Windy City Media Group Frontpage News


home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2021-09-01



LGBT HISTORY Frances Kellor and the Birth of Multiculturalism
by Victoria A. Brownworth

This article shared 817 times since Mon Oct 29, 2018
facebook twitter google +1 reddit email

Few topics in American politics under President Trump elicit more controversy than immigration. The same was true in early 20th century America when waves of immigrants flooded Ellis Island, causing fears that the country would become "overrun with foreigners," as Henry Cabot Lodge wrote in 1891. With open borders, 30 million Europeans moved to the U.S. between 1850 and 1913. By 1920, about 15 percent of the U.S. population was foreign-born—much as it is in 2018.

It was into this milieu of a burgeoning immigrant population, as well as the Great Migration of freed black slaves, that Frances Kellor defined herself as one of the most important and radical social reformists of her time. Kellor's progressive political and social stance was dominated by her belief that society had to be a true melting pot—a term she disliked—and not just a poetic metaphor of one. She is credited with creating the concept, if not the term, of multiculturalism.

A staunch suffragist, she believed no social advancement could reasonably occur in the U.S. without women having full enfranchisement. Kellor felt the same about the roles of black women and men, as well as immigrants in American society. Without full assimilation into mainstream white male society, she insisted, there would forever be a level of marginalization that would sustain and maintain a tiered caste system that would disallow women, persons of color and immigrants from achieving their goals and rising in any field of endeavor.

Kellor herself, born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1873, was raised by a single mother after her father abandoned her, her mother and older sister before she turned two. The three moved to Coldwater, Michigan, a liberal bastion that had been a seat of abolition and a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Growing up in Coldwater, Kellor was known as a tomboy who could whittle and shoot as well as any boy. She also excelled at sports. As an adult, Kellor had a strong interest in promoting sports for women as a means of getting women out of the confines and "drudgery" of both housework and factory work and building camaraderie and friendships outside the often restrictive environment of the home. While at Cornell, Kellor founded the women's rowing club—despite threat of expulsion for daring to assert women deserved their own sports teams like the men had.

Education changed Kellor's life, vaulting her from poverty to an illustrious career with achievements that would alter American society. Her two benefactors, the philanthropists Mary and Frances Eddy, paid for her to attend Cornell law school. In 1897 she graduated with a law degree. Kellor was only the third woman to achieve that goal at Cornell. In 1900, there were 85,338 female college students in the U.S. and just 5,237 earned their bachelor's degrees—Kellor was among them.

From Cornell, Kellor advanced via a scholarship to the newly founded University of Chicago, to be among the first women graduate students. Cornell had piqued her interest in criminology and the writing she had done for the Coldwater paper had focused on social issues, including crime. Kellor had written provocatively of a sleepy rural America unaware of how Negroes and immigrants were being railroaded into prisons purely because of their race, ethnicity or even lack of English- language skills.

The University of Chicago opened up Kellor's world vastly—and introduced her to other reformist-minded women. From there Kellor's career propelled forward and with it her increasingly more crucial work as she connected with lesbian social reformers in Chicago, notably Jane Addams and Mary Rozet Smith, and in New York, where in 1903 she met Mary Dreier, a philanthropist, suffragist and campaigner for unionization of women workers.

The connection between the two women was described by others as passionate and consuming. Early in their relationship, Kellor wrote to Dreier, "The colors and sunlight make me hungry for you." Later she would write that being with Dreier made her "love burns thru beautiful nights you dear sweetheart." In 1905 the two moved in together, living as a couple until Kellor's death in 1952. Dreier lived alone until her death in 1963. The two are buried together in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

Kellor was known for her tailored look and briskly authoritative presentations. She may not appear a butch lesbian by today's standards, but she was likely known outside her lesbian reformist circles as a lesbian—not just a "spinster." Within her lesbians circles, she was known for being rowdy and boisterous and deeply loving of the much more restrained Dreier. The two were among many dynamic and deeply politically committed lesbian couples whose social reformist work radically altered American society in the years before the Civil War through World War II.

The couplings of lesbian activists in this late 19th and early 20th century period supported and created some of the most significant social reform movements in American history. There were those lesbians who fought for the abolition of slavery and suffrage for women and "Negroes," like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Carrie Chapman Catt and Anna Dickinson. Those who founded social work and the settlement movement like Jane Addams, Ellen Gates Starr and Mary Rozet Smith. Healthcare for immigrants and factory workers was the key focus of lesbian physicians Dr. Emily Blackwell, Dr. Elizabeth Cushier and Dr. Alice Hamilton. Reform of child labor, as well as creation of a public health approach to pediatric medicine was built by Dr. Ethel Collins Dunham and Dr. Martha May Eliot, as well as Dr. Sara Josephine Baker, who received written support from her novelist partner, Ida Wylie.

In this era of radical foment, Frances Kellor was in her own category. At the University of Chicago Kellor wrote papers on sociology—her field of study—and criminology. She also authored a scholarly treatise on Athletic Games in the Education of Women. In 1901 Kellor published her first book, Experimental Sociology, Descriptive and Analytical: Delinquents, which was widely quoted and whose theories that criminality was not innate angered many.

Propelled by her tangential excursions into Jane Addams' Settlement movement in Chicago and deeply concerned by the marginalization of women of color and working-class and poor women, especially immigrants, Kellor focused her attention on accessing equality for these women. Kellor's writings on black women and men contravened the sociological perspective at the time that black criminality was a factor of biology and race. Kellor was certain it was directly related to poverty and racism and lack of access to a living wage.

With regard to black freed women, she wrote about how black women were still being sold as slaves and how sex, crime and race were linked incorrectly. Kellor was particularly focused on the destitution, abuse and racism that faced Negro women as they migrated from the Reconstructionist South to northern cities. This work would lead her to become a co-founder of the National Urban League, now known as the Urban League.

Kellor's 1904 book Out of Work: A Study of Employment Agencies was the result of undercover work with Negro and immigrant women domestics. A groundbreaking investigation and sociological study of the victimization of black Southern women—many freed slaves or daughters of slaves—and immigrant women by northern employment programs and hiring practices, the book revealed the level of penury imposed on these women and the ways in which they were manipulated by work and wages. Combined with her earlier writing, Out of Work defined Kellor as an expert sociologist who also took risks male sociologists did not—and that she was willing to refute decades-held beliefs about "lower class" and non-white workers, insisting that environment, not biology, formed adults.

Kellor's career is robust and stunningly full of dynamic and influential work. 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, spurred by her anger at the incarceration of black women for what she saw as purely racial reasons, created the National League for the Protection of Colored Women.

In 1908, Governor Charles Evans Hughes appointed Kellor 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—one of the only in the country—got the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt.

Roosevelt had formed a group—the "Female Brain Trust"—which included fellow lesbian reformers Jane Addams and Florence Kelley as well as Kellor's partner's sister, Margaret Dreier Robins.

At the Theodore Roosevelt Center there are letters on file from Roosevelt to Kellor. One apologizes for appearing to be glib about the cause of women's suffrage, which he asserted had his full support. In another letter, Roosevelt enlists his "dear friend" to help fight against the constant and expanding problem of manipulative employment agencies misleading immigrants and employers abusing immigrant workers.

Roosevelt was the first to incorporate women's suffrage in his party's platform—largely at Kellor's behest. Roosevelt insisted he had "always favored women's suffrage, but only tepidly, until my association with women like Jane Addams and Frances Kellor changed me into a zealous instead of lukewarm adherent of the cause."

By 1909 Kellor was the highest placed woman in New York, as secretary and treasurer of the New York State Immigration Commission and chief investigator for the Bureau of Industries and Immigration of New York State from 1910 through 1913. She became managing director of the North American Civic League for Immigrants and a member of the Progressive National Committee. She also oversaw the American Association of Foreign Language Newspapers. These positions were all groundbreaking, glass-ceiling-smashing jobs for a woman.

At this juncture, Kellor was driven by her belief that America could be all things to all people through Americanization. Her sociological studies of women and racial and ethnic minorities led her to believe that assimilation created equality. She wrote, "There is no science of race assimilation. No nation has had a sufficiently free opportunity with many diverse races to establish its enduring principles and certain procedure. America has this opportunity in her thirty-five different races speaking fifty-four languages, of whom 13,000,000 are foreign-born. One third of her total population has its roots in other soils and in diverse cultures. She has the laboratory for the experiment in her wide expanse of territory, much of it still unsettled; in the elasticity of her institutions; and in the still formative state of her cultural life."

It was a radical concept—that there was room for everyone and that differences were beneficial to the whole in this most diverse country on earth. The Theodore Roosevelt Center notes that "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."

The two world wars intensified xenophobia in the U.S. In 1914, Kellor began directing the National Americanization Committee ( NAC ), viewed as the most pivotal link to assimilating immigrants in the country. Writing for the NAC in 1916, just prior to the U.S. entering World War I, Kellor suggested Americanization programs would solidify both worker efficiency and essential pre-war patriotism. Acutely aware of the number of worker accidents from Dr. Alice Hamilton and other lesbian reformers focused on workplace safety, Kellor asserted that teaching English to workers would reduce the number of accidents and injuries as well as lessen the xenophobia toward "foreign" and immigrant workers. Ultimately, she argued Americanization would "unite foreign-born and native alike in enthusiastic loyalty to our national ideals of liberty and justice."

Though in 2018 Kellor could be perceived as forcing assimilation on ethnic communities and communities of color, at the time she was promoting this goal—and asserting that black Americans were not innately criminals and ethnic minorities were fully capable of being American citizens—it was a wildly radical view to suggest that persons of color were in fact equal in all ways to whites, save for their access to social and economic connections. Her role as a leader in the Americanization movement was to posit that women, people of color and immigrants were all as deeply patriotic and vital to American society as white men.

Kellor's resume is a compendium of work that linked feminism, anti-racism and anti-xenophobia reforms. She was both intersectionalist and multiculturalist before either of those sociological theories existed, and so much of the work she was doing a century ago and more remains just as necessary and vital now as it was then.

This article shared 817 times since Mon Oct 29, 2018
facebook twitter google +1 reddit email


Gay News

LGBTQ+ activists celebrated at Fahrenheit Chicago Honors, launch of Lorde, Rustin & Bates, inc.
In the beautiful, amber atmosphere of the Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton St., numerous well-known Chicago LGBTQ+ activists gathered to celebrate each other and look toward the community's future. The sixth annual Fahrenheit Honors cocktail reception, ...

Gay News

LGBT HISTORY MONTH Angela Davis, revolutionary
By Victoria A. Brownworth - "You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time," said Angela Davis, 78, the country's most famous living revolutionary. She was born ...

Gay News

llinois Holocaust Museum hosts talk on Stonewall and the LGBTQ-rights movement
On Oct. 17, Skokie's Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center hosted a "Legacy of Stonewall and the LGBTQ Rights Movement" panel discussion to kick off its latest exhibit, "Rise Up: Stonewall and the LGBTQ Rights Movement." ...

Gay News

LGBT History Month: Staten Island museum throws open Austen's closet door
It's been a long time coming, but officials at the Alice Austen House on New York's Staten Island have thrown open the closet door, now fully embracing the lesbian pioneer and photographer who lived in the ...

Gay News

LGBT History Project: Tee A. Corinne: Photographer of lesbian sexuality
By Victoria A. Brownworth - Over her decades as a lesbian photographer and artist, Tee Corinne said, "I'm one of the most obscure famous artists." Famous? Yes. Obscure? Certainly not within artistic circles nor within the queer art world where she ...

Gay News

Legacy Walk plaques added for Pauli Murray, Matthew Shepard
- The Legacy Project unveiled two bronze plaques recognizing LGBTQ+ historical figures Pauli Murray and Matthew Shepard on Oct. 16. The plaques, part of Northalsted's half-mile Legacy Walk, recognized Murray and ...

Gay News

LGBT History Month: '40s and '50s instant photography gave LGBT people 'Safe/Haven'
Two men dressed in drag for a tea party, and two women cuddled up at the beach. Today these might be benign photographs but, in the early 1950s, they were memories shuttered away from public view. ...

Gay News

Kit Kat Lounge hosting Kamayan feast Oct. 24
Kit Kat Lounge & Supper Club, 3700 N. Halsted St., in honor of Filipino American History Month, will host a special "diva-infused" Kamayan feast featuring Chef Jordan Andino on Sunday, Oct. 24. Andino is the creative ...

Gay News

Activists speak about former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington's LGBTQ legacy
by Max Lubbers - LGBTQ+ advocates reflected on former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington's legacy at Center on Halsted Oct. 13, discussing his role in the city's Human Rights Ordinance and outreach to the LGBTQ+ community. A display of 1980s Windy ...

Gay News

LGBTQ History Month: Pauli Murray, architect of history
By Victoria A. Brownworth - (Note: The pronouns she/her are used in keeping with Murray's own writings, but Murray was a transmasculine and gender-nonconforming lesbian.) Some say Pauli Murray is the most important U.S. activist many have never heard of. An ...

Gay News

ART Contemporary yet timeless exhibition 'Young, Gifted and Black' arrives at Gallery 400
To be a Black art collector is to stand on the shoulders of a proud lineage. Throughout history, Black patrons have supported Black artists when nobody else did. Bernard Lumpkinā€”a New York City-based art patron, educator ...

Gay News

Coming Out for LGBTQ+ History
October 11th is National Coming Out Day, a day established in 1988 by members of the LGBTQ+ community to encourage people to stop hiding and be open about their identity. Coming out increases visibility of the ...

Gay News

LGBT History Month: Reclaiming 41, journey to heal notorious trauma for LGBT Mexicans
Until recently, Alberto B. Mendoza hated 41. He cringed if his dinner bill or hotel room number had the number in it, and with the countdown to his 41st birthday, he dreaded the year to come. ...

Gay News

Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame, in 30th year, holds induction ceremony at Sidetrack
The Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame, celebrating its 30th year, held its annual induction ceremony for 2021 inductees October 6 at Sidetrack, sponsored by Sidetrack, J&L Catering, Rick Aguilar Photography, and Dalila Fridi and Elizabeth McNight. ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Songs for Nobodies
Title: Songs for Nobodies. Playwright: Joanna Murray-Smith At: Northlight Theatre at the North Shore Center for the Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd. Tickets: $30-$89. Runs through: Sunday, Oct. 31 You won't find their names in the history ...


Copyright © 2021 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.






About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.