Sophonisba Breckinridge: Championing Women’s Activism in Modern America

Univ. of Illinois. (Women, Gender, & Sexuality in American History). Sept. 2019. 400p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9780252084515. pap. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9780252051524. BIOG
Born in Kentucky to a wealthy and influential Southern family, Sophonisba Breckinridge (1866–1948) rejected tradition to pursue a myriad progressive causes, including women’s and civil rights, social welfare policies, antilynching campaigns, and more. Part of a community of women reformers based in Chicago’s Hull House, Breckinridge is best remembered for establishing the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, the first of its kind affiliated with a major research institution. Jabour (Regents Professor of History, Univ. of Montana; Scarlett’s Sisters) draws from archival sources and Breckinridge’s own correspondence to analyze her subject’s contributions to modern American feminism and to understand why someone so consequential during her time is relatively unknown today. In so doing, Jabour sheds light on previously underappreciated aspects of women’s early activism and raises contemporary parallels as appropriate. She also delves into Breckinridge’s personal and professional relationship with fellow reformer Edith Abbott.
VERDICT A masterly contribution to the history of American women. Academics and general readers alike will applaud this nuanced biography of a feminist who dedicated her life to public service and improving the lives of women.

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