Professor Leigh Bienen to be Honored Guest at Literary Awards Dinner

October 12, 2015

Leigh Bienen, a senior lecturer at Northwestern Law, will be an honored guest at the Chicago Public Library Foundation’s 16th Annual Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner on October 21, 2015, an event celebrating Chicago’s vibrant literary community.

Florence Kelley and the Children book cover

Bienen’s most recent book, Florence Kelley, Factory Inspector in 1890s Chicago, and the Children, is a detailed account of Florence Kelley’s social and legal activism in Chicago and throughout the state of Illinois. Bienen had previously created the Florence Kelley website, ( which includes historical documents, health and labor reports, and transcripts of legal materials.

Kelley, a 1895 graduate of Northwestern Law, was the first woman to hold statewide office in Illinois—she was appointed to the post of Chief Factory Inspector by Governor John Peter Altgeld in 1893. A tireless activist for child workers and women’s education, her efforts had a profound impact on labor law and social history. Her principal adversary in Chicago was the brilliant attorney Levy Mayer. After leaving Chicago, Florence Kelley and her colleague at the National Consumers League, Josephine Goldmark, invented the “Brandeis Brief” for advocate Louis Brandeis in a landmark labor case, Muller v. Oregon, which they won before the United States Supreme Court in 1908.

In researching Florence Kelley’s work and life, Bienen discovered that none of the existing biographies thoroughly covered her important contributions as the first chief factory inspector in Illinois. “None, in my opinion, conveyed the richness of the historical context surrounding the effort to reform conditions in Chicago sweatshops and tenements. The writings and legacy of contemporaneous figures such Jane Addams, Henry Demarest Lloyd, and Theodore Dreiser were also inspiring,” Bienen said. “They accomplished so much at a time when women didn’t even have the vote.”  

Prior to joining the Northwestern Law faculty in 1995, Bienen worked for the Department of the Public Advocate in New Jersey. Her areas of expertise include homicide research, capital punishment, sex crimes, and rape reform legislation. Before joining the faculty at Northwestern, she taught at Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of California, Berkeley.

Authors honored at the Carl Sandburg Literary Awards in the past have included: Scott Turow, Sara Paretsky, Elizabeth Berg, Sandra Cisneros, David Axelrod, and Clarence Page. This year, composer, lyricist and author Stephen Sondheim and local novelist Eric Charles May will also be recognized.