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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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Bella Abzug. Campaign poster. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109588).

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Abzug, Bella (24 July 1920–31 March 1998), lawyer, feminist leader, and U.S. representative, was born Bella Savitsky in the Bronx, New York, the daughter of Emmanuel Savitsky, butcher, and Ester Tanklefsky Savitsky. She attended local schools before entering Hunter College in Manhattan, where she took part in student government and was active in the Zionist movement. She entered Columbia University Law School following her graduation in 1942 but soon left school and took a wartime job in a shipyard. She married Martin Abzug, a writer who later became a stockbroker, in 1944; the couple had two daughters. Abzug returned to Columbia and served as editor of the ...

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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 ...

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Betty Ford. 1974. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-2019).

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Ford, Betty (08 April 1918–08 July 2011), first lady of the United States and public health advocate, was born Elizabeth Ann Bloomer in Chicago, Illinois, the youngest of three children of William S. Bloomer, a traveling salesman, and Hortense Neahr Bloomer. She was raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her father died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1934; at his funeral Betty learned from her mother that he had been an alcoholic. Starting dance lessons at age eight, Betty briefly thought of becoming a ballerina. However, she soon gravitated toward modern dance, which, after her 1936 graduation from high school, she studied at the Bennington School of Dance in Vermont. One of her instructors, the influential ...

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Helen Hamilton Gardener. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92538).

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Gardener, Helen Hamilton (21 January 1853–26 July 1925), author, suffragist, and U.S. Civil Service commissioner, was born Alice Chenoweth in Winchester, Virginia, the daughter of the Reverend Alfred Griffith Chenoweth and Katherine A. Peel. A Methodist minister, Chenoweth freed his inherited slaves in 1854 and transplanted the family to Washington, D.C., so that his children would not grow up tarnished by slavery. In 1855 the family moved to Greencastle, Indiana, where Gardener went to local schools and was tutored at home. In her late teens she moved by herself to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she attended high school. She later was a student at Ohio State Normal School, where she served as a teacher and principal after her graduation in 1873....

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Jane M. Hoey. Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1935. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G412-T-9232-002).

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Hoey, Jane Margueretta (15 January 1892–06 October 1968), social worker, was born in Greeley County, Nebraska, the daughter of John Hoey and Catherine Mullen, who had immigrated to New York City from Ireland shortly after the Civil War. Twenty years later the family moved west, where John Hoey tried his hand at ranching. When this proved unsuccessful, the Hoeys returned to New York City around 1898. Hoey claimed that growing up in this urban environment she learned about poverty from her mother who “had a deep concern for people, especially those in trouble.” Although John Hoey worked as a laborer, the eight older children quickly found jobs that greatly improved the economic status of the family and ensured Jane’s education....

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Howorth, Lucy (01 July 1895–23 August 1997), lawyer, politician, and feminist activist, was born Lucy Somerville in Greenville, Mississippi, the youngest of four children and second daughter of Robert and Nellie Nugent Somerville. Many of her forefathers were legislators, lawyers, or judges. Her female ancestors were known as women of strong character who were well respected in their communities. Through homeschooling and example, Nellie Somerville passed on to her youngest child a love for learning and a concern for contemporary social issues. Nellie, a college graduate, advocated temperance and was president of the Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association. She was also a devout Methodist, a perspective never accepted by Lucy. Nellie began taking Lucy to community meetings, including suffrage rallies, before her first birthday. When she was older Lucy helped at suffrage conventions and met national women’s rights leaders including Dr. ...

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Eleanor Roosevelt Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-25812 DLC).

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Roosevelt, Eleanor (11 October 1884–07 November 1962), first lady of the United States, social reformer, politician, diplomat, was born Anna Eleanor Roosevelt in New York City, the daughter of Elliott Roosevelt and Anna Hall. Her childhood was materially comfortable—both sides of her family were wealthy and prominent in New York society—but it was also emotionally arid. Her mother, beautiful but distant and so disappointed in the looks of her daughter that she called her “granny,” died when Eleanor was eight. Her youngest brother died the following year. She clung to her father, the younger brother of ...

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Rosenberg, Anna Marie Lederer (19 June 1902–09 May 1983), labor and personnel consultant and assistant secretary of defense, was born in Budapest, Hungary, the daughter of Albert Lederer, a furniture manufacturer, and Charlotte Bacskai, a children’s author and illustrator. Her father was prosperous until Emperor Franz Joseph canceled a furniture order, causing the family to go bankrupt, close down the factory, and move to the United States in 1912. Albert Lederer never forgot that experience, and, no longer at the whim of an emperor and appreciative of his newly found freedoms, he encouraged his daughter to be a patriotic American. She entered New York City’s Wadleigh High School in 1914 and organized the Future Voters League to encourage woman suffrage. While in high school in 1919 she settled a strike by students protesting compulsory military training, and that same year she served as a volunteer nurse and sold Liberty Bonds financing World War I. In 1919 she married an American soldier, Julius Rosenberg; they had one son. Later that year she became a naturalized citizen....

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Simonson, Joy R. (16 January 1919–24 June 2007), government official, District of Columbia activist, and feminist, was born Joy Rosenheim in New York City to Sidney Teller Rosenheim, a stockbroker, and Rosalie Frank Spiegel, a suffragist who was later active in the League of Women Voters. The family, which was Jewish but not especially observant and included a younger brother, moved to Westchester County when Joy was young. After her father’s death in 1931, her mother had enough resources to remain in Scarsdale, where Joy graduated from Scarsdale High School in 1936. After a brush with anti-Semitism during her interview at Swarthmore College, Joy chose Bryn Mawr College instead, where she majored in social economy. With papers on topics such as “Problems of the Professional Woman,” she was already demonstrating her lifelong commitment to women’s issues....

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Switzer, Mary Elizabeth (16 February 1900–16 October 1971), administrator and leader in rehabilitation, was born in Upper Newton Falls, Massachusetts, the daughter of Julius Switzer, a machinist and motorman for the Stanley Steamer Company, and Margaret Moore. Her mother died of tuberculosis in 1911, and Julius Switzer left Boston with his son, relinquishing his two daughters to the care of his wife’s family. “Uncle Mike” Moore exposed his niece to the revolutionary forces of the time, including her in his trips to the Gaelic League and to socialist rallies. Switzer entered Newton Classical High School at fourteen and won a scholarship to Radcliffe College. Elizabeth Brandeis, a Radcliffe friend who directed the District of Columbia Minimum Wage Board, led Switzer to Washington and her first job after her 1921 graduation....

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Winston, Ellen Black (15 August 1903–19 June 1984), public welfare administrator, was born in Bryson City, North Carolina, the daughter of Stanley Warren Black, a lawyer, and Marianna Fischer, who was trained as a schoolteacher. Ellen’s parents were leaders in the small mountain community. Her father was president of the bank and chairman of the county school board. Her mother organized a local parent-teacher association and a women’s club, and she founded the public library that bears her name....