Josephine Shaw Lowell

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Josephine Shaw Lowell (December 16, 1843 - October 12, 1905) was a Progressive Reform leader in the United States in the Nineteenth century. She is best known for creating the New York Consumers League in 1890.

Early years

Josephine Shaw was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts into a wealthy New England family in 1843. Her parents, Francis George and Sarah Blake (Sturgis) Shaw, were both philanthropists and intellectuals who encouraged their five children to study, learn and become involved in their communities. The Shaw family was Unitarian. Her brother was Robert Gould Shaw.

Josephine married Charles Russell Lowell, a businessman, in 1863. She followed him to Virginia when he was called into service during the American Civil War. Josephine helped wounded men on the battlefield. Charles died in battle, less than a year after they were married and only one month before their daughter was born.


Progressive leader

A young widow, Josephine moved to Staten Island with her daughter, Carlotta, and lived with her parents. She became a businesswoman and a reformer. Josephine was active in the Anti-Imperialist League where she met other prominent Progressives. She served as Vice-President of the League from 1901-1905 and was a great advocate of Philippine independence.

Josephine was committed to social justice and reform and seized the opportunity to become involved in Progressive reform and the eradication of poverty. She once said, ”If the working people had all they ought to have, we should not have the paupers and criminals. It is better to save them before they go under, than to spend your life fishing them out afterward."

In 1876, Governor Samuel Tilden of New York State appointed Josephine to Commissioner of the New York State Board of Charities. She was the first woman to ever hold this position. She served actively on the Board until 1889.

Throughout her lifetime, she also founded many charitable organizations including: the New York Charity Organization in 1882, the House of Refuge for Women (later known as the State Training School for Girls) in 1886, the Woman's Municipal League in 1894, and the Civil Service Reform Association of New York State in 1895.

Perhaps her most wide-ranging and effective organization was the New York Consumers' League which she established in 1890. This organization strove to improve the wages and the working conditions of women workers in New York City. The League was particularly concerned with retail clerks. Josephine published a "White List" that contained a list of stores known to treat women workers well. Initially, the list was very short.

The New York Consumer's League was adopted in many other cities as chapters opened across the country. The umbrella organization, the National Consumers League (NCL), became a powerful lobbying group.

She died in 1905 in New York City. The Fountain Terrace in Bryant Park, which is behind the New York Public Library, is dedicated to her. The fountain is New York City's first public memorial dedicated to a woman.




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Source: Wikipedia

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