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Burr, Theodosia (21 June 1783– January 1813), society belle and political heroine, was born in Albany, New York, the daughter of Aaron Burr, a lawyer, politician, and later vice president of the United States, and Theodosia Prevost. Steeped in the educational philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau, author of ...

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Clay-Clopton, Virginia Tunstall (16 January 1825–23 June 1915), society leader, author, and suffragist, was born Virginia Caroline Tunstall in Nash County, North Carolina, the daughter of Peyton Randolph Tunstall, a physician, and Ann Arrington. She lost her mother before the age of three, and her father left her upbringing to her maternal relatives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Initially she lived with her aunt, the wife of ...

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Eaton, Peggy (03 December 1799?–08 November 1879), central figure in a series of political scandals, was born Margaret O’Neale in the city of Washington (now in the District of Columbia), the daughter of William O’Neale and Rhoda Howell, innkeepers. Her father, a native of Trenton, New Jersey, served as a major during the revolutionary war and was a tavern owner at the time of her birth (which some sources cite as 1796). Peggy was the eldest of six children and received an extensive education at Mrs. Hayward’s fashionable private school. As her parents prospered, the pretty and vivacious girl was surrounded by male admirers, including numerous members of Congress who resided at the O’Neales’ Franklin House. She claimed in her autobiography to have driven one spurned suitor to suicide and to have precipitated an abortive duel between two smitten army officers. In 1815 her parents sent her to finishing school in New York after a botched elopement....

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Perle Mesta Right, with U. S. Senate candidate Marjorie Bell Hinrichs at the Democratic party jubilee in Chicago. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92423).

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Mesta, Perle (12 Oct. 1889 or 1891–16 March 1975), political activist, businesswoman, diplomat, and hostess, was born Pearl Skirvin in Sturgis, Michigan, the daughter of William Balser Skirvin, a salesman, and Harriet Reid. The actual year of her birth was one of her best-kept secrets. Early in the twentieth century her father left Michigan for the oil fields of South Texas, where he made a fortune in the famed Spindletop field. The feisty “Billy” Skirvin moved to Oklahoma City, where he founded the American Oil and Refinery Company and built the luxurious fourteen-floor Skirvin Hotel. Pearl was educated in private schools in Galveston and studied voice and piano at the Sherwood School of Music in Chicago. In 1917 she married 54-year-old George Mesta, founder and president of the Mesta Machine Company located in Pittsburgh. During her years living in the nation’s steel capital she changed her name to the distinctive “Perle.”...

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Bertha Palmer. Photographic print, late nineteenth or early twentieth century. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-107005).

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Palmer, Bertha Honoré (22 May 1849–05 May 1918), Chicago society leader and reformer, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the daughter of Henry Hamilton Honoré, a hardware and cutlery importer, and Eliza Jane Carr. Following Bertha’s sixth birthday the family arrived in Chicago, where her father became a real estate developer and helped to expand the town on Lake Michigan into a bustling city. Religiously affiliated with the Disciples of Christ church in her early years, she later became an Episcopalian....