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Colman, Lucy Newhall (26 July 1817–18 January 1906), abolitionist, women's rights advocate, and freethinker, abolitionist, women’s rights advocate, and freethinker, was born in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, the daughter of Erastus Danforth, a blacksmith, and Hannah Newhall. Her mother died in 1824, and Lucy’s aunt, Lois Newhall, acted “in the place of a mother” and in 1833 married Erastus Danforth, officially becoming Lucy’s stepmother....

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Coppin, Fanny Jackson (1837–21 January 1913), educator, civic and religious leader, and feminist, was born a slave in Washington, D.C., the daughter of Lucy Jackson. Her father’s name and the details of her early childhood are unknown. However, by the time she was age ten, her aunt Sarah Orr Clark had purchased her freedom, and Jackson went to live with relatives in New Bedford, Massachusetts. By 1851 she and her relatives had moved to Newport, Rhode Island, where Jackson was employed as a domestic by ...

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Davis, Mary Fenn Robinson (17 July 1824–18 July 1886), Spiritualist lecturer and women's rights advocate, Spiritualist lecturer and women’s rights advocate, was born in Clarendon, New York, the daughter of Chauncey Robinson and Damaris Fenn, farmers. She grew up in Randolph, New York, in a Baptist family. In 1846 she married Samuel G. Love, with whom she had two children. Both she and her husband found the Calvanist theology oppressive, however, and the bonds of marriage constricting. Two new movements that appeared during the next few years reflected their views and quickly gained their participation: Spiritualism and women’s rights. Her contributions to Spiritualist periodicals began in 1850 with a poem, “To Our Spirit Guardian,” published under the name “Mrs. S. G. Love” in the ...

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Fuller, Margaret (23 May 1810–19 July 1850), author and feminist, was born Sarah Margaret Fuller in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, the daughter of Timothy Fuller, a lawyer, and Margaret Crane. Her father taught his oldest child reading at age three and Latin at age six, but Fuller’s education grew eclectic in later childhood when she was left largely to her own resources. “To excel in all things should be your constant aim; mediocrity is obscurity,” her father wrote to Margaret when she was ten. Under such pressures, Fuller suffered periodically throughout her life from depression and headaches. Timothy Fuller was often away, serving four terms in Congress (1817–1825). Margaret’s mother, a devout Unitarian, was subdued by sickly health. In Fuller’s fictional ...

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Hutchinson, Anne (1591?–1643), religious leader, was born in Alford, Lincolnshire, England, the daughter of Francis Marbury, minister of the Church of England, and Bridget Dryden. She learned scripture and theology from her father, who had been silenced and imprisoned for long periods of time by his bishop for complaining about the poor training of English clergymen....

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Mary Ann Wilson M'Clintock. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-49488).

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M’Clintock, Mary Ann Wilson (20 February 1800–21 May 1884), and Thomas M’Clintock (28 March 1792–19 March 1876), Quakers, abolitionists, and key organizers of the first Woman's Rights Convention, were Quakers, abolitionists, and key organizers of the first Woman’s Rights Convention. The location of Mary Ann Wilson’s birth is unknown; she was the daughter of John Pyle and Elizabeth (maiden name unknown). Thomas was born in Brandywine Hundred, Delaware, the son of Thomas M’Clintock and Mary Allen. Nothing more is known of their parents or their early education. Thomas and Mary Ann were married at the Burlington, New Jersey, Friends meetinghouse in 1820 and thereafter lived in Philadelphia, where Thomas had been working as a druggist since about 1814. They had five children....

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See M’Clintock, Mary Ann Wilson

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Ripley, Sophia Willard Dana (06 July 1803–04 February 1861), Transcendentalist and early feminist, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the daughter of Francis Dana, Jr., and Sophia Willard Dana. The eldest of four children, Sophia Dana grew up in an atmosphere of alternating uncertainty and stability. Her straying father, a black sheep son of the illustrious and prosperous Dana flock, which included a chief justice, lawyers, professors, seafarers, and merchants, was frequently “out west or away somewhere.” Her mother was from the academic Willard family, which included a Harvard College president and any number of influential liberal-thinking ministers. From early in her youth, Sophia was probably aware of her immediate family’s precarious financial arrangements. Because of her father’s irresponsible spending habits, her mother pragmatically opened a school in her Willard family home, “Fay House” (which stood on the edge of the grounds of Harvard College), where Sophia and her only sister, Mary Elizabeth Dana, later taught. In time, her grandfather largely disowned his namesake son for creating so many debts, noting in his will that while he was leaving him “one hundred dollars and no more” as his share of the family estate, he was bequeathing one sixth of his fortune to his grandchildren, with the provision that his son have no stake in the money. Sophia Dana’s share of that inheritance seems not to have substantially eased her later straitened circumstances, but her growing years in Fay House were comfortable and promising....

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Rose, Ernestine (13 January 1810–04 August 1892), freethinker, reformer, and feminist, was born Ernestine Louise Siismondi Potowski in Piotrkow, Poland, the only child of an orthodox rabbi and his wife. Although the Jewish religion discouraged female education, Ernestine was well educated and could read Hebrew and the Scriptures; as an adolescent, however, she rejected Judaism because of its second-class treatment of women. When Ernestine was sixteen years old her mother died, leaving her a considerable inheritance. Her father used this inheritance as a dowry, promising Ernestine’s hand in marriage to a much older man. Ernestine resisted and successfully argued her case before a Polish court to nullify the contract, an unprecedented move for a young Jewish woman before a Christian court. The same year her father married a sixteen-year-old woman, making Ernestine uncomfortable in the family house, and she left Poland in 1827....

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Way, Amanda (10 July 1828–24 February 1914), reformer and minister, was born in Winchester, Indiana, the daughter of Matthew Way, a farmer, teamster, and schoolteacher, and Hannah Martin. As a child she was painfully shy and self-conscious about being tall. She attended the local public schools and Randolph Seminary. After graduation she taught school for a time but opened a dressmaking and millinery shop when it became necessary for her to support her widowed mother in 1849....

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Emmeline B. Wells. Photograph by C. R. Savage. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111862).

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Wells, Emmeline B. (29 February 1828–25 April 1921), suffragist and Mormon feminist activist, was born Emmeline Blanche Woodward in Petersham, Massachusetts, the daughter of David Woodward and Diadama Hare, farmers. Marital relations were a defining characteristic of Emmeline’s life. As a recent convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS church), she married at age fifteen fellow church member James Harris, also fifteen. By the next year, she had buried her first child and had been deserted by her teenage husband. Thereafter, Emmeline chose father figures as husbands. In 1845 she married Newel K. Whitney, a prominent Mormon bishop thirty-three years her senior, who was already the husband of two living wives. She wrote Whitney in 1847: “Like as a vine entwineth itself around an ...

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Willing, Jennie Fowler (22 January 1834–06 October 1916), evangelist, reformer, and church worker, was born in Burford, Canada West (present-day Ontario), the daughter of Horatio Fowler, a homesteader and participant in the Papineau Rebellion of 1837, and Harriet Ryan, the daughter of the founder of Canadian Methodism, Henry Ryan. The Fowlers settled in Newark, Illinois, following Horatio’s expulsion from Canada after the failure of the rebellion. Jennie was a sickly child and largely self-educated. Her first job was as a school teacher in Illinois at age fifteen....