Isabelle M. Kelley

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Isabelle M. Kelley
Isabelle M. Kelley.jpg
Born(1917-07-27)July 27, 1917
DiedNovember 29, 1997(1997-11-29) (aged 80)
OccupationSocial Worker
Years active1940–1973
Known forarchitect of the food stamp program

Isabelle M. Kelley ( 1917–1997) was an American social worker who was the primary architect of the Federal Food Stamp Program. When she was appointed to be the director of the Division which oversaw the Food Stamp Program for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), she became the first woman to run a national social program or lead any Division of a federal agency. She has been inducted into the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame and the USDA’s Hall of Heroes.


Isabelle M. Kelley was born on July 27, 1917 in Ellington, Connecticut to Hannah (née O'Connell) and Thomas W. Kelley, but her family soon moved to Simsbury where she completed her secondary schooling. She enrolled in Agricultural Economics, at the University of Connecticut graduating in 1938 and went on to attain a master's degree in food economics from Iowa State University.[1] In 1940, as soon as she graduated, Kelley began working for the USDA. She began studying trends in consumer purchasing and family nutrition. She was one of the first to understand the connection between health and cognition and pushed forward the Penny Milk Program. The program gave milk to school children for one penny and Kelley received the USDA’s Superior Honor Award for her administration of the initiative. In 1946, she helped launch the National School Lunch Program.[2]

In 1961, President Kennedy asked her to participate in a task force to investigate ending hunger and distribution of the food supply.[3] Initially, she ran a pilot program in eight of the most poverty-effected counties in the US and studied their nutritional needs as well as the impact on local retailers of instituting a coupon-based program. The following year, the program was expanded into 18 states. The program continued under President Johnson toward a permanent government program.[2] As part of the commission's work, she became the primary author of the Food Stamp Act of 1964. The USDA appointed her in 1964 to be the first Director of the administrative division which oversaw the program, making her the first woman who had directed a national social program or led any Division of a federal agency.[3] Kelley retired in 1973, but continued to advise on policies and programs of the USDA.[2] Beginning in 1974, she worked for a year and a half at the Graduate School of Georgetown University. In 1987, she was interviewed in the memoir program of Radcliffe College, as one of the thirty-eight women participants, who had been former employees of the federal government.[1]

Kelley died on November 29, 1997 in Bethesda, Maryland.[1] In 2011, she was posthumously inducted into the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame[2] and that same year was brought into the USDA’s Hall of Heroes.[3]


  1. ^ a b c "Kelley. Isabelle M. Kelley". Hartford, Connecticut: The Hartford Courant. December 2, 1997. Retrieved 31 October 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d "Isabelle M. Kelley". New Haven, Connecticut: Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame. 2011. Retrieved 31 October 2015.
  3. ^ a b c "Congressional Record—Senate" (PDF). Washington, DC: United States Government. 26 April 2012. p. S2811. Retrieved 31 October 2015.