Florence Kelley was one of the most radical reformers to emerge from Hull House. She was born in 1856 to a progressive Quaker and Unitarian family. Kelley graduated from Cornell and went to Germany, where she studied at the University of Zurich and joined the German Social Democratic Party. In 1884, Kelley married a Russian medical student. The couple went on to have three children.
Eventually, Kelley returned to the United States and divorced her husband in 1891. She moved into Hull House, and in 1892 she was hired by Illinois to investigate the garment industry and by the federal commissioner of labor to survey Chicago’s nineteenth ward. Later, Illinois Governor John Peter appointed her chief factory inspector. In 1895, she earned her law degree from Northwestern University.
In 1899, Kelley became head of the National Consumer’s League (NCL), and would remain the leader of that organization for over 30 years. Kelley also moved from Hull House to the Henry Street Settlement in New York City, which was headed by Lillian Wald.
From the Henry Street Settlement, Kelley spearheaded many national reform efforts. Through the NCL, she advocated for minimum wage legislation. She was instrumental in the 1912 formation of the federal Children’s Bureau. She helped to found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and was active in the woman suffrage movement and the international women’s peace movement. In the 1920s, Kelley was attacked during the “red scare.” Many scholars argue that Kelley’s ideas were eventually implemented through New Deal legislation.