Campbell, Helen Stuart (1839–1918)

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Campbell, Helen Stuart (1839–1918)

American writer and sociologist. Name variations: Helen Stuart Weeks Campbell; wrote under the names Campbell, Weeks (her married name), and several pseudonyms, some of which were male. Born in Lockport, New York, on July 4, 1839; died in 1918; married a man named Weeks (divorced 1871).

Selected works:

The Problem of the Poor (1882); The What-to-do Club (1884); Miss Melinda's Opportunity (1886); Prisoners of Poverty (1886).

Born in 1839, Helen Stuart Campbell would contribute to the reform of 19th-century capitalism by addressing many of the social and economic problems facing women and the poor. Her career began during the Civil War when she started to write children's books under her married name, Weeks. In a move that was daring in her day, she divorced her husband in 1871. Her adult novels followed under a variety of pseudonyms, some of them male, until she settled into using the name Helen Stuart Campbell in the late 1870s. Also around this time, she began writing nonfiction, first in the emerging field of home economics. She published widely in newspapers and magazines and, from 1881 to 1884, served as literary editor of Our Continent, Philadelphia. Campbell's attention turned to the plight of women workers and the poor, and she published her best known work, Prisoners of Poverty, in 1886.

One of the primary points made in Campbell's articles concerned the impossibility of women meeting their financial needs given their meager wages; by reporting average earnings and analyzing budgets, she revealed a harsh economic reality for women, documenting that women's wages were at most half that of men's, virtually without exception, while their financial needs, including housing and clothing, were often higher. For Campbell, the economic dilemma faced by women had moral repercussions, as economics forced women into a position of vulnerability in regard to men. Budding social scientists regarded Campbell's methodology as more emotionally than statistically based, but her work on women wage-earners represented sound enough investigative work to win her a prize from the American Economic Association in 1891.

In addition to her efforts for better wages among women, Campbell used her writing to address the need for occupational health and safety regulations. Her concerns over what she termed "nicotine poisoning" among tobacco industry workers were far ahead of her time. Campbell, who died in 1918, was an adherent to Edward Bellamy's utopian ideals.

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Campbell, Helen Stuart (1839–1918)

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