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Carnegie, Hattie (15 March 1886–22 February 1956), fashion designer and merchandiser, was born Henrietta Könengeiser in Vienna, Austria, the daughter of Isaac Könengeiser and Hannah Kraenzer. The family emigrated to the United States, settling on New York’s Lower East Side in 1892. Hattie’s first job was as a messenger at R. H. Macy’s, where she encountered the heady new world of modern retailing and the lifestyle of affluent New York. That experience may have inspired her to assume the name Carnegie; ...

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Hattie Carnegie. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92431).

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Keckley, Elizabeth Hobbs (1820?–26 May 1907), White House dressmaker during the Lincoln administration and author, was born in Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia, the daughter of George Pleasant and Agnes Hobbs, slaves. Her birth date is variously given from 1818 to 1824 based on different documents that report her age. The identity of her father is also uncertain; in later life Keckley reportedly claimed that her father was her master, Colonel A. Burwell. George Pleasant, who was owned by a different master, was allowed to visit only twice a year and was eventually taken west....

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Lillian Parks. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Parks, Lillian Rogers (01 February 1897–06 November 1997), White House seamstress and author, was born Lillian Adele Rogers, the daughter of Emmett E. Rogers, Sr., a waiter, and Margaret “Maggie” Williams Rogers. Source information is sketchy regarding her early years, but her godchild, Peggy Holly, believes that Lillian Parks was born in the District of Columbia and as a child spent summers with relatives in Virginia. Her father—by Parks's account an alcoholic unable to hold a job—left his family when she was a child; in 1909 her mother took a job at the White House at the beginning of ...

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Ross, Betsy (01 January 1752–30 January 1836), legendary maker of the first American flag, was born Elizabeth Griscom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Quakers Samuel Griscom and Rebecca James. The grandson of an English carpenter who had migrated to the Delaware Valley in the 1680s, Samuel Griscom was in the building trades and may have contributed to the building of the Pennsylvania State House, now known as Independence Hall. Rebecca Griscom taught Betsy needlework, a skill that the daughter would later use in business....

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Betsy Ross. Betsy Ross sewing flag, with George Washington, standing. Reproduction of a painting by E. Percy Moran, c. 1908. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-2997).

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Shaver, Dorothy (29 July 1893–28 June 1959), retail executive, was born in Center Point, Arkansas, to James Shaver, a lawyer, and Sallie Borden. In 1898 the family moved to Mena, Arkansas, where James Shaver became a civic leader; he was later elected chancery judge of the Sixth Judicial District. Dorothy Shaver was an outgoing and popular child who seemed to have unlimited zest for a broad spectrum of activities, from singing in the local Episcopal church choir to joining neighborhood boys for pickup baseball games. She graduated in 1910 from Mena High School, where she was elected class salutatorian. Shortly afterward her parents intercepted her attempt to elope with a local boyfriend, and that fall she enrolled at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville....

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Esther Jane Williams. Full-length portrait, seated, wearing a bathing suit, 1945. Photographic print. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-137503).

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Williams, Esther Jane (08 August 1921–06 June 2013), movie star, swimming champion, and swimwear executive, was born in a small bungalow in Inglewood, a southwest suburb of Los Angeles, the fifth child born to Bula Myrtle Gilpin, a teacher, and Louis Stanton Williams, a sign painter. The family had followed her brother Stanton to Hollywood from Utah, and he appeared as a child star in silent pictures. Esther's mother took no interest in her, and she was raised by older sister Maurine, who taught her to swim. When Esther was eight years old, Stanton died from a burst colon. She hoped to replace his achievements with her own. At age eleven, Esther won a fifty-meter freestyle race at the Olympic Swim Stadium in Los Angeles. When she was sixteen she began swimming for the Los Angeles Athletic Club. During her teens she was repeatedly raped by an orphaned boy her parents had taken into their house. The water became her sanctuary....