Tribute to Minnie F. Low, May 29, 1922


I knew Minnie F. Low during the many years when her office for Personal Service was located within a few blocks of Hull-House. I recall her first during the winter of 1893 and 1894 when we met often to consider the many problems arising out of mass feeding for “soup kitchens” became inevitable and were distributed throughout the district during that winter when Chicago was filled with people stranded from the World’s Fair and caught with one of the worst financial depressions America had known for a generation. We occasionally cooperated in the handling of special cases but more often we met at informal committee meetings to discuss the possible alleviation of the poverty all about us. I recall her spirited efforts to secure a loan fund to be used during the seasons of unemployment; to curb the extortion practiced so often by the immigrant banks; to prevent the exploitation of newly arrived immigrants by those who had come to the United States a little earlier; to secure ↑insist upon↓ better treatment at Ellis Island for the multitude of Russian Jews who were fleeing from [Pogroms]; to secure decent housing so that the canons of family morality built up through the centuries, might be preserved; to protect bewildered parents when their children were brought into the courts often for a slight offense which yet entailed a black family disgrace.

Some of these undertakings implied new legislation at Washington, at Springfield or at the City Hall in Chicago; others of them merely meant bringing indifferent officials back to a fresh conception of their duties and opportunities, still others meant arousing an entire neighborhood to public ↑a↓ spirit and ↑of↓ civic righteousness. It was as a result of the latter undertaking that she with Judge Mack called together the leading citizens of her office neighborhood including both clergymen and saloon keepers to appeal to them in the name of and ↑for↓ the protection to which they youth and innocence were entitled. One of the early meetings of the temporary [page 2] organization which followed this appeal met in the Hull-House theatre ↑[illegible]↓ and I vividly recall -- in spite of the intervening quarter of a century filled with reform organization meetings -- Minnie Low’s eloquent plea for the immigrant ↑girls↓ girl. At that moment throughout the United States there was much agitation over the activity of the so-called white slave trader. The White Slave Treaty signed in Paris in 1904 by various European powers was not signed by the United States because it was found impossible to carry out its provisions without federal police. Therefore the United States District Attorney in Chicago had been prosecuting under the ↑a↓ clause of the Immigration Act which had unfortunately been declared unconstitutional and the “white slave traffic act” was not finally passed by Congress until 1910. In the years preceding the latter date Illinois passed the first pandering law in this country, changing the offense from disorderly conduct to a misdemeanor and greatly increasing the penalty. As a result of this vigorous action Chicago became the first city to look the situation squarely in the face and to make a determined businesslike fight against the procuring of girls. It was evident that the entire situation was closely allied to immigration for if a foreign girl who spoke no English, who had not the remotest idea in what part of the city her fellow countryman lived, could be decoyed immediately upon her arrival in this country she was almost as valuable to a white slave trafficker as a girl imported directly for the trade. 

Throughout ↑[an entire]↓ decade spent first in collecting definite information and then in securing and enforcing legislation designed to control and finally to abolish this monstrous social evil, Minnie ↑Miss↓ Low ↑[of the] [illegible]↓ bore a valiant part. Her gallant efforts in behalf of those unhappy victims never faltered and only her fellow workers can know how difficult and complicated the situation often became. 

The Juvenile Protective League was an outgrowth of the various local organizations due to the initiative of Judge Mack and Miss Low. This organization was taken over in 1909 by the Juvenile Court Committee [page 3] [which] for eight years had paid for the probation officers connected with the Juvenile Court for six years and had maintained a detention home for the children awaiting trial. When both functions were taken over by Cook County the Juvenile Court Committee became responsible for the work of the League, changing its name in 1909 to the Juvenile Protective Association which has functioned since as one of the organized moral forces in Chicago. They are always glad to remember their debt to Minnie Low.

There are of course other occasions which come to my mind of which Miss Low was a leading spirit. I recall her work as a member of a small committee which administered the generous fund given by Julius Rosenwald to found a country club for social workers and in many another undertaking. They all illustrated a wonderful combination of moral ardor, sympathetic understanding united with careful training.

May the social workers of Chicago be able to maintain the standards set by her, one of the most illustrious of their pioneers!