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Abbott, Edith (26 September 1876–28 July 1957), social reformer, social work educator, and author, was born in Grand Island, Nebraska, the daughter of Othman Ali Abbott, a lawyer and first lieutenant governor of Nebraska, and Elizabeth Maletta Griffin, a woman suffrage advocate. Abbott grew up in a comfortable and politically progressive household on the American prairie. However, the severe economic depression that began in 1893 caused Abbott to postpone her college plans after graduation from an Omaha girls’ boarding school. Instead, at the age of seventeen she became a teacher at the Grand Island High School....

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Julie Longo and Sandra F. VanBurkleo

Abbott, Grace (17 November 1878–19 June 1939), social worker and administrator, was born in Grand Island, Nebraska, the daughter of Othman Ali Abbott, a lawyer and politician, and Elizabeth Griffin, a high school principal. The Abbott household provided an intellectually stimulating environment, emphasizing reading, discussion, and formal education for all four children. Othman Abbott encouraged both Grace and her older sister ...

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Abernathy, Ralph David (11 March 1926–17 April 1990), civil rights leader and minister, was born David Abernathy in Linden, Alabama, the son of William L. Abernathy and Louivery Valentine Bell, farmers. A sister’s favorite professor was the inspiration for the nickname “Ralph David,” and although Abernathy never made a legal change, the name remained with him from age twelve....

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Adams, John Quincy (04 May 1848–03 September 1922), newspaper editor and publisher, civil rights leader, and Republican party activist, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of Henry Adams, a prominent minister and educator, and Margaret Corbin. Both his parents were free persons of color. Following private schooling in Wisconsin and Ohio, Adams graduated from Oberlin College. After a brief teaching stint in Louisville, in 1870 he followed his uncle, Joseph C. Corbin, to work in Arkansas in the Reconstruction. By 1874 he had risen from schoolteacher to assistant superintendent of public instruction. His lifelong activism in the Republican party began in Arkansas; there he twice served as secretary to Republican state conventions, was elected as justice of the peace on the party ticket, and held the offices of engrossing clerk of the state senate and deputy commissioner of public works. The defeat of the Arkansas Republican party in 1874 and the racial repression that followed led Adams to return to Louisville, where he again engaged in teaching....

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Addams, Jane (06 September 1860–21 May 1935), social reformer and peace activist, was the daughter of John Huy Addams, a businessman and Republican politician, and Sarah Weber. Born on the eve of the Civil War in the small farming community of Cedarville, just outside Freeport, in northern Illinois, she was the youngest of five children, four of whom were girls. Her mother died during pregnancy when Jane was two years old. The Addams family was the wealthiest, most respected family in the community. Jane’s father owned the local grain mill, was president of the Second National Bank of Freeport, had interests in a local railroad and a local insurance company, taught Sunday School, and was active in local Bible societies. A founding member of the Republican party and supporter of ...

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Adler, Felix (13 August 1851–24 April 1933), religious and social reformer, was born in Alzey, Germany, the son of Henrietta Frankfurter and Samuel Adler, a rabbi. At the age of six he came with the family to the United States when his father accepted an invitation to become rabbi of the Temple Emanuel in New York City. After attending public and private schools, he entered Columbia College, graduating in 1870. Plans for him to succeed his father as rabbi sent Adler to Europe, where he studied theology, philosophy, and linguistics under the tutelage of Abraham Geiger and Heymann Steinthal at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judenthums in Berlin. Alongside that work he also attended courses on philosophy, particularly Kantian ethics, and economics, especially the questions of labor and social reform, at the University of Berlin. In 1873 he received a Ph.D. from the University of Heidelberg and returned home to take up rabbinical duties. Those plans collapsed within the year because Adler had come to reject both theism and the divine origin of Hebrew Scriptures. After an amicable parting with Temple Emanuel, Adler lectured on Hebrew and Oriental literature at Cornell University from 1874 to 1876. In 1880 he married Helen Goldmark, and the couple had a family of five children....

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Albert, Octavia Victoria Rogers (24 December 1853–1890?), author and activist, was born in Oglethorpe, Georgia, the daughter of slaves. Details of her life are sketchy. Little is known of her parents or her childhood beyond the date and place of her birth and the fact that she was born into bondage; thus, it is particularly intriguing that in 1870, only five years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and one year after Atlanta University opened, seventeen-year-old Octavia was among the 170 students enrolled at that institution. Further details of her life are equally sketchy. Most of what we know is culled from information in ...

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Albrier, Frances Mary (21 September 1898–21 August 1987), civil rights activist and community leader, was born in Mount Vernon, New York, the daughter of Lewis Redgrey, a supervisor in a factory, and Laura (maiden name unknown), a cook. Following the death of her mother when Frances was three, she and her baby sister were reared by her paternal grandparents, Lewis Redgrey, a Blackfoot Indian, and Johanna Bowen, a freed slave, on their 55-acre farm in Tuskegee, Alabama....

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Alcott, A. Bronson (29 November 1799–04 March 1888), Transcendentalist and reformer, was born Amos Bronson Alcox in Wolcott, Connecticut, the son of Joseph Chatfield Alcox and Anna Bronson, farmers. Farming the rocky Connecticut soil was not lucrative, and Alcott worked hard with his parents to help support seven younger siblings, thereby limiting his opportunities for a formal education. He attended the local district school until age ten, but thereafter his intellectual growth largely depended on his own reading and discussions with friends of a similar scholarly bent, the first being his cousin William Andrus Alcott. William later attended Yale College and established a career as a physician and popular author of health manuals, but continuing poverty prevented Bronson from obtaining a college education. At age fifteen he, like many of his young Connecticut contemporaries, began peddling small manufactured goods, first in Massachusetts and New York, then in Virginia and the Carolinas....

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Alexander, Raymond Pace (13 October 1898–24 November 1974), lawyer, judge, and civil rights leader, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the third son of Hillard Boone and Virginia Pace Alexander, both slaves in Virginia who were freed in 1865 and migrated to Philadelphia in 1880. His background was working-class poor and he grew up in Philadelphia's seventh ward, an all-black community made famous by W. E. B. Du Bois's seminal study ...

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Alexander, Will Winton (15 July 1884–13 January 1956), leading southern liberal, expert on race relations, and member of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal administration, leading southern liberal, expert on race relations, and member of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal administration, was born near Morrisville, Missouri, the son of William Baxter Alexander, a farmer, and Arabella A. Winton, a schoolteacher. Alexander received a B.A. from Scarritt-Morrisville College in 1908 and continued his studies at Vanderbilt University, where he received a Bachelor of Divinity in 1912. Ordained a Methodist minister in 1911, Alexander held pastorates at Nashville (1911–1916) and Murfreesboro, Tennessee (1916–1917). In 1914 he married Mabelle A. Kinkead; they had three sons....

Article

Alinsky, Saul David (30 January 1909–12 June 1972), community organizer, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Benjamin Alinsky, a tailor, and Sarah Tannenbaum. The family lived in the predominantly Jewish Maxwell Street neighborhood when Alinsky was born, and after the age of six he grew up in the mostly pleasant West Side neighborhood of Douglas Park. His parents divorced when Saul was thirteen years old; he would visit his father in California in the summer but grew increasingly distant from him and close to the strong and contentious Sarah....

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Allen, Donna (19 August 1920–19 July 1999), labor economist and historian, feminist, and peace and civil rights activist, was born Donna Rehkopf in Petoskey, Michigan, the daughter of Caspar Rehkopf, a metallurgical engineer, and Louise Densmore, a schoolteacher. Encouraged by her parents to excel, Donna from an early age displayed a great intellectual energy and optimism. Like her mother, Donna went to college at a time when few women did. She attended Duke University, majoring in history and economics, and graduated in 1943, having married Russell Allen the previous year. The couple would have four children. That same year, she volunteered to work as a cryptographer at Arlington Hall, Virginia, headquarters of the U.S. Army's Signal Intelligence Service, and her husband went into the army. In 1946 both Allens embarked on master's degrees in economics at the University of Chicago. From 1946 to 1948 Donna worked as a legislative assistant to the Illinois senator Paul H. Douglass and wrote briefs for labor boards during President ...

Article

Allen, Nathan (25 April 1813–01 January 1889), physician, social reformer, and public health advocate, was born in Princeton, Massachusetts, the son of Moses Allen and Mehitable Oliver, farmers. He spent his first seventeen years on the family farm, learning to work hard and to follow the Christian principles of his parents. He could not afford a higher education, but a friend in Leicester helped pay his tuition at Amherst Academy and then at Amherst College, where he matriculated in 1832, graduating in 1836....

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Alston, Melvin Ovenus (07 October 1911–30 December 1985), educator, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of William Henry “Sonnie” Alston, a drayman, and Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Smith, a laundress. Of middle-class background in terms of an African-American family in the urban South in the 1920s, he grew up in a house that his family owned, free of any mortgage. After attending Norfolk’s segregated black public schools and graduating from Booker T. Washington High School, he graduated from Virginia State College (B.S., 1935), honored for his debating and for excellence in scholarship, and began teaching math at Booker T. Washington High School in 1935. Beginning in 1937 he served as president of the Norfolk Teachers Association, and he also held local leadership positions in the Young Men’s Christian Association and the First Calvary Baptist Church....

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Altgeld, John Peter (30 December 1847–12 March 1902), governor of Illinois and leader of midwestern reform forces in the 1890s, was born in Nieder Selters in Nassau, Germany, the son of John Peter Altgeld, a wagon maker and farmer, and Mary (maiden name unknown). He was three months old when he and his parents immigrated to the United States and settled in Newville or Mansfield, Ohio. Raised in poverty by a stern and parochial father who saw no benefit in education, Altgeld received instruction only in a few terms of public school and Methodist Sunday school. Seeking to escape his father’s control, in 1864 he joined the Ohio Home Guards for a 100-day stint. This experience confirmed his desire for advancement, but he also contracted a disease, probably malaria, which recurred throughout his life....

Article

American, Sadie (03 March 1862–03 May 1944), social welfare activist and educator, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of German-Jewish immigrant Oscar L. American and Amelia Smith. Little is known of her childhood, but she was educated in Chicago public schools.

American became a founder in 1893 and later executive secretary of the philanthropic, middle-class reform organization the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW). In her early thirties she held positions in dozens of social welfare, charitable, and educational institutions from 1893 to 1904, including that of president of the New York Section of the NCJW and of the Consumers’ League of New York State (1893–1894). She also directed the Woman’s Municipal League in New York City and was chair of its Tenement House Committee (1893–1894)....

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Ames, Fanny Baker (14 June 1840–21 August 1931), charity organizer and women's rights advocate, charity organizer and women’s rights advocate, was born Julia Frances Baker in Canandaigua, New York, the daughter of Increase Baker, a coal measurer, and Julia Canfield. In 1857 she completed a one-term preparatory course in teaching at Antioch College in Ohio. She taught for five years in the Cincinnati public school system before volunteering in military hospitals during the Civil War....

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Ames, Jessie Daniel (02 November 1883–21 February 1972), antiracism reformer and suffragist, was born Jessie Harriet Daniel in Palestine, Texas, the daughter of James Malcolm Daniel, a train dispatcher and telegraph operator, and Laura Maria Leonard, a teacher. James and Laura Daniel were pious parents who stressed the importance of education but showed little affection for their children. They openly preferred their younger daughter, Lulu, and Jessie suffered deeply from a lack of self-confidence. When Jessie was four, the family moved to Georgetown, Texas, an impoverished and often violent community. There Jessie attended local schools and, later, Southwestern University....

Article

Anderson, Matthew (25 January 1845–11 January 1928), Presbyterian pastor, educator, and social reformer, was born in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, the son of Timothy Anderson and Mary Croog. One of fourteen children, he was raised in the comforts of a rural, middle-class home, less than thirty miles from historic Gettysburg. On a typical day of his youth, he faced the physical demands of farm life and experienced the movement back and forth between two cultures. One, dominated by commerce and materialism, was uncharacteristically open to the Andersons, who owned lumber mills and real estate at a time when most black Americans were dehumanized and disenfranchised by chattel slavery. The other was a culture defined by close family ties and Presbyterian piety. At home Matthew heard Bible stories and dramatic tales of runaway slaves; indeed, religious piety and the pursuit of racial freedom were dominant themes in his life. These early experiences inspired Anderson so deeply that, by the time he left Greencastle in 1863, he had decided on the ministry as his vocation. Study at Oberlin College was the first step toward serving his religious faith, his racial group, and his vision of social justice....