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Sophonisba Breckinridge. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-99076).

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Breckinridge, Sophonisba Preston (01 April 1866–30 July 1948), social scientist and reformer, was born in Lexington, Kentucky, the daughter of William C. P. Breckinridge, a lawyer and U.S. congressman, and Issa Desha. Her father vigorously supported the rights of women and African Americans to secure higher educations. A rich legacy of political achievement and the prominent social standing of the Breckinridge family afforded Sophonisba many advantages in her early life. “Nisba,” as she was affectionately known, excelled in school and as an adolescent began taking courses at the Agricultural and Mechanical College in Lexington. In 1884 she enrolled at Wellesley College where she studied Latin and mathematics, graduating with an S.B. in 1888....

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Brunauer, Esther (07 July 1901–26 June 1959), international affairs specialist and State Department official, was born Esther Delia Caukin near Jackson, California, the daughter of Ray Oakheart Caukin, an electrician, and Grace Elizabeth Blackwell, a suffragist and, later, a federal employee. Esther attended Mills College where she earned an A.B. in 1924. Three years later she received a Ph.D. in modern European history and international politics from Stanford University....

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Cabeza De Baca, Fabiola (16 May 1894–Oct. 1991), educator, activist, and writer, was born in Las Vegas, New Mexico to Graciano Cabeza de Baca and Indalecia Delgado. The family traced their ancestry back to the Spanish conqueror Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Baca. Fabiola’s family on both maternal and paternal sides was prominent and elite in New Mexico. In ...

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Follett, Mary Parker (03 September 1868–18 December 1933), theorist of social organization and civic leader, was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, the daughter of Charles Allen Follett and Elizabeth Curtis Baxter. Follett’s father attempted a variety of jobs and her mother took in boarders before the family finally moved in with Follett’s wealthy maternal grandfather. In 1888 Follett enrolled at the Harvard Annex, the precursor of Radcliffe College, and graduated summa cum laude in 1898. During this ten-year period she also spent a year at Newnham College, Cambridge University, and worked for a few years as a schoolteacher at Mrs. Shaw’s School in Boston. Follett’s perceptiveness as an observer of social and political phenomena was evident even before her college graduation when Longmans, Green published her book ...

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Inman, Mary (11 June 1894–Jan. 1985), trade union organizer, Marxist theorist, and author, was born Ida Mary Inman in Burnside, Kentucky, and moved to Creek Nation Indian Territory in Oklahoma when she was six. She was the fourth daughter and youngest of Mildred Taylor Inman and James Jett Inman’s nine children. Her mother died when Inman was eleven, her oldest sister died two years later, and she spent the next decade caring for her father and brothers....

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Jeane Kirkpatrick addresses the Security Council at the United Nations headquarters about the Lebanon crisis, 1984. Photograph by Joel Landau. Associated Press

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Kirkpatrick, Jeane Duane Jordan (19 November 1926–07 December 2006), UN ambassador, was born in Duncan, Oklahoma, a tiny settlement on the Chisholm Trail in the heart of oil country, to Welcher F. Jordan, a well-driller for wildcatters, and Leona Kile, a bookkeeper. She was the couple's only child. In 1938, when she was twelve years old, the family moved to Vandalia, Illinois, and two years later to Mount Vernon, Illinois....

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Shklar, Judith (24 September 1928–17 September 1992), political theorist, was born Yudita Nisse in Riga, Latvia, to parents of German Jewish ancestry who used the surname Nisse and later Anglicized their Hebrew given names to Aaron and Agnes. Anglicizing her own name to Judith, she later spoke of her parents as “professional people” and identified her mother (whose maiden name is unknown) as a pediatrician who ran a public health clinic in the slums of Riga. She also reported that the German language as well as English was spoken in their cultured and politically liberal household....