Lowell, Josephine Shaw
By Lisa A. Bancuk
Graduate Student, Grand Valley State University
Josephine Shaw Lowell was an American social reformer, advocate, and charity worker in the late 1800s. She believed in being a charity worker and that charity should change the recipients, as well as relieve their suffering. "Lowell became active in many social causes, and helped to promote the reorganization of public and private charities of the U.S." (College of Saint Benedict 1).
Lowell felt that social change depended on "the friendly visitor who offered advice on child rearing, and homemaking along with assessment, and recommendations for aid and the model for the social worker" (Beatty). Her work helped to provide women's correctional facilities and institutions for the mentally ill. She helped to improve efficiency in social welfare services and reduced the rate at which children were placed in poorhouses.
Josephine Shaw was born on December 16, 1843, in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. Her parents were wealthy Bostonians with influential friends such as James Russell Lowell and Margaret Fuller. When Josephine was growing up, she traveled throughout the world and attended school in Paris, Rome, New York City, and Boston. She married Colonel Charles Russell Lowell in 1863. Unfortunately, he was wounded and died the next year in Virginia, while serving in the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry.
Josephine started her volunteer service at the beginning of the Civil War and, throughout the years, participated in and helped to found many charities. During the Civil War, she worked with the American Red Cross and joined the Women's Central Association of Relief, which provided aid to Union Soldiers. Later, she became an influential advocate and author for children's and women's issues.
She opposed the Philippine-American War. Together, Lowell and Edward Ordway of the Anti-Imperialist League of New York founded two organizations to advocate for the Philippine situation. These were the Philippine Independence Committee and the Filipino Progress Association. She wrote a petition condemning the opium trade that was presented to Congress by the Association. She also took a controversial position by supporting Philippine independence.
A chronology of important highlights of Josephine Shaw Lowell's life shows a significant contribution to society and a passion for helping the disenfranchised. Foremost, Lowell helped to found a number of organizations. These include: the New York Charity Organization (which worked with charitable agencies; 1882), the first custodial asylum for women in the U. S. (1885), the House of Refuge for Women (later known as the State Training School for Girls; 1886), Consumers' League of New York (1890), the Woman's Municipal League (1894), and the Civil Service Reform Association of New York State (1895). Among Lowell's other accomplishments: she was the first woman appointed commissioner of the New York Charities Commission (1876); she wrote numerous papers on the theories supporting relief work, including Public Relief and Private Charity; and she served as vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League of New York (1901-1905).
Ties to the Philanthropic Sector
Josephine Shaw Lowell was very influential as a philanthropist. She worked as a volunteer and founded many charitable organizations. She was also involved in the anti-imperialist and labor movements.
Lowell also wrote many reports on welfare and on the theoretical foundations of relief work, especially the influential Public Relief and Private Charity.
Key Related Ideas
- Women's Rights
- Social Reform
- Labor Movement
- Philippine Independence
Important Related Nonprofit Organizations
- American Red Cross
- Consumers' League
Beatty, Barbara. Biographical Dictionary of Social Welfare in America. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press Inc., 1986
BoondocksNet.com. Two Reasons in Favor of the Election of William Jennings Bryan [online]. Available: http://www.boondocksnet.com/ai/ailtexts/lowell09.html. (31 March 2001).
BoondocksNet.com. A Peace Appeal to Labor [online]. Available: http://www.boondocksnet.com/ai/ailtexts/peaceapp.html. (31 March 2001).
College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University. Josephine Shaw Lowell [online]. Available: www.csbsju.edu/socialwork/gallery/lowell.html. (31 March 2001).
Encyclopaedia Britannica [online]. Available: www.britannica.com. (31 March 2001).
Waugh, Joan. Unsentimental Reformer: The Life of Josephine Shaw Lowell. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1988.
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