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Armstrong, Anne Legendre (27 December 1927–30 July 2008), politician and diplomat, was born Anne Legendre in New Orleans, Louisiana, the daughter of Armant Legendre, a coffee importer of Creole heritage, and Olive Legendre. Anne attended the Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia, where she was class president and valedictorian, and graduated from Vassar College in 1949. In 1950 she married Tobin Armstrong after meeting him on a visit to the King Ranch in south Texas. Tobin was a prominent rancher, and Anne moved to Kenedy County, Texas, following the marriage, which produced five children. Throughout her career, she maintained a role in the ranch’s affairs....

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Barnard, Kate (23 May 1875–23 February 1930), Progressive reformer and politician, was born Catherine Anna Barnard in Alexandria, Nebraska, the daughter of John P. Barnard, a lawyer and real estate speculator, and Rachael Mason Shiell. Shortly after Barnard’s birth her family moved to the small frontier town of Kirwin, Kansas, where her mother died in 1877. She attended public school in Kirwin until the early 1890s, when she and her father moved to the new territory of Oklahoma. The experiences of her early adulthood resemble those of other women Progressives in at least two ways. First, she was introduced to politics by her father, a local politician. Second, she tried several lines of work before she became a reformer. From 1896 to 1899 she taught in rural schools; then, in 1902 she exchanged teaching for stenography. Startled by the degree of poverty in her own neighborhood in Oklahoma City, she decided in the fall of 1905 to conduct a campaign to clothe the community’s poor. The crusade gained her public recognition and convinced her of the importance of volunteer associations. She resuscitated a local charity organization and was appointed its matron in December 1905. She began to realize that unionization could be another weapon with which to combat poverty and, consequently, became a deputy organizer for the International Women’s Union Label League....

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Blair, Emily Newell (09 January 1877–03 August 1951), feminist, politician, and writer, was born in Joplin, Missouri, the daughter of Anna Cynthia Gray and James Patton Newell, a mortgage broker. She enrolled in the Woman’s College of Baltimore (now Goucher College) in 1894, but her father’s death cut short her education after just one year. Returning home, she helped raise her younger siblings, taught school, and attended classes at the University of Missouri without completing a degree. In 1900 she married Harry Wallace Blair, a former classmate at Carthage High School....

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Crisp, Mary Dent (05 November 1923–24 March 2007), Republican Party leader and women's rights advocate, Republican Party leader and women’s rights advocate, was born Mary Dent in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the seventh child of Harry Dent and Elizabeth Patch Dent. After graduating from Allentown High School, she attended Oberlin College, receiving a degree in botany in 1946. She would later trace her interest in politics to Oberlin’s emphasis on an individual’s responsibility to engage with pressing social issues. She married William Crisp, a doctor, in 1948; the couple had three children and resided in Phoenix, Arizona. There, she took graduate courses in political science at Arizona State University....

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Dewson, Molly (18 February 1874–21 October 1962), politician and social reformer, was born Mary Williams Dewson in Quincy, Massachusetts, the daughter of Edward Henry Dewson, a Boston leather merchant, and Elizabeth Weld. Molly (as she was always known) attended Wellesley College, graduating in 1897. After college she joined the staff of the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union in Boston, where she conducted research on domestic service and the professionalization of housework. In 1900 she became the superintendent of the parole department for the Massachusetts State Industrial School for Girls at Lancaster. In 1912 she resigned that post to join Boston reformer ...

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Ferraro, Geraldine Anne (26 August 1935–26 March 2011), lawyer, U.S. congresswoman, and vice presidential candidate, was born in Newburgh, New York, to Dominick Ferraro, an Italian immigrant who owned a restaurant and a five-and-dime, and Antonetta L. Corrieri. Geraldine was eight years old when she witnessed her father’s unexpected death from a heart attack, and she often stated that it was the dividing line of her life. The death of Geraldine’s father left her family, which included an older brother, Carl, in reduced circumstances; her mother worked as a seamstress to make ends meet. They moved to the south Bronx and then to Queens....

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Franklin, Deborah Read (1704?–19 December 1774), wife of Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), wife of Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), was the daughter of John Read, a carpenter, and Sarah White. It is not certain whether Deborah Read was born in Birmingham, England, where her family originated, or in Philadelphia, to which they emigrated. Nothing is known about her youth. She entered American lore on 9 October 1723 as she stood in front of her father’s shop on Market Street in Philadelphia and first caught sight of Franklin, a tall, broad-shouldered youth passing by, his pockets bulging with socks, a puffy roll held under each arm while he munched on a third, and she giggled at his awkwardness—a moment to be immortalized some fifty years later in his memoirs....

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Harrison, Mary Scott Lord Dimmick (30 April 1858–05 January 1948), second wife of Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901), the twenty-third president of the United States, second wife of Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901), the twenty-third president of the United States, was born in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Russell Farnham Lord, chief engineer and general manager of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, and Elizabeth Scott, whose younger sister, ...

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Haynes, Elizabeth Ross (30 July 1883–26 October 1953), social scientist, politician, and community leader, was born in Mount Willing, Lowndes County, Alabama, the daughter of Henry Ross and Mary Carnes. Elizabeth Ross’s parents were hard workers who amassed some wealth through the purchase of land that eventually grew to become a 1,500-acre plantation. Little is known about her parents beyond their commitment to their only child’s well-being and success. Elizabeth attended the State Normal School in Montgomery and later won a scholarship to Fisk University, where she was awarded an A.B. degree in 1903. She taught school in Alabama and Texas for several years after graduation, and during 1905 and 1907 she attended summer school at the University of Chicago....

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Jefferson, Martha Wayles Skelton (19 October 1748–06 September 1782), wife of Thomas Jefferson, wife of Thomas Jefferson, was born in Virginia, the daughter of John Wayles, a lawyer and planter, and Martha Eppes. England-born John Wayles worked as Virginia agent to a British merchant, bought land, and established the plantation in Charles City County where Martha Jefferson was most likely born. Her mother died soon after, leaving land and slaves to Martha, her only child, who then spent her early years in the care of a stepmother with whom John Wayles had three more daughters. After this stepmother’s death, Wayles married and lost a third wife within a year, leaving thirteen-year-old Martha once again motherless. At eighteen, Martha Wayles was married to Bathurst Skelton, a planter, and their son John Skelton was born the following year. Less than a year later, Bathurst Skelton was dead, and his widow had returned with her baby to her father’s home....

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Kawananakoa, Abigail Wahiikaahuula Campbell (01 January 1882–12 April 1945), politician, was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, the daughter of James Campbell, a millionaire financier, landowner, and businessman, and Abigail Kuaihelani Maipinepine Bright. Her mother was a member of a part-native Hawaiian family from Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii. Her father was an immigrant from Derry, Ireland. Kawananakoa was educated at private schools in Honolulu. She then went to San Jose, California, where her father had business interests. Kawananakoa attended San Jose’s College of Notre Dame, a Roman Catholic convent, from which she graduated in 1900....

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Clare Boothe Luce Before her marriage to Henry Luce. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1932. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103652).

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Luce, Clare Boothe (10 April 1903–09 October 1987), writer and political figure, was born Ann Clare Boothe in New York City, the daughter of William F. Boothe, a businessman and pit-orchestra violinist, and Ann Clare Snyder, a former dancer. She spent her childhood in Chicago and Memphis and also lived for a year in France with her mother after her parents separated. She attended several private schools, including St. Mary’s in Garden City, Long Island, from 1915 to 1917, and then Miss Mason’s School in Tarrytown, New York, from which she graduated in 1919. As a child, Clare Boothe had briefly been an understudy to ...

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Masaryk, Charlotte Garrigue (20 November 1850–13 May 1923), first First Lady of Czechoslovakia, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Rudolph Garrigue—a man of Huguenot descent who had lived in Denmark and Germany and had established the Germania Fire Insurance Company after his bookstore in Brooklyn burned—and Charlotte Lydia Whiting, who was touched by liberating, unorthodox Transcendentalist ideas. Garrigue, who was called Charlie by her ten siblings, was christened a Unitarian because her paternal grandparents were members of that church. When she was four years old, she moved with her parents to a large house in the Bronx. Hoping to become a concert pianist, Garrigue went to Leipzig, Germany, to study when she was seventeen years old. She stayed with the Goering family, for whom her father had worked in the book business before coming to the United States. After three years of study, Garrigue returned home with her dream shattered; prolonged piano practice had permanently damaged her hand. While instructing others in piano and studying mathematics, she corresponded regularly with the Goering family. She returned to Leipzig in 1876 after they had piqued her curiosity with descriptions of Thomas Masaryk, who was boarding with them. The son of a Slovak serf, Masaryk received a doctorate degree from the University of Vienna that same year....

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Mitchell, Martha (02 September 1918–31 May 1976), controversial political wife, was born on Labor Day in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, the daughter of George Virgil Beall, a cotton broker, and Arie Ferguson, a teacher of elocution. She studied drama, under Maude Adams, at Stephens College in Missouri, attended the University of Arkansas, and in 1942 was graduated from the University of Miami with a bachelor of arts degree. After briefly teaching sixth grade in Mobile, Alabama, she joined the war effort, working first in Pine Bluff and later in Washington, D.C., for the army’s Chemical Warfare Service (later the Army Chemical Corps). There she met army Captain Clyde Jennings, Jr., whom she married in October 1946. Their only child, Clyde Jay Jennings, was born in 1947. By the time of their divorce, in August 1957, the couple was living in New York City. There, on 30 December 1957, she married Wall Street lawyer ...

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Motley, Constance Baker (14 Sept. 1921–28 Sept. 2005), civil rights lawyer, politician, and judge, was born Constance Baker in New Haven, Connecticut, the ninth of twelve children of Willoughby Baker, a chef for various Yale University student organizations, and Rachel Huggins Baker, a preschool teacher prior to her marriage. Her parents hailed from Nevis, the Caribbean island and English colony, and had immigrated to the United States during the early twentieth century. The family’s immigrant background shaped the young girl’s upbringing and values; she grew up in a tight-knit community of immigrants who shared cultural practices, worshiped together, and secured work in New Haven’s service industries. Coming of age during the Great Depression in the 1930s, Constance attended the city’s racially integrated schools and lived in a racially mixed, working-class immigrant neighborhood. Her neighbors and schoolmates included Italians, Irish, Jews, and Nevisians....

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Myerson, Bess (16 July 1924–14 Dec. 2014), politician and television personality best remembered as Miss America 1945, was born in Bronx, New York, to Louis Myerson and Bella Podell Myerson, both Jewish immigrants from Russia. She was listed as Bessie on her birth certificate but was known as Bess from an early age. Her father worked as a housepainter and her mother at a number of part-time jobs. Bess had two sisters, one older and one younger, as well as one brother who died before she was born. The family lived in a one-room apartment in the Sholem Aleichem Cooperative Houses. Though the family was not affluent, an emphasis was placed on education, including music education, as Bess’s mother believed it important that a woman be able to support herself financially. Bess studied piano and flute, graduating from the High School of Music and Art in ...

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Otero-Warren, Nina (23 October 1882–03 January 1965), suffragist, politician, and author, was born María Adelina Isabel Emilia Otero in Los Lunas, New Mexico, the daughter of Eloisa Luna and Manuel B. Otero, ranchers. Nina grew up within one of the oldest and most traditional New Mexican households. Women were expected to learn the domestic arts and eventually marry well in order to run households of their own. Her family, on both her mother’s and her father’s side, was composed of the most prominent citizens, politicians, and ranchers of the territory; they claimed to be descendants of the original Spanish settlers of New Mexico. Nina’s traditional Hispano and Catholic upbringing proscribed a life of domesticity akin to the life her mother and grandmother had known....

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Peterson, Elly (05 June 1914–09 June 2008), Republican Party leader and women's rights activist, was born Ella Maude McMillan in New Berlin, Illinois, the youngest child of John Charles McMillan, a physician, and Maude Ella Carpenter, a teacher. She attended William Woods College in Fulton, Missouri, then left in 1933 and completed secretarial studies at Suburban Business College in Oak Park, Illinois. She married W. Merritt “Pete” Peterson on 11 October 1935. They divorced in 1943. Elly Peterson served with the American Red Cross in England, France, and Germany during World War II, and then remarried her ex-husband on 5 February 1948. The couple had no children....

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Richards, Ann (1 Sept. 1933–13 Sept. 2006), politician and Governor of Texas, was born Dorothy Ann Willis in Lakeview, Texas, the only child of Robert Cecil Willis, a pharmaceutical salesman who stimulated her love of storytelling, and Mildred Iona Warren, who insisted she embrace civic life and prepare for it with study, elocution lessons (even though the family struggled to pay for them), and training in debate. Debate became one of the things at which Ann (as she was known from childhood) excelled throughout her time as a Waco High School student from ...