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Abbott, Edith (26 September 1876–28 July 1957), social reformer, social work educator, and author, was born in Grand Island, Nebraska, the daughter of Othman Ali Abbott, a lawyer and first lieutenant governor of Nebraska, and Elizabeth Maletta Griffin, a woman suffrage advocate. Abbott grew up in a comfortable and politically progressive household on the American prairie. However, the severe economic depression that began in 1893 caused Abbott to postpone her college plans after graduation from an Omaha girls’ boarding school. Instead, at the age of seventeen she became a teacher at the Grand Island High School....

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Grace Abbott Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111723).

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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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Ralph Abernathy Photograph by Warren K. Leffler, 1968. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (U.S. News and World Report Collection: LC-U9-19265).

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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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Adams, John Quincy (04 May 1848–03 September 1922), newspaper editor and publisher, civil rights leader, and Republican party activist, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of Henry Adams, a prominent minister and educator, and Margaret Corbin. Both his parents were free persons of color. Following private schooling in Wisconsin and Ohio, Adams graduated from Oberlin College. After a brief teaching stint in Louisville, in 1870 he followed his uncle, Joseph C. Corbin, to work in Arkansas in the Reconstruction. By 1874 he had risen from schoolteacher to assistant superintendent of public instruction. His lifelong activism in the Republican party began in Arkansas; there he twice served as secretary to Republican state conventions, was elected as justice of the peace on the party ticket, and held the offices of engrossing clerk of the state senate and deputy commissioner of public works. The defeat of the Arkansas Republican party in 1874 and the racial repression that followed led Adams to return to Louisville, where he again engaged in teaching....

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Jane Addams. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-95722).

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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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Adler, Felix (13 August 1851–24 April 1933), religious and social reformer, was born in Alzey, Germany, the son of Henrietta Frankfurter and Samuel Adler, a rabbi. At the age of six he came with the family to the United States when his father accepted an invitation to become rabbi of the Temple Emanuel in New York City. After attending public and private schools, he entered Columbia College, graduating in 1870. Plans for him to succeed his father as rabbi sent Adler to Europe, where he studied theology, philosophy, and linguistics under the tutelage of Abraham Geiger and Heymann Steinthal at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judenthums in Berlin. Alongside that work he also attended courses on philosophy, particularly Kantian ethics, and economics, especially the questions of labor and social reform, at the University of Berlin. In 1873 he received a Ph.D. from the University of Heidelberg and returned home to take up rabbinical duties. Those plans collapsed within the year because Adler had come to reject both theism and the divine origin of Hebrew Scriptures. After an amicable parting with Temple Emanuel, Adler lectured on Hebrew and Oriental literature at Cornell University from 1874 to 1876. In 1880 he married Helen Goldmark, and the couple had a family of five children....

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Albert, Octavia Victoria Rogers (24 December 1853–1890?), author and activist, was born in Oglethorpe, Georgia, the daughter of slaves. Details of her life are sketchy. Little is known of her parents or her childhood beyond the date and place of her birth and the fact that she was born into bondage; thus, it is particularly intriguing that in 1870, only five years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and one year after Atlanta University opened, seventeen-year-old Octavia was among the 170 students enrolled at that institution. Further details of her life are equally sketchy. Most of what we know is culled from information in ...

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Albrier, Frances Mary (21 September 1898–21 August 1987), civil rights activist and community leader, was born in Mount Vernon, New York, the daughter of Lewis Redgrey, a supervisor in a factory, and Laura (maiden name unknown), a cook. Following the death of her mother when Frances was three, she and her baby sister were reared by her paternal grandparents, Lewis Redgrey, a Blackfoot Indian, and Johanna Bowen, a freed slave, on their 55-acre farm in Tuskegee, Alabama....

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A. Bronson Alcott. At age fifty-three. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-54729).

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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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Raymond Pace Alexander At his desk in his law office, circa 1935-1940. Collections of the University of Pennsylvania Archives.

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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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Alexander, Will Winton (15 July 1884–13 January 1956), leading southern liberal, expert on race relations, and member of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal administration, leading southern liberal, expert on race relations, and member of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal administration, was born near Morrisville, Missouri, the son of William Baxter Alexander, a farmer, and Arabella A. Winton, a schoolteacher. Alexander received a B.A. from Scarritt-Morrisville College in 1908 and continued his studies at Vanderbilt University, where he received a Bachelor of Divinity in 1912. Ordained a Methodist minister in 1911, Alexander held pastorates at Nashville (1911–1916) and Murfreesboro, Tennessee (1916–1917). In 1914 he married Mabelle A. Kinkead; they had three sons....

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Alinsky, Saul David (30 January 1909–12 June 1972), community organizer, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Benjamin Alinsky, a tailor, and Sarah Tannenbaum. The family lived in the predominantly Jewish Maxwell Street neighborhood when Alinsky was born, and after the age of six he grew up in the mostly pleasant West Side neighborhood of Douglas Park. His parents divorced when Saul was thirteen years old; he would visit his father in California in the summer but grew increasingly distant from him and close to the strong and contentious Sarah....

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Allen, Donna (19 August 1920–19 July 1999), labor economist and historian, feminist, and peace and civil rights activist, was born Donna Rehkopf in Petoskey, Michigan, the daughter of Caspar Rehkopf, a metallurgical engineer, and Louise Densmore, a schoolteacher. Encouraged by her parents to excel, Donna from an early age displayed a great intellectual energy and optimism. Like her mother, Donna went to college at a time when few women did. She attended Duke University, majoring in history and economics, and graduated in 1943, having married Russell Allen the previous year. The couple would have four children. That same year, she volunteered to work as a cryptographer at Arlington Hall, Virginia, headquarters of the U.S. Army's Signal Intelligence Service, and her husband went into the army. In 1946 both Allens embarked on master's degrees in economics at the University of Chicago. From 1946 to 1948 Donna worked as a legislative assistant to the Illinois senator Paul H. Douglass and wrote briefs for labor boards during President ...

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Nathan Allen. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine (B01026).

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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....