Florence Kelley in Chicago 1891-1899

A digital archive on the life and times of Florence Kelley, the first woman factory inspector in the United States and resident of Hull House.

Buy the Book Buy the AudioBook

Florence Kelley, Factory Inspector in 1890s Chicago, and the Children

This book braids together three narratives: the story of Florence Kelley’s life as a mother and reformer in the tumult of 1890s Chicago; the story of the author’s arrival in Chicago a century later and her new life and work here; and references to wrongful convictions and exonerations over the course of a decade leading finally to the abolition of capital punishment in Illinois…[more]

“This book documents and explores an important time in US history, and does so with a depth and intelligence that make it irresistibly compelling.” - Scott Turow, author, Presumed Innocent

Florence Kelley was the first woman factory inspector in the United States, appointed in Illinois by Governor John Peter Altgeld in 1893. A resident of Hull House, and a reformer – who refused to be associated with any political party–Florence Kelley lived in Chicago from 1891 until 1899, leading and participating in a variety of projects. These included: a wage and ethnicity census of the slums and tenements in Chicago; the reporting of cases and contagion in the smallpox epidemic of 1893; the enforcement of the universal primary education laws, and, most importantly, enforcing the provisions of the Illinois Factory Inspections Law of 1893.

Explore the web site through:

  • Florence Kelley: Professor Bienen provides a series of vignettes of Florence Kelley’s 9 years in Chicago. From the narrative you can gather a context for her life, her work, and the monumental changes taking place in Chicago at the end of the century. These also lead you into specific documents within the Archives.

  • Historical Context: Chicago in the 1890’s was a time of Great Strikes, fierce nationalism, social activism and protest, an unpopular foreign invasion, and building–of street car lines, factories, meat packing plants, steel mills, banks, businesses, libraries, and civic and art institutions. The city’s political and legal culture was characterized by energy, corruption and ambition. During the Pullman Strike more than 5,000 federal troops were encamped along the Lake, and the legacies of Haymarket were palpable. The vice district the Levee, was as famous as the city’s skyscrapers and elevators, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors as predictably as its political and labor conventions.

  • Legal Context: Biographies of mayors, judges, alderman (and a governor) give insight into the key legal and political figures of the day. Professor Bienen also describes 3 landmark court cases, Florence Kelley’s factory inspection reports, and of how “the particularity of the facts breathe life into a time, a place, persons, and tell a tale” in The Law As Storyteller.

  • Archives: With the dedicated effort of team members over 15 months we’ve collected and organized some 50,000 pages of documents. These include photographs, government reports, court cases; dozens of out-of-print and contemporary books, hundreds of articles from 1880-1910, and nearly 50 publications pertaining to or authored by Florence Kelley…even handwritten letters.