Social justice has been practiced for many years by civic minded individuals wanting to make the world a better place. Long before the “official” Social Security Act of 1935, there were pioneers that championed the causes of compromised children, elderly, and the infirmed in the United States. One such leader is Edith Abbott. Ms. Abbott is responsible for many of the events that shaped conventional social work education and ideals. This paper will focus on the life, education, and career of Edith Abbott, highlighting the efforts she made for modern social work.
Edith Abbott, was born in Grand Island, Nebraska on September 26, 1876. She was the daughter of Elizabeth Griffin Abbott, a high school principal and a women 's suffrage leader, and Othman Abbott, first Lieutenant governor of Nebraska. This is significant because women did not obtain the right to vote in the United States until 1920. Edith was the second of four children. Her younger sister Grace was Edith’s was also a Social Work pioneer.
In 1888 her parents enrolled Edith in a private school, Brownell Hall. Edith excelled in school and was name valedictorian. Due to financial hardship, Edith’s parents could not afford to send her to college, therefore, she taught school while studying through correspondence courses. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Nebraska in 1901. She taught for two more years and then attended the University of Chicago, where she received a PhD in economics in 1905. In 1906, Edith was invited to study at the University College of London and the London School of Economics under a Carnegie Fellowship. While learning from English social reformers, Sidney a...
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Edith Abbott’s contribution to contemporary social work education and practice is without question some of the most important and relevant. With experience championing issues ranging from child welfare, to immigration, to families, to the elderly and infirmed, Edith Abbott’s lasting legacy for social justice and social work education will benefit social work students and their charges for generations.
At the time of Edith Abbott’s death in 1957, Wayne McMillen of Social Service Review wrote, “History will include her name among the handful of leaders who have made enduring contributions to the field of education. Social work has now taken its place as an established profession. She, more than any other one person, gave direction to the education required for that profession. Posterity will not forget achievements such as these” (Sorensen, 2010).
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