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Bagley, Sarah George (29 April 1806–?), millworker, reformer, and physician, was born in Candia, New Hampshire, the daughter of Nathan Bagley and Rhoda Witham, farmers.

Bagley grew up in a family whose economic situation became increasingly precarious during the course of the nineteenth century. Nathan Bagley originally farmed land in Candia, which he had inherited from his father, but he later moved on to farming land in Gilford, New Hampshire. After losing litigation in 1822, he sold his land in Gilford and eventually moved to Meredith Bridge, New Hampshire (now Laconia), where he became an incorporator of the Strafford Cotton Mill Company in 1833. However, Nathan Bagley did not own a home after 1824; it was Sarah Bagley who made the down payment on a house for her family in Meredith Bridge in the 1840s. She probably used money she had saved during her stints as a factory worker in Lowell, Massachusetts....

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Barrows, Isabel (17 April 1845–25 October 1913), ophthalmologist, stenographer, and reformer, was born Katharine Isabel Hayes in Irasburg, Vermont, the daughter of Scottish immigrants Henry Hayes, a physician, and Anna Gibb, a schoolteacher. The family moved to Hartland and then Derry, New Hampshire, where Isabel Hayes graduated from Adams Academy. In 1863 she married William Wilberforce Chapin, a Congregational minister. The following year the couple traveled to India for a missionary assignment. Less than a year after arriving in India, William Chapin died of diphtheria. Six months later Isabel Chapin returned to the United States. She moved to Dansville, New York, where she worked as a bath assistant at a water-cure sanatorium....

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Clark, Mamie (18 April 1917–11 August 1983), psychologist and community mental health pioneer, was born Mamie Katherine Phipps in Hot Springs, Arkansas, one of two children and the only daughter of Harold H. Phipps, a prominent physician and resort owner, and Katie Florence Phipps. She described her upbringing in the Jim Crow South as largely happy and secure despite racial tensions and the economic privations of the Great Depression....

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Davis, Frances Elliott (28 April 1882–02 May 1965), public health nurse, nurse-educator, and community advocate, was born in Shelby, North Carolina, the daughter of an unlawful interracial marriage between Darryl Elliott, a part African-American Cherokee sharecropper, and Emma (maiden name unknown), the daughter of a plantation owner and Methodist minister. Darryl Elliott fled the state early in Frances’s life, leaving her to be raised by her mother. Both parents had died by 1887, after which Davis was raised in a succession of foster homes. At the age of twelve she was sent to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she lived under the guardianship of the Reverend Mr. Vickers. In the Vickers household she was regarded more as a domestic helper than a ward; consequently her early formal education was pursued on a sporadic basis. Determined to succeed, she possessed the intrepidity to upgrade her reading skills on her own....

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Dock, Lavinia Lloyd (26 February 1858–17 April 1956), nurse, suffragist, and social reformer, was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Gilliard Dock and Lavinia Lloyd Bombaugh, landlords. Dock, who later came to think of herself as a feminist, received what she called an “oldfashioned and conventional” education at a local female academy. Her life was basically carefree until her mother died when Dock was eighteen, leaving her and her older sister with the responsibility of raising their four siblings....

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Donaldson, Mary Elizabeth (12 January 1851–1930), physician and social activist, was born Mary Elizabeth Cracker in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, the daughter of Zachariah Cracker and Elizabeth Delia Brown, farmers. Donaldson grew up in a family strongly dedicated to the Baptist religion and intellectual pursuits. She completed her education through high school, then taught for four years in Reedsburg schools until her 1871 marriage to a man named Hesford. In 1873 Donaldson bore a daughter, who died at age four; soon after the child’s death she and her husband divorced. Following the divorce Donaldson escorted her ailing brother James to Idaho to recuperate. In Idaho she obtained work as a teacher while nursing James to full recovery....

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Ferebee, Dorothy Boulding (10 October 1898–14 September 1980), physician and social reformer, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the daughter of Benjamin Richard Boulding, a superintendent with the railroad mail service, and Florence Cornelia Ruffin, a teacher. She came from a well-established family in which several members were lawyers, but from childhood she wanted to be a physician. When her mother became ill, she went to live with an aunt in Boston, where she attended secondary school. She graduated from two respected Boston institutions, Simmons College in 1920 with honors and Tufts University College of Medicine in 1924. Her accomplishments were especially notable because many educational institutions of the time discriminated against women and minorities. In her class of 137 medical students there were only five women, and, as Ferebee explained, “We women were always the last to get assignments in amphitheaters and clinics. And I? I was the last of the last because not only was I a woman, but a Negro, too” (Carolyn Lewis, “Hard Work Can Topple the Barriers,” ...

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Clemence Sophia Lozier. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine (B018108).

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Lozier, Clemence Sophia (11 December 1813–26 April 1888), physician and reformer, was born Clemence Sophia Harned in Plainfield, New Jersey, the daughter of David Harned, a farmer and Methodist, and Hannah Walker, an informal medical practitioner and Quaker. As a child Clemence acquired an interest in medicine from her physician brother and from her mother, who had learned traditional healing practices from American Indians. Her mother, realizing that her daughter had a quick mind, began teaching her healing skills. The lessons ended when her mother died and eleven-year-old Clemence was sent to school at Plainfield Academy....

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Owens-Adair, Bethenia Angelina (07 February 1840–11 September 1926), physician, feminist, and social reformer, was born in Van Buren County, Missouri, the daughter of Thomas Owens and Sarah Damron, farmers. In 1843 the family moved to Oregon’s Clatsop Plains. Fond of the outdoors, Owens preferred helping her father work with horses to doing domestic work. By age eleven, she had received only three months of schooling....

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Potter, Ellen Culver (05 August 1871–09 February 1958), physician, public health administrator, and welfare reformer, was born in New London, Connecticut, the daughter of Thomas Wells Potter, a grocer, and Ellen Culver. Her interest in medicine began in childhood, although as an adolescent she studied art and was interested in social work. After graduating from high school, she studied art in Boston and attended the Art Students League of New York City from 1893 to 1894. Potter worked in the settlement-house movement at the Morning Star Mission in New York City’s Chinatown in 1895–1896 and organized a settlement in Norwich, Connecticut, between 1895 and 1897. She then left to study art and music in Europe (1898–1899)....

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Robbins, Jane Elizabeth (28 December 1860–16 August 1946), settlement house worker and physician, was born in Wethersfield, Connecticut, the daughter of Richard Austin Robbins, a prosperous seed merchant who was active in the Congregational church and also a member of the Connecticut legislature, and Harriet Welles. Jane Robbins belonged to the first generation of women to graduate from college in significant numbers. After attending Smith College for the 1879–1880 academic year, she worked for five years as a teacher in Kentucky and New Jersey. Partly out of a desire to help the poor, she then decided to become a physician. Even though she had a lifelong loyalty to Smith, she chose to enter the New York Infirmary’s Women’s Medical College in 1887, graduating in 1890. She then interned for a year at the New York Infirmary before setting up a medical practice in the Italian ghetto around New York’s Mulberry Street....

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Betty Shabazz wife of the late Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X, shown in 1972. Associated Press

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Shabazz, Betty (28 May 1936?–23 June 1997), civil rights activist, educator, nurse, mother, was born Betty Dean Sanders, the daughter of Shelman Sandlin, a construction worker, and the teenager Ollie Mae Sanders from Pinehurst, Michigan. (Because her birth certificate is lost, scholars are uncertain about her place of birth.) Her young parents were unmarried—this was a social stigma in 1930s America—and her relationship with her mother was stormy. When she was eleven years old, she was adopted by Helen and Lorenzo Malloy, affluent, middle-class African American Methodists from Detroit, Michigan. Providing Shabazz with many social and material advantages, the Malloys also valued educational attainment, and they pushed her to excel in her classes and study hard. After graduating from high school, Shabazz enrolled in Alabama's Tuskegee University, then known as Tuskegee Institute, one of the nation's most distinguished places of higher education for African Americans. However, she was not happy there. Unaccustomed to the blatant racism of Jim Crow laws, she quickly decamped to New York City in 1956 to continue her studies....

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Lillian D. Wald Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1937. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G412-T-9448-003-A-x).

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Wald, Lillian D. (10 March 1867–01 September 1940), public health nurse and social reformer, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the daughter of Max D. Wald, a dealer in optical wares, and Minnie Schwarz, both German immigrants. The family moved to Rochester, New York, and became part of the affluent German-Jewish community. Lillian enjoyed a happy, indulged childhood far removed from the urban poverty and ghetto life that absorbed her as an adult....