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Abbot, Gorham Dummer (03 September 1807–03 August 1874), educator of women and clergyman, was born in Brunswick, Maine, the son of “Squire” Jacob Abbot, a land trustee and sometime merchant, and his wife and second cousin, Betsey Abbot. Gorham Abbot grew up in the nearby town of Hallowell and, like his four brothers, graduated from Bowdoin College (A.B., 1826; A.M., 1829) and studied at Andover Theological Seminary. All of the Abbot brothers became teachers and clergymen, the two eldest, ...

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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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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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Allen, William G. (1820–?), abolitionist and educator, was born in Virginia, the son of a Welshman and a free mulatto mother. After the death of both parents when he was young, Allen was adopted by a free African-American family in Fortress Monroe, Virginia. Allen soon caught the eye of the Reverend William Hall, a New Yorker who conducted a black elementary school in Norfolk. Hall wrote ...

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Alston, Melvin Ovenus (07 October 1911–30 December 1985), educator, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of William Henry “Sonnie” Alston, a drayman, and Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Smith, a laundress. Of middle-class background in terms of an African-American family in the urban South in the 1920s, he grew up in a house that his family owned, free of any mortgage. After attending Norfolk’s segregated black public schools and graduating from Booker T. Washington High School, he graduated from Virginia State College (B.S., 1935), honored for his debating and for excellence in scholarship, and began teaching math at Booker T. Washington High School in 1935. Beginning in 1937 he served as president of the Norfolk Teachers Association, and he also held local leadership positions in the Young Men’s Christian Association and the First Calvary Baptist Church....

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American, Sadie (03 March 1862–03 May 1944), social welfare activist and educator, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of German-Jewish immigrant Oscar L. American and Amelia Smith. Little is known of her childhood, but she was educated in Chicago public schools.

American became a founder in 1893 and later executive secretary of the philanthropic, middle-class reform organization the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW). In her early thirties she held positions in dozens of social welfare, charitable, and educational institutions from 1893 to 1904, including that of president of the New York Section of the NCJW and of the Consumers’ League of New York State (1893–1894). She also directed the Woman’s Municipal League in New York City and was chair of its Tenement House Committee (1893–1894)....

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Anderson, Matthew (25 January 1845–11 January 1928), Presbyterian pastor, educator, and social reformer, was born in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, the son of Timothy Anderson and Mary Croog. One of fourteen children, he was raised in the comforts of a rural, middle-class home, less than thirty miles from historic Gettysburg. On a typical day of his youth, he faced the physical demands of farm life and experienced the movement back and forth between two cultures. One, dominated by commerce and materialism, was uncharacteristically open to the Andersons, who owned lumber mills and real estate at a time when most black Americans were dehumanized and disenfranchised by chattel slavery. The other was a culture defined by close family ties and Presbyterian piety. At home Matthew heard Bible stories and dramatic tales of runaway slaves; indeed, religious piety and the pursuit of racial freedom were dominant themes in his life. These early experiences inspired Anderson so deeply that, by the time he left Greencastle in 1863, he had decided on the ministry as his vocation. Study at Oberlin College was the first step toward serving his religious faith, his racial group, and his vision of social justice....

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Andrews, Stephen Pearl (22 March 1812–21 May 1886), eccentric philosopher and reformer, was born in Templeton, Massachusetts, the son of Elisha Andrews, a Baptist clergyman, and Wealthy Ann Lathrop. He attended the village school and, after the family moved to Hinsdale, New Hampshire, in 1816, was taught at home by his father. In 1828 and 1829 he studied in the classical department of Amherst Academy, where he was influenced by Professor ...

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Arnold, Richard Dennis (19 August 1808–10 July 1876), physician, was born in Savannah, Georgia, the son of Joseph Arnold and Eliza Dennis, occupations unknown. Despite hardships accompanying the deaths of both parents during childhood, Arnold, who had been an only child, received an excellent preliminary education and graduated with distinction from Princeton in 1826. He immediately began a medical apprenticeship under William R. Waring, a distinguished preceptor and member of an illustrious Charleston and Savannah family of physicians. After receiving his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1830, Arnold served for two years as a resident house officer in Philadelphia’s old Blockley Hospital before returning to Savannah where in 1833 he married Margaret Baugh Stirk. Their only child, Eleanor, born the next year, became the lifelong object of her father’s loving solicitude following her mother’s untimely death from pulmonary tuberculosis in 1850....

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Bancroft, Frederic A. (30 October 1860–22 February 1945), historian, librarian, and philanthropist, was born Frederic Austin Bancroft in Galesburg, Illinois, the son of Addison Newton Bancroft, a businessman, and Catherine Blair. Bancroft, raised in abolitionist surroundings, attended school at Knox Academy, Knox College (1878–1881), transferred to Amherst College in 1881, and graduated a year later. He entered Columbia University’s School of Political Science in 1882 to study southern history with ...

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Banning, Margaret Culkin (18 March 1891–04 January 1982), writer, was born in Buffalo, Minnesota, the daughter of William Edgar Culkin, a Duluth newspaper executive, and Hannah Alice Young. She attended Vassar College, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated in 1912. Pursuing an interest in social work, she attended Russell Sage College on a fellowship in 1912–1913, then spent the following academic year at the Chicago School of Philanthropy, which awarded her a certificate in 1914 for completion of its program. That same year she married a Duluth lawyer, Archibald T. Banning, Jr. The couple, who were divorced in 1934, had four children, two of whom survived into adulthood....

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Barnes, Harry Elmer (15 June 1889–25 August 1968), historian and sociologist, was born on a farm near Auburn, New York, the son of William Henry Barnes, Jr., a farmer, teacher, and later a prison guard, and Lulu C. Short. After graduating from high school in 1906, Barnes spent several years as a construction laborer and principal of a two-room village school in Montezuma, a small canal town in central New York. From 1909 to 1913 he attended Syracuse University, from which he graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in history. From 1913 to 1915 Barnes was instructor in sociology and economics at Syracuse, which awarded him an M.A. for work on the development of social philosophy from Plato to Comte. From 1915 to 1917 he was a graduate student at Columbia University, during which time he held a fellowship that allowed him to research at Harrow University from fall 1916 through early spring 1917, and in the subsequent academic year he taught at Columbia and Barnard. In 1918 he received a Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia University; his dissertation focused on the history of the New Jersey prison system. In 1916 he married Grace Stone; they had one child. After divorcing Stone eleven years later, he married Jean Hutchison Newman in 1935....

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Barrett, Janie Porter (09 August 1865–27 August 1948), educator and social welfare advocate, was born in Athens, Georgia, the daughter of Julia Porter. Various biographical accounts indicate that Janie’s parents were former slaves, while others speculate that her father was white. Little is known about either parent. During her early childhood, Janie resided in the home of the Skinners, a white family whom her mother served as housekeeper. After her mother’s marriage to a railway worker, Janie remained with the Skinners, who encouraged her to further her education....

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Barrows, Isabel (17 April 1845–25 October 1913), ophthalmologist, stenographer, and reformer, was born Katharine Isabel Hayes in Irasburg, Vermont, the daughter of Scottish immigrants Henry Hayes, a physician, and Anna Gibb, a schoolteacher. The family moved to Hartland and then Derry, New Hampshire, where Isabel Hayes graduated from Adams Academy. In 1863 she married William Wilberforce Chapin, a Congregational minister. The following year the couple traveled to India for a missionary assignment. Less than a year after arriving in India, William Chapin died of diphtheria. Six months later Isabel Chapin returned to the United States. She moved to Dansville, New York, where she worked as a bath assistant at a water-cure sanatorium....

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Bauer, Catherine Krouse (11 May 1905–22 November 1964), housing advocate and urban-planning educator, was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the daughter of Jacob Louis Bauer, a highway engineer, and Alberta Louise Krouse, a suffragist. Bauer graduated from Vassar College in 1926, having spent her junior year at Cornell University studying architecture. Following graduation she lived in Paris and wrote about contemporary architecture, including the work of the modernist Le Corbusier. In New York from 1927 to 1930, she held a variety of jobs and began a friendship with the architectural and social critic ...

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Beecher, Catharine Esther (06 September 1800–12 May 1878), educator and social reformer, was born in East Hampton, New York, the oldest child of Lyman Beecher, the most prominent Evangelical clergyman of the 1820s, and Roxana Foote. At the age of ten Catharine Beecher moved with her family from the isolated and rural tip of Long Island to class-conscious Litchfield, Connecticut. There she acquired the normal accomplishments of her well-born status. When her mother died of consumption in 1816, Catharine assumed responsibility for her younger siblings, including Harriet and ...

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Bell, James Madison (03 April 1826–1902), abolitionist, poet, and lecturer, was born in Gallipolis, Ohio. His parents’ identities are unknown. At age sixteen, in 1842, he moved to Cincinnati. While there, in 1848, he married Louisiana Sanderlin (or Sanderline), with whom he had several children, and also learned the plastering trade from his brother-in-law George Knight. Bell worked as a plasterer during the day and attended Cincinnati High School for Colored People at night. Founded in 1844 by Reverend Hiram S. Gilmore, the school had a connection to Oberlin College and was said to have given impetus to the sentiment found in ...

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Benezet, Anthony (31 January 1713–03 May 1784), abolitionist, educator, and reformer, was born in San Quentin, Picardy, France, to Jean Étienne Benezet and Judith de la Méjenelle, wealthy Huguenots. Because of increasing religious persecution, his family fled to Rotterdam in 1715, remaining there briefly before traveling to London where they spent the next sixteen years. It was here that Benezet may have attended a Quaker school and began his lifelong association with the Quakers. After emigrating with his family to Philadelphia in 1731, Benezet worked briefly as a merchant with his brothers and became a member of the Society of Friends. He married Joyce Marriott, a Quaker minister in 1736; neither of the couple’s two children survived to their first birthdays....

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Harry Benjamin. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine (B02717).