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EDESSA KUNZ LINES

Biographical Note: Edessa Luella Kunz was born and raised in Poynette, Wisconsin. She entered the University of Wisconsin in 1894, taking the “Civic Historical Course” within the School of Economics, Political Science, and History. Graduating in 1898, she traveled to New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and across Europe, to independently “study the slums and racial conditions.”(1)

Kunz spent five years teaching high school in Appleton, Wisconsin. In 1903 she was hired as the assistant state factory inspector for the Wisconsin Bureau of Labor & Industrial Statistics. Over the next four years she annually visited hundreds of Wisconsin factories, seeking to ensure that plants were obeying the state’s labor laws, especially those specific to women and children. In 1905 her supervisor selected her to investigate and begin laying the groundwork for a tenement housing law in Wisconsin. She authored a major section of the Bureau’s 1905-1906 annual report on “The Housing Problem in Wisconsin,” and she also played a key role in drafting the reform legislation. Modeled after New York’s tenement law of 1901, the bill was signed into law in 1907. (Declared unconstitutional by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1908, the legislation was subsequently revised, reintroduced and signed into law in 1909.)(2)

In 1907 Kunz married George Lines, chief legal counsel for the Northwestern Mutual Life Company. With marriage she resigned from the Bureau of Labor, yet Mrs. Lines remained active in a variety of philanthropic and social justice endeavors. She was a charter member of the Central Council of Philanthropies, established in 1909 and later renamed United Community Service. She served as president of the Wisconsin Industrial School for Girls prior to the private institution’s transfer to the State of Wisconsin’s control in 1917.(3)

During the First World War she served as the secretary and assistant treasurer of the Wisconsin chapter of the National League for Woman’s Service, a patriotic organization that helped coordinate volunteer activities on the home front. She was a founder of the Legal Aid Society, serving as a board member from 1942 until 1962. Mrs. Lines also served as a member of the University of Wisconsin’s Board of Visitors. In 1943 her alma mater bestowed her with their Distinguished Alumni Award.(4)

Edessa Kunz Lines died in Milwaukee on October 22, 1962.(5)

 

1 Milwaukee Daily News, June 27, 1906, p. 5.

2 Lawrence M. Friedman and Michael J. Spector, “Tenement House Legislation in Wisconsin: Reform and Reaction,” The American Journal of Legal History (Vol. 9: No. 1, 1965) pp. 41-63; “The Housing Problem in Wisconsin,” Twelth Biennial Report, Bureau of Labor & Industrial Statistics, 1905-1906, Part, IV; Dessa Kunz, “The Housing Problem in Wisconsin,” Charities and The Commons (1907), pp. 251-258.

3 Obituary in Milwaukee Journal, October 23, 1962.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

Restrictions: There are no access restrictions to the Edessa Kunz Lines Papers.

Scope and Content: The documentation within the Edessa Kunz Lines papers is fragmented. The contents of the collection are arranged within three topics: National Woman's Service Organization-Wisconsin chapter, Industrial School for Girls, Photographs of Milwaukee tenements; thereunder by subject. A poster from the First World War is preserved in the repository's oversize print collection.