Florence Kelley dedicated her life to making lasting and meaningful social and political reform. In many ways, she can be credited with helping to start the Progressive Era.
One of her earliest achievements was the founding of the New Century Guild in Philadelphia in 1882. This organization worked to empower women by providing them with vocational education. Kelley herself worked as an instructor there.
Florence Kelley also worked hard to allow women to work as factory inspectors. In 1890, as the result of Kelley's fervent lobbying, the government of the state of New York passed legislation that created eight positions for women to work as state factory inspectors. This paved the way for more women to work in public sector jobs.
Throughout the 1890s, Kelley worked hard to expose the terrible working conditions in America's urban sweatshops. While employed as an inspector for the Illinois State Bureau of Labor Statistics, she exposed many unhealthy aspects inherent in the lives of the urban working class. As a result of her investigations, Illinois passed several laws limiting the workday and instituting other protections.
Kelley was also one of the founding members of the NAACP. Her work with the organization was instrumental in the crafting of legislation aimed at protecting the wages of African Americans, including the Sterling Discrimination Bill.
In 1916, Kelley was instrumental in lobbying Congress to pass the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act, which instituted a ban on products made in factories that used child labor.