Social reformer, economic historian and a pioneer in America of the study of the economic position of women, Edith Abbott was born on 26 September 1876 in Nebraska, and graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1901. She enrolled in a summer session at the University of Chicago in 1902, attracting the attention of James Lawrence Laughlin and Thorstein Veblen, and on their recommendation returned to Chicago in 1903 on a fellowship in political economy, taking her PhD in 1905 with a dissertation on the wages of unskilled labour in the USA between 1850 and 1900 (Abbott 1905). It was during this period at Chicago that she met Sophonisba Breckinridge who became her mentor and lifelong friend. In 1906, on a Carnegie Fellowship, she went to the LSE to carry out research on women in industry. In London she was influenced by the social reformers of the day, including Charles Booth and Sydney and Beatrice Webb. She returned to the USA in 1907 and taught political economy at Wellesley. In 1908 Breckinridge, now Director of Research at the newly established Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy, invited her to become her assistant.