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Bennett, Belle Harris (03 December 1852–20 July 1922), church and ecumenical leader, was born Isabel Harris Bennett on the family plantation, “Homelands,” in Madison County near Richmond, Kentucky, the daughter of Samuel Bennett and Elizabeth Chenault. Belle (as she preferred) was reared in a cultured and affluent but strict Methodist household. Her parents were descendant from early Virginia and Maryland settlers. Her paternal grandfather had migrated to Madison County around 1790 and was known as “Honest John Bennett,” a Methodist itinerant, who supported himself as a farmer and tailor. Isabel Harris, her maternal grandmother, had migrated from Virginia and was related to the Chenaults, a French Huguenot family that had fled to British America to avoid religious persecution. Belle was the younger of two daughters in a family of eight children, all of whom attended the local county school. At age eleven Belle entered a private school conducted by Robert Breck, a Presbyterian minister. Next she attended Nazareth, a Catholic school, near Bardstown, then furthered her training at College Hill, Ohio. As a student she was proficient in belles lettres and the classics but as both an avid reader, especially of history, and a world traveler she continued her education throughout life. In 1916 Kentucky Wesleyan College conferred on her an honorary LL.D....

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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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Heck, Barbara (1734–17 August 1804), "mother of American Methodism", “mother of American Methodism,” was born in Ballingrane, County Limerick, Ireland, the daughter of Sebastian Ruckle, a farmer, and his wife (name unknown), descendants of Protestant Palatine refugees from the War of Spanish Succession. She experienced a Methodist-inspired conversion at age eighteen, possibly after hearing John Wesley preach in Limerick, and married Paul Heck in 1760. In the spring of 1760 the Hecks left Ireland with family members and other Irish and Irish Palatine emigrants forced out by high rents and land scarcity. Their ship landed at New York City on 10 August. The Hecks communed with other Methodists at Trinity Lutheran Church, where the first three of their seven children were baptized between 1761 and 1765....

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Jackson, Rebecca Cox (15 February 1795–24 May 1871), itinerant preacher, religious writer, and Shaker eldress, was born a free African American in Horntown, Pennsylvania. According to sketchy autobiographical information, she was the daughter of Jane (maiden name unknown) Cox. No reference is made in her writings to her father, who probably died shortly after her birth. Rebecca Cox lived with her grandmother (never named) until she was between three and four years old, but by age six she was again living with her mother, who had remarried and was now called Jane Wisson or Wilson. Her stepfather, a sailor, died at sea the next year. At age ten, she was in Philadelphia with her mother and a younger sister and infant brother, the offspring, it seems, of a third marriage of her mother. Responsibility for caring for her younger siblings seems to have deprived Rebecca of the schooling her mother was somehow able to provide for the other children. Her mother died when she was thirteen, whereupon she probably moved into the household of her older brother Joseph Cox (1778?–1843), a tanner and clergyman eighteen years her senior....

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Meyer, Lucy Jane Rider (09 September 1849–16 March 1922), educator and Methodist deaconess, was born in New Haven, Vermont, the daughter of Richard Dunning Rider and his second wife, Jane Child, farmers. After a happy childhood in a loving and supportive family, she obtained her secondary education by alternately teaching and attending school. At the age of sixteen she held a teaching position in a high school in Brandon, Vermont. She spent another year with a French family in Canada and one teaching in a Quaker school for freedmen in Greensboro, North Carolina. Entering Oberlin College in September 1870 at age twenty-one, she was granted junior standing in recognition of her experience and knowledge. She graduated with an A.B. degree in 1872. While at Oberlin she met and became engaged to a young man who had dedicated himself to service as a medical missionary. In support of him and his vocation, after graduation she entered the Woman’s Medical School of Philadelphia to become a doctor. During the winter of her second year, however, her fiancé died, and she left school, returning home to recover from the shock and to be with aging parents who needed her care....

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Newman, Angelia French (04 December 1837–15 April 1910), church worker, reformer, and lecturer, was born Angelia Louise French Thurston in Montpelier, Vermont, the daughter of Daniel Sylvester Thurston, a farmer and tanner, and Matilda Benjamin. When “Angie,” as she was commonly known, was about age seven, her mother died. Her father remarried shortly thereafter. Angie attended the local academy and later briefly taught school until around 1852, when her family moved to Wisconsin. In 1856, soon after her eighteenth birthday, she married Frank Kilgore, the son of a Methodist minister from Madison. The marriage was childless, and he died within a year. She subsequently worked as a teacher at Central Public School in Madison and spent one term (1857–1858) at Lawrence University in Appleton. In 1859 she married David Newman, a dry goods merchant; they would have two children....

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Robinson, Jane Marie Bancroft (24 December 1847–29 May 1932), church leader, was born in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the daughter of George C. Bancroft, a Methodist clergyman, and his second wife, Caroline M. Orton. The early years of her life were spent in the towns of New England where her father served. She graduated from the Emma Willard School, Troy, New York, in 1871 and the New York State Normal School (now the State University of New York at Albany) in 1872. Following her graduation she worked as a preceptress at Fort Edward (New York) Collegiate Institute until 1876, when she entered Syracuse University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in 1877, a master’s degree in 1880, and in 1884 a Ph.D. degree. Her dissertation was published under the title ...

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Anna Howard Shaw. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-20177).

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Shaw, Anna Howard (14 February 1847–02 July 1919), minister and woman suffragist, was born at Newcastle upon Tyne, England, the daughter of Thomas Shaw, a wallpaper maker, and Nicolas Stott. The family moved to Massachusetts in 1851. In 1859 Thomas Shaw settled his wife and younger children in an unfinished cabin on Michigan’s frontier while he returned east. Anna’s bitter recollections of the responsibilities that fell to her in the next decade make up the most powerful section of the memoirs she published as ...

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Van Cott, Maggie Newton (25 March 1830–29 August 1914), Methodist evangelist and preacher, was born Margaret Ann Newton in New York City, the daughter of William K. Newton, an estate agent for John Jacob Astor, and Rachel A. Primrose. Her parents were Episcopalian, and she was confirmed in that denomination at age eleven. A year later, her younger brother died and the family began a series of moves, settling in Williamsburg, Long Island. Maggie gained an appreciation of Methodism from her maternal grandfather, who introduced her to prayers and hymns. In Williamsburg, the family lived near a Methodist church, and although she was forbidden to attend services there, Maggie would sit in the cupola of the house to overhear the singing....

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Waugh, Beverly (25 October 1789–09 February 1858), Methodist Episcopal bishop, was born in Fairfax County, Virginia, the son of James Waugh and Henrietta Turley, farmers. He received a classical education. By 1807 he was manager of a store in Middleburg, Virginia. Under the influence of Thomas F. Sargent, a Methodist itinerant, Waugh at age fifteen joined the Methodist Episcopal church. Five years later he was admitted on trial as a preacher in the Baltimore Conference. In 1811 he was ordained a deacon and two years later an elder by Bishop ...

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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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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....