Julia Lathrop

Social Service and Progressive Government

Miriam Cohen

First Edition • February 14, 2017 • 192 pages

Print ISBN: 9780813348032 • $22.00 USD$28.50 CAN

Ebook ISBN: 9780813348049 • $9.99 USD$12.99 CAN

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A social servant, government activist, and social scientist, Julia Lathrop expanded notions of women’s roles in public life during the early 1900s. Lathrop was instrumental in shaping progressive reform by fighting for immigrants’ rights and welfare for the poor at Hull House—the nation’s most famous social settlement. She later served as chief of the US Children’s Bureau, created in 1912 to promote child welfare. Following her life from childhood through social service and government work, this book recounts Lathrop’s enduring contribution to progressive politics. It also offers a rare look at how American women worked within, and pushed against, the traditional bounds of gender, race, and class in the early twentieth century.

About the Lives of American Women series:
Selected and edited by renowned women’s historian Carol Berkin, these brief biographies are designed for use in undergraduate courses. Rather than a comprehensive approach, each biography focuses instead on a particular aspect of a woman’s life that is emblematic of her time, or which made her a pivotal figure in the era. The emphasis is on a “good read,” featuring accessible writing and compelling narratives, without sacrificing sound scholarship and academic integrity. Primary sources at the end of each biography reveal the subject’s perspective in her own words. Study questions and an annotated bibliography support the student reader.

Miriam Cohen is Evalyn Clark Professor in the Department of History and professor in the Women’s Studies Program at Vassar College. Her book, Workshop to Office: Two Generations of Italian Women in New York City (1993, Cornell University Press) was a finalist for the Thomas Znaniecki Prize of the American Sociological Association. Her specialties include the history of American women and the history of twentieth-century social reform. She has published numerous articles on the history of social welfare, including “Reconsidering Schooling and the American Welfare State,” which was selected as one of the most important articles published by the History of Education Quarterly in its first fifty years. Miriam was also a senior advisory editor of the Encyclopedia of Women in American History (M.E. Sharpe, 2002).

Series Editor Carol Berkin is a well-known women’s historian and the author of many popular and scholarly books, including Civil War Wives. She is Professor of History Emerita at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and she is a member of the Society of American Historians.


1. Childhood and Education at Vassar: Old Traditions and New Paths
2. “J. Lathrop’s Here!” Single Womanhood and a New Life at Hull House
3. Social Research and Progressive Government
4. Juvenile Justice, Immigrant Aid
5. “Chief”
6. Saving Children, Helping Mothers
7. The Making of the Maternity and Infancy Act, 1921
8. Retirement and Keeping On

Primary Sources
Study Questions

Julia Lathrop offers the historical context in which women reformers had to maneuver at the turn of the century. If we can measure the advancement of social welfare by the opportunities that existed at the time, then Miriam Cohen has done a service to us all by bringing Julia Lathrop’s career back into focus. I am eager to share Julia Lathrop’s strategic, political, and careful policy making with my classes.”
—Joanne L. Goodwin, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Julia Lathrop brings out the subject’s intense commitment to improving the health and lives of impoverished children, her skillful negotiation of local and national politics, her determination to expand women’s professional opportunities in social welfare work, and her collegial way of working with others. The writing is clear and accessible for students.”
—Barbara Steinson, DePauw University

“A great strength of this book is its depiction of the Progressive Era, and women’s activism particularly, as diverse. In reflecting the breadth of Lathrop’s work, and the limitations as they applied to issues of racism, Miriam Cohen has crafted a complex look at progressive era reforms.”
—Tonia M. Compton, Columbia College

Praise for the Lives of American Women series:

“Finally! The majority of students—by which I mean women—will have the opportunity to read biographies of women from our nation’s past. (Men can read them too, of course!) The ‘Lives of American Women’ series features an eclectic collection of books, readily accessible to students who will be able to see the contributions of women in many fields over the course of our history. Long overdue, these books will be a valuable resource for teachers, students, and the public at large.”
—Cokie Roberts, author of Founding Mothers and Ladies of Liberty

“Just what any professor wants: books that will intrigue, inform, and fascinate students! These short, readable biographies of American women—specifically designed for classroom use—give instructors an appealing new option to assign to their history students.”
—Mary Beth Norton, Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History, Cornell University

“For educators keen to include women in the American story, but hampered by the lack of thoughtful, concise scholarship, here comes ‘Lives of American Women,’ embracing Abigail Adams’s counsel to John—‘remember the ladies.’ And high time, too!”
—Lesley S. Herrmann, Executive Director, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

“These books are, above all, fascinating stories that will engage and inspire readers. They offer a glimpse into the lives of key women in history who either defied tradition or who successfully maneuvered in a man’s world to make an impact. The stories of these vital contributors to American history deliver just the right formula for instructors looking to provide a more complicated and nuanced view of history.”
—Rosanne Lichatin, 2005 Gilder Lehrman Preserve America History Teacher of the Year

“Students both in the general survey course and in specialized offerings like my course on U.S. women’s history can get a great understanding of an era from a short biography. Learning a lot about a single but complex character really helps to deepen appreciation of what women’s lives were like in the past.”
—Patricia Cline Cohen, University of California, Santa Barbara

“Biographies are, indeed, back. Not only will students read them, biographies provide an easy way to demonstrate particularly important historical themes or ideas. . . . Undergraduate readers will be challenged to think more deeply about what it means to be a woman, citizen, and political actor. . . . I am eager to use this in my undergraduate survey and specialty course.”
—Jennifer Thigpen, Washington State University, Pullman

“The Lives of American Women authors raise all of the big issues I want my classes to confront—and deftly fold their arguments into riveting narratives that maintain students’ excitement.”
—Woody Holton, author of Abigail Adams

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