Kellor, Frances


Frances Alice Kellor (1873-1952) was born in Columbus, Ohio, to Mary Sprau and Daniel Kellor, and grew up in Michigan. When Daniel abandoned the family, Mary and her two daughters made ends meet with domestic work. Unable to complete high school, Frances found a newspaper job. Assisted by two charitable women, Kellor earned her LL.B. at Cornell Law School in 1897. At the University of Chicago and at Hull House, she pursued her interests in southern black migrants, immigrants, unemployed women, and female criminals. 

In 1901, the year Theodore Roosevelt became president of the United States, Kellor authored Experimental Sociology, Descriptive and Analytical: Delinquents. She became a well-known social worker, with ties to New York’s Summer School of Philanthropy and the Henry Street Settlement. By 1904, Kellor directed the new Inter-Municipal Committee on Household Research, which investigated child labor, tenement conditions, and corrupt employment agencies. In 1906 Kellor created the National League for the Protection of Colored Women. Two years later, Governor Charles Evans Hughes appointed her secretary of the New York State Immigration Commission, and then head of the Bureau of Industries and Immigration. Her national status as an immigration expert drew President Roosevelt’s attention and she became part of his “Female Brain Trust” with Jane Addams and Florence Kelley. He enlisted his “dear friend,” as he called Kellor, to help in the battle against employment agencies that misled immigrants.

In 1912, Kellor, Addams, Kelley, and Margaret Dreier Robins wrote the social justice planks for Roosevelt’s Progressive presidential platform. Kellor also helped prepare campaign statements and recruited other social reformers to join the Progressives. In 1913 she and Roosevelt established the Progressive National Service, a network through which to spread Progressive ideas.

Until her death in 1952, Frances Kellor was a leading spokesperson for the Americanization movement. Throughout her life she authored books on subjects such as arbitration, prison reform, women’s athletics, and national service. She died in New York at the age of seventy-eight, survived by her partner of 47 years, fellow reformer Mary Dreier.