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Couzins, Phoebe Wilson (08 September 1839?–06 December 1913), lawyer, suffragist, and lecturer, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of John Edward Decker Couzins, a carpenter and builder, and Adaline Weston. Her parents were both politically active. Her father held the posts of chief of police of St. Louis and U.S. marshal for the Eastern District of Missouri. Her mother served as a nurse to the Western Sanitary Commission during the Civil War where she provided aid to wounded and sick soldiers. Both parents instilled in their daughter an activist spirit....

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de Cleyre, Voltairine (17 November 1866–20 June 1912), teacher and anarchist lecturer and writer, was born in Leslie, Michigan, the daughter of Hector De Claire, a tailor, and Harriet Elizabeth Billings, a seamstress. Despite being raised in poverty, de Cleyre received formal schooling in a Catholic convent until age seventeen. Her experience in the convent influenced her turn to free thought and anarchism. In her speech “The Making of an Anarchist” she noted that “there are white scars on my soul yet” as a result of the convent life ( ...

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Anna E. Dickenson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102148).

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Dickinson, Anna Elizabeth (28 October 1842–22 October 1932), orator and lecturer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the youngest child of John Dickinson, a merchant who never recovered from the Panic of 1837, and Mary Edmondson. Devout Quakers, the Dickinsons were active members of the local antislavery society. Dickinson was two when her father died, and her mother kept the family together by teaching school and taking in boarders. Dickinson attended a series of Friends’ educational institutions, but her formal training ended by the time she was fifteen....

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Gougar, Helen Mar Jackson (18 July 1843–06 June 1907), suffragist, temperance reformer, and lecturer, was born near Litchfield in Hillsdale County, Michigan, the daughter of William Jackson and Clarissa Dresser, farmers. After attending the preparatory department of Hillsdale College from 1855 to 1859, she moved to Lafayette, Indiana, to teach in the public schools in order to help support her family. There she joined the Second Presbyterian Church, where she met John D. Gougar, a promising young lawyer, whom she married in 1863. The couple, who had no children, made their home in Lafayette for the rest of their lives....

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Gram Swing, Betty (16 March 1893–01 September 1969), militant suffragist and women’s rights advocate, was born Myrtle Evelyn Gram in Omaha, Nebraska, the fifth of seven children of Danish immigrants Andreas Peter Gram and Karen Jensen. When their family farm proved unprofitable around 1905, the Grams moved to Portland, Oregon, where Andreas ran a small grocery store and taught Myrtle Danish folk songs that were the foundation of her lifelong love of singing and music....

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Ruth Bryan Owen Taking the oath of office as the first woman envoy of the U.S. Foreign Service, administered by P. F. Allen of the State Department, 1933. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-108591).

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Rohde, Ruth Bryan Owen (02 October 1885–26 July 1954), congresswoman, diplomat, lecturer, and author, was born in Jacksonville, Illinois, the daughter of William Jennings Bryan, a lawyer, and Mary Elizabeth Baird. When Ruth was two, the family moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, and then to Washington, D.C., three years later, when her father was elected to Congress. Young Ruth became “the sweetheart of the House” as she sat with her father during fierce tariff debates (Ramsey, ...

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Sampson, Deborah (17 December 1760–29 April 1827), revolutionary heroine and public speaker, was born in Plympton, Massachusetts, the daughter of Jonathan Sampson and Deborah Bradford, farmers. Born into a family that claimed a distinguished lineage from the days of the early Pilgrims in Massachusetts, Sampson endured a painful and impoverished childhood. Her father died when Deborah was five. She lived with an elderly female relative for three years and with a pastor’s widow for two more years before she was bound out as a servant to the family of Jeremiah Thomas in Middleborough, Massachusetts. Sampson thrived during the period of her indenture, learning manual skills and her letters. She became literate enough to teach school for a period of six months after she became free from her indenture in 1779. To this point in her life, little distinguished her from her fellows other than her physical strength. She was five feet seven inches, and observers commented on her sturdy physique....

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Wattles, John Otis (22 July 1809–20 September 1859), reformer and communitarian, was born in Goshen, Connecticut, the son of Erastus Wattles, a musical instrument maker, and Sarah Thomas. He received his education at the Goshen Academy. Growing up in the Congregational church, he underwent a conversion experience that drew him to consider a career as a foreign missionary. In 1833, after teaching for a few years, he entered the Oneida Institute at Whitestown, New York, a hotbed of evangelical reform associated with ...