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Grace Abbott Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111723).

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Julie Longo and Sandra F. VanBurkleo

Abbott, Grace (17 November 1878–19 June 1939), social worker and administrator, was born in Grand Island, Nebraska, the daughter of Othman Ali Abbott, a lawyer and politician, and Elizabeth Griffin, a high school principal. The Abbott household provided an intellectually stimulating environment, emphasizing reading, discussion, and formal education for all four children. Othman Abbott encouraged both Grace and her older sister ...

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Addams, Jane (06 September 1860–21 May 1935), social reformer and peace activist, was the daughter of John Huy Addams, a businessman and Republican politician, and Sarah Weber. Born on the eve of the Civil War in the small farming community of Cedarville, just outside Freeport, in northern Illinois, she was the youngest of five children, four of whom were girls. Her mother died during pregnancy when Jane was two years old. The Addams family was the wealthiest, most respected family in the community. Jane’s father owned the local grain mill, was president of the Second National Bank of Freeport, had interests in a local railroad and a local insurance company, taught Sunday School, and was active in local Bible societies. A founding member of the Republican party and supporter of ...

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Jane Addams. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-95722).

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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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Susan B. Anthony. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-23933).

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Anthony, Susan B. (15 February 1820–13 March 1906), reformer and organizer for woman suffrage, was born Susan Brownell Anthony in Adams, Massachusetts, the daughter of Daniel Anthony and Lucy Read. Her father built the town’s first cotton mill. When Susan, the second of eight children, was six, the family moved to Battenville, New York, north of Albany, where Daniel prospered as manager of a larger mill and could send Susan and her sister to a Friends’ seminary near Philadelphia. His good fortune, however, collapsed with the financial crisis of 1837; the mill closed, Susan left boarding school, the family lost its house, and for nearly a decade the family squeaked by, assisted by Susan’s wages as a teacher. Looking for a new start in 1845, Daniel moved to a farm near Rochester, the city that would be Susan’s permanent address for the rest of her life....

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Barnard, Kate (23 May 1875–23 February 1930), Progressive reformer and politician, was born Catherine Anna Barnard in Alexandria, Nebraska, the daughter of John P. Barnard, a lawyer and real estate speculator, and Rachael Mason Shiell. Shortly after Barnard’s birth her family moved to the small frontier town of Kirwin, Kansas, where her mother died in 1877. She attended public school in Kirwin until the early 1890s, when she and her father moved to the new territory of Oklahoma. The experiences of her early adulthood resemble those of other women Progressives in at least two ways. First, she was introduced to politics by her father, a local politician. Second, she tried several lines of work before she became a reformer. From 1896 to 1899 she taught in rural schools; then, in 1902 she exchanged teaching for stenography. Startled by the degree of poverty in her own neighborhood in Oklahoma City, she decided in the fall of 1905 to conduct a campaign to clothe the community’s poor. The crusade gained her public recognition and convinced her of the importance of volunteer associations. She resuscitated a local charity organization and was appointed its matron in December 1905. She began to realize that unionization could be another weapon with which to combat poverty and, consequently, became a deputy organizer for the International Women’s Union Label League....

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Bowen, Louise deKoven (26 February 1859–09 November 1953), philanthropist, social reformer, and suffragist, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of John deKoven, a successful banker, and Helen Hadduck. Louise grew up with all the pleasures and privileges of wealth and power. She graduated from the prestigious Dearborn Seminary at the age of sixteen and soon thereafter began teaching Sunday school and dabbling in charity work. She established the Huron Street Club, one of the first boys’ clubhouses in Chicago; helped to create a kitchen garden association for girls; and regularly visited the hundred families of the boys in her church class, offering help when needed. In 1886 she married Joseph Tilton Bowen, a Chicago businessman. She gave up her Sunday school class and other church-related social work so that she would have time to care for their four children. Unwilling, however, to give up all philanthropic activities when her children were very young, Bowen joined the board of managers of the Maurice Porter Memorial Hospital. She later held board positions with other hospitals and helped establish the Visiting Nurse Association of Chicago....

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Madeline Breckinridge. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111461).

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Breckinridge, Madeline McDowell (20 May 1872–25 November 1920), woman suffragist and Progressive reformer, was born at Woodlake in Franklin County, Kentucky, the daughter of Henry Clay McDowell, a lawyer and businessman, and Anne Clay. Members from both sides of her family had been prominent since Kentucky’s earliest years. In 1882 her family moved to Ashland, the estate of her great-grandfather ...

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Sophonisba Breckinridge. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-99076).

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Breckinridge, Sophonisba Preston (01 April 1866–30 July 1948), social scientist and reformer, was born in Lexington, Kentucky, the daughter of William C. P. Breckinridge, a lawyer and U.S. congressman, and Issa Desha. Her father vigorously supported the rights of women and African Americans to secure higher educations. A rich legacy of political achievement and the prominent social standing of the Breckinridge family afforded Sophonisba many advantages in her early life. “Nisba,” as she was affectionately known, excelled in school and as an adolescent began taking courses at the Agricultural and Mechanical College in Lexington. In 1884 she enrolled at Wellesley College where she studied Latin and mathematics, graduating with an S.B. in 1888....

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Butler, Selena Sloan (04 January 1872?–07 October 1964), community leader and child-welfare activist, was born in Thomasville, Georgia, the daughter of Winnie Williams, a woman of African- and Native-American descent, and William Sloan, a Caucasian man who reportedly supported her and her older sister but lived apart from the family. Even after her mother died, presumably at a fairly young age, she kept quiet about her father’s identity. Communication between them was minimal. At age ten, having been schooled by missionaries in Thomas County, she was admitted, on scholarship, to the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary (now Spelman College) in Atlanta and received her high school diploma in 1888 as a member of the school’s second graduating class. After graduation she taught English and elocution in the public schools in Atlanta until around 1891, when she took a position at the State Normal School in Tallahassee, Florida (now Florida Agricultural and Mechanical State University)....

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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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Deming, Barbara (23 July 1917–02 August 1984), writer and activist, was born in New York City, the daughter of Katherine Burritt, who gave up her career as a singer to marry, and Harold Deming, a lawyer. Deming was born into a family that was influenced by her mother’s association with an artistic group of friends in Greenwich Village and her father’s association with Republican politics. She was educated at the Friends School of the Fifteenth Street Meeting in New York until she left for Bennington College in 1934....

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Dewson, Molly (18 February 1874–21 October 1962), politician and social reformer, was born Mary Williams Dewson in Quincy, Massachusetts, the daughter of Edward Henry Dewson, a Boston leather merchant, and Elizabeth Weld. Molly (as she was always known) attended Wellesley College, graduating in 1897. After college she joined the staff of the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union in Boston, where she conducted research on domestic service and the professionalization of housework. In 1900 she became the superintendent of the parole department for the Massachusetts State Industrial School for Girls at Lancaster. In 1912 she resigned that post to join Boston reformer ...

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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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Dodge, Josephine Marshall Jewell (11 February 1855–06 March 1928), leader in the day-nursery movement and antisuffragist, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the daughter of Marshall Jewell, a successful businessman, and Esther Dickinson, an early suffragist. Her father was elected governor of Connecticut three times and was appointed by President ...

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Douglas, Emily Taft (10 April 1899–28 January 1994), congresswoman and social activist, was born Emily Taft in Chicago, the daughter of Lorado Taft, a prominent American sculptor and a professor at the University of Chicago, and Ada Bartlett Taft. Her father was a distant cousin of President ...