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Susan B. Anthony. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-23933).

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Anthony, Susan B. (15 February 1820–13 March 1906), reformer and organizer for woman suffrage, was born Susan Brownell Anthony in Adams, Massachusetts, the daughter of Daniel Anthony and Lucy Read. Her father built the town’s first cotton mill. When Susan, the second of eight children, was six, the family moved to Battenville, New York, north of Albany, where Daniel prospered as manager of a larger mill and could send Susan and her sister to a Friends’ seminary near Philadelphia. His good fortune, however, collapsed with the financial crisis of 1837; the mill closed, Susan left boarding school, the family lost its house, and for nearly a decade the family squeaked by, assisted by Susan’s wages as a teacher. Looking for a new start in 1845, Daniel moved to a farm near Rochester, the city that would be Susan’s permanent address for the rest of her life....

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Belmont, Alva Erskine Smith Vanderbilt (17 January 1853–26 January 1933), social leader and suffragist, was born Alva Erskine Smith in Mobile, Alabama, the daughter of Murray Forbes Smith, a cotton merchant, and Phoebe Ann Desha. As a child, Alva summered with her parents in Newport, Rhode Island, and accompanied them on European vacations. In 1857 the Smiths moved to New York City, where they settled in Madison Square. Murray Smith later went to Liverpool, England, to conduct his business, and Alva, her mother, and her sisters moved to Paris. Alva attended a private boarding school in Neuilly, France, for one year....

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Bowen, Louise deKoven (26 February 1859–09 November 1953), philanthropist, social reformer, and suffragist, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of John deKoven, a successful banker, and Helen Hadduck. Louise grew up with all the pleasures and privileges of wealth and power. She graduated from the prestigious Dearborn Seminary at the age of sixteen and soon thereafter began teaching Sunday school and dabbling in charity work. She established the Huron Street Club, one of the first boys’ clubhouses in Chicago; helped to create a kitchen garden association for girls; and regularly visited the hundred families of the boys in her church class, offering help when needed. In 1886 she married Joseph Tilton Bowen, a Chicago businessman. She gave up her Sunday school class and other church-related social work so that she would have time to care for their four children. Unwilling, however, to give up all philanthropic activities when her children were very young, Bowen joined the board of managers of the Maurice Porter Memorial Hospital. She later held board positions with other hospitals and helped establish the Visiting Nurse Association of Chicago....

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Madeline Breckinridge. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111461).

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Breckinridge, Madeline McDowell (20 May 1872–25 November 1920), woman suffragist and Progressive reformer, was born at Woodlake in Franklin County, Kentucky, the daughter of Henry Clay McDowell, a lawyer and businessman, and Anne Clay. Members from both sides of her family had been prominent since Kentucky’s earliest years. In 1882 her family moved to Ashland, the estate of her great-grandfather ...

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Dock, Lavinia Lloyd (26 February 1858–17 April 1956), nurse, suffragist, and social reformer, was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Gilliard Dock and Lavinia Lloyd Bombaugh, landlords. Dock, who later came to think of herself as a feminist, received what she called an “oldfashioned and conventional” education at a local female academy. Her life was basically carefree until her mother died when Dock was eighteen, leaving her and her older sister with the responsibility of raising their four siblings....

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Dodge, Josephine Marshall Jewell (11 February 1855–06 March 1928), leader in the day-nursery movement and antisuffragist, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the daughter of Marshall Jewell, a successful businessman, and Esther Dickinson, an early suffragist. Her father was elected governor of Connecticut three times and was appointed by President ...

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Sara Bard Field. Gelatin silver print, 1927, by Johan Hagemeyer. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Field, Sara Bard (01 September 1882–15 June 1974), suffragist, social reformer, and poet, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the daughter of George Bard Field, a purchasing agent for a wholesale food company, and Annie Jenkins. In an interview, Field recalled her father as a staunch Baptist whose “puritanism spread like a cloak over everybody, a dark cloak” (Fry, 1979). While in high school, Field attended classes at the University of Michigan with an older sister. She hoped to enroll after her high school graduation, but her father, afraid that further education would damage her faith, refused to support her through college. Field married Albert Ehrgott, an older Baptist minister and family friend, in 1900; they had two children....

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Foltz, Clara Shortridge (16 July 1849–02 September 1934), first woman lawyer on the Pacific Coast, suffrage leader, and founder of the public defender movement, was born in Lafayette, Indiana, the only daughter of Elias Shortridge and Talitha Harwood. Trained as a lawyer, Elias Shortridge turned instead to preaching among the Disciples of Christ and in 1860 became pastor to a well-established church in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. For a few years, Clara attended the progressive Howe’s Academy until her father was expelled from his congregation for unorthodoxy. She then became a teacher herself in nearby Illinois before eloping—at the age of fifteen—with a handsome Union soldier, Jeremiah Foltz. During hard years on an Iowa farm, she bore four children....

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Gordon, Jean Margaret (1865–24 February 1931), social reformer and suffragist, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the daughter of George Hume Gordon, an educator, and Margaret Galiece. Jean grew up in the Garden District of New Orleans; she attended public schools but graduated from Miss Shaw’s School, a private finishing academy. Her parents had become converted to the cause of woman suffrage as early as the 1850s and raised their daughters to share their commitment. Jean and her family were members of the First Unitarian Church of New Orleans, where in 1896 Mary C. C. Bradford from Colorado delivered an address on woman suffrage. Inspired by the lecture, Jean and her sister ...

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Ingham, Mary Hall (24 November 1866–01 January 1937), suffragist and reform activist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of coal operator William Armstrong Ingham and Catherine Keppele Hall. Her paternal grandfather, Samuel Delucenna Ingham, was a congressman and former secretary of the Treasury under ...

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Jacobs, Pattie Ruffner (02 October 1875–22 December 1935), suffragist and social reformer, was born in Malden, West Virginia, the daughter of Lewis Ruffner, a wholesale merchant, and Virginia Louise West. When she was a child, Ruffner’s family moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where they enjoyed social and economic prominence. Ruffner attended the Ward Seminary in Nashville and the Birmingham (Ala.) Training School for Teachers before focusing on an education in the arts. From 1894 to 1896 she received one year of voice lessons in Paris and two years of art classes in New York City. Upon returning to Alabama, she married Solon Harold Jacobs, a wealthy railroad businessman, and raised two daughters. In a diary kept before her marriage, Ruffner confided that she longed to “break away and do something really unconventional and new.” The early twentieth-century women’s movement provided her the opportunity to fulfill her goal....

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Laidlaw, Harriet Burton (16 Dec. 1873–25 Jan. 1949), suffragist, essayist, and social reformer, was born Harriet Davenport Wright Burton in Albany, New York, the oldest of three children and only daughter of George Davidson Burton, a bank teller, and Alice Davenport Wright. After her father’s death in ...

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Mary Livermore Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-93553).

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Livermore, Mary (19 December 1820–23 May 1905), reformer, writer, and suffrage leader, was born Mary Ashton Rice in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Timothy Rice, a laborer, and Zebiah Vose Glover Ashton. Mary’s family had a strong sense of patriotism and adhered to the strict tenets of a Calvinist Baptist faith. Fear of eternal damnation caused Mary such great pain that she found passages in the Bible to disprove this doctrine. She often pretended to be a preacher by delivering sermons to playmates. At the age of fourteen she attended a Baptist female seminary in Charlestown, Massachusetts, where she studied French, Latin, and metaphysics. Following her graduation in 1836 she joined the teaching faculty of the school....

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May, Abigail Williams (21 April 1829–30 November 1888), reformer and philanthropist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Samuel May, a deacon, hardware merchant, and woolen manufacturer, and Mary Goddard. Both parents were abolitionists. May attended various Boston schools, and in her late teens she and seven other girls started a reading program that included Plato, Spenser, and Dante. In 1851 May, who thought it was a woman’s responsibility to prepare for some type of work as a provision against hardship, studied at Boston’s newly opened School of Design where she later became a member of the governing committee. May never married, but in 1853, when her youngest brother Frederic’s wife died at the birth of their first child, May assumed responsibility for her niece’s health and education....

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May, Samuel Joseph (12 September 1797–01 July 1871), Unitarian minister and radical reformer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Joseph May, a merchant, and Dorothy Sewall. May graduated from Harvard College (1817) and Harvard Divinity School (1820) and filled pulpits in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York. In 1825 he married Lucretia Flagge Coffin, the daughter of a Boston merchant. Rearing their four children preoccupied his wife, but it also allowed her time to improve her French and learn Italian and promote the temperance cause....

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Nathan, Maud (20 October 1862–15 December 1946), activist in Jewish and community organizations, was born in New York City, the daughter of Robert Weeks Nathan, a businessman, and Anne Augusta Florance. Maud grew up in an orthodox Sephardic Jewish environment. Prominent members of New York City’s Spanish-Portuguese Jewish community, her father’s family proudly dated its arrival to the colonies in 1773. Maud was educated in private schools until, at the age of twelve, her father suffered business reverses and the family moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin, where she completed public high school. In 1880 she married her cousin Frederick Nathan, a stockbroker; they had one child, who died at age eight. The couple settled in New York City....