Florence Kelley (1859-1932) fought to implement child labor laws, minimum wages, maximum working hours, industrial health control, prenatal care to lower maternal and infant mortality. She was among the late 19th and early 20th centuries militant women, including Jane Addams, Julia Lathrop, Lillian Wald and others, who have come to be called social reformers. Her close friend and fellow worker, Josephine Goldmark (1877-1950), tells a sympathetic yet richly detailed story of Florence Kelley’s energetic life and accomplishments.
At the turn of the 20th century and afterward, the 12-hour workday and the 7-day workweek prevailed in many industries. The sweatshop was commonplace. In most states women and young girls worked long hours unregulated by law. Child labor, beginning at age 10 or 12, was the normal pattern for the poor. That such social evils have largely disappeared is due in large part to the insistent and impatient crusading of Florence Kelley as Chief Inspector of Factories for Illinois; at Hull House in Chicago and the Henry Street Settlement in New York; as General Secretary of the National Consumers League; to establish the U.S. Children’s Bureau; in the National Woman Suffrage Association, the National Child Labor Committee and the General Federation of Women’s Clubs.
Florence Kelley worked with the law, especially with Boston lawyer Louis D. Brandeis, spent herself tirelessly in research to document the legal basis for shorter working hours for women, an investigation now famous as the “Brandeis Brief.” Indignant and eloquent, she stimulated the investigation of the use of radium in luminous paint, to end deaths from poisoning of dial painters in watch factories.
“When Mrs. Kelley began her career as chief factory inspector in Illinois in 1893 there were no minimum wage laws. The 12-hour-day and 7-day-week prevailed in the steel industry. Sweat shops were legion. Tenement home work which enlisted mothers and children at low wages and long hours was the rule. These were the evils which Mrs. Kelley fought as a pioneer. In these pages Josephine Goldmark, her friend, associate and fellow worker, brings home to us in simple and vivid language the story of that long, patient struggle which paved the way for later reforms.” — Louis Stark, The New York Times
“A more sympathetic biographer for the late Florence Kelley could scarcely have been found than the scholarly woman who was her co-worker during thirty of the forty years of her immensely active public career. Josephine Goldmark’s life of Mrs. Kelley is fine alike for the delicacy of its insights into her colleague’s basic motivations and for its tact in presenting the controversial aspects of her life and of the important legislative reforms in which she played a decisive role.” — Louise M. Young, The American Historical Review
“Impatient Crusader is certainly a perfect title for a biography of Florence Kelley... [it] provides exciting reading as it traces the work of a great woman in many of the social reforms of the first half of the twentieth century.” — Helen R. Wright, Social Service Review
“The interesting life-story of Florence Kelley, one of the militant, dedicated women of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This book, by one of her fellow workers, makes vivid the early crusades for child labor laws, minimum wages, maximum hours, and industrial health control.” — Current History
“[An] excellent biography of Mrs. Kelley and her times.” — Irving Dilliard, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society