history of education.”

This lack of visibility and acknowledgement of the impact of women in education clearly points to a bigger societal issue.  It’s an issue that the film Miss Representation takes up – the media’s historical and ongoing misrepresentation of women.  Many found the film inspirational.  Frankly, I found it depressing to encounter so little progress in gender equity issues during my lifetime.  So, I’m always glad to see work like the crowdsourced celebration of women educators & philosophers.

The only woman I wound up researching was Edith Abbott because I was looking for someone in her time period and her work clearly had a big impact on linking social services with public education.  I think she also represents a prevailing mindset in women who face stereotypes – they persevere.  They see a problem that needs solving, they advocate for others and they passionately pursue a solution.  I know many educators, male and female, who embody these same qualities.

Edith Abbott (1876 – 1957) Social Reformer
Edith Abbot was born in 1876 in Grand Island, Nebraska.  Abbott graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1901 and earned a doctorate degree in economics from the University of Chicago in 1905.  She also studied at the London School of Economics and then taught economics at Wellesley College until 1908. Abbott became the Assistant Director of the Research Department of the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy, which eventually became the School of Social Service Administration, where she was Dean from 1924 to 1942. She was also a consultant to Harry Hopkins, an adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Abbott’s contribution to education was of an indirect nature.  She was passionate about women’s rights, child welfare and immigration reform.  She was primarily concerned with seeing that a strong support system was in place for those in need and that it was staffed by well-trained social workers.  When she came to Chicago, social service agencies were disparate and under church or private control.  During her work in social services, she was instrumental in the transformation of this support from a private concern to a public mandate.  She wrote extensively about social work and public welfare, built a foundation for social worker education and was instrumental in creating social welfare legislation.

Her impact on education can especially be seen through her concerns about poverty, child labor, truancy and immigrant integration.  In her study about truancy and non-attendance in the Chicago public schools, she upholds the need for compulsory education, but then shows how difficult it is for those living in poverty to comply.  Many of the recommendations made in her report; attendance-based funding, books provided free of charge, free meals for those in need and raising the compulsory education age to 16 are embedded in the current educational system.  It is in these recommended actions that she firmly links educational concerns with social welfare services.



Kim Wilkens is a technology activist,  currently pursuing her MEd with a focus on leadership at Mary Baldwin College. Her goal is to empower young people, especially girls, to imagine new futures for themselves as innovators and change agents in our technologically advancing world; providing them with solid foundational knowledge of computer science concepts and inspiring them to share their vision with the globally connected community. Find Kim Wilken:Kim’s Blog, TechKim, Teen Tech Girl, Tech Camp, Project Justice.


2 thoughts on “A Celebration of Edith Abbott (Guest Post by Kim Wilkens)

  1. Thank you for sharing this with the Coöp, Kim!


    Posted by Chad Sansing | June 3, 2012, 10:06 am


  1. Pingback: Women Educators and Philosophers: A Crowdsourced Celebration « Cooperative Catalyst - May 29, 2012

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