Survey Award Acceptance Speech, (14 May 1951) Atlantic City, NJ


The social settlement movement began in the 1880s in London as a response to social problems created by urbanization, industrialization, and immigration. To mitigate the effects of increasing socio-economic stratification, settlement houses acted as a neighborhood welfare agency with the purpose of creating an improved, interdependent community.1 Some of these settlements were linked with local religious institutions, like the Catholic Church; but others, like Hull House in Chicago, were secular. Typically the “residents,” or “settlers,” that ran these secular settlement homes were educated, native born, middle-class or upper-middle class men and women. At the turn of the twentieth century, American women had a restricted role in the public sphere and were thus particularly drawn to the work of the social settlement as an opportunity to participate in public life. The women of the Hull House served as teachers, leaders, organizers, and social activists in poor urban neighborhoods. By 1911, Chicago had 35 settlements and Hull House had grown from a “modest house to a massive complex serving thousands of people every week.”2 Led by Jane Addams, the settlers of Hull House included Florence Kelley, Dr. Alice Hamilton, Julia Lathrop, Sophonisba Breckinridge, and the Abbott sistersGrace and Edith.3

Grace and Edith Abbott were central to the powerful reform movement that occurred at Hull House. Grace, the hands-on activist, was the second chief of U.S. Children’s Bureau and launched the Immigrants Protective League. Her sister, Edith, was the scholar. Edith received her Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago. Her first book, Women in Industry, was published in 1910, around the same time that she joined the faculty of the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy. Edith published extensively on the need for improved welfare policy and administration. Her chief accomplishment was creating the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. Edith was among the most important Americans involved in establishing social work as a profession. This new age of social work required more than the “good intentions” of its practitioners; it instead required rigorous training and professionalization.4 Edith believed passionately that social workers needed graduate-level traininga highly controversial notion at the time.

Grace and Edith spent much of their lives living and working in the Hull House. After Grace’s death in June 1939, Edith dedicated herself to preserving her sister’s legacy and teaching at the University of Chicago. On May 14, 1951, Edith Abbott—then 75 years old—accepted the Survey Award at the National Conference on Social Work. The award, a bronze plaque, was presented annually at the Conference by the Survey, a leading journal founded in the late nineteenth century that promoted social reform and social work as a profession.5 The award recognized an individual who had made an “imaginative and constructive contribution to social work.”6 Edith took the opportunity to call for further social reform at the national level. Ollie A. Randall of the Community Service Society of New York presented the award to Edith during the general session that Monday night.


  1. Peggy Glowacki and Julia Hendry, Hull-House (Chicago, IL: Arcadia Publishing, 2004), 7-8.
  2. Glowacki and Hendry, Hull-House, 8.
  3. Glowacki and Hendry, Hull-House, 8.
  4. Grace Abbott, “Edith Abbott and ‘A Sister’s Memories,'” in The Grace Abbott Reader, ed. Judith Sealander and John Sorenson (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008), xxiii-xxvi.
  5. Glowacki and Hendry, Hull-House, viii.
  6. National Conference on Social Welfare, Official Proceedings of the Annual Meeting: 1951 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Library, 2005), vii.