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Beverly Wilson Palmer Receives NEH Grant for Edition of Florence Kelley Letters

Beverly Wilson Palmer, a research associate at Pomona College, and Kathryn Kish Sklar, a professor of history at SUNY Binghamton, received a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to collect and edit the letters of Progressive activist Florence Kelley.

Florence Kelley (1859-1932) was instrumental in efforts to enact laws regulating minimum wage and working conditions for women and children by founding the National Consumer’s League in 1899. As head of the League from its founding in 1899 until her death in 1932, Kelley led campaigns that reshaped the conditions under which goods were produced in the United States. Among her accomplishments were the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and laws providing for an eight-hour work day. She was a member of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, along with important figures such as Jack London and Upton Sinclair. A strong activist for women’s suffrage and African American civil rights, Kelley was a key figure in the establishment of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

"The publication of selected Florence Kelley letters will engage readers in Kelley’;s life and work with greater immediacy than her biographical interpretations will allow," says Palmer. "Rather than viewing her struggles from afar, published letters will carry readers onto the battlegrounds of the struggles she waged. By giving readers a first-hand understanding of the changes that Kelley wrought in American life, her letters will help readers understand how much of what they take for granted in their own world was created by Kelley and her allies."

The pair pull together approximately 300 letters drawn from an extant pool of 2,200. The volume’s focus will be on Kelley’s leadership in the realm of social legislation and highlight other important areas of her life, including her family’s tradition of social reform and leadership, and her own responsibilities as a mother and reformer.

Palmer has experience as the editor of collections of letters, publishing The Selected Papers of Thaddeus Stevens in two volumes (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997 and 1998), The Selected Letters of Charles Sumner (Northeastern University Press, 1997), The Selected Letters of Lucretia Coffin Mott (University of Illinois Press, 2002), and A Woman’s Wit & Whimsy: The 1833 Diary of Anna Cabot Lowell Quincy (Northeastern University Press, 2003). This is her first collaboration with Sklar, who is the co-director of the Center for Historical Study of Women and Gender, and co-director of the Center for the Teaching of American History at SUNY Binghamton.

Pomona College is one of the nation’s premier liberal arts institutions, offering a comprehensive program in the arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Its hallmarks include small classes, close relationships between students and faculty, and a range of opportunities for student research.