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Bennett, M. Katharine Jones (28 November 1864–11 April 1950), philanthropist and church leader, was born in Englewood, New Jersey, the daughter of Henry Jones and Winifred Davies, natives of North Wales. Her father was a prosperous builder. Her first name was Mary, but she was known as Katharine and tended to use just an initial for her first name. Entering Elmira College in Elmira, New York, in 1881, she graduated four years later with an almost perfect academic record. After teaching in both public and private schools in her native Englewood, she was drawn into social and religious service. In 1894 she was named national secretary of young people’s work for the Woman’s Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), commuting to its New York City office. During this period she also became a member of the governing board of the College Settlements Association, organized in 1890 by graduates of several eastern women’s colleges in an effort to advance the growing settlement house movement....

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Blackwell, Antoinette Louisa Brown (20 May 1825–05 November 1921), minister, reformer, and author, was born in Henrietta, New York, the daughter of Joseph Brown, a farmer and justice of the peace, and Abigail Morse. Antoinette proved a precocious child, following her older siblings to school at the age of three. The preaching of evangelist ...

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Cameron, Donaldina Mackenzie (26 July 1869–04 January 1968), missionary and social reformer, was born on the South Island of New Zealand, the daughter of Allan Cameron and Isabella Mackenzie, sheep ranchers. The family relocated to the San Joaquin Valley in California in 1871 and began raising sheep. After his wife’s death in 1874, Allan Cameron and his children moved to the San Jose area, where he worked for other ranchers and his older daughters kept house. Donaldina attended a local girls’ school, and after the Camerons moved to Oakland she went to high school. Her father became manager of a sheep ranch near Los Angeles, and the family relocated once again when Donaldina was age fifteen. She then began studying to become a teacher at Los Angeles Normal School, but in 1887 she discontinued her studies after the death of her father....

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Cheney, Ednah Dow Littlehale (27 June 1824–19 November 1904), social reformer and author, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Sargent Smith Littlehale, a partner in a successful grocery business, and Ednah Parker Dow. By Cheney’s own admission she was precocious and undisciplined as a young girl, attending several private schools without distinguishing herself at any of them. Her religious upbringing was unorthodox if not unusual for the times. She described her father as a Universalist, liberal in both politics and religion. An early supporter of woman suffrage, her father was, however, a firm “Unionist” who found the fiery, abolitionist sermons of ...

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Colman, Lucy Newhall (26 July 1817–18 January 1906), abolitionist, women's rights advocate, and freethinker, abolitionist, women’s rights advocate, and freethinker, was born in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, the daughter of Erastus Danforth, a blacksmith, and Hannah Newhall. Her mother died in 1824, and Lucy’s aunt, Lois Newhall, acted “in the place of a mother” and in 1833 married Erastus Danforth, officially becoming Lucy’s stepmother....

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Comstock, Elizabeth Leslie Rous Wright (30 October 1815–03 August 1891), Quaker minister and reformer, was born in Maidenhead, Berkshire, England, the daughter of William Rous, a shopkeeper, and Mary Kekwick. Her parents were Quakers with family ties to the Society of Friends going back to the seventeenth century. They reared her in a strict Quaker atmosphere, an upbringing reinforced by education in Quaker schools at Islington and Croyden. In 1839 Elizabeth Rous returned to Croyden as a teacher; in 1842 she joined the staff of the Friends school at Ackworth. She remained there until her marriage in 1848 to Leslie Wright, a Quaker market gardener of Walthamstow in Essex. They had one child. After her husband’s death in 1851, Elizabeth Wright kept a shop for a time at Bakewell in Devonshire. In 1854 she immigrated with her daughter and an unmarried sister to Belleville, Ontario. Four years later she married John T. Comstock, a prosperous Quaker farmer of Rollin, Michigan, where Elizabeth Comstock and her daughter moved....

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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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Davis, Mary Fenn Robinson (17 July 1824–18 July 1886), Spiritualist lecturer and women's rights advocate, Spiritualist lecturer and women’s rights advocate, was born in Clarendon, New York, the daughter of Chauncey Robinson and Damaris Fenn, farmers. She grew up in Randolph, New York, in a Baptist family. In 1846 she married Samuel G. Love, with whom she had two children. Both she and her husband found the Calvanist theology oppressive, however, and the bonds of marriage constricting. Two new movements that appeared during the next few years reflected their views and quickly gained their participation: Spiritualism and women’s rights. Her contributions to Spiritualist periodicals began in 1850 with a poem, “To Our Spirit Guardian,” published under the name “Mrs. S. G. Love” in the ...

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Dorothy Day. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111099).

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Day, Dorothy (08 November 1897–29 November 1980), founder of the Catholic Worker movement and Catholic Worker, a monthly newspaper, founder of the Catholic Worker movement and Catholic Worker, a monthly newspaper, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of John Day, a newspaperman, and Grace Satterlee. Her father was a frustrated novelist and horseracing writer whose work took the family to Oakland and Chicago. While in Chicago, Day won a scholarship to the University of Illinois in 1914. She dropped out after two years to return to New York with her family, but she had become a socialist in college and was soon estranged from her father. She lived on the Lower East Side, where she wrote for the ...

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Doherty, Catherine de Hueck (15 August 1896–14 December 1985), Catholic social activist and author, was born Catherine Federovna Kolyschkine in Nizhni Novgorod (now Gorki), Russia, the daughter of Theodore Kolyschkine, a businessman and diplomat, and Emma Thomson. Catherine’s mother, immersed in the Russian Orthodox faith, taught her to “see the faith of Christ in the poor” while warning her that she was “born under the shadow on the Cross.” Born into Russian nobility, she was educated in a Catholic school in Alexandria, Egypt, from 1903 until 1906, when her father’s career in international business necessitated the relocation of his family. This early sojourn was a portent of things to come, for her wanderings around the world and her interest in Roman Catholicism led to a fervent desire to bridge the gap separating the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity....

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Drexel, Katharine (26 November 1858–03 March 1955), philanthropist and mother superior, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Francis Anthony Drexel, a wealthy banker, and Hannah Jane Langstroth. When Drexel was an infant her mother died. In 1860, sixteen months after her mother’s death, her father married Emma Bouvier, who thereafter raised Katharine and her two sisters. Drexel lived in luxury, receiving the benefits of private tutoring in her home and the ease that immense wealth could bring in the second half of the nineteenth century. As a young woman she traveled extensively with her parents in the United States and in Europe. In 1883 her stepmother, who was known for her generous aid to Philadelphia’s poor, died. Two years later her father died, leaving his daughters an inheritance of more than $14 million that he had put in a trust fund for them and was to be distributed to various Philadelphia charities after they died....

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Einstein, Hannah Bachman (28 January 1862–28 November 1929), activist in Jewish and social welfare causes, was born in New York City, the daughter of Herman Bachman, an importer from Germany, and Fanny Obermeyer. Hannah Bachman graduated from the New York Chartier Institute and shortly thereafter married William Einstein, a woolens manufacturer, in 1881. The Einsteins had two children. They were members of a prominent German Jewish Reform synagogue, Temple Emanu-El, founded in New York in 1845. Hannah Bachman Einstein became an active participant in the temple’s sisterhood, established in 1890. The temple sisterhood worked to alleviate the poverty of new Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. It established schools, direct relief programs, and visitations to jails to help children detained as juvenile delinquents. Sisterhood members also visited the homes of needy families. In 1897 Einstein became president of the temple sisterhood, a position she held for twenty-five years....

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Fuller, Margaret (23 May 1810–19 July 1850), author and feminist, was born Sarah Margaret Fuller in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, the daughter of Timothy Fuller, a lawyer, and Margaret Crane. Her father taught his oldest child reading at age three and Latin at age six, but Fuller’s education grew eclectic in later childhood when she was left largely to her own resources. “To excel in all things should be your constant aim; mediocrity is obscurity,” her father wrote to Margaret when she was ten. Under such pressures, Fuller suffered periodically throughout her life from depression and headaches. Timothy Fuller was often away, serving four terms in Congress (1817–1825). Margaret’s mother, a devout Unitarian, was subdued by sickly health. In Fuller’s fictional ...

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Rebecca Gratz. Reproduction of a painting. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109117).

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Gratz, Rebecca (04 March 1781–27 August 1869), pioneer Jewish charitable worker and religious educator, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Michael Gratz, of Silesia, a merchant shipper, and Miriam Simon, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Gratz grew up in Philadelphia’s wealthy society, and her brothers expanded the family financial interests to the West....

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Green, Frances Harriet Whipple ( September 1805–10 June 1878), author, social reformer, and Spiritualist, was born in Smithfield, Rhode Island, the daughter of George Whipple. Her mother’s name is unknown. She was married twice, first in 1842 to the artist Charles C. Green, whom she divorced in 1847, and later in 1861 to William C. McDougall (or McDougal) of California. She had no children. In between marriages, she lived in New York City with S. B. Brittan and contributed to his publications on Spiritualism. In all of these activities she maintained the strong individualist spirit that was so important in many of the antebellum reform movements....

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Laura Smith Haviland. Courtesy of the National Afro-American Museum.

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Haviland, Laura Smith (20 December 1808–20 April 1898), abolitionist and evangelist, was born in Leeds County, Ontario, Canada, the daughter of Daniel Smith and Sene Blancher, farmers. She grew up in western New York State in a community of the Society of Friends and received several years of education in a Quaker school. In 1825 she married Charles Haviland, Jr.; they had eight children. In 1829 the young couple moved to Michigan Territory, where they joined her parents and siblings in establishing farms in the valley of the River Raisin (near present-day Adrian, Mich.) and living pious lives in a tightly knit extended family....

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Hutchinson, Anne (1591?–1643), religious leader, was born in Alford, Lincolnshire, England, the daughter of Francis Marbury, minister of the Church of England, and Bridget Dryden. She learned scripture and theology from her father, who had been silenced and imprisoned for long periods of time by his bishop for complaining about the poor training of English clergymen....