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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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Cotten, Sallie Swepson Sims Southall (13 June 1846–04 May 1929), advocate of women's education and the women's club movement in North Carolina, advocate of women’s education and the women’s club movement in North Carolina, was born in Lawrenceville, Virginia, the daughter of Thomas Southall and Susan Sims. Because of her father’s precarious fortunes as planter and hotelkeeper, she came to Murfreesboro, North Carolina, at the age of thirteen to live with her father’s wealthy cousin. She attended Wesleyan Female College and Greensboro Female College, graduating in 1863. While teaching in Edgecombe County, North Carolina, in 1864, she met Robert Randolph Cotten, a Confederate cavalryman. They were married in 1866....

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Dennett, Mary Coffin Ware (04 April 1872–25 July 1947), birth control and sex education reformer and pacifist, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, the daughter of George Whitefield, a wool merchant, and Livonia Coffin Ware. When Dennett was ten her father died and the family moved to Boston, where she attended public schools and went on to Miss Capen’s School for Girls in Northampton, Massachusetts. Dennett then studied at the school of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where she displayed a great talent for tapestry and leather design. From 1894 to 1897 she headed the Department of Design and Decoration at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia. After a trip to Europe with her sister, during which they collected gilded Cordovan leather wall hangings, the sisters opened a handicraft shop in Boston. Dennett helped organize the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts in 1897. She served on the council of the society until 1905, when her interest in politics and social welfare began to supersede her interest in the arts. In 1900 she married William Hartley Dennett, a Boston architect with whom she had two sons. The marriage ended in divorce in 1913 with Dennett receiving custody of their children....

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Fee, John Gregg (09 September 1816–11 January 1901), minister, abolitionist, and educational reformer, was born in Bracken County, Kentucky, the son of John Fee and Sarah Gregg, farmers and middle-class slaveholders. Fee’s parents inculcated in their son a belief in the value of education. After attending a subscription school, Fee pursued a classical education at both Augusta College in Bracken County and Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, eventually receiving his B.A. degree in 1840 from Augusta College. Having been converted to evangelical Christianity at age fourteen, he decided on the ministry as his profession. During 1842 and 1843 he studied at Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he embraced an egalitarian abolitionism that assumed the equality of races. In September 1844 Fee married one of his converts, Matilda Hamilton, convinced that she alone possessed the qualities needed to withstand the hostility he expected from the “Slave Power.” They had six children....

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Hazard, Thomas Robinson (03 January 1797–26 March 1886), manufacturer and reformer, was born in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, the son of Rowland Hazard, a manufacturer and merchant, and Mary Peace. Hazard’s father established the Peace Dale Manufacturing Company, the first water-powered wool-carding and fulling mill in South Kingstown, about 1802, on the site of an eighteenth-century fulling mill. By 1814 the company had expanded to include spinning and perhaps the earliest power loom-weaving in the state. After limited formal education at Westtown in Pennsylvania, and after training in mill management and operations at the growing enterprise, Hazard worked in the family’s woolen business between 1813 and 1842....

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Hunt, Mary Hannah Hanchett (04 June 1830–24 April 1906), temperance educator, was born in South Canaan, Connecticut, the daughter of Ephraim Hanchett, an ironworker, and Nancy Swift. She attended area schools before enrolling in Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City, Maryland, in 1848. After her graduation in 1851, she taught natural sciences at the school alongside its principal, ...

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Laws, Annie (20 January 1855–01 July 1927), woman's club leader and education reformer, woman’s club leader and education reformer, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the daughter of James Hedding Laws, a businessman, and Sarah Amelia Langdon. She was educated in Cincinnati’s public schools and at Miss Appleton’s School for Girls. She also received private instruction in music, art, and literature....

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Horace Mann. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ61-358).

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Mann, Horace (04 May 1796–02 August 1859), educator and social reformer, was born in Franklin, Massachusetts, the son of Thomas Mann and Rebecca Stanley, farmers. Although earlier historical accounts that described his childhood as impoverished are inaccurate (his family was moderately prosperous), they are correct in their assertion that Mann’s values were shaped during childhood by his family, his community, and in no small part by his relations with the local Congregationalist preacher, ...

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Perkins, Charles Callahan (01 March 1823–25 August 1886), art critic, philanthropist, and administrator, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of James Perkins, a wealthy and generous merchant, and Eliza Greene Callahan. After early schooling in Boston and attendance at boarding schools in nearby Cambridge and in Burlington, New Jersey, Perkins entered Harvard. He disliked the curriculum there but graduated in 1843....

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Reilly, Marion (16 July 1879–27 January 1928), leader in women's higher education, leader in women’s higher education, was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania, the daughter of John Reilly and Anna Lloyd. Her father was an entrepreneur in railroad development and an official of the Pennsylvania Railroad; he also served a term in the U.S. Congress from 1875 to 1877. The family moved to Philadelphia in 1881. Reilly was educated at the Agnes Irwin School, an academic preparatory school for girls in Philadelphia, and then at Bryn Mawr College. She was president of her class at Bryn Mawr, where she was awarded an A.B. degree in 1901. She remained at Bryn Mawr until 1907, pursuing a doctorate in mathematics and physics. She also did advanced study at Göttingen university in Germany, at Newnham College, Cambridge (1907–1908), and at the University of Rome (1910–1911). Her research was described by a colleague as “in the borderline between mathematics, physics and philosophy.” The product of her research abroad was published in Germany by another scholar before Reilly was able to present the dissertation at Bryn Mawr. The theft of her work resulted in Reilly’s not being awarded an advanced degree. Thus, to her bitter disappointment, her years of scholarly work and her contributions to theory in mathematics were never officially recognized....

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Rushdoony, R. J. (25 Apr. 1916–8 Feb. 2001), theologian, Presbyterian minister, political activist, and education reformer, was born Rousas John Rushdoony in New York City to Armenian refugees fleeing Turkish persecution during World War I. Presbyterian minister Yeghiazar Khachadour and Vartanoush (Gazarian) Rushdouni’s first son, George, perished in the Turkish siege of Van, and the family immigrated to the United States via Russia. The Rushdoonys anglicized their names—Yeghiazar opting for an abbreviated Y. K. and Vartanoush adopting Rose, the English translation of her name—and settled in a growing Armenian community in Kingsburg, California. Y. K. took his family with him as he served as a pastor to Armenian communities in California and Michigan during the 1920s and 1930s. As the family moved about the United States, R. J. Rushdoony learned English and resolved to follow his father into the ministry....

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Stone, Lucinda Hinsdale (30 September 1814–14 March 1900), educational reformer, was born in Hinesburg, Vermont, the daughter of Lucinda Mitchell and Aaron Hinsdale, and cousin to two other educational pioneers, Emma Willard and astronomer Maria Mitchell. Her father, a freethinking renegade from the local Congregational church who owned a woolen mill on 260 acres, died before Lucinda’s second birthday. Lucinda was shaped both by the family’s intellectual and political progressivism and by her mother’s deep regret for her own lack of educational opportunity. At age three Lucinda was sent to the district school, and at thirteen she entered the coeducational Hinesburg Academy. She was introduced to her future profession when, at fifteen, she was asked to teach a summer school. She briefly attended Mrs. Cook’s Female Seminary in Middlebury but, rapidly disenchanted by its traditional female curriculum, returned to the academy an adamant advocate of coeducation: “I felt I knew things in a different way from that in which the seminary girls knew them. I had been better, more thoroughly and broadly taught in our academy with young men and young women in the same classes” (“Club Talks,” 1891). At once the beneficiary and a sharp critic of the best education available to an American girl of her era, she took from the academy “an irrepressible desire for the higher, more thorough, college education for women, which should cure the affectation and pettiness of school girls,—in short, give them something worthy to live for and to do for others” (Perry, p. 30)....

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Talbot, Emily Fairbanks (22 February 1834–29 October 1900), philanthropist and promoter of higher education for women, was born in Winthrop, Maine, the daughter of Columbus Fairbanks and Lydia Tinkham, farmers. Emily attended local schools, and her mother supplemented her lessons. At age sixteen Talbot began teaching school in Augusta, Maine; she wished for a college education, but few women of the time had access to that....

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Tutwiler, Julia Strudwick (15 August 1841–24 March 1916), educator, reformer, and humanitarian, was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The daughter of Henry Tutwiler and Julia Ashe, she grew up in a home devoted to education, which became her lifework. Her father had earned a master’s degree in foreign languages at the University of Virginia and had accepted a position as the first professor of ancient languages at the University of Alabama when it had opened in 1831. Resigning in 1837 because of a financial dispute, he established Greene Springs Academy in Havana, south of Tuscaloosa. His daughters studied Latin, science, and mathematics with boys, upsetting many citizens. Tutwiler and her father taught slaves and poor white children to read. This experience influenced her to devote her life to serving others. Many of her classmates gained prominent positions as adults and supported her causes....

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Valentine, Lila Hardaway Meade (04 February 1865–14 July 1921), proponent of public schools, public health, and woman suffrage, was born in Richmond, Virginia, the daughter of Richard Hardaway Meade, a businessman, and Kate Fontaine. Largely self-taught, she read widely. She married Benjamin Batchelder Valentine, a poet and businessman, in 1886. Beginning in 1888, with major surgery after the stillbirth of their only child, her physical health remained always precarious....

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Vaux, Roberts (21 January 1786–07 January 1836), philanthropist, educational reformer, and penologist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Richard Vaux, a merchant, and Ann Roberts, both members of the Society of Friends. Roberts Vaux was descended on his father’s side from George Vaux of Sussex, England, a physician, who had sent his son, Richard, to Philadelphia in 1768 for mercantile training among Quaker friends and relatives. After acquiring wealth in the Atlantic carrying trade during the American Revolution, Richard Vaux, a Tory sympathizer, married Ann Roberts in 1784. She was descended from an illustrious and prosperous family that traced its American roots back to Hugh Roberts, a friend of ...

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Wadsworth, James (20 April 1768–07 June 1844), pioneer settler, philanthropist, and educational reformer, was born in Durham, Connecticut, the son of John Noyes Wadsworth, a farmer, justice of the peace, and constable, and Esther Parsons. Shortly after graduation from Yale College in 1787, James and his brother William were encouraged by their cousin Colonel ...

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White, Edna Noble (03 June 1879–04 May 1954), home economics and child development educator, was born in Fairmount, Illinois, the daughter of Alexander L. White, a prominent local businessman, and Angeline Noble. The second of three children, White grew up in comfortable surroundings with her older sister and younger brother. Her father was a teacher and later a hardware dealer in the small village of Fairmount. Her mother was educated although not professionally employed....