| Historical Perspective | Brief Look Back at Some Project Events | Current Project Events |
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Historical Perspective
The Grand Island Public Library (established in 1884) has a long and strong heritage of service to our community, in large part due to members of the Abbott family. This family’s influence began with Elizabeth Abbott, one of the first library board members who served a total of 48 years. She influenced the Women's Suffrage Society to give its treasury balance to the library for book purchases. Later she was instrumental in President Theodore Roosevelt’s participation in the 1903 groundbreaking for the Carnegie Library.


Elizabeth Abbott Pictured In The Center Edith Abbott
The Abbott legacy continued with her daughter Edith Abbott (1876-1957), a Grand Island native and a pioneer in American social work education who left the bulk of her estate to the library.  The Edith Abbott Memorial Library has been our home since 1974 (original opening photos shown - the library was expanded and renovated in 2007).

In addition, she left a trust for a collection of non-fiction books in memory of her mother.
In honor of this special legacy, on September 14, 1992 the Grand Island Public Library Foundation, Inc. became the original and ongoing sponsor of the Abbott Sisters Project with another Grand Island native, John Sorensen as project director. The original project was a book about Edith and Grace Abbott. This project has also evolved into a video documentary as well as other important educational offerings. Work on all aspects of this project is continuous and ongoing.

Over the years the Foundation as the project’s sponsor has received a variety of donations from individuals, corporations, foundations, and humanities councils. Thank you so much for your continued support! And local collaborations with Stuhr Museum and the Grand Island School District mean that the Abbott Sisters Project will be alive and well in our community for many years to come!

Among this project’s original goals:
To communicate to our community, state and nation the vital contribution of these Grand Island natives.
To raise funds which shall be used to help create library activities and projects directly connected with the Abbott’s fields of work in immigration, women’s and children’s issues, etc.
To compile for the Edith Abbott Memorial Library a complete set of the writings of Edith and Grace Abbott.
In project director John Sorensen’s proposal for the video documentary: “We are preparing to make a video profile of Grace and Edith Abbott – remarkable sisters who were born to a pioneer family in the small Nebraska village of Grand Island in the 1870’s, and who grew up to lay the foundation of some of America’s most important social changes. The Abbott sisters’ story is an adventurous tale of two brave individualists, of how they lived and worked among the poor of this country and later earned crucial positions in government and education – very rare achievements for women of the 1920s ... In our video we will emphasize the unique collaboration of these two sisters whose skills so beautifully harmonized and complemented one another’s. We show the scholarly Edith paving the way, doing the first experiments, fostering her sister’s interests – and Grace putting Edith’s lessons into action.”

A Brief Look Back at Some Project Events

One significant aspect of this project is housed in the Edith Abbott Memorial Library: the Abbott Sisters Research Center. This center is a collection of books and articles by and about Edith and Grace Abbott. Items in this center have been donated by project director John Sorensen, have been collected over the years by the Library, or were from Edith Abbott’s own personal library and donated to the Library after her death. Amateur and professional researchers far and wide are encouraged to make arrangements to access this center by calling 308-385-5333 or emailing
Dr. Magda Peck, associate chair for
community health and section chief
on child health policy in the department
of pediatrics at the University of Nebraska
Medical Center tours the Abbott Sisters
Research Center.
Foundation board member Jerry Bryant
thanks project director John Sorensen for
his generous contribution of research
Another annual event is Edith Abbott’s birthday party, a Victorian tea held at the Library for over 100 third and fourth grade girls on or around Edith’s September 26th birthdate. Many of the girls come dressed in Victorian costumes and are escorting their dolls. Everybody learns all about Edith Abbott, her legacy, and how to properly behave at a tea party before drinks and foods are served.
In March 2002 the Grand Island Public Library Foundation, project Director John Sorensen, and the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation worked hard to create a statewide Abbott Sisters Day which is now proclaimed by the Governor each year.
The Library Foundation rented a bus to
deliver “the largest group we've ever had
for a proclamation signing” according to
Governor Johanns.
Foundation board member Jerry Bryant
accepts a dreamcatcher from the Abbott
House in Mitchell, South Dakota at the
Abbott Sisters Day luncheon.
In June 2001 Nebraska Governor Johanns was the featured speaker at the dedication of sculptures of Edith and Grace Abbott. A donation to the Grand Island Public Library Foundation of sculptor David Young’s creations made this event possible, attended by over 200.
These pieces of art now
reside in the Library's
front entrance.
Governor Johanns
delivers key address.
Foundation President Duane Burns
thanks artist David Young.
Current Project Events

Events coordinated by the Library and by project director John Sorensen in cooperation with several local and statewide/national agencies keep this project moving along.   
From John Sorensen's most recent project update (March 2009):



"Justice for all children is the high ideal in a democracy." - Grace Abbott, c. 1930


Dear Friends,


We have much good news to share this spring!  Most importantly, we are pleased to report that work on our new documentary film, "The Quilted Conscience," is progressing wonderfully well - and that we are now engaged in preparations for TWO new Abbott books for the University of Nebraska Press.  Before going into details on these projects, here are our most immediate headlines, concerning two major Abbott events that are coming up in Nebraska very soon:


1. ABBOTT SISTERS DAY '09 [Sunday, 22 March, 2.30pm - Edith Abbott Memorial Library, Grand Island]


A celebration of the "Dreams and Memories" of Grace and Edith Abbott, honoring their lifelong work on behalf of America's immigrants and children.  The highlight of the event will be the public unveiling of a beautiful mural story-quilt featuring the fabric artwork of a group of Sudanese-American girls (ages 10-18) who are among the newest immigrant children in the Abbott sisters' beloved hometown of Grand Island, Nebraska.  The quilt was created under the supervision of noted quilt-artist Peggie Hartwell, with the help and guidance of key members of Grand Island's quilt guilds - and Ms. Hartwell and the quilters will also be honored at the event for their important Abbott sisters "Living Legacy" work.

[Library Note: This quilt and related photographs will be on display at the Edith Abbott Memorial Library from March 22 - April 14, with the exception of the quilt's transport and exhibit in item number 2 just below]


2. "THE GRACE ABBOTT READER" BOOK-LAUNCH [Tuesday, 24 March, 5pm - University of Nebraska at Omaha: CPACS Building, Rooms 132 and 132D (Collaborating Commons), 6001 Dodge St.]


A celebration of the publication of our first Abbott book.  It will include a tribute to the “Living Legacy” work of the Abbott Sisters Project and will feature a display of the finished “Dreams and Memories” Sudanese student quilt-art, as well as a screening of preview highlights from "The Quilted Conscience" video documentary.  A select number of the student artists will also have a chance to answer questions about their artwork and to discuss their experiences as Sudanese-Americans in Nebraska.  Noted quilt-artist/educator Peggie Hartwell will also be participating in this presentation session.


A number of other interesting related events will soon be taking place:


3. PEGGIE HARTWELL QUILT EXHIBITION [March/April - Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, Grand Island]


Quilt artist and project partner Peggie Hartwell will be showing her newest creations at the Stuhr Museum, including several on the theme of "Africa on the Prairies" - sharing her experiences of working with the Sudanese-American girls of Grand Island on the Abbott Quilt Project.


4. NEBRASKA IN NUERLAND (Public Presentations) [Monday, 23 March - Grand Island Public Schools]


Author and project partner Terese Svoboda will be giving several presentations in Grand Island, some of which will concern her experiences as a Nebraskan living in South Sudan among the Nuer people during the mid-1970s.


5. A PRAIRIE CHILDHOOD (Performance Presentations) [Monday/Tuesday, 16/17 March - G.I. Public Schools]


We continue our annual work with the G. I. Public Schools to share special hour-long Abbott Sisters Day presentations at the local schools - this year we will be sharing our story-telling, art activities and music performances with fourth-grade classes throughout town.


As well, many wonderful Project developments have taken place in the past few months.  Here are some highlights:




- "Abbott-Sudan Quilt Project": our Quilt Workshop at the Stuhr Museum in Sept. 2008 was a tremendous success, bringing together an extraordinary group of Sudanese-American girls, quiltmaker Peggie Hartwell, several devoted E.L.A. teachers, and a team of gifted artists from Grand Island's quilt guilds.  [See the "Quilted Conscience" section below for more details.]


- "Immigrants' Protective League Centennial": our Project Director was invited to speak about the immigration work of the Abbott sisters at a special event held at Jane Addams' Hull House Museum in Chicago on 20 November, celebrating the heritage of the Immigrants' Protective League, of which Grace Abbott was the first Director.


- "Grace Abbott in Oak Park" (Book Talk): our Project Director was invited to give a talk about our new Abbott book in the lovely Oak Park area of Chicago, on 21 November.


- "The Abbotts' Living Legacy" (Talk): our Project Director was invited to give a talk at the United Methodist Church of Grand Island concerning the Project's ever-developing outreach work.




- "The Grace Abbott Reader": our first book was officially published by the University of Nebraska Press in October, 2008.


- "A Sister's Memories": the University of Nebraska Press is now planning a sequel to the "Abbott Reader."  This book will be Edith Abbott's long-awaited memoir, "A Sister's Memories."  Editing work on the manuscript has begun and we are hoping to have it ready for publication in 2010.


- "Children of the Old Frontier": a children's book telling the Abbott sisters' story has been requested for the new "Great Peoples of Nebraska" book series that the U of Nebraska Press will soon be publishing.  Work has begun on this manuscript, which is being prepared in consultation with the fourth graders of the Abbott sisters' hometown of Grand Island.




- Our work on "The Quilted Conscience" project has received much favorable media coverage in the past few months, including several excellent front page articles ["Designing Dreams"] and photo essays ["Memories and Dreams"] in the Grand Island Independent.


- The Omaha World-Herald published a glowing tribute to Grace Abbott ["A Woman to Remember"] and "The Grace Abbott Reader" last December.


- The Donna Seebo Show featured a 30-minute internet-interview with editor John Sorensen (well, yes, with me) last November, discussing "The Grace Abbott Reader."


- Our Project Director was invited to contribute articles on Grace and Edith Abbott to the Social Welfare History website.  Here are links:








- Finally (for now), our on-going documentary project has been the subject of a video report available on at:


These are some of the highlights of recent days.  If you'd like to know more about any aspect of our work, please send me an e-mail and I'll be happy to answer your questions.


Thank you for continuing support and kindness.  I look forward to seeing you sometime, somewhere very soon!


Best wishes,


John Sorensen, Director

 The Grand Island Public Library Foundation, Inc. is the founding and ongoing sponsor of the Abbott Sisters Project. 

Mission Statement: The Grand Island Public Library is this diverse community's center for a lifetime of learning and literacy.