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Julie Longo and Sandra F. VanBurkleo

Abbott, Grace (17 November 1878–19 June 1939), social worker and administrator, was born in Grand Island, Nebraska, the daughter of Othman Ali Abbott, a lawyer and politician, and Elizabeth Griffin, a high school principal. The Abbott household provided an intellectually stimulating environment, emphasizing reading, discussion, and formal education for all four children. Othman Abbott encouraged both Grace and her older sister ...

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Abernathy, Ralph David (11 March 1926–17 April 1990), civil rights leader and minister, was born David Abernathy in Linden, Alabama, the son of William L. Abernathy and Louivery Valentine Bell, farmers. A sister’s favorite professor was the inspiration for the nickname “Ralph David,” and although Abernathy never made a legal change, the name remained with him from age twelve....

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Abzug, Bella (24 July 1920–31 March 1998), lawyer, feminist leader, and U.S. representative, was born Bella Savitsky in the Bronx, New York, the daughter of Emmanuel Savitsky, butcher, and Ester Tanklefsky Savitsky. She attended local schools before entering Hunter College in Manhattan, where she took part in student government and was active in the Zionist movement. She entered Columbia University Law School following her graduation in 1942 but soon left school and took a wartime job in a shipyard. She married Martin Abzug, a writer who later became a stockbroker, in 1944; the couple had two daughters. Abzug returned to Columbia and served as editor of the ...

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Addams, Jane (06 September 1860–21 May 1935), social reformer and peace activist, was the daughter of John Huy Addams, a businessman and Republican politician, and Sarah Weber. Born on the eve of the Civil War in the small farming community of Cedarville, just outside Freeport, in northern Illinois, she was the youngest of five children, four of whom were girls. Her mother died during pregnancy when Jane was two years old. The Addams family was the wealthiest, most respected family in the community. Jane’s father owned the local grain mill, was president of the Second National Bank of Freeport, had interests in a local railroad and a local insurance company, taught Sunday School, and was active in local Bible societies. A founding member of the Republican party and supporter of ...

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Alcott, A. Bronson (29 November 1799–04 March 1888), Transcendentalist and reformer, was born Amos Bronson Alcox in Wolcott, Connecticut, the son of Joseph Chatfield Alcox and Anna Bronson, farmers. Farming the rocky Connecticut soil was not lucrative, and Alcott worked hard with his parents to help support seven younger siblings, thereby limiting his opportunities for a formal education. He attended the local district school until age ten, but thereafter his intellectual growth largely depended on his own reading and discussions with friends of a similar scholarly bent, the first being his cousin William Andrus Alcott. William later attended Yale College and established a career as a physician and popular author of health manuals, but continuing poverty prevented Bronson from obtaining a college education. At age fifteen he, like many of his young Connecticut contemporaries, began peddling small manufactured goods, first in Massachusetts and New York, then in Virginia and the Carolinas....

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Alexander, Raymond Pace (13 October 1898–24 November 1974), lawyer, judge, and civil rights leader, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the third son of Hillard Boone and Virginia Pace Alexander, both slaves in Virginia who were freed in 1865 and migrated to Philadelphia in 1880. His background was working-class poor and he grew up in Philadelphia's seventh ward, an all-black community made famous by W. E. B. Du Bois's seminal study ...

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Allen, Nathan (25 April 1813–01 January 1889), physician, social reformer, and public health advocate, was born in Princeton, Massachusetts, the son of Moses Allen and Mehitable Oliver, farmers. He spent his first seventeen years on the family farm, learning to work hard and to follow the Christian principles of his parents. He could not afford a higher education, but a friend in Leicester helped pay his tuition at Amherst Academy and then at Amherst College, where he matriculated in 1832, graduating in 1836....

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Amory, Cleveland (02 September 1917–14 October 1998), writer and animal rights advocate, was born in Nahant, Massachusetts, the son of Robert Amory, a textile manufacturer, and his wife, Leonore Cobb Amory. Both parents were descendants of long-established upper-class families in Boston, where Cleveland grew up in a privileged household. He was educated at private schools, including Milton Academy, and enrolled at Harvard in 1935. After graduating four years later, he worked briefly as a reporter for the ...

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Anthony, Susan B. (15 February 1820–13 March 1906), reformer and organizer for woman suffrage, was born Susan Brownell Anthony in Adams, Massachusetts, the daughter of Daniel Anthony and Lucy Read. Her father built the town’s first cotton mill. When Susan, the second of eight children, was six, the family moved to Battenville, New York, north of Albany, where Daniel prospered as manager of a larger mill and could send Susan and her sister to a Friends’ seminary near Philadelphia. His good fortune, however, collapsed with the financial crisis of 1837; the mill closed, Susan left boarding school, the family lost its house, and for nearly a decade the family squeaked by, assisted by Susan’s wages as a teacher. Looking for a new start in 1845, Daniel moved to a farm near Rochester, the city that would be Susan’s permanent address for the rest of her life....

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Astor, William Waldorf (31 March 1848–18 October 1919), businessman and philanthropist, was born in New York City, the son of John Jacob Astor, a businessman, and Charlotte Gibbes. Astor received his education at home under private tutors and studied law at Columbia University. He worked at law for a short while but found his first real calling in Republican politics. He served a term as a New York State assemblyman beginning in 1877, and two years later he was elected to the state senate. Twice he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, but he was defeated each time. The press and his political enemies found Astor’s inherited wealth an easy target for excoriation, and the public humiliation he suffered at their hands was the first step on the path toward his alienation from everything American. By all accounts Astor was extremely sensitive and simply could not endure criticism. Nor did he find satisfaction in his 1878 marriage to Mary Dahlgren Paul, although the union produced four children. The marriage suffered as shy Mary Astor was forced into a contest with her husband’s Aunt Caroline for the position of most important society matron in New York’s upper crust—the famous “Four Hundred Families.” In addition, the Astors were concerned for the safety of their children, whom they feared might become victims of a kidnapping for ransom....

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Austin, Mary Hunter (09 September 1868–13 August 1934), writer, was born in Carlinville, Illinois, the daughter of George Hunter, an attorney, and Susannah Savilla Graham. Throughout her earliest years, Austin’s father, who was her sole source of literary and personal support, suffered from ill health owing to a malarial fever contracted during his Civil War service. After the deaths of her father and sister, which occurred when she was ten years old, Austin led a lonely life in a home where her mother’s emotional energy was devoted to her eldest son. Writing became the solitary child’s means of expression. She studied art and majored in science at Blackburn College, receiving her B.S. in 1888. Although her first twenty years were spent in the Midwest, Austin dedicated much of her life as a writer to the culture and landscape of the Southwest. In 1888 she moved with her mother and siblings to California’s San Joaquin Valley, where the family established a desert homestead and she taught school. In 1891 she married Stafford Wallace Austin; they had a daughter the following year. Her daughter was severely retarded, and Austin was eventually forced to commit her to an institution, where she died in 1918....

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Baker, Ella Josephine (13 December 1903–13 December 1986), civil rights organizer, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the daughter of Blake Baker, a waiter on the ferry between Norfolk and Washington, D.C., and Georgianna Ross. In rural North Carolina where Ella Baker grew up she experienced a strong sense of black community. Her grandfather, who had been a slave, acquired the land in Littleton on which he had slaved. He raised fruit, vegetables, cows, and cattle, which he shared with the community. He also served as the local Baptist minister. Baker’s mother took care of the sick and needy....

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Baker, Josephine (03 June 1906–12 April 1975), dancer, singer, and civil rights activist, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Eddie Carson, a musician, and Carrie Macdonald. Her parents parted when Josephine was still an infant, and her mother married Arthur Martin, which has led to some confusion about her maiden name. Very little is known about her childhood, except that she was a witness to the East St. Louis riot in 1917. This event was often a feature of her talks in the 1950s and 1960s about racism and the fight for equality, which fostered the oft-repeated assertion that the family was resident in East St. Louis. Before the age of eighteen Josephine had been married twice, first to Willie Wells and then to William Baker, to whom she was married in Camden, New Jersey, in September 1921....

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Baldwin, Roger Nash (21 January 1884–26 August 1981), civil libertarian and social activist, was born in Wellesley, Massachusetts, the son of Frank Fenno Baldwin, a leather manufacturer who owned several companies, and Lucy Cushing Nash. The lines on both sides of the family went back to the Pilgrims. Baldwin attended Wellesley public schools. As a boy he lacked prowess in sports and developed interests in music, art, and nature. He was regarded as “different,” which made him seek, early in life, “unconventional, nonconformist avenues of expression” consistent with the intellectual heritage of ...

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Barton, Clara (25 December 1821–12 April 1912), philanthropist, was born Clarissa Harlowe Barton in North Oxford, Massachusetts, the daughter of Stephen Barton, a farmer and local politician, and Sarah Stone. The childhood nickname “Clara” stuck, and throughout her life she was known to the world as Clara Barton. Her family had lived in New England for generations, and Barton grew up hearing stories of her ancestors’ escapades during the American Revolution. Despite her family’s comfortable position and local renown, however, her childhood was not happy. Her parents’ troubled marriage and erratic behavior, the insanity and early death of her favorite sister, and the questionable business dealings of her brothers made for an unstable home life. When in later life she recalled her childhood, she wrote, “I remember nothing but fear.”...

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Bates, Daisy (11 November 1914–04 November 1999), civil rights activist, newspaper founder and publisher, was born Daisy Lee Gatson in Huttig, Arkansas. Her biological father and mother, reputedly John Gatson and Millie Riley, remain shrouded in mystery, and scholars have been unable to find evidence confirming her parentage. (Thus, her reported birth date varies: the one given here is widely acknowledged.) Bates grew up hearing that several white men had raped and murdered her mother and thrown the body in a pond. Leaving his infant daughter in the care of friends Orlee and Susie Smith, who became her foster parents, her father abandoned her, never to return. This was Bates's baptism into the poverty, insecurity, and racial violence that segregation fostered....

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Beecher, Henry Ward (24 June 1813–08 March 1887), preacher and reformer, was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, the son of Lyman Beecher, a leader of the Second Great Awakening, and Roxana Foote. Following in the footsteps of his father and his five brothers, Henry Ward displayed an early interest in religion. He graduated from Amherst College in 1834, studied at Lane Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was admitted to the ministry in 1837. That same year he married Eunice Bullard White and began work at the Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, where he gained a reputation as a revivalist and published in 1844 his first book, ...

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Benjamin, Harry (12 January 1885–24 August 1986), physician, endocrinologist, and sex researcher, was born in Berlin, Germany, the son of Julius Benjamin, a banker, and Bertha Hoffman. He became interested in human sexuality at the age of twenty, when he read August Forel’s ...

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Bethune, Mary Jane McLeod (10 July 1875–18 May 1955), organizer of black women and advocate for social justice, was born in Mayesville, South Carolina, the child of former slaves Samuel McLeod and Patsy McIntosh, farmers. After attending a school operated by the Presbyterian Board of Missions for Freedmen, she entered Scotia Seminary (now Barber-Scotia College) in Concord, North Carolina, in 1888 and graduated in May 1894. She spent the next year at ...

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Billings, John Shaw (12 April 1838–11 March 1913), army medical officer, library organizer, and public health activist, was born near Allensville, Indiana, the son of James Billings, a farmer and storekeeper, and Abby Shaw. Despite spotty secondary schooling, he ultimately went to Miami College (Ohio), where he earned his B.A. in 1857. He was awarded the M.D. by the Medical College of Ohio in 1860. Billings remained with the latter institution for a year as an anatomical demonstrator, but after the outbreak of the Civil War he joined the U.S. Army as a contract surgeon. In 1862 he was commissioned first lieutenant and assistant surgeon and went on to make army service his career. Also in 1862 he married Katharine Mary Stevens; they had five children....