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Adams, Harriet Chalmers (22 October 1875–17 July 1937), explorer, lecturer, and writer, was born Harriet Chalmers in Stockton, California. Her father, Alexander Chalmers, Canadian via Scotland, came to California in 1864 to try his luck mining; he later ran a dry goods store with his brother before becoming a mine superintendent and part-owner. Her mother, Frances Wilkins, had grown up in the Sierra Nevada foothills. From the age of eleven Harriet and her sister Anna had private tutors. Her mother encouraged Harriet’s love of reading, while travels with her father developed her interest in the natural world as well as the Native American and Spanish-speaking cultures in the region. At thirteen Harriet and her father spent more than six months meandering the length of the Sierras from Oregon to Mexico, cementing her lifelong love of adventure. As a young woman Harriet continued her indoor and outdoor studies and had an active social life. She was fluent in Spanish and spoke Portuguese, French, Italian, and German as well....

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Arendt, Hannah (14 October 1906–04 December 1975), political theorist and philosopher, was born in Hanover, Germany, the daughter of Paul Arendt, an engineer, and Martha Cohn. She was raised in her parents’ hometown, Königsberg, East Prussia, where the family moved when Paul Arendt became seriously ill with syphilis. He died in 1913. The years during World War I were especially difficult for the family; their safety was often threatened by the nearby battles of the Prussian and Russian armies. After the war, Arendt’s mother became a German Social Democrat and a follower of Rosa Luxemburg, whose writings later had a great influence on Arendt’s thought. In 1920 her mother married Martin Beerwald, who provided the family a renewed measure of security and Arendt with two older stepsisters....

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Atherton, Gertrude Franklin (30 October 1857–14 June 1948), author, biographer, and historian, was born Gertrude Franklin Horn in San Francisco, California, the daughter of Thomas Horn, a businessman, and Gertrude Franklin. Her maternal grandfather, a grandnephew of Benjamin Franklin, was a banker and editor of one of San Francisco’s first newspapers. Gertrude lived with him when her parents were divorced after three years of marriage. Although she was well read, her formal education was sporadic—while she was attending the Sayre Institute in Lexington, Kentucky, she contracted tuberculosis. After twice becoming engaged, she eventually eloped in 1876 with George H. Bowen Atherton, a former suitor of her mother’s. They had a daughter and a son who died at the age of six....

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Balch, Emily Greene (08 January 1867–09 January 1961), peace activist, sociologist, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, was born in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, the daughter of Francis Vergnies Balch, a lawyer, and Ellen Maria Noyes. She was in the first graduating class at Bryn Mawr College, earning her degree in 1889. After studying privately for a year with sociologist ...

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Benedict, Ruth Fulton (05 June 1887–17 September 1948), cultural anthropologist, was born in New York City, the daughter of homeopathic physician Frederick Fulton and Vassar graduate Bertrice Shattuck. Her father died in 1889, and Benedict spent her early childhood on the farm of her maternal grandparents near Norwich, New York. She was influenced by life on the farm and by four years in the Midwest where her mother supported the family by teaching in Missouri and in 1896 as Lady Principal (director of the girls’ division) of Pillsbury Academy in Owatonna, Minnesota. Two years later, her mother took a job as superintendent of circulation at the public library in Buffalo, New York....

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Boyle, Kay (19 February 1902–27 December 1992), writer, educator, and political activist, was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, the daughter of Howard Peterson Boyle, a lawyer, and Katherine Evans, a literary and social activist. Her grandfather had founded the West Publishing Company, and the financial security afforded by this background allowed the Boyle family to travel extensively. Boyle’s education was sporadic, culminating in two years of architecture classes at the Ohio Mechanics’ Institute (1917–1919). In 1922 Boyle joined her sister Joan in New York City, where she began to work for ...

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Brown, Willa (22 January 1906–18 July 1992), pilot and aviation educator, was born Willa Beatrice Brown in Glasgow, Kentucky, the only daughter of Hallie Mae Carpenter Brown and Eric B. Brown, a farm owner. After 1910 the family, as part of the internal migration of African Americans from the rural South to northern cities, moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, hoping for greater opportunities in employment and education. There her father worked in a creosote factory; he was also pastor of the Holy Triumphant Church in 1920 and the Free Church of God in 1929....

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Burroughs, Nannie Helen (02 May 1879–20 May 1961), school founder, was born in Orange, Virginia, the daughter of John Burroughs, a farmer and itinerant Baptist preacher, and Jennie Poindexter, a cook. After moving to Washington, D.C., with her mother in 1883, Burroughs graduated in 1896 with honors in business and domestic science from the Colored High School on M Street. When racial discrimination barred her from obtaining a position either in the Washington, D.C., public schools or the federal civil service, Burroughs worked as a secretary, first for the Baptist ...

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Chase, Mary Ellen (24 February 1887–28 July 1973), writer and educator, was born in Blue Hill, Maine, the daughter of Edward Everett Chase, a lawyer, and Edith Lord, a teacher of Latin. Religion, education, and reading were basic to the Chase family’s way of life, as described by Chase herself in three autobiographical volumes: ...

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Chisholm, Shirley (30 November 1924–01 January 2005), first African-American congresswoman and educator, was born Shirley Anita St. Hill in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Charles Christopher St. Hill, a factory worker, and Ruby Seale, a seamstress and domestic worker. She was sent to Barbados for economic reasons at the age of three, where she lived on her maternal grandmother's farm and attended elementary school. Upon returning to New York seven years later she attended local public schools and graduated from Girls' High School in 1942. Despite scholarship offers her family lacked the funds to help her attend a more distant college, so she entered nearby (and tuition-free) Brooklyn College with the intent of becoming a teacher. She became interested in politics while earning her B.A....

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Comstock, Anna Botsford (01 September 1854–24 August 1930), educator and scientific illustrator, was born in a log cabin in Cattaraugus County, New York, the daughter of Marvin Botsford and Phoebe Irish. The Botsfords were prosperous farmers who encouraged Anna in her love of art, literature, and natural history. Her mother, a Hicksite Quaker, shared her love of the natural world with her daughter. From 1871 to 1873 Anna attended the Chamberlain Institute and Female College in nearby Randolph, where she resisted attempts by its faculty to have all students “experience” religion, asserting the moderate beliefs she would retain throughout her life....

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Davis, Paulina Kellogg Wright (07 August 1813–24 August 1876), abolitionist, suffragist, and educator, was born in Bloomfield, New York, the daughter of Captain Ebenezer Kellogg and Polly Saxton. In 1817 the family moved to an undeveloped area near Niagara Falls. Davis’s enjoyment of the frontier’s exhilirating freedom ended with the deaths of her parents. In 1820 she went to live with a strict orthodox Presbyterian aunt in LeRoy, New York, where she was educated and attended church regularly....

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Dickinson, Anna Elizabeth (28 October 1842–22 October 1932), orator and lecturer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the youngest child of John Dickinson, a merchant who never recovered from the Panic of 1837, and Mary Edmondson. Devout Quakers, the Dickinsons were active members of the local antislavery society. Dickinson was two when her father died, and her mother kept the family together by teaching school and taking in boarders. Dickinson attended a series of Friends’ educational institutions, but her formal training ended by the time she was fifteen....

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See Durant, Will

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Farrell, Eileen (13 February 1920–23 March 2002), singer and educator, was born in Willimantic, Connecticut, the daughter of Michael John Farrell and Catherine Kennedy. Both parents had been vaudeville entertainers, but during Eileen's youth Michael worked as a painter and decorator. Eileen showed some aptitude for music at several Catholic grammar schools and then Woonsocket High School in Rhode Island. Her mother, who gave the girl her first voice lessons, suggested, upon Eileen's graduation in 1939, that she go to New York City for professional training with Merle Alcock, formerly of the Metropolitan Opera. Farrell studied with her for five years but claimed that she learned nothing of value and that Alcock improperly sought to take a percentage of her eventual earnings. Intimidated, Farrell twice returned home but was encouraged to persist. In 1940 an audition was arranged with CBS Radio, and suddenly her career was launched....

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Fisher, Ada Lois Sipuel (08 February 1924–18 October 1995), civil rights pioneer, lawyer, and educator, was born in Chickasha, Oklahoma, the daughter of Travis B. Sipuel, a minister and later bishop of the Church of Christ in God, one of the largest black Pentecostal churches in the United States, and Martha Bell Smith, the child of a former slave. Her parents moved to Chickasaw, Oklahoma, shortly after the Tulsa race riot of 1921....

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Fisher, Dorothy F. Canfield (17 February 1879–09 November 1958), author and educational leader, was born Dorothea Frances Canfield in Lawrence, Kansas, the daughter of James Hulme Canfield, a professor of economics and sociology at the University of Kansas, and Flavia A. Camp, an artist. As a child Dorothy summered with relatives in Arlington, Vermont. In 1890 she went to Paris with her mother, visited her mother’s studio in the Latin Quarter, and attended a convent school....

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Gage, Frances Dana Barker (12 October 1808–10 November 1884), reformer, lecturer, and author, was born on a farm in Union Township, Washington County, Ohio, the daughter of Joseph Barker and Elizabeth Dana, farmers. The rugged conditions of farm life bred in her a hardiness and resourcefulness that served her well as an adult....

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Gill, Laura Drake (24 August 1860–03 February 1926), educational administrator and reformer, was born in Chesterville, Maine, the daughter of Elisha Gill and Hulda Capen. Following the death of her father in 1873, Gill’s maternal aunt, Bessie T. Capen, brought her to Northampton, Massachusetts, where she matriculated at Smith College, graduating in 1881 with a degree in mathematics. For the next seventeen years, Gill taught mathematics at her aunt’s school for girls. While teaching at Miss Capen’s School, she earned a master’s degree in mathematics from Smith College and in 1893 pursued additional graduate study at the Universities of Leipzig and Geneva and at the Sorbonne....

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Gratz, Rebecca (04 March 1781–27 August 1869), pioneer Jewish charitable worker and religious educator, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Michael Gratz, of Silesia, a merchant shipper, and Miriam Simon, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Gratz grew up in Philadelphia’s wealthy society, and her brothers expanded the family financial interests to the West....