Sophonsiba Breckinridge collection

 An inventory of the collection at the University of Illinois at Chicago

Summary Information

Richard J. Daley Library Special Collections and University Archives
Breckinridge, Sophonisba Preston, 1866-1948
Sophonisba Breckinridge colllection
Date [inclusive]
0.25 Linear feet
Part of the Jane Addams Memorial Collection. Sophonsiba Breckinridge (1866-1948) was a welfare worker who led the social work education movement in the United States. Breckinridge graduated from Wellesley College in 1888 and continued her studies in law and political science at the University of Chicago, earning her Ph.D. in 1901. She joined the faculty at the University of Chicago in 1904, teaching in the Department of Household Administration until 1912. Beginning in 1907, she was involved in the Women's Trade Union League and with Hull-House, where she lived from 1907 to 1920. Also in 1907, she began teaching at the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy, later the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Social Service Administration. Breckinridge's ideas about rigorous coursework and training techniques set the standard for social work education in the United States. In 1927, she co-founded and edited the journal "Social Service Review." She also helped organize the Woman's Peace Party and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. The collection contains correspondence, newspaper clippings, and articles.

Preferred Citation

Sophonsiba Breckinridge colllection, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Illinois at Chicago

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Biography of Sophonsiba Breckinridge

Sophonisba Preston Breckinridge was born on April 1, 1866 to William Campbell Preston Breckinridge and his second wife, Issa (Desha) Breckinridge, in Lexington, Kentucky. Her father had once served as a colonel in the Confederate Army, sat in the U.S. Congress, and had worked as an attorney and journalist. Breckinridge's privileged background enabled her to attend and graduate from Wellesley College in 1888. She eventually persuaded her reluctant father to allow her to study for the bar exam using his own library; Sophonisba Breckinridge became the first woman ever to pass the bar in Kentucky in 1895.

Breckinridge became acquainted with Marion Talbot, Dean of Women at the University of Chicago, while visiting a former Wellesley classmate in Oak Park, Illinois. Talbot befriended Breckinridge and provided her with a clerical job in her office, housing in a campus dormitory, and a fellowship in political science. Sophonisba Breckinridge received her Ph.D. in Political Science in 1901 and a J.D. degree in 1904. She then taught in the newly created Department of Household Administration in which such subjects as the transition of the family from a unit of production to a unit of consumption were discussed.

Politically and academically active, Breckinridge served as vice-president for the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1911 and belonged to the Women's Trade Union League (WTUL). She also held the presidency of the Woman's City Club of Chicago and was a national officer of the American Association of University Women. Breckinridge helped Jane Addams and others start the Women's Peace Party in Chicago in 1915 and joined the American delegation of the International Congress of Women (ICW) held at The Hague in that same year.

Breckinridge sometimes lived at Hull-House and was deeply involved in many of the settlement's social reform projects. She served as director of research at the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy (CSCP) from 1907 with Edith Abbot, a former student, as the assistant director. The CSCP stressed the use of the scientific method and thorough data collection prior to the formulation of social policy. The two women would later transform the CSCP into an integral unit of the University of Chicago designated as the School of Social Service Administration (SSA). Breckinridge produced several important scholarly works about contemporary social problems such as New Homes for Old (1921) and Marriage and the Civic Rights of Women (1931). A full Professor of Social Economy after 1925, Breckinridge championed the rights of immigrants and African-Americans; she fought against racism as a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and pursued efforts at integrating people of color into life within and beyond the university.

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Scope and Contents

The Collection consists of two letters, one newspaper clipping, and a copy of "Women and Housing Reform" (1912) written by Sophonisba Breckinridge.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Richard J. Daley Library Special Collections and University Archives 2003-11-04

801 S. Morgan Street
Chicago, Illinois, 60607

Restrictions on Access


Restrictions on Use


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Controlled Access Headings

Personal Name(s)

  • Breckinridge, Sophonisba Preston, 1866-1948 -- Archives


  • Chicago Community Organizations.
  • Hull-House and Settlement House History.
  • Social work education -- Illinois -- Chicago.
  • Social work education -- United States.

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Schultz, Rima Lunin and Adele Hast, eds. Women Building Chicago, 1790-1990: A Biographical Dictionary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

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Collection Inventory

Series I: Sophonsiba Breckinridge Collection, 1912-1940s 

Box Folder

Letters to Horace J. Bridges (May 11, 1918) and C.H. Dennis (November 27, 1923), 1918, 1923 

1 1

"The Sun Salutes Dr. Breckinridge." - newspaper clipping from Chicago Sun-Times, ca. 1940s 

1 2

Breckinridge, Sophonisba. "Women and Housing Reform." National Housing Association: Housing Problems in America Proceedings, 1912 

1 3

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