Jessie Taft

Jessie Taft

J. (Julia) Jessie Taft (June 24, 1882 in Dubuque, IowaJune 7, 1960 in Flourtown, Pennsylvania) was an early American authority on child placement and therapeutic adoption. Educated at the University of Chicago, she spent the bulk of her professional life at the University of Pennsylvania. She is best remembered for her work as the translator and biographer of Otto Rank, an outcast disciple of Sigmund Freud. She and her lifelong companion, Virginia Robinson, adopted and raised two children.

Personal life

Jessie Taft was born Julia Jessie Taft on June 24, 1882 in Dubuque, Iowa, the oldest of three sisters. Her parents were Charles Chester Taft and Amanda May Farwell who moved from Vermont to Iowa. There is no know connection to the famous offspring of the Vermont Tafts. Her father established a prosperous wholesale fruit business in Des Moines. Her mother was a homemaker who gradually became deaf and distant from her daughters. [The most authoritative account of Taft's life is from Robinson. Also consulted to write this section are Deegan and Axinn]

Taft attended and graduated from West Des Moines High School. She then went to Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa and received a B.A. degree in 1904. Also in her class of 1904 at Drake was Clara Charlotte Hastings, granddaughter of Pardee Butler and older sister of Milo Hastings. Two decades later Taft was to adopt a boy, Everett, the first-born son of Milo Hastings. There is no evidence that Taft realized she was adopting the nephew of a former college classmate.

After college at Drake, Taft went to the University of Chicago and earned a Ph.B. in 1905. She then went back to Dubuque to her former high school and taught there for four years. In 1908 she returned to the University of Chicago for graduate work. At that time she met Virginia P. Robinson. The two women became lifelong companions and colleagues. In 1909 she got a fellowship and began working with George H. Mead (who became her thesis adviser), James Hayden Tufts, and William I. Thomas. She also worked at Hull House, the social settlement of Jane Addams. Taft completed her doctoral thesis “The Woman Movement from the Point of View of Social Consciousness” in 1913. It was published in book form in 1916.

In 1912 Taft found work the Bedford Hills Reformatory for Women in New York City and stayed there until 1915. She then practiced psychology for four years before becoming director of the Child Study Department of the Children’s Aid Society in Pennsylvania. Taft and Robinson moved to Flourtown, Pennsylvania close by Carson Valley School, where they were close friends with the staff. Taft, the school and its staff appear in the novel "Double Stitch" by John Rolfe Gardiner. In about 1920 Taft and Robinson bought a house on East Mill Road in Flourtown that became known as “The Pocket”, so called because the women had to dig deeply into their pockets to purchase the property. [The Pocket name story is from Contosta, p237]

In 1921 the Taft and Robinson made the decision to adopt two children. Everett was adopted on his birthday July 9, 1921 at age nine. Martha Scott was adopted in 1923 at age 6. Everett went on to marry and raise a family. Martha, who never married, became Chief Dietitian for the Veterans Administration Hospital in Philadelphia [From an obit in the University of Pennsylvania vertical file on Taft] .

In 1924 Taft met Otto Rank, an outcast disciple of Sigmund Freud, and became his American champion and translator. Taft was finally able to begin an academic career in 1929 at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1936 she became the director of their new school of social work. She retired in 1950 to organize Rank’s papers (he died in 1939) which were donated to Columbia University, and to write his biography which was published in 1958. E. James Lieberman wrote another biography of Rank in 1985 with many references to Taft.

Taft died on June 7, 1960 in Flourtown, Pennsylvania after suffering a stroke. Virginia Robinson lived on until 1977, writing a biography of Taft that came out in 1962.

Professional Life


Child Adoption

Otto Rank



cite journal
last = Seigfried
first = Charlene Haddock
title = Introduction to Jessie Taft, "The Woman Movement from the Point of View of Social Consciousness"
journal = Hypatia
volume = 8
issue = 2
pages = pp215–218
date = Spring 1993

*cite book
last = Axinn
first = June
title = Notable Ameican Women: The Modern Period
pages = pp683-685
publisher = Belknap Press, Cambridge MA
date = 1980

*cite book
last = Contosta
first = David R.
title = Philadelphia's Progressive Orphanage, The Carson Valley School
publisher = Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park PA
date = 1997

*cite book
last = Deegan
first = Mary Jo
title = Women in Sociology
pages = pp383-390
publisher = Greenwood Press, New York
date = 1991

*cite book
last = Gardiner
first = John Rolfe
title = Double Stitch
publisher = Counterpoint, A Member of the Perseus Books Group, New York
date = 2003

*cite book
last = Lieberman
first = E. James, M.D.
title = Acts of Will, The Life and Work of Otto Rank
publisher = The Free Press, A division of Macmillan, Inc., New York
date = 1985

*cite book
last = Robinson
first = Virginia P.
title = Jessie Taft, Therapist and Social Work Educator, A Professional Biography
publisher = University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia
date = 1962

*cite book
last = Taft
first = Jessie
title = Otto Rank, A Biographical Study Based on Notebooks, Letters, Collected Writings, Therapeutic Achievements and Personal Associations
publisher = The Julian Press, Inc., New York
date = 1958

*cite book
last = Taft
first = Jessie
title = The Woman Movement from the Point of View of Social Consciousness
publisher = University of Chicago Press
date = 1916

cite encyclopedia
title = Columbia University Library
publisher = Has professional papers of Jessie Taft and Virginia Robinson. The collection consists of 300 items in 3 boxes

cite encyclopedia
title = Radcliffe University
publisher = The Ethel S. Drummer Papers at the Schlesinger Library contains a correspondence between Taft and Drummer

cite encyclopedia
title = University of Pennsylvania
publisher = Have a vertical file on Taft and pictures

External References

[ The Adoption History Project.] Jessie Taft is one of the featured persons.

[,M1 Jessie Taft Thesis: "The Woman Movement from the Point of View of Social Consciousness"]

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