Mary McDowell

Angel of the Stockyards

Mary McDowell
Mary McDowell. Courtesy Library of Congress

Mary McDowell Facts

Known for: role in WTUL (Women's Trade Union League)
Occupation: reformer
Dates: November 30, 1854 - October 14, 1936
Also known as: Mary Eliza McDowell, "Angel of the Stockyards"

Mary McDowell Biography

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and raised in Chicago, Mary McDowell was especially close to her father, a steel rolling mill owner. She became active in Methodist social service work and in 1887, after meeting Frances Willard, became a national organizer for the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).

She worked in the WCTU's kindergarten movement, and briefly taught in New York.

Mary McDowell became a Hull House resident in 1890, starting a kindergarten and a woman's club. Inspired by the 1894 Pullman strike, she became interested in labor issues, and established, with University of Chicago faculty members, a settlement house in the "Back of the Yards" neighborhood near the stockyards. She became the director of this settlement house, the University of Chicago Settlement, organizing activities and services for the mostly immigrant families.

Mary McDowell became involved in issues of sanitation, helping to get open garbage pits replaced by better sanitation disposal methods. She also supported the packing-house workers in their 1904 strike, working to avoid violence and preserve union recognition, and, later, to expose and improve stockyard conditions.

A founder of the Women's Trade Union League (WTUL) and continuing supporter, Mary McDowell worked for protective legislation for women and children, and for woman suffrage.

After the 1919 race riots, Mary McDowell focused her activism on working to improve race relations. She retired as settlement director in 1929 and died in 1936.