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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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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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Day, Dorothy (08 November 1897–29 November 1980), founder of the Catholic Worker movement and Catholic Worker, a monthly newspaper, founder of the Catholic Worker movement and Catholic Worker, a monthly newspaper, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of John Day, a newspaperman, and Grace Satterlee. Her father was a frustrated novelist and horseracing writer whose work took the family to Oakland and Chicago. While in Chicago, Day won a scholarship to the University of Illinois in 1914. She dropped out after two years to return to New York with her family, but she had become a socialist in college and was soon estranged from her father. She lived on the Lower East Side, where she wrote for the ...

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Flanagan, Edward Joseph (13 July 1886–15 May 1948), Roman Catholic priest and founder of Boys Town, was born in Leaberg, County Roscommon, Ireland, the son of John Flanagan, a farm manager, and Honora Larkin. His first formal education was at Summer Hill College, a boarding school in Sligo, Ireland. Flanagan was inspired as a teenager by his older brother Patrick, who had graduated from a Dublin seminary and been ordained a priest. He planned to attend the same Dublin seminary but instead ventured to the United States in 1904 at the age of eighteen. Prompting his decision to immigrate was his sister Nellie, who had returned to visit him in Ireland after spending several years in America. She enthralled him with stories of life there and convinced him of the many advantages America held for his vocational training....

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Gratz, Rebecca (04 March 1781–27 August 1869), pioneer Jewish charitable worker and religious educator, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Michael Gratz, of Silesia, a merchant shipper, and Miriam Simon, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Gratz grew up in Philadelphia’s wealthy society, and her brothers expanded the family financial interests to the West....

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Hale, Edward Everett (03 April 1822–10 June 1909), author, reformer, and Unitarian minister, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Nathan Hale, a journalist, and Sarah Preston Everett. His father was a nephew of revolutionary war hero Captain Nathan Hale, and his maternal uncle and namesake was the orator and statesman ...

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Haviland, Laura Smith (20 December 1808–20 April 1898), abolitionist and evangelist, was born in Leeds County, Ontario, Canada, the daughter of Daniel Smith and Sene Blancher, farmers. She grew up in western New York State in a community of the Society of Friends and received several years of education in a Quaker school. In 1825 she married Charles Haviland, Jr.; they had eight children. In 1829 the young couple moved to Michigan Territory, where they joined her parents and siblings in establishing farms in the valley of the River Raisin (near present-day Adrian, Mich.) and living pious lives in a tightly knit extended family....

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Holly, James Theodore (30 October 1829–13 March 1911), black emigrationist, missionary, and bishop, was born free in Washington, D.C., the son of James Overton Holly, a bootmaker, and Jane (maiden name unknown). At fourteen he and his family moved to Brooklyn, where he worked with his father. By 1848, while clerking for ...

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Holmes, John Haynes (29 November 1879–03 April 1964), Unitarian and later independent minister and a leading advocate of pacifism, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Marcus M. Holmes, a businessman, and Alice Haynes. Holmes was educated at Harvard College (A.B. 1902) and Harvard Divinity School (S.T.B. 1904) and entered the Unitarian ministry, holding early pastorates at Danvers (1902–1904) and Dorchester (1904–1907), Massachusetts, before moving in 1907 to the Church of the Messiah in New York City, where his influence as a minister dedicated to social reform began to be felt. In 1904 he married Madeleine Baker, with whom he had two children....

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Hopkins, Samuel (17 September 1721–20 December 1803), theologian and reformer, was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, the son of Timothy Hopkins, a successful farmer and community leader in Waterbury, and Mary Judd. Timothy Hopkins served the town as a selectman, justice of the peace, and deputy to the Connecticut General Court. He also possessed the financial means to send Samuel to Yale College, from which he graduated in 1741....

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Hopper, Isaac Tatem (03 December 1771–07 May 1852), Quaker abolitionist and reformer, was born in Deptford township, near Woodbury, New Jersey, the son of Levi Hopper and Rachel Tatem, farmers. Educated in local schools, Isaac Hopper went to Philadelphia at sixteen to learn tailoring from an uncle, with whom he lived. He made his living there as a tailor and soon came to own his own shop....

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King, Martin Luther (19 December 1897–11 November 1984), Baptist pastor and civil rights activist, was born Michael King in Stockbridge, Georgia, the son of James Albert King, an impoverished sharecropper, and Delia Linsey, a cleaning woman and laundress. As a boy King attended school from three to five months a year in an old frame building, where Mrs. Lowe, the wife of the pastor of Floyd’s Chapel Baptist Church, taught 234 children in all grades. At Floyd’s Chapel, King gained confidence as a singer and had a growing sense of a call to preach. At fifteen, when he delivered a trial sermon at Floyd’s Chapel and was licensed to preach, King had learned to read but could not yet write. As a young country preacher he occasionally visited Atlanta. At twenty he left Stockbridge and settled there. He lived in a rooming house and worked at various jobs, including making tires in a rubber plant, loading bales of cotton, and driving a barber-supply truck....

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King, Martin Luther, Jr. (15 January 1929–04 April 1968), Baptist minister and civil rights leader, was born Michael King, Jr., in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of the Reverend Michael King ( Martin Luther King) and Alberta Williams. Born to a family with deep roots in the African-American Baptist church and in the Atlanta black community, the younger King spent his first twelve years in the home on Auburn Avenue that his parents shared with his maternal grandparents. A block away, also on Auburn, was Ebenezer Baptist Church, where his grandfather, the Reverend Adam Daniel Williams, had served as pastor since 1894. Under Williams’s leadership, Ebenezer had grown from a small congregation without a building to become one of Atlanta’s prominent African-American churches. After Williams’s death in 1931, his son-in-law became Ebenezer’s new pastor and gradually established himself as a major figure in state and national Baptist groups. In 1934 the elder King, following the request of his own dying father, changed his name and that of his son to Martin Luther King....

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M’Clintock, Mary Ann Wilson (20 February 1800–21 May 1884), and Thomas M’Clintock (28 March 1792–19 March 1876), Quakers, abolitionists, and key organizers of the first Woman's Rights Convention, were Quakers, abolitionists, and key organizers of the first Woman’s Rights Convention. The location of Mary Ann Wilson’s birth is unknown; she was the daughter of John Pyle and Elizabeth (maiden name unknown). Thomas was born in Brandywine Hundred, Delaware, the son of Thomas M’Clintock and Mary Allen. Nothing more is known of their parents or their early education. Thomas and Mary Ann were married at the Burlington, New Jersey, Friends meetinghouse in 1820 and thereafter lived in Philadelphia, where Thomas had been working as a druggist since about 1814. They had five children....

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See M’Clintock, Mary Ann Wilson

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Malcolm X (19 May 1925–21 February 1965), African-American religious and political leader, also known as el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, the son of Earl Little and Louise (also Louisa) Norton, both activists in the Universal Negro Improvement Association established by ...

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Murray, Pauli (20 November 1910–01 July 1985), lawyer, writer, and minister, was born Anna Pauline Murray in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of William Henry Murray, a public school teacher, and Agnes Fitzgerald, a nurse. Triracial, she had African, European, and Native American ancestry. Her parents both died when she was a child (her mother had a cerebral hemorrhage in March 1914; her father was murdered in a state hospital in June 1923), and she grew up from age three in North Carolina with her maternal grandparents and her mother’s oldest sister, Pauline Fitzgerald Dame, a public school teacher who adopted her....

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Simmons, William James (26 June 1849–30 October 1890), Baptist leader, educator, and race advocate, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of enslaved parents, Edward Simmons and Esther (maiden name unknown). During his youth, Simmons’s mother escaped slavery with him and two of his siblings, relocating in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Simmons’s uncle, Alexander Tardieu (or Tardiff), a shoemaker, became a father for the children and a protector and provider for the fugitive slave family. He moved them among the cities of Philadelphia, Roxbury, Massachusetts, and Chester, Pennsylvania, constantly eluding persistent “slave catchers,” before permanently taking residence in Bordentown, New Jersey. While Simmons never received formal elementary or secondary school education, his uncle made a point of teaching the children to read and write. As a youth Simmons served as an assistant to a white dentist in Bordentown. At the age of fifteen he joined the Union army, participating in a number of major battles in Virginia and finding himself at Appomattox in 1865. After the war, Simmons once again worked briefly as a dental assistant. He converted and affiliated with the white Baptist church in Bordentown in 1867, announced his call to the ministry, and ventured to college with the financial support of church friends....

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Walters, Alexander (01 August 1858–02 February 1917), African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AME Zion) bishop and social reformer, African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AME Zion) bishop and social reformer, was born in Bardstown, Kentucky, the son of Henry Walters and Harriet Mathers, both of whom were slaves. He joined Bardstown’s AME Zion church in 1870 and studied in private schools there from 1866 to 1871, when he left to work in Louisville as a waiter. Walters completed his formal education in 1875, graduating as valedictorian of his Bardstown school. During a year as a waiter in Indianapolis, he studied theology with an AME pastor, was licensed to preach, and, in 1877, was appointed pastor of a newly organized AME Zion church in the city. In 1877 Walters married Katie Knox, with whom he had five children. After she died in 1896, Walters married Emeline Virginia Bird; they had one child. When his second wife died in 1902, he married Lelia Coleman of Bardstown; they had no children....

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Wells, Emmeline B. (29 February 1828–25 April 1921), suffragist and Mormon feminist activist, was born Emmeline Blanche Woodward in Petersham, Massachusetts, the daughter of David Woodward and Diadama Hare, farmers. Marital relations were a defining characteristic of Emmeline’s life. As a recent convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS church), she married at age fifteen fellow church member James Harris, also fifteen. By the next year, she had buried her first child and had been deserted by her teenage husband. Thereafter, Emmeline chose father figures as husbands. In 1845 she married Newel K. Whitney, a prominent Mormon bishop thirty-three years her senior, who was already the husband of two living wives. She wrote Whitney in 1847: “Like as a vine entwineth itself around an ...