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Angelou, Maya (4 Apr. 1928–28 May 2014), writer, performer, and activist, was born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, the second child of Bailey Johnson, Sr., a doorman and Navy dietitian, and Vivian Baxter, a registered nurse, cocktail hostess, and Merchant Marine. Her brother, Bailey, Jr., nicknamed her Maya, and the name stuck. After their parents’ divorce, the two young children were sent alone on a train from San Francisco to Stamps, Arkansas, to be met and raised by their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, and their father’s brother, Uncle Willie, who was disabled. Grandmother Henderson had managed to build and own a general store with living quarters in the back, and it was also a safe black community gathering place in the segregated town. Uncle Willie provided a steady stream of good reading and high scholastic expectations, and their grandmother, “Momma,” taught them no-nonsense life skills, took them to church, and loved them....

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Kay Boyle. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-113309).

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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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Boyle, Sarah Patton (9 May 1906–20 Feb. 1994), civil rights activist and writer, was born Sarah Lindsay Patton in Lindsay, Virginia, to Janie Stringfellow Patton and Robert Williams Patton, both descendants of the Virginian slaveholding elite. Her father, an Episcopal minister, was a racial moderate by the standards of his time, but the young Patty, as Sarah was always referred to, was more influenced by her mother’s segregationist views. Patty, who had undiagnosed dyslexia, was educated at home before studying painting at the Corcoran School of Art, in Washington, D.C., from ...

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Bradwell, Myra Colby (12 February 1831–14 February 1894), publisher and political activist, was born in Manchester, Vermont, the daughter of Eben Colby and Abigail Willey. She spent her childhood in Vermont and western New York, and when she was twelve, her family moved to Illinois. She attended local schools in Wisconsin and Illinois and became a schoolteacher. In 1852 she married ...

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Burr, Theodosia (21 June 1783– January 1813), society belle and political heroine, was born in Albany, New York, the daughter of Aaron Burr, a lawyer, politician, and later vice president of the United States, and Theodosia Prevost. Steeped in the educational philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau, author of ...

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Casal, Lourdes (5 Apr. 1938–1 Feb. 1981), poet, literary critic, social psychologist, and political activist, was born Lourdes Emilia Irene de la Caridad Casal y Valdés in Havana, Cuba, the daughter of two professional parents, Pedro Casal, a doctor in medicine and a dentist, and Emilia Valdés, an elementary school teacher. Of mixed heritage, Casal’s family included black, white, and Chinese ancestry....

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Cordero, Ana Livia (4 July 1931–21 Feb. 1992), political activist, physician, and public health advocate, was born Ana Livia Cordero Garcés in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the elder of two daughters of Rafael de J. Cordero and Ana Livia Garcés. Rafael de J. Cordero was an economist and University of Puerto Rico professor who served as auditor and then comptroller of Puerto Rico under governors ...

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Cunningham, Minnie Fisher (19 March 1882–09 December 1964), suffragist and political activist, was born in New Waverly, Texas, the daughter of Horatio White Fisher and Sallie Comer Abercrombie, farmers. She was educated at home and passed a teacher certification examination. Rather than teach, however, she decided to enroll in the pharmacy program at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She graduated in 1901, one of the first women in Texas to earn a pharmacy degree, and worked as a prescription clerk in San Antonio and Huntsville. Discovering that she was being paid only half as much as less-qualified male co-workers, she recalled years later, was the seed of her commitment to suffrage and women’s rights....

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Dean, Vera Micheles (29 March 1903–10 October 1972), international affairs specialist and teacher, was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, the daughter of Alexander Micheles, a Russian of German-Jewish background who immigrated to the United States in 1888 and later returned to Russia as a sales representative for the U.S.-based Gillette Company, and Nadine Kadisch, a translator of English novels into Russian. Growing up in Russia, the Micheles children received private tutoring and became fluent in seven languages. After the 1917 revolution, the family had to move to London for political reasons, and Vera was sent to Boston. There she attended business school, worked briefly as a stenographer, and then enrolled at Radcliffe College. After graduating with distinction in 1925, she earned an M.A. from Yale University. In 1928 she received her Ph.D. from Radcliffe in international law and international relations and became a U.S. citizen....

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DeVoe, Emma Smith (22 August 1848–03 September 1927), suffragist and Republican Party activist, was born Emeline Smith in Roseville, Illinois, the youngest child of Birdsey Smith and Delia Dolan. From childhood she went by the name Emma. Her father, a deacon in the Baptist church for forty years, raised Emma in a strict Christian home. Spirituality was important, but when the young girl exhibited promise as a musician, her parents fostered that talent. She eventually attended college, but the details are unknown. Her musical training and experience led to an opportunity to teach at Eureka College during the 1870–1871 academic year....

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Elizabeth Dilling. Assailing all liberals as she opposes Frankfurter before Senate Committee, Washington, D.C., Jan. 11. Photograph by Harris & Ewing. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-H22-D- 5468).

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Dilling, Elizabeth (19 April 1894–26 May 1966), right-wing activist and anticommunist crusader, was born Elizabeth Kirkpatrick in Chicago, Illinois, to Lafayette Kirkpatrick, a prominent surgeon, and Elizabeth Harding Kirkpatrick. Her father died six weeks after her birth but left the family wealthy. Her mother, a college-educated woman who was active in the theater, later pursued a career in real estate. Although she did not identify herself as a feminist, young Elizabeth grew up in an atmosphere of female accomplishment and often pursued her objectives in defiance of her era’s gender norms. She was educated in private schools and attended but did not graduate from the University of Chicago; she also studied the harp under the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Walfried Singer and the Italian harpist Alberto Salvi. She married Albert Wallwick Dilling, an attorney, in 1918. They had two children....

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Helen Gahagan Douglas. Before her marriage to Melvyn Douglas. Photograph by Arnold Genthe. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G401-T-4775-002).

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Douglas, Helen Gahagan (25 November 1900–28 June 1980), actress and politician, was born in Boonton, New Jersey, the daughter of Walter Hamer Gahagan, a civil and contracting engineer, and Lillian Rose Mussen. In 1905 the family moved to an exclusive neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Helen’s authoritarian father made all the family decisions; her mother stressed education and the religious values of the Episcopal church. She also had a penchant for the opera and took Helen to every performance of the Metropolitan Opera. As a child Helen often staged dramatic presentations atop her father’s billiard table for siblings and friends. Although bright, she was a poor student and dreamed of being an actress, a career choice neither parent found acceptable....

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Dunbar-Nelson, Alice (19 July 1875–18 September 1935), poet, journalist, and political activist, was born Alice Ruth Moore in New Orleans, Louisiana, the daughter of Joseph Moore, a seaman, and Patricia Wright, a seamstress. Dunbar-Nelson graduated from Straight College (now Dillard University) and began her teaching career at a New Orleans elementary school in 1892....

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India Edwards Right, at a television broadcast of "Meet the Press." Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-91083).

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Edwards, India (16 June 1895–14 January 1990), politician and women's advocate, politician and women’s advocate, was born India Walker in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Archibald Walker and India Thomas Walker. Her father left home when she was four, and her mother married John A. Gillespie, a Canadian, whom India considered to be her real father. She attended public schools in Chicago, Nashville, and St. Louis....

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Elliott, Harriet Wiseman (10 July 1884–06 August 1947), educator, political organizer, and government official, was born in Carbondale, Illinois, the daughter of Allan Curtis Elliott, a merchant who extended easy credit to poor coal miners, and Elizabeth Ann White, a staunch supporter of ...

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Fariña, Mimi (30 April 1945–18 July 2001), folksinger and activist, was born Margarita Mimi Baez in Palo Alto, California, the third daughter of Albert Baez, a physicist, and Joan Bridge Baez. Both parents were first-generation immigrants, her father coming from Mexico and her mother from Scotland. As a girl Mimi studied violin and ballet. In 1958 the family moved to the Boston-Cambridge area, and Mimi and her older sister Joan discovered the burgeoning folk music scene. They both learned to play guitar and began performing at coffeehouses. Mimi was the better guitarist, but Joan had the stronger voice, dazzling audiences with her angelic soprano. Mimi, still in high school, watched in amazement as Joan outgrew the coffeehouses, moving on to bigger gigs and signing a recording contract with Vanguard Records, the leading folk music label....