Kellor, Frances (Alice)

views updated

KELLOR, Frances (Alice)

Born 20 October 1873, Columbus, Ohio; died 4 January 1952, New York, New York

Daughter of Daniel and Mary Sprau Kellor; partnered Mary Dreier, 1905

Frances Kellor grew up in Coldwater, Michigan, where her mother worked as a laundress and domestic servant. Her father left the family before she turned two and her only sister, 27 years older, married and left town at about the same time. Kellor helped her mother by collecting and delivering laundry, hunting rabbits and other fur animals, and doing laundry herself when she got older. She dropped out of high school for lack of money, but after a gun accident was informally adopted by the town's librarians, Mary and Frances Eddy. The sisters encouraged Kellor's love of learning, gave her a home during the two years she worked as a reporter for the local newspaper, then helped her attend Cornell University.

At Cornell, Kellor studied sociology and law. Encouraged by her professors to investigate "practical" social problems, she decided to study crime and criminals and received an LL.B. in 1897. The following year, she went to the University of Chicago, where she spent four years but never finished her doctorate. Most people at the time believed criminal behavior was caused by biology and heredity, though some sociologists were beginning to consider psychology and social environments as well. Kellor's first publications were articles in the American Journal of Sociology (1900) comparing the physical, psychological, and sociological characteristics of female prisoners and female college students. This was the first study ever done to compare female criminals and noncriminals, and Kellor concluded that their similarities made biological explanations of crime implausible.

After taking a year to travel around the country and study prisons and prisoners, Kellor published her observations under the uninspiring title, Experimental Sociology: Descriptive and Analytical Delinquents (1901). In this book Kellor decried the unequal treatment of Southern blacks and the dangerous conditions of Southern jails. She reiterated that crime was correlated with poverty, not heredity, and called for nationwide reforms to guarantee prisoners opportunities for exercise, education, and religious observances, eliminate corporal punishment, and scientifically study how to prevent recidivism. For the rest of her life, Kellor's writings would combine sociological analysis with policy recommendations.

Kellor's next book—Out of Work (1904, expanded 1915)—was her most significant. She and her associates posed as work-seekers and employers to expose the ruthlessness of private employment agencies. Unemployment, Kellor concluded, was not usually a result of personal laziness or character flaws, but of exploitative systems. Women seeking positions as domestic workers, immigrants, and migrants from the South or rural areas were particularly likely to encounter fraud, entrapment into prostitution, or quasi-slavery. Each state, Kellor concluded, should set up "Bureaus of Information" to help reputable employers and employees find each other. She founded the National League for the Protection of Colored Women, an interracial organization to help black women migrating from the South find decent housing, employment, and social services.

Shocked by the suffering of poverty-stricken immigrants, especially women, Kellor began to study immigration. New immigrants, she concluded, need information about American laws and customs, instruction in English, and assistance in finding employment. With these resources they can rapidly become valuable members of the American public, but without them they often end up in squalid tenements. Arguing against the rising nativism of her time, Kellor wrote numerous books and articles urging state and federal governments to set up programs to help immigrants adjust to life in America.

President Theodore Roosevelt was very impressed with Out of Work and followed Kellor's later work closely. When Roosevelt broke with the Republican party in 1912 to run for president on the Progressive party ticket, Kellor became an at-large member of the Progressives' National Committee. She used her position to press for women's suffrage, federal programs for the poor, and government-funded studies of social problems such as unemployment, poverty, exploitation of workers, inadequate housing, and racial injustice. Experts, she hoped, would find solutions to these problems, and politicians would follow the experts' advice. As director of the Progressive party's research bureau, the National Progressive Service, Kellor fused research, education, and politics into a comprehensive program for economic, gender, and racial justice. She was dismayed when the Progressive Service, and then the Progressive party, collapsed.

World War I focused Kellor's attention on the international arena. She was a firm supporter of internationalism and the League of Nations and lobbied for American participation in the Court of International Justice. International dispute resolution by impartial experts, she believed, would prevent the world from descending again into war.

Kellor also applied these ideas about arbitration to domestic problems. In 1926 she helped found the American Arbitration Association (AAA) to settle commercial and industrial labor disputes through mediation. Jurors, Kellor felt, were often ignorant, and litigation could be both lengthy and expensive. Arbitrators, in contrast, were informed and impartial and enabled businesses to regulate themselves rationally. In 1931 Kellor published the much-used Code of Arbitration, which outlined procedures for dispute resolution.

For the rest of her life, Kellor devoted herself to the AAA and promoted arbitration as a solution to commercial, civil, and international conflicts. She greatly enjoyed her home life with Mary Dreier (with whom she became partnered in 1905), and refused to retire even when her health deteriorated. Only her final illness took her away from the AAA offices.

Other Works:

The Immigrants in America Review (1915). Straight America, A Call to National Service (1916). Americanization of Women (1918). Neighborhood Americanization (1918). Immigration and the Future (1920). The Federal Administration and the Alien (1921). The United States of America in Relation to the Permanent Court of International Justice of the League of Nations and in Relation to the Hague Tribunal (1923). Security Against War (1924). The United States Senate and the International Court (1925). Protocol for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes in Relation to the Sanction of War (1925). Arbitration in the New Industrial Society (1934). Arbitration in Action (1941). Arbitration in International Controversy (1944). American Arbitration: Its History, Functions, and Achievements (1948). Arbitration and the Legal Profession (1952).


Fitzpatrick, E., Endless Crusade: Women Social Scientists and Progressive Reform (1990).

Reference works:

DAB Supplement 5. NAW:MP. Other references: Gustafson, M., "Partisan Women: Gender, Politics, and the Progressive Party of 1912" (Ph.D. dissertation, 1993). New York State Department of Labor Industrial Bulletin (Mar. 1952). Reviews in American History (1991).


About this article

Kellor, Frances (Alice)

Updated About content Print Article