University of Chicago Library

Guide to the Sophonisba P. Breckinridge Papers 1908-1949

© 2009 University of Chicago Library

Descriptive Summary


Breckinridge, Sophonisba P. Papers


0.5 linear feet (1 box)


Special Collections Research Center
University of Chicago Library
1100 East 57th Street
Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.


Sophonisba P. Breckinridge (1866-1948) social scientist, social work educator. The papers include manuscripts of her unfinished autobiography which describes members of the resident at Hull House; correspondence; newspaper clippings; data from a study on Americanization (1918-1919); and sales and royalty records of her books. Correspondents include Jane Addams and Julia Lathrop.

Information on Use


The collection is open for research.


When quoting material from this collection, the preferred citation is: Breckinridge, Sophonisba P. Papers, [Box #, Folder #], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

Biographical Note

Sophonisba Preston Breckinridge was born April 1, 1866, in Lexington, Kentucky, the daughter of William C. P. Breckinridge and Issa Desha. She graduated from Wellesley College in 1888, and in 1895 was admitted to the Kentucky bar. Her law practice did not prosper, and a Wellesley classmate, May Cook, persuaded her to go to the University of Chicago to take a position as secretary to Marion Talbot, the Dean of Women.

Breckinridge received a Ph.M. degree from the University of Chicago in 1897 and a Ph.D. in political science and economics in 1901. In 1904 she became the first woman to receive the J.D. degree from the University. She taught briefly in the Department of Political Science and then joined Talbot in the Department of Household Administration, becoming an assistant professor in 1909. She also served as head of Green Hall, one of the women's dormitories, and resided there for most of her career.

While teaching at the University, Breckinridge spent her summers at Hull-House and became involved with many of the activities there. She also worked at the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy, serving as its dean, and was instrumental in the merger of the school with the University to form the School of Social Service Administration in 1920. Her teaching, research, and publications helped to define social work as a profession and mold it into an academic discipline. She was made a full professor in 1925, and was named Samuel Deutsch Professor of Public Welfare Administration in 1929, remaining active until a few months before her death in 1948.

Scope Note

The autobiography found in Folders 1 through 12 consist of manuscript and typescript fragments, some of which bear dates between 1944 and 1947. The drafts of various sections have been arranged to follow Sophonisba Breckinridge's own outline, although there is considerable overlap in the narrative. Much of the material concerns Breckinridge's family background, and includes portraits of her grandparents, her father, her sister Curry and brother Desha. Sophonisba Breckinridge also wrote about her early years at the University of Chicago, particularly during her term as assistant to Marion Talbot, and her account includes anecdotes and asides about co-education, race relations on campus, and student life in general.

The remainder of the collection includes a small amount of correspondence, along with newspaper clippings, biographical materials, articles, a speech, and other items, such as data from a study of Americanization in 1918-1919, and records of sales and royalties of Breckinridge's books.

Related Resources

The following related resources are located in the Department of Special Collections:


University Office of the President. Records

Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy. Records

National Conference of Social Work. Records

School of Social Service Administration. Records

Edith and Grace Abbott. Papers and Addenda

Julius Rosenwald. Papers

Marion Talbot. Papers

A large collection of Sophonisba Breckinridge's correspondence is included in the Breckinridge Family Papers at the Library of Congress.

Subject Headings


Box 1   Folder 1

Autobiography, outlines, n.d.

Box 1   Folder 2

Autobiography, introduction, n.d.

Box 1   Folder 3

Autobiography, Breckinridge and Cabell families, n.d.

Box 1   Folder 4

Autobiography, Desha and Curry families, including article on Mary Desha published in The New York State News Sheet, 1942

Box 1   Folder 5

Autobiography, schooling, 1880s

Box 1   Folder 6

Autobiography, 1890s

Box 1   Folder 7

Autobiography, 1890s

Box 1   Folder 8

Autobiography, "1901-1919"

Box 1   Folder 9

Autobiography, early experiences at the University of Chicago, n.d.

Box 1   Folder 10

Autobiography, "The Department of Household Administration," n.d.

Box 1   Folder 11

Autobiography, "The Russell Sage Foundation," n.d.

Box 1   Folder 12

Autobiography, "Last Will and Testament," n.d.

Box 1   Folder 13

General correspondence, 1908-1946

  • Abbott, O. A., 1908-1946
  • Bowen, A. L., 1908-1946
  • Children's Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor, 1908-1946
  • Costigan, Mabel, 1908-1946
  • Davison, Emily, 1908-1946
  • Davison, Ronald, 1908-1946
  • Delteil, Desha and Jean, 1908-1946
  • Deutsch, Albert, 1908-1946
  • Guilford, Richard, 1908-1946
  • Lathrop, Julia C., 1908-1946
  • Marshall, Catherine E., 1908-1946
  • Murphy, J. Prentice, 1908-1946
  • Roberts, Dorothy D., 1908-1946
  • Sexton, Anna May, 1908-1946
  • Simmonds, B., 1908-1946
  • Springer, Gertrude, 1908-1946
  • University of Chicago, notices of reappointment, 1938, 1940, 1908-1946
  • Unidentified, 1908-1946
Box 1   Folder 14

Correspondence concerning Family Welfare Work in a Metropolitan Community, 1925

  • Addams, Jane, n.d.
  • Graves, William C., n.d.
  • Hull, Morton D., n.d.
  • Lathrop, Julia C., n.d.
  • Ryerson, Edward L., n.d.
  • Swift, Harold H., n.d.
Box 1   Folder 15

Family Welfare Association of America, Pathfinding Committee on the Study of Governmental Relief Methods, report and correspondence, 1932

Box 1   Folder 16

Americanization study, family interview schedules, 1918-1919

Box 1   Folder 17

Articles and printed materials on neutrality and international relations, 1936-1937

Box 1   Folder 18

"Social Security and Public Welfare," address at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, October 24, 1937

Box 1   Folder 19

Greeting cards, 1938, 1940

Box 1   Folder 20

Records of book sales, 1927-1942

Box 1   Folder 21

News clippings and press releases, 1933-1946

Box 1   Folder 22

Programs and invitations, 1933-1946

Box 1   Folder 23

Obituaries and memorials, 1948-1949