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Abbott Sisters Day

March 20, 2015

Grand Island, NE- Friday March 20, 2015 is the 15th annual Nebraska ABBOTT SISTERS DAY, a state-wide recognition of the life and work of social justice pioneers Grace and Edith Abbott. The Abbott Sisters were born and raised in Grand Island, Nebraska and have a fund established in their honor at the Grand Island Community Foundation.

The Grand Island Community Foundation is proud to be the home of the Abbott Sisters Project Fund and project partner of The Quilted Conscience. The Quilted Conscience Project is a project to help Sudanese-American girls foster creativity, respect, and friendship between immigrant/refugee children and traditional-American communities through special quilting workshops. These workshops have a very special significance because each student makes two quilt squares, one that represents their life prior and one that represents their hopes that had seemed like only a dream prior to coming to the United States.  In 2008 sixteen Sudanese students from Grand Island Senior High participated in these quilting workshops that were held at the Stuhr Museum, and lead by National Quilt Artist, Peggy Hartwell, from Springfield, South Carolina, and local quilters from the Grand Island area.

"I have met the Sudanese students that participated in The Quilted Conscience in Grand Island and the Burmese students that participated in the project in Omaha, and it is extraordinary to hear them tell their stories about their past experiences and to see the twinkle in their eyes as they talk about a future they thought was never possible," said Tammy Morris, Chief Executive Officer of the Grand Island Community Foundation 

As Central Nebraska has grown in population and diversity, the staff and Board of Trustees of the Community Foundation have continued to focus on enhancing the quality of life in our community for all citizens. One of the most recent efforts has been to initiate a diversity initiative committee comprised of representatives from the Foundation, business community and local families. This committee will look at the needs of our community and respond with a strategically aligned approach for our programs and services. Additionally, the Community Foundation will participate in the Grow Grand Island initiative to further enhance cultural engagement and understanding in our area.  

Grand Island native John Sorenson established The Abbott Sister Fund, in honor of Grace and Edith Abbott. John was born and raised in Grand Island, the Abbott sisters' hometown.

 "After moving to New York City and discovering the impressive achievements of the Abbott sisters, I decided to create a project to raise public awareness - and to perpetuate the living legacy - of these two extraordinary women. For 23 years now, I've been studying the Abbott sisters' amazing (and vitally alive) story and trying to share it with others - through the making of books, films, radio shows, presentations and community outreach events," said John Sorenson, Abbott Sister's Project Director.

The Project has worked closely with the Office of the Governor of the State of Nebraska to create the annual "Abbott Sisters Day," and with the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation to create the annual "Grace Abbott Children's Awards." It has also partnered in work to name the Grace Abbott School of Social Work at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), to establish the Abbott-Independent Scholarship Fund at UNO, to restore the Grace Abbott Children's Park of Grand Island, Nebraska, to create and install bronze busts of the sisters in the Edith Abbott Memorial Library of Grand Island, and to establish the Abbott Sisters Research Center, also at the Edith Abbott Library.

"Edith Abbot was very generous to our library. When a new library was built in 2004 with the bequest she left to our library, the building was named the Edith Abbott Memorial Library, in honor of her bequest. We are very grateful for the bequest and the amazing heritage she has provided for our community, with her work with children and immigrants," said Steve Fosselman, Edith Abbott Memorial Library Director.

The Abbot Sister Project has produced popular Abbott presentations and programs for the New York Public Library, the Chicago Humanities Festival, New York University School of Social Work, University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, Columbia University School of Social Work, University of Nebraska, New School University, National Association of Social Workers, International Quilt Study Center and Museum, Hastings Museum, and many other institutions and organizations across the U.S.

The Abbott Sisters Project has been the subject of numerous major television, radio, internet, newspaper and magazine articles, including featured pieces on NETV (Nebraska PBS) and in the official publication of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

There have been many book publications including The Grace Abbott Reader (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and Grace Abbott: An Introduction (University of Nebraska-Omaha, 2010). Media works include The Children's Champion (Chicago Public Radio, WBEZ, 2002), My Sister and Comrade (Nebraska Public Radio, 1995) and Grace Abbott: An Introduction (video version, 1998).  The Project's newest endeavor is The Quilted Conscience, a film of its ongoing "culture-blend" story-quilt workshops with immigrant children across America.

The Quilted Conscience film, directed and produced by John Sorensen, is currently being broadcast on Public TV stations across the U.S. The premier of The Quilted Conscience film was presented for the first time at the Grand Theatre, in downtown Grand Island in November of 2012.

The Abbott sisters are currently being honored by an ongoing exhibition of artwork, created by the Abbott-inspired efforts. The Quilted Conscience Project is displayed in Omaha at the Joslyn Art Museum, the Kaneko Art Center and the W. Dale Clark branch of the Omaha Public Library.

The Abbott sisters will further be honored through the publication of Edith Abbott's memoir of Grace's life: "A Sister's Memories," which will be issued this fall by the University of Chicago Press. "A Sister's Memories" is the inspiring story of Grace Abbott (1878-1939), as told by her sister and social justice comrade, Edith Abbott (1876-1957).  Edith recalls in vivid detail the Nebraska childhood, impressive achievements, and struggles of her sister who, as head of the Immigrants' Protective League and the U.S. Children's Bureau, championed children's rights from the slums of Chicago to the villages of Appalachia. 

Grace's efforts saved the lives of thousands of children and immigrants and improved those of millions more.  These trailblazing social service works led the way to the creation of the Social Security Act and UNICEF and caused the press to nickname her "The Mother of America's 43 Million Children." 

Grace Abbott was the first woman in American history to be nominated to the presidential cabinet and the first person to represent the United States at a committee of the League of Nations.  As her friend and colleague, Eleanor Roosevelt, wrote, Grace was "one of the great women of our day . . . a definite strength which we could count on for use in battle."

Nebraska born-and-raised social justice pioneer Grace Abbott will be remembered for her well-known credo: "Justice for all children is the high ideal in a democracy," and her legacy forever honored by the Abbott Sisters Project Fund at the Grand Island Community Foundation.

"The mission of the GICF is to enhance the quality of life in our community and I have the opportunity every day to see how one person can impact an entire community. The Abbott Sisters Project Fund and The Quilted Conscience has received not only statewide recognition, but also national and international acclaim, thanks to the passion, dedication and perseverance of John Sorenson," said Morris.

To see The Quilted Conscience exhibit locations visit www.nebraskaishome.org/?p=732. The Grand Island Community Foundation has a booklet highlighting the life of Grace Abbott. For more information about The Abbott Sisters Fund contact the Community Foundation at 308-381-7767 or stop by their office located at 1811 West 2nd Street, Suite 365, Grand Island, Nebraska.

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  • Grand Island Community Foundation
  • 1811 W. 2nd Street, Suite 365
  • Grand Island, NE 68803
  • (P) 308-381-7767 (F) 308-384-4069