Mary Morton Kimball was the fourth of eight children born to Moses Day and Susan Tillinghast Morton Kimball. Mary was born in Boston on September 8, 1859. She attended private schools in Boston and Europe
Mary Morton married William Brown Kehew in 1880. The Kehews were wealthy. Mary decided to focus her time and influence on helping working-class women. Mrs. Kehew preferred to work behind the scenes for her causes. Her time was spent lobbying lawmakers and gathering donations from wealthy peers.
In 1886, Mary joined the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union. She assumed a leadership role from 1892 until 1918. Under her leadership, the WEIU changed from a charity group to a group focusing on education and organizing the workers.
With Mary Kenney O’Sullivan, Kehew co-founded the Union for Industrial Progress. This union organized laundry workers, bookbinders, and workers in the tobacco and garment industries. Mary Morton Kehew was the first president of the National Women’s Trade Union League This organization worked to eliminate sweatshops. When Simmons College was established in 1902, Kehew served on the board of trustees.
Mary was active in social reform, women’s suffrage, and creating child labor laws.
Mary Morton Kehew died at her home on February 13, 1918. Emily Greene Balch remembered Mary as “the never-failing fairy godmother of Boston social and labor reform”.