Flower, Lucy (1837–1921)

views updated

Flower, Lucy (1837–1921)

American welfare worker . Born Lucy Louisa Coues on May 10, 1837, probably in Boston, Massachusetts; died on April 27, 1921, in Coronado, California; adopted daughter and one of eight children of Samuel Elliott Coues (a merchant and reformer) and his second wife, Charlotte Haven (Ladd) Coues; attended local schools in Portsmouth, New Hampshire; attended Packer Collegiate Institute, Brooklyn, New York, 1856–57; married James M. Flower (a lawyer), September 4, 1862 (died 1909); children: two sons and a daughter.

The daughter of a wealthy merchant, Lucy Flower was born on May 10, 1837, probably in Boston, Massachusetts, and grew up in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. After a year of college, she went to work for the U.S. Patent Office in Washington. In 1859, she moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where she taught high school and, from 1862 to 1863, operated a private school. In September 1862, she married a Madison lawyer, James M. Flower, and during the next ten years had three children. After the couple moved to Chicago in 1873, she went to work for the social betterment of Chicago, focusing much of her attention on the city's underprivileged children.

Flower became a member of the board of the Half-Orphan Asylum and later of the Chicago Home for the Friendless. In 1880, joining with Dr. Sarah Stevenson and others, she helped found the Illinois Training School for Nurses, the first school of its kind in the city. Flower remained president of the institution for 11 years and was a director until 1908. In 1886, she joined other Chicago welfare societies to work for a state industrial school for dependent boys, and, though legislation was defeated, a school was opened in Glenwood, Illinois, in 1889 with funds raised by the Chicago Woman's Club. In 1887, she took part in organizing the Protective Agency for Women and Children and in the following years helped form the Lake Geneva Fresh Air Association, organized to provide poor urban children with a respite from the city.

For three years beginning in 1891, Flower served on the Chicago board of education, during which time she devoted herself to making schooling more relevant to the city's poor children. She helped establish kindergartens and domestic and manual training classes in the lower grades, and also worked to provide better training programs and salaries for teachers. In 1894, she was elected by a wide margin as a trustee of the University of Illinois, thus becoming the first woman to hold an elective office in the state. In her capacity as a trustee, she labored unsuccessfully to secure legislation to expand facilities for women students (she opposed, however, unlimited suffrage for women, believing that the illiterate and uneducated of both sexes should be excluded from the polls). Also in 1894, seeking to centralize private charitable efforts, Flower helped establish the Chicago Bureau of Charities and was elected its first vice president.

In the late 1890s, she reorganized support for the establishment of a juvenile court system in Chicago, a cause that had earlier failed. Flower won the support of the Illinois social-welfare leaders and assisted a committee of the Chicago Bar Association in drafting legislation. Her efforts were rewarded in 1899, with the formation of the Cook County Juvenile Court, the first of its kind anywhere in the world. Flower then founded a Women's Juvenile Court Committee which, headed by Julia Lathrop , raised money to provide salaries for probation officers. She also continued to serve the court in an advisory capacity.

In 1902, Flower and her husband moved to Coronado, California, where he died in 1909. After years spent as an invalid, Flower died of a cerebral hemorrhage, on April 27, 1921. Chicago's Lucy Flower Technical High School for Girls bears her name.


James, Edward T., Editor. Notable American Women. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1983.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts