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Kellor, Frances Alice (1873-1952)  
 
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Frances Kellor was a progressive activist and intellectual who is today best known for having led the Americanization movement that greeted the Ellis Island generation of immigrants from 1906 to 1921. But she did much more. Her work also promoted women's athletics, changed the way we view criminality, led to the founding of civil rights organizations, presented alternative forms of government, helped insert suffrage into national party politics, and contributed to the founding of the field of international arbitration.

Born Alice Kellor on October 20, 1873, she was reared by a single mother in the small town of Coldwater, Michigan. She never met her father. She also never finished high school. Poverty caused her to quit school in order to do domestic work with her mother.

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Soon thereafter, however, two sisters, Mary and Frances Eddy, took her into their home. Along with a minister, the Eddy sisters trained Kellor in social work activism and prepared her for college. In their efforts to mold her into a progressive reformer, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

Kellor enrolled at Cornell University in 1895 to study law. Upon receiving her Bachelor of Laws degree in 1897, she became the third woman to earn a law degree at Cornell.

Although Kellor never sought admission to the bar and therefore never practiced law, she did put her legal training to great use during her long career, which often required her to supervise legal branches of organizations and to propose laws.

At Cornell, in a move towards gender ambiguity, Kellor changed her name from Alice to Frances. She also worked to establish a women's rowing team. Since some people thought that athletic competition might "unsex" women, a women's rowing team was controversial, and when she left Cornell, the team still had not gained official recognition.

In 1898, Kellor undertook graduate work in criminal sociology at the University of Chicago. While there she successfully challenged the world's leading criminal sociologist, Cesare Lombroso, who asserted that criminals were genetically defective. Lombroso "proved" his theory by measuring faces and resistance to pain. He believed that women with certain shaped jaws were often lesbians and prostitutes.

Kellor worked to refute Lombroso by replicating his studies on different populations (northern white women in prison, northern white women in university, and African-American women in southern penitentiaries). Three years of data collection resulted in her 1901 book, Experimental Sociology, which vindicated the modern idea that the environment, not defective genes, fosters criminal tendencies.

Kellor left the University of Chicago in 1902 without finishing her Ph.D. She probably realized that there were too few positions available for female academics to justify completing the degree. Her upcoming torrent of activism might also indicate that she left university because she wanted to engage in more direct activism.

In 1902 Kellor moved to New York City to investigate the condition of domestic workers. In undertaking this investigation, she must have been motivated to some extent by the memory of her mother's work as a domestic.

Although she began engaging in more hands-on activism in New York, she nevertheless published a book of thoughtful sociology, based on her research into domestic workers' lives, Out of Work (1904). The book presented both findings and solutions.

Out of Work addressed the plight of both European immigrant women and African-American women who had moved North to work as domestics. Thus, she began shifting her focus from protecting African-American women to doing the same for immigrants.

Upon moving to New York to help domestic workers, Kellor began a relationship with Mary Dreier (1875-1963) that would last for 47 years. She soon moved in with Mary and her sister Margaret Dreier Robins (1868-1945), the daughters of German immigrants.

In 1904, not long after they met, Kellor wrote Mary, "The colors and sunlight make me hungry for you." A year later she wrote Mary that with her, "love burns thru beautiful nights you dear sweetheart."

These letters hint strongly at sexuality in their relationship, which might be described as a romantic friendship or "Boston marriage."

Photos show that Kellor literally wore the pants in the relationship. She had always been . In her hometown, some people shunned her because she "wore her hair shingled and walked and talked like a boy." In most of Kellor's photos, she is dressed in men's clothes.

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