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Banning, Margaret Culkin (18 March 1891–04 January 1982), writer, was born in Buffalo, Minnesota, the daughter of William Edgar Culkin, a Duluth newspaper executive, and Hannah Alice Young. She attended Vassar College, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated in 1912. Pursuing an interest in social work, she attended Russell Sage College on a fellowship in 1912–1913, then spent the following academic year at the Chicago School of Philanthropy, which awarded her a certificate in 1914 for completion of its program. That same year she married a Duluth lawyer, Archibald T. Banning, Jr. The couple, who were divorced in 1934, had four children, two of whom survived into adulthood....

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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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Cotten, Sallie Swepson Sims Southall (13 June 1846–04 May 1929), advocate of women's education and the women's club movement in North Carolina, advocate of women’s education and the women’s club movement in North Carolina, was born in Lawrenceville, Virginia, the daughter of Thomas Southall and Susan Sims. Because of her father’s precarious fortunes as planter and hotelkeeper, she came to Murfreesboro, North Carolina, at the age of thirteen to live with her father’s wealthy cousin. She attended Wesleyan Female College and Greensboro Female College, graduating in 1863. While teaching in Edgecombe County, North Carolina, in 1864, she met Robert Randolph Cotten, a Confederate cavalryman. They were married in 1866....

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Cowles, Betsey Mix (09 February 1810–25 July 1876), educator and reformer, was born in Bristol, Connecticut, the daughter of Giles Hooker Cowles, a Congregationalist minister, and Sally White. To support their family of eight children, Cowles’s parents moved the family to the fledgling town of Austinburg in Ohio’s western reserve shortly after her birth. Two more children came along later. Cowles’s early education took place in subscription schools. Before the spread of state-funded public schools, parents who wished to educate their children had to make arrangements with traveling schoolmasters. Cowles herself joined the ranks of such teachers at age sixteen and taught in many communities throughout northeastern Ohio and western New York....

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Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-37939).

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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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Dewey, Alice Chipman (07 September 1858–14 July 1927), educator and feminist, was born in Fenton, Michigan, the daughter of Gordon Orlen Chipman, a cabinetmaker, and Lucy Riggs. Orphaned at an early age, Alice and her younger sister were raised by their maternal grandparents Fred and Evalina Riggs. The Riggses were freethinkers who raised the sisters to be socially responsible and self-reliant. After finishing high school in Fenton, Alice attended for a year the Fenton Baptist Seminary, where she studied music. She taught school for several years in Flushing, Michigan, before a desire for further education and a growing interest in women’s rights spurred her to leave Fenton and enroll at the University of Michigan in 1882....

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Doyle, Sarah Elizabeth (23 March 1830–21 December 1922), educator and activist, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the daughter of Thomas Doyle, a bookbinder, and Martha Dorrance Jones. Her father died when Sarah was eleven years old. Her brother, Thomas Arthur, was mayor of Providence between 1864 and 1886, possessing a strong commitment to public schools and urban planning. Sarah Doyle attended the local public grammar school, then entered Providence High School in 1843, its first year, graduating in 1846. She began nearly four decades of teaching immediately after high school, first teaching for ten years in private schools. In 1856 Doyle joined the girls department of Providence High, serving as department principal from 1878 until her retirement in 1892. Doyle was an active and influential teacher, responsible for supervising her colleagues. She was a vice president of the Rhode Island Institute of Instruction, a teachers’ continuing-education organization, and she headed the literature section of its reading circle for several years. Doyle impressed many of her women students with her skill and dedication, and several who became teachers founded the Sarah E. Doyle Club in her honor. Organized in 1894 for the “mutual assistance and culture of members,” for decades the club served hundreds of Providence teachers through lectures and classes. She became the first woman to preside over a meeting of the National Education Association when president Thomas Bicknell gave her the gavel for a single session in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1884....

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Drinker, Sophie Lewis Hutchinson (24 August 1888–06 September 1967), feminist and amateur historian, was born in Haverford, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Sydney Pemberton Hutchinson, a business executive, and Amy Lewis. As a dedicated student of history in later life, she took pride in the fact that the Hutchinson family had played a prominent role in the Philadelphia area since colonial times. While not conspicuously wealthy, the family was socially prominent and considered to represent “blue blood.” Drinker’s education was completed at St. Timothy’s School in Catonsville, Maryland, from which she graduated in 1906; she enjoyed her school years, and her historical studies there provided inspiration for her later work as a historian of women....

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Flexner, Eleanor (04 October 1908–25 March 1995), historian, feminist, and labor activist, was born in New York City, the second of two daughters of Abraham Flexner and Anne Crawford Flexner. Abraham was a prominent author and innovator in education reform who founded the Lincoln School at Teachers College of Columbia University and established the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Anne earned fame and fortune for her Broadway-produced play ...

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Frances Gage Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92766).

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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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Sarah Moore Grimké. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ61-1608).

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Grimké, Sarah Moore (26 November 1792–23 December 1873), abolitionist, writer-educator, and women's rights pioneer, abolitionist, writer-educator, and women’s rights pioneer, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the daughter of John Faucheraud Grimké, chief judge of the state supreme court, and Mary Smith. Sarah was educated by private tutors in subjects considered proper for well-bred southern girls—among them, French, watercolors, harpsichord, and embroidery. But from her older brother Thomas, a student at Yale, she learned Latin, Greek, mathematics, and geography. Raised in the upper classes of Charleston, Sarah gained firsthand experience with prosperity’s underside, African slavery. Her father “owned” several hundred slaves, some of whom she taught to read before he (and the law of the state) forbade it....

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Hunt, Harriot Kezia (09 November 1805–02 January 1875), physician, humanist, and feminist reformer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Jaab Hunt, a ship joiner and shipping industry investor, and Kezia Wentworth. Hunt attributed her “happy-cheerful-joyous” childhood home to the fact that her parents had had fourteen years together without children before her birth. The influence of her parents’ “enlivened intelligence” caused her to articulate marital ideals for women that she never chose to live herself. Both parents became Universalists and raised their children in this tradition....

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Jones, Jane Elizabeth (13 March 1813–13 January 1896), antislavery and women's rights lecturer, antislavery and women’s rights lecturer, was born Jane Elizabeth Hitchcock at Vernon, Oneida County, New York, the daughter of Reuben Hitchcock and Electa Spaulding. Although there is little record of her early years, accounts suggest that the family was financially comfortable and that she had a “pampered and protected” childhood....

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Levi-Montalcini, Rita (22 April 1909–30 December 2012), Nobel Prize–winning neuroembryologist, was born Rita Levi in Turin, Italy, the youngest of four children of Adamo Levi, an electrical engineer and mathematician, and Adele Montalcini, a painter. She later added her mother’s maiden name to her surname. Born into a Jewish middle-class family, young Rita was aware of the different roles men and women played in the family and in society. Her caring but domineering father made all the household decisions, while her submissive mother would willingly accept her husband’s decisions without challenges. However, Rita had several women as role models or sources of inspiration. Her two aunts had doctoral degrees in literature and in mathematics, respectively, and helped foster her confidence in women’s intellectual capacity. When her governess’s tragic death from cancer inspired Rita to go into medicine, her cousin Eugenia enthusiastically supported and joined her to take up medical studies. She also had the backing of her mother and her twin sister, Paola....

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Belva Lockwood. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-BH834-55).

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Lockwood, Belva Ann Bennett McNall (24 October 1830–19 May 1917), teacher, lawyer, and social activist, was born on a farm in Royalton, Niagara County, New York, the second child of Hannah Green and Lewis Johnson Bennett. Lockwood began teaching in the rural one-room schools of Niagara County at age fifteen. She made her first public comments against gender discrimination after learning that male teachers were earning twice as much for similar work. In 1848 she married Uriah H. McNall, a local farmer and sawmill operator. McNall’s death in 1853 left his 22-year-old widow with the responsibility of raising their young daughter. Lockwood enrolled at Genesee College (now Syracuse University), receiving a bachelor of science degree in 1857. In September of that year she accepted a position as principal of the Lockport Union School, again experiencing wage discrimination because she was a woman. After listening to woman’s rights activist ...

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Pruette, Lorine Livingston (3 Nov. 1896–20 Dec. 1976), psychologist, social scientist, and feminist, was born in Millersburg, Tennessee to Eulalia Miller Pruette, a former schoolteacher, and Oscar Davis Pruette, a gentleman farmer. Raised a daughter of the South, Pruette spent her first five years in a small cottage on one hundred acres where her father raised pigs, hens, cattle, and horses. This first home was isolated and rural, and her parents’ marriage was contentious. Pruette later recalled her childhood as lonely and described herself as “the odd ball” (Trigg, p. 37)....