| Historical Perspective | Brief Look Back at Some Project Events | Current Project Events |
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Historical Perspective
The Grand Island Public Library (established in 1884) has a long and strong heritage of service to our community, in large part due to members of the Abbott family. This family’s influence began with Elizabeth Abbott, one of the first library board members who served a total of 48 years. She influenced the Women's Suffrage Society to give its treasury balance to the library for book purchases. Later she was instrumental in President Theodore Roosevelt’s participation in the 1903 groundbreaking for the Carnegie Library.


Elizabeth Abbott Pictured In The Center Edith Abbott
The Abbott legacy continued with her daughter Edith Abbott (1876-1957), a Grand Island native and a pioneer in American social work education who left the bulk of her estate to the library. The Edith Abbott Memorial Library has been our home since 1974! In addition, she left a trust for a collection of non-fiction books in memory of her mother.
More than thirty years after opening, our library facility has so many more services to offer the public.
In honor of this special legacy, on September 14, 1992 the Grand Island Public Library Foundation, Inc. became the original and ongoing sponsor of the Abbott Sisters Project with another Grand Island native, John Sorensen as project director. The original project was a book about Edith and Grace Abbott. This project has also evolved into a video documentary as well as other important educational offerings. Work on all aspects of this project is continuous and ongoing.

Over the years the Foundation as the project’s sponsor has received a variety of donations from individuals, corporations, foundations, and humanities councils. Thank you so much for your continued support! And local collaborations with Stuhr Museum and the Grand Island School District mean that the Abbott Sisters Project will be alive and well in our community for many years to come!

Among this project’s original goals:
To communicate to our community, state and nation the vital contribution of these Grand Island natives.
To raise funds which shall be used to help create library activities and projects directly connected with the Abbott’s fields of work in immigration, women’s and children’s issues, etc.
To compile for the Edith Abbott Memorial Library a complete set of the writings of Edith and Grace Abbott.
In project director John Sorensen’s proposal for the video documentary: “We are preparing to make a video profile of Grace and Edith Abbott – remarkable sisters who were born to a pioneer family in the small Nebraska village of Grand Island in the 1870’s, and who grew up to lay the foundation of some of America’s most important social changes. The Abbott sisters’ story is an adventurous tale of two brave individualists, of how they lived and worked among the poor of this country and later earned crucial positions in government and education – very rare achievements for women of the 1920s ... In our video we will emphasize the unique collaboration of these two sisters whose skills so beautifully harmonized and complemented one another’s. We show the scholarly Edith paving the way, doing the first experiments, fostering her sister’s interests – and Grace putting Edith’s lessons into action.”

A Brief Look Back at Some Project Events

One significant aspect of this project is housed in the Edith Abbott Memorial Library: the Abbott Sisters Research Center. This center is a collection of books and articles by and about Edith and Grace Abbott. Items in this center have been donated by project director John Sorensen, have been collected over the years by the Library, or were from Edith Abbott’s own personal library and donated to the Library after her death. Amateur and professional researchers far and wide are encouraged to make arrangements to access this center by calling 308-385-5333 or emailing
Dr. Magda Peck, associate chair for
community health and section chief
on child health policy in the department
of pediatrics at the University of Nebraska
Medical Center tours the Abbott Sisters
Research Center.
Foundation board member Jerry Bryant
thanks project director John Sorensen for
his generous contribution of research
Another annual event is Edith Abbott’s birthday party, a Victorian tea held at the Library for over 100 third and fourth grade girls on or around Edith’s September 26th birthdate. Many of the girls come dressed in Victorian costumes and are escorting their dolls. Everybody learns all about Edith Abbott, her legacy, and how to properly behave at a tea party before drinks and foods are served.
In March 2002 the Grand Island Public Library Foundation, project Director John Sorensen, and the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation worked hard to create a statewide Abbott Sisters Day. Proclaimed by the Governor and by Grand Island’s Mayor each year, we are now celebrating our third year. Click here for this year’s city proclamation.
The Library Foundation rented a bus to
deliver “the largest group we've ever had
for a proclamation signing” according to
Governor Johanns.
Foundation board member Jerry Bryant
accepts a dreamcatcher from the Abbott
House in Mitchell, South Dakota at the
Abbott Sisters Day luncheon.
In June 2001 Nebraska Governor Johanns was the featured speaker at the dedication of sculptures of Edith and Grace Abbott. A donation to the Grand Island Public Library Foundation of sculptor David Young’s creations made this event possible, attended by over 200.
These pieces of art now
reside in the Library's
front entrance.
Governor Johanns
delivers key address.
Foundation President Duane Burns
thanks artist David Young.
Current Project Events

Events coordinated by the Library and by project director John Sorensen in cooperation with Stuhr Museum, the Grand Island School District and statewide/national agencies keep this project moving along.   
A Prairie Childhood - the text of an edited version of Edith Abbott's memoir of Grace's childhood is available on the internet via the website of the Center for Great Plains Studies and this organization's Great Plains Quarterly

And from John Sorensen's most recent project update:

1. THE CHILDREN'S CHAMPION - our video documentary is being reshaped to include an exciting new visual element: the Abbott Children's Quilt Project. The visual focus of our revamped program will be the record of the creation of a massive mural "Story Quilt" by a group of children (primarily those with family backgrounds from Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America) who are now living in the Abbott sister's little Nebraska hometown. The Story Quilt will tell Grace's tale through visual images taken from her life and from the cultural (and fiber art) traditions of the childrens own families and homelands. [I'll include a "Project Overview" for the video as an attachment to this newsletter.] We are fortunate in being helped with this Story Quilt work by our new Project Member, the master-quilter Peggie Hartwell of the Women of Color Quilters Network.

2. A PART IN THE STRUGGLE - the manuscript of our anthology of Grace Abbott's best writings and speeches is nearing completion. The book is in three primary sections, dealing with Grace's great contributions to the fields of Children's Rights, Immigration Rights, and Women's Rights. There are also extensive excerpts from Edith Abbott's memoir, "A Sister's Memories," which introduce and "set the scene" for her sister's writings. We have been fortunate here, too, in having the participation of another new Project Member: the respected author and scholar Prof. Judith Sealander of Bowling Green University.

... In addition, we are currently engaged in preparations for:

3. THE ABBOTT SISTERS SYMPOSIUM - an event to celebrate the fifth annual Abbott Sisters Day, which is coming up in March 2006. At present, we are working with Dr. Maha Younes of the University of Nebraska at Kearney to prepare a small "Abbott Sisters Symposium" or conference, with speakers presenting papers re: the four principle Abbott sisters topics - children's rights, immigration rights, women's rights, and social work education. Among the ideas being discussed is the presentation of speeches originally written and delivered by Grace or Edith Abbott; another idea is to make "pairings" of new papers - with one concerning the historical aspects of the Abbotts' work joined with another re: aspects of those same issues today. I'll keep you posted as this endeavor develops.

... Finally, there have been a number of gratifying new Abbott-developments around the country, such as:

4. UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO/SSA - the Sept. '05 issue of "News & Notes," published by the School of Social Service Adminstration at U of C, included a wonderful column by Mary Jane Keitel, Assoc. Dean, concerning her recent "pilgrimage" to the Abbotts' hometown. Ms. Keitel notes, "Like many small towns in the U.S., Grand Island weaves together surprisingly diverse strands of cultural influence. Between 20% and 25% of the residents are people of color, and many are recent immigrants. Visiting Grand Island was one of those experiences that remind you how issues that motivated the Abbotts are still present ... in almost every town in the country."

5. WEBSITE - Harvest Works (the New York recording studio where we've done our Project audio-work) has added a page with references to our work. You can check this out at:

6. NATIONAL HISTORY DAY - ... Finally, we're happy to note that we've recently been contacted by two enthusiastic students from California who are doing extensive and impressive work on a National History Day Project concerning the Abbott sisters - and we wish them much success in their effort!

 The Grand Island Public Library Foundation, Inc. is the founding and ongoing sponsor of the Abbott Sisters Project. 

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211 North Washington Street, Grand Island, Nebraska 68801 (308) 385-5333 FAX (308) 385-5339