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Ballard, Edna Anne Wheeler (25 June 1886–10 February 1971), and Guy Warren Ballard (28 July 1878–29 December 1939), controversial founders of the "I Am" movement, controversial founders of the “I Am” movement, were born, respectively, in Burlington, Iowa, and Newton, Kansas. Edna was the daughter of Edward G. Wheeler, reportedly a railway clerk, and Anna Hewitt Pearce; Guy the son of a farmer, Josephus Ballard, and Phebe Jane Leigh. “I Am” was a religious movement that grew at a phenomenal rate in the 1930s, became the subject of a celebrated fraud case and a landmark freedom of religion decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1940s, and has since held a modest but continuing place in American spiritual life....

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Brooks, Nona Lovell (22 March 1861–14 March 1945), cofounder of Divine Science (a New Thought religious movement), cofounder of Divine Science (a New Thought religious movement), was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the daughter of Chauncey Brooks, a merchant and miner, and Lavinia Brigham. Brooks’s family was large and prosperous, but her father’s business reversal, followed by his death, caused the family’s living standards to significantly decline. While Brooks was attending Charleston Female College (1878–1879), her mother and much of the family moved to Pueblo, Colorado. After graduating, Brooks joined them. Although Brooks’s mother had hoped the move west would improve her health, she and several other family members, including Brooks who had a throat ailment, suffered from physical ills....

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Burgos, Julia de (17 February 1914–04 August 1953), poet and activist, was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, the daughter of Francisco Burgos Hans, a member of the National Guard, and Paula García. The family was extremely poor, which may explain the death of six of the twelve siblings. Despite their poverty, for Julia, a bright and studious child, the Burgos family found the means for an education. In 1933 she received a teaching degree from the University of Puerto Rico....

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Fillmore, Myrtle (06 August 1845–06 October 1931), and Charles Sherlock Fillmore (22 August 1854–05 July 1948), cofounders of the Unity School of Christianity (a New Thought religious movement), became cofounders of the Unity School of Christianity (a New Thought religious movement). Myrtle was born Mary Caroline Page in Pagetown, Ohio, the daughter of Marcus Page, a merchant, and Lucy Wheeler; her nickname came from her father. Charles, born near St. Cloud, Minnesota, was the son of Henry Fillmore, a second cousin of ...

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Garvey, Amy Euphemia Jacques (31 December 1896–25 July 1973), journalist, Pan-Africanist, and the second wife of black nationalist Marcus Garvey, journalist, Pan-Africanist, and the second wife of black nationalist Marcus Garvey, was born in Kingston, Jamaica, the daughter of George Samuel Jacques, a property owner, and Charlotte (maiden name unknown). Amy Jacques’s family was rooted in the Jamaican middle class; thus, she was formally educated at Wolmer’s Girls’ School, an elite institution in Jamaica. As a young woman she suffered from ailing health due to recurring bouts with malaria. In need of a cooler climate, she emigrated to the United States in 1917 and settled in New York City where she had relatives. After hearing contradictory reports about the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), recently founded by Garvey, she attended a meeting in Harlem. She was intrigued by the organization and in 1918 became Garvey’s private secretary and office manager at UNIA headquarters in New York. She traveled with Garvey throughout the United States on behalf of UNIA, and they developed a relationship based on their mutual commitment to the organization. Marital problems between Garvey and his first wife, Amy Ashwood, had been evident within the first two months of their marriage. Garvey was granted a divorce from Ashwood in June of 1922, and he married Amy Jacques the next month in Baltimore, Maryland....

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Hopkins, Emma Curtis (02 September 1849–08 April 1925), founder of the New Thought religious movement, was born in Killingly, Connecticut, the daughter of Rufus Curtis, a real estate agent, and Lydia Phillips. Hopkins, the oldest child in a large and prosperous family, received a good education. She attended Killingly High School. (Recent research reveals that reports of her attendance and teaching at Woodstock, Connecticut, Academy are in error.) In 1874 she married George Irving Hopkins, a high school English teacher; they had one child. The family resided in Nantucket, Massachusetts, until the early 1880s. In 1900, after a separation of several years, her husband divorced Hopkins for abandonment. Her son died in 1905....

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Moody, Lady Deborah (1586–1659?), English colonist and early proponent of religious liberty, was born Deborah Dunch in London, England, the daughter of Walter Dunch and Debora Pilkington, members of the landed gentry. Her father had read law at Gray’s Inn and was a member of Parliament at the time of Moody’s birth. Her mother’s ancestors included churchmen noted for their radical Puritan leanings. Moody probably grew up at the family estate in Wiltshire, where she would have received an education in reading, writing, and accomplishments customary for girls of her class. In 1606 she married Henry Moody. Shortly thereafter, Henry was knighted by James I, making his wife Dame, or Lady, Deborah Moody. Henry Moody would go on to become sheriff of Wiltshire, a baronet, and a member of Parliament. The couple had two children....

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Moore, Audley "Queen Mother" (27 July 1898–02 May 1997), radical black cultural nationalist, was born Audley Moore, the daughter of St. Cyr Moore and Ella Hunter Moore, in New Iberia, Louisiana, a small town near New Orleans. As a young child, she heard stories about her maternal grandfather being lynched, her paternal grandmother being raped by a slave master, and her father being forcibly removed from his position as deputy sheriff by whites. Yet her family instilled in her a strong sense of racial pride and resistance....

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Ripley, Sophia Willard Dana (06 July 1803–04 February 1861), Transcendentalist and early feminist, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the daughter of Francis Dana, Jr., and Sophia Willard Dana. The eldest of four children, Sophia Dana grew up in an atmosphere of alternating uncertainty and stability. Her straying father, a black sheep son of the illustrious and prosperous Dana flock, which included a chief justice, lawyers, professors, seafarers, and merchants, was frequently “out west or away somewhere.” Her mother was from the academic Willard family, which included a Harvard College president and any number of influential liberal-thinking ministers. From early in her youth, Sophia was probably aware of her immediate family’s precarious financial arrangements. Because of her father’s irresponsible spending habits, her mother pragmatically opened a school in her Willard family home, “Fay House” (which stood on the edge of the grounds of Harvard College), where Sophia and her only sister, Mary Elizabeth Dana, later taught. In time, her grandfather largely disowned his namesake son for creating so many debts, noting in his will that while he was leaving him “one hundred dollars and no more” as his share of the family estate, he was bequeathing one sixth of his fortune to his grandchildren, with the provision that his son have no stake in the money. Sophia Dana’s share of that inheritance seems not to have substantially eased her later straitened circumstances, but her growing years in Fay House were comfortable and promising....

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Rose, Ernestine (13 January 1810–04 August 1892), freethinker, reformer, and feminist, was born Ernestine Louise Siismondi Potowski in Piotrkow, Poland, the only child of an orthodox rabbi and his wife. Although the Jewish religion discouraged female education, Ernestine was well educated and could read Hebrew and the Scriptures; as an adolescent, however, she rejected Judaism because of its second-class treatment of women. When Ernestine was sixteen years old her mother died, leaving her a considerable inheritance. Her father used this inheritance as a dowry, promising Ernestine’s hand in marriage to a much older man. Ernestine resisted and successfully argued her case before a Polish court to nullify the contract, an unprecedented move for a young Jewish woman before a Christian court. The same year her father married a sixteen-year-old woman, making Ernestine uncomfortable in the family house, and she left Poland in 1827....

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Sampter, Jessie Ethel (22 March 1883–11 November 1938), Zionist poet and educator, was born in New York City, the daughter of Rudolph Sampter, a lawyer, and Virginia Kohlberg. Her mother came from a traditional German-Jewish household, and her father, the son of East European Jewish immigrants, was an atheist affiliated with the Ethical Culture Society. Her father was a strong and supportive influence, reading and encouraging Sampter’s early writing....

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Sonneschein, Rosa (12 March 1847–05 March 1932), editor and Zionist, was born in Nagykansiza, Hungary, the daughter of Hirsch B. Fassel, a rabbi, and Fannie Sternfeld. She attained a high school education in Hungary and at a young age, in 1864, married Solomon Hirsch Sonneschein, a Reform rabbi; they had four children. In 1869 they immigrated to the United States and settled in St. Louis, Missouri. From the outset, their marriage was a disaster because they were wholly incompatible and because of her husband’s alcoholism. During her tumultuous marriage, Sonneschein began a lifelong habit of smoking cigars after dinner, claiming that smoking helped alleviate the indigestion that resulted when she and her husband quarreled at the dinner table....

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Syrkin, Marie (23 March 1899–01 February 1989), writer, educator, and Zionist activist, was born in Switzerland, the only daughter of Nachman Syrkin, the theoretician of socialist Zionism, and Bassya Osnos, a feminist socialist Zionist. Nachman Syrkin was the author of The Jewish Socialist State...

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Szold, Henrietta (21 December 1860–13 February 1945), first president of Hadassah, the women's Zionist organization of America, first president of Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization of America, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of Benjamin Szold, a rabbi, and Sophie Schaar. As a girl, Szold showed great interest in biblical and Talmudic studies and served as personal secretary to her father, from whom she learned both Hebrew and German. As a young adult, she taught in a private girls’ school, wrote articles for the New York weekly ...

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Tingley, Katherine Augusta Westcott (06 July 1847–11 July 1929), founder of the utopian Point Loma Theosophical community in San Diego, California, was born in Newbury, Massachusetts, the daughter of James P. L. Westcott, a lumber merchant and later hotel keeper, and Susan Ordway Chase. Little is known of Tingley’s early life, save that she attended a Congregational church and was married twice (to Richard Henry Cook in 1867, divorced after two months, and to George W. Parent around 1880, divorced after several years) before marrying Philo Tingley in 1888. At one point she may have acted with a stock company; in any case, she had a flair for the dramatic, and drama was a strong interest of hers. She also became interested in Spiritualism....

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White, Alma Bridwell (16 June 1862–26 June 1946), evangelist and founder of the Pillar of Fire denomination, was born Mollie Alma Bridwell in Lewis County, Kentucky, the daughter of William Bridwell, a farmer and tanner, and Mary Ann Harrison. Raised a Methodist, Alma joined a local congregation at age twelve and underwent a conversion experience four years later in which she felt the call to preach. After attending the Female Seminary in Vanceburg, Kentucky, for a year, she enrolled at Millersburg (Ky.) Female College in 1880. After teaching school in Millersburg for a year, Alma accepted an aunt’s offer to move to Bannack, Montana, a mining town seventy miles south of Butte. Between 1882 and 1886 she held a series of teaching positions. In 1887 she married Kent White, a young Methodist preacher from West Virginia, whom she had met four years earlier; they had two sons....

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Wilkinson, Jemima (29 November 1752–01 July 1819), sectarian religious leader, was born in Cumberland, Rhode Island, the daughter of Jeremiah Wilkinson and Amey Whipple, farmers. Her family was Quaker, and Wilkinson drew strength from Quaker principles. Her mother died when she was about twelve years of age, and this may have increased an already pronounced interest in religious topics. Little else is known of her childhood except that she read a great many Quaker works, writings on theology and history, and the King James version of the Bible. She also responded positively to the revivals that by her day were being referred to as the Great Awakening. When evangelist ...

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Frances Wright. Illustration from Gleason’ Pictorial, 1854. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-101388).

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Wright, Frances (06 September 1795–13 December 1852), reformer and author, was born in Dundee, Scotland, the daughter of James Wright, a linen merchant, and Camilla Campbell. Wright’s father was an ardent supporter of Thomas Paine, and although “Fanny” was younger than three when her parents died, she later remarked on “a somewhat singular coincidence in views between a father and daughter, separated by death when the first had not reached the age of twenty-nine, and when the latter was in infancy” (Eckhardt, pp. 5–6). After her parents’ death, she and her siblings were parceled out to various relatives, and Wright went to live with her aunt and maternal grandfather in England. She and her sister Camilla were reunited in Dawlish around 1806, only to suffer the death of their brother and their grandfather three years later....