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Albert, Octavia Victoria Rogers (24 December 1853–1890?), author and activist, was born in Oglethorpe, Georgia, the daughter of slaves. Details of her life are sketchy. Little is known of her parents or her childhood beyond the date and place of her birth and the fact that she was born into bondage; thus, it is particularly intriguing that in 1870, only five years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and one year after Atlanta University opened, seventeen-year-old Octavia was among the 170 students enrolled at that institution. Further details of her life are equally sketchy. Most of what we know is culled from information in ...

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Albrier, Frances Mary (21 September 1898–21 August 1987), civil rights activist and community leader, was born in Mount Vernon, New York, the daughter of Lewis Redgrey, a supervisor in a factory, and Laura (maiden name unknown), a cook. Following the death of her mother when Frances was three, she and her baby sister were reared by her paternal grandparents, Lewis Redgrey, a Blackfoot Indian, and Johanna Bowen, a freed slave, on their 55-acre farm in Tuskegee, Alabama....

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Allen, Donna (19 August 1920–19 July 1999), labor economist and historian, feminist, and peace and civil rights activist, was born Donna Rehkopf in Petoskey, Michigan, the daughter of Caspar Rehkopf, a metallurgical engineer, and Louise Densmore, a schoolteacher. Encouraged by her parents to excel, Donna from an early age displayed a great intellectual energy and optimism. Like her mother, Donna went to college at a time when few women did. She attended Duke University, majoring in history and economics, and graduated in 1943, having married Russell Allen the previous year. The couple would have four children. That same year, she volunteered to work as a cryptographer at Arlington Hall, Virginia, headquarters of the U.S. Army's Signal Intelligence Service, and her husband went into the army. In 1946 both Allens embarked on master's degrees in economics at the University of Chicago. From 1946 to 1948 Donna worked as a legislative assistant to the Illinois senator Paul H. Douglass and wrote briefs for labor boards during President ...

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Ames, Jessie Daniel (02 November 1883–21 February 1972), antiracism reformer and suffragist, was born Jessie Harriet Daniel in Palestine, Texas, the daughter of James Malcolm Daniel, a train dispatcher and telegraph operator, and Laura Maria Leonard, a teacher. James and Laura Daniel were pious parents who stressed the importance of education but showed little affection for their children. They openly preferred their younger daughter, Lulu, and Jessie suffered deeply from a lack of self-confidence. When Jessie was four, the family moved to Georgetown, Texas, an impoverished and often violent community. There Jessie attended local schools and, later, Southwestern University....

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Aquash, Annie Mae (27 March 1945– December 1975), First Nations (Mi'kmaq) activist and American Indian Movement leader, First Nations (Mi’kmaq) activist and American Indian Movement leader, was born Annie Mae Pictou in the Shubenacadie band (now Indian Brook First Nation) reserve in central Nova Scotia, Canada, the youngest daughter of Mary Ellen Pictou and Francis Thomas Levi. (Most contemporary sources refer to her as Anna, but family members confirmed that Annie is the accurate form of her given name.) Her father left the family shortly before her birth, and Annie Mae spent the first four years of her life in the Shubenacadie reserve. Her mother remarried and brought her three daughters to live in the small Pictou Landing reserve near New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, where she also gave birth to a fourth child....

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Ella Baker. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-110575).

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Baker, Ella Josephine (13 December 1903–13 December 1986), civil rights organizer, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the daughter of Blake Baker, a waiter on the ferry between Norfolk and Washington, D.C., and Georgianna Ross. In rural North Carolina where Ella Baker grew up she experienced a strong sense of black community. Her grandfather, who had been a slave, acquired the land in Littleton on which he had slaved. He raised fruit, vegetables, cows, and cattle, which he shared with the community. He also served as the local Baptist minister. Baker’s mother took care of the sick and needy....

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Josephine Baker Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1949. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-93000).

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Baker, Josephine (03 June 1906–12 April 1975), dancer, singer, and civil rights activist, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Eddie Carson, a musician, and Carrie Macdonald. Her parents parted when Josephine was still an infant, and her mother married Arthur Martin, which has led to some confusion about her maiden name. Very little is known about her childhood, except that she was a witness to the East St. Louis riot in 1917. This event was often a feature of her talks in the 1950s and 1960s about racism and the fight for equality, which fostered the oft-repeated assertion that the family was resident in East St. Louis. Before the age of eighteen Josephine had been married twice, first to Willie Wells and then to William Baker, to whom she was married in Camden, New Jersey, in September 1921....

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Bass, Charlotta Spears ( October 1880?–12 April 1969), editor and civil rights activist, was born in Sumter, South Carolina, the daughter of Hiram Spears and Kate (maiden name unknown). Before 1900 she joined her oldest brother (one of her ten siblings) in Rhode Island and worked for a newspaper. In 1910 she went to Los Angeles, California, for her health. She remained in Los Angeles except for a brief stay in New York City. She took journalism courses at Brown University, Columbia University, and the University of California at Los Angeles....

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Daisy Bates state president of the NAACP, stands in front of metal guards on the living room window of her home in Little Rock, 13 August 1959. Associated Press

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Bates, Daisy (11 November 1914–04 November 1999), civil rights activist, newspaper founder and publisher, was born Daisy Lee Gatson in Huttig, Arkansas. Her biological father and mother, reputedly John Gatson and Millie Riley, remain shrouded in mystery, and scholars have been unable to find evidence confirming her parentage. (Thus, her reported birth date varies: the one given here is widely acknowledged.) Bates grew up hearing that several white men had raped and murdered her mother and thrown the body in a pond. Leaving his infant daughter in the care of friends Orlee and Susie Smith, who became her foster parents, her father abandoned her, never to return. This was Bates's baptism into the poverty, insecurity, and racial violence that segregation fostered....

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Mary McLeod Bethune Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1949. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 129 P&P).

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Bethune, Mary Jane McLeod (10 July 1875–18 May 1955), organizer of black women and advocate for social justice, was born in Mayesville, South Carolina, the child of former slaves Samuel McLeod and Patsy McIntosh, farmers. After attending a school operated by the Presbyterian Board of Missions for Freedmen, she entered Scotia Seminary (now Barber-Scotia College) in Concord, North Carolina, in 1888 and graduated in May 1894. She spent the next year at ...

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Bowles, Eva Del Vakia (24 January 1875–14 June 1943), secretary for colored work for the Young Women's Christian Association, secretary for colored work for the Young Women’s Christian Association, was born in Albany, Athens County, Ohio, the daughter of John Hawkes Bowles and Mary Jane Porter. Unlike most African Americans born during the American Reconstruction period, Bowles grew up in comfortable circumstances. Her grandfather John R. Bowles served as a chaplain for the all-black Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry and later became the first black teacher hired by the Ohio Public School Fund. Her father was the first black postal clerk in Columbus, Ohio....

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Braden, Anne (28 July 1924–06 March 2006), civil rights activist and journalist, was born Anne Gambrell McCarty in Louisville, Kentucky, to Gambrell and Anita McCarty. Because her father was a traveling salesman, she grew up in various southern states, but mostly in rigidly segregated Anniston, Alabama. Her conservative white Episcopal parents fully embraced  the norms of southern racial hierarchy, and they remained comfortable throughout the Depression years of her childhood, but the young Anne, idealistic and devoutly religious, was troubled by the suffering around her. After graduating from Anniston High School in 1941, she left home to study literature and journalism at two Virginia women’s colleges, first Stratford Junior College and then Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, where she discovered the life of the mind in a serious way and first met critics of racial segregation. In 1945, upon graduation from Randolph-Macon, she returned to postwar Alabama as a newspaper reporter, first for the ...

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Cass, Melnea Agnes Jones (16 June 1896–16 December 1978), civic leader and civil rights activist, was born in Richmond, Virginia, the daughter of Albert Jones, a janitor, and Mary Drew, a domestic worker. Seeking broader employment and educational opportunities, the Jones family moved to Boston, Massachusetts, when Melnea was five years old. Her mother died when she was eight, and she and her two sisters were entrusted to the care of an aunt, Ella Drew. After one year at Girls’ High School in Boston, she was sent to St. Francis de Sales Convent School, a Roman Catholic school for black and Indian girls in Rock Castle, Virginia. There household management was taught in addition to the academic curriculum; she graduated as valedictorian of her class in 1914....

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Clark, Septima Poinsette (03 May 1898–15 December 1987), educator and civil rights activist, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the daughter of Peter Porcher Poinsette, a caterer who was a former slave, and Victoria Warren Anderson, who took in laundry to supplement the family income. Septima’s mother, who had been raised in black-governed Haiti, instilled in her daughter a determination to succeed in spite of white racism....

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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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Converse, Harriet Maxwell (11 January 1836–18 November 1903), advocate for Native American rights and author, was born Harriet Arnot Maxwell in Elmira, New York, the daughter of Maria (Marie) Purdy and Thomas Maxwell, a lawyer. Both her grandfather and father were adopted by the Seneca in response to their friendship with and advocacy for Native Americans. Her mother died when Harriet was nine, and she was raised and educated in Milan, Ohio, where she lived with an aunt. Converse followed in the footsteps of her father and grandfather and became a widely recognized friend of tribes of the Iroquois nation....