Edith Abbott, the elder sister of Grace Abbott, attended the universities of Nebraska and Chicago, and received a Carnegie fellowship to study at the London School of Economics. There she learned from Beatrice and Sidney Webb, who were championing new approaches to dealing with the problems of poverty. In 1907, Edith returned to the USA and taught economics for a year at Wellesley College. She then became assistant director of the research department of the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy. With her help, it was transferred to the University of Chicago and renamed to the School of Social Service Administration. It was the first university-based graduate school of social work. In 1924, Edith Abbott became the dean of the school, the first American woman to become the dean of a graduate school. She served in that position until 1942. In 1926, she helped establish the Cook County Bureau of Public Welfare, and in 1935, she helped draft the Social Security Act. She was a special consultant to Harry Hopkins, adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Edith Abbott founded the journal Social Service Review in 1927, and edited it until her death. Her best known works were Women in Industry (1910), The Delinquent Child and the Home (1912), and The Tenements of Chicago (1936), co-written with her sister. See Two Sisters for Social Justice: A Biography of Grace and Edith Abbott by Lela Costin.