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Josephine Shaw Lowell
File:Josephine Shaw Lowell 1869.png
From a Crayon Portrait 1869
Born December 16, 1843
Roxbury, Massachusetts
Died October 12, 1905
New York, NY
Religion Unitarian
Spouse(s) Charles Russell Lowell
Children Carlotta Russell Lowell (b. November 30, 1864)

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 the West Roxbury section of Roxbury, Massachusetts into a wealthy New England family in 1843. Her parents, Francis George and Sarah Blake (Sturgis) Shaw, were Unitarian philanthropists and intellectuals who encouraged their five children to study, learn and become involved in their communities. They lived for some years in France and Italy, and then settled on Staten Island while Josephine (known as 'Effie') was a child. Her brother was Robert Gould Shaw.

File:Josephine Shaw and Colonel Lowell 1863.PNG

Josephine Shaw and Colonel Lowell in 1863

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, Carlotta, was born.

Progressive leader[]

A young widow, Josephine moved back to Staten Island with Carlotta, and lived with her parents. After her father's death, she lived with her mother and daughter in New York City. 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.

File:Josephine Shaw Lowell.png

Josephine Shaw Lowell

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.

Later life and death[]

File:Josephine Shaw Lowell 1899.png

Josephine Shaw Lowell in 1899 (from a Bas-Relief by (Augustus Saint-Gaudens)

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.


Grave of Josephine Shaw Lowell and her husband Charles Russell Lowell at Mount Auburn Cemetery

She died of cancer in 1905, at her home in New York City, and is buried with her husband at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 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.


  • Public Relief and Private Charity (1884).
  • Industrial Arbitration and Conciliation (1893).


  • Waugh, Joan. Unsentimental Reformer: The Life of Josephine Shaw Lowell (Harvard University Press, 1998).
  • Henretta, James, ed. America's History volume 2 5th edition. Bedford St. Martins', 577.
  • The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography Vol. 8 Published by J.T. White, p. 142 (1898).
  • Stewart, William Rhinelander The Philanthropic Work of Josephine Shaw Lowell: Containing a Biographical Sketch of Her Life, Together with a Selection of Her Public Papers and Private Letters, Collected and Arranged for Publication pp 38, 48 (1911).

External links[]