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Lothrop, Alice (1870–1920)

Lothrop, Alice (1870–1920)

American social worker. Born Alice Louise Higgins on March 28, 1870, in Boston, Massachusetts; died on September 2, 1920, in Newton, Massachusetts; only child of Albert Higgins (a merchant) and Adelaide (Everson) Higgins; attended local private schools; married William Howard Lothrop (a businessman), on May 17, 1913; no children.

Born in 1870 and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, Alice Lothrop began volunteering at an early age, working as a Sunday School superintendent and at the Boston Children's Aid Society. At 28, she joined the Associated Charities of Boston as an agent-in-training, and within two years had risen to district secretary. In September 1903, she became general secretary of the organization, succeeding Zilpha Drew Smith . Over the next ten years, Lothrop made a significant contribution to the field of social work, both in method and ideology. Working hard to broaden the scope of social work, she sought to link the field case worker to a wider range of community issues, including social reform and public health, and to create a spirit of cooperation between agencies.

Possessing inordinate organizational skills, as well as a sharp mind, quick wit, and the ability to surround herself with capable people, Lothrop won acclaim for organizing disaster relief after the great San Francisco fire (1906), local fires in Chelsea (1908) and Salem, Massachusetts (1914), and the enormous explosion in Halifax, Nova Scotia (1917). She also helped organize the Massachusetts mothers' aid laws, and served variously with the Massachusetts Child Labor Committee, the Massachusetts Commission to Investigate Employment Agencies, and the Massachusetts Civic League.

Deeply concerned with public-health problems, Lothrop was particularly active in the fight against tuberculosis. After initially opposing Dr. Richard Cabot's plan for a social service department at Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital, Lothrop eventually saw an advantage in linking the work of the Associated Charities with Cabot's innovative project. In addition to in-hospital service, which began in 1905, Lothrop also sought to link the work of Associated Charities with other agencies, like the Boston Association for Relief and Control of Tuberculosis.

Alice Lothrop was also instrumental in developing new training programs for professional social workers. In 1904, she helped establish the Boston School for Social Workers, operated jointly by Harvard and Simmons College. In addition, she helped found the National Association of Societies for Organizing Charity (which later became the Family Service Association of America).

Lothrop married Boston merchant William Howard Lothrop in 1913, and since her husband believed that her "supreme achievement" should be her success as a "home maker," she resigned from the Associated Charities. However, she continued to lecture at the Boston School for Social Workers and served on the board of the Associated Charities. With the outbreak of World War I, she became active with the Red Cross, serving as director of civilian relief of the New England division. In 1920, she was stricken with encephalitis lethargica, a rare disease very much like sleeping sickness, and after weeks in a coma, died at the age of 50.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

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

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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