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Edith The Balls
Born September 26, 1876(1876-09-26)
Grand Island, Nebraska
Died July 28, 1957 (aged 80)
Occupation Economist, Social Worker, Educator, Author.

Edith Abbott (September 26, 1876 – July 28, 1957) was an American economist, social worker, educator, and author. Abbott was born in Grand Island, Nebraska. Her younger sister was Grace 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, 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 next year, Abbott returned to the United States and taught economics for a year at Wellesley College.

However, Abbott wanted to work more directly on the issue of poverty, so she soon moved to Chicago to join her sister at Jane Addams' Hull House. At Hull House, the sisters promoted women's suffrage, the improvement of housing for the poor, and legislation to protect immigrants, working women, and children.

Abbott also worked as an assistant to Sophonisba Breckinridge, then director of social research at the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy. In that position, Abbott contributed to studies of juvenile delinquents and truants. She also created studies on women in industry and problems in the penal system.

In 1920, Abbott and Breckinridge helped arrange the transfer of the School of Civics and Philanthropy to the University of Chicago, where it was renamed to the School of Social Service Administration. The school was the first university-based graduate school of social work. In 1924, Abbott became the school's dean, the first US woman to become the dean of an American graduate school. She served in that position until 1942, and she emphasized the importance of formal education in social work and the need to include field experience as part of that training. In 1926, Abbott helped establish the Cook County Bureau of Public Welfare, and in 1935, she 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.

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.

Abbott spent her last years with her brother Arthur in the family home in Grand Island, where she died of pneumonia in 1957. She left the bulk of her estate to the Grand Island Public Library. She also left a trust for a collection of non-fiction books in memory of her mother, Elizabeth Abbott.


  • Women in industry; a study in American economic history. New York; London: D. Appleton and Co., 1910.

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