Ethel Sturges Dummer (October 23, 1866 – February 25, 1954) was a Chicago-based progressive activist, author, and philanthropist whose interests encompassed child labor laws, prison reform, education, psychology, and conservation.
Born in Chicago in 1866 to Mary Delafield and George Sturges, she graduated in 1885 from the Kirkland School, a high school, in Chicago. She married William Francis Dummer (1851–1928), a prominent Chicago banker, in 1888. The couple had four daughters—Marion, Ethel, Katharine, and Frances—and a son who died in infancy. Although she had no formal education beyond secondary school and never held a paid job, she played a significant role in the Chicago school of sociology and in professional sociology in general, according to sociologist Jennifer Platt. Dummer funded projects she considered important and encouraged professionals to work on them. She often provided to these professionals relevant data gathered by networks of social reformers, many of them women. In a review of Dummer's autobiography, Why I Think So – The Autobiography of an Hypothesis (1937), Thomas Eliot of Northwestern University, said, "Mrs. Dummer is best recognized in her intellectual enthusiasms, and in her generous tributes and contributions (spiritual and material) to the work of others." In 1905, she joined the National Child Labor Committee and the Chicago Juvenile Protective Association, and in 1908, she became a founder and trustee of the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy, later the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. She extended financial support to entities such as the Juvenile Psychopathic Institute and to prominent psychologists, psychiatrists, and sociologists including Adolf Meyer, Thomas Eliot, William Alanson White, Trigant Burrow, Katharine Anthony, Jessie Taft, and others. She funded research, writing, and administrative projects undertaken by Miriam Van Waters, a well-known prison reformer. She helped found the Illinois Society for Mental Hygiene and served on the boards of the City Club of Chicago, and the National Probation Association. Among Dummer's published work are prefaces to The Unadjusted Girl by William I. Thomas (1923), a prominent sociologist and author. Concerned about the unequal treatment of women and men involved in what were known as sexual vice crimes, Dummer paid Thomas $5,000 a year for two years to research and analyze cases involving female prostitutes and unmarried mothers. Drawn to the work of Mary Boole and her husband, mathematician George Boole, Dummer supported publication of Mary Boole's collected works in 1931 and wrote a pamphlet, Mary E. Boole: A Pioneer Student of the Unconscious in 1945. Dummer's wide-ranging interests included biology, psychiatry, anthropology, and economics. The Unconscious: A Symposium (1928); The Evolution of a Biological Faith (1943), and What is Thought? (1945) were among her other published works. After 1947, Dummer lived with her daughter Katharine Dummer Fisher in Winnetka, Illinois. She died in Winnetka in 1954; memorial services were held at the Institute for Juvenile Research in Chicago.
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