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Bonnin, Gertrude Simmons (22 February 1876–26 January 1938), author and activist, was born on the Yankton Sioux reservation in Dakota Territory, the daughter of Ellen Tate’lyohiwin Simmons. Bonnin’s father, about whom little is known other than that he was named Felker and was white, had left the family before Bonnin’s birth. Bonnin, who later became known as Zitkala-Sa or Red Bird, lived with her mother on the reservation until the age of eight, when she attended White’s Indiana Labor Institute, a boarding school for Native American children providing instruction in English and manual labor. These early experiences of indoctrination into European-American culture and the separation from her mother would inform Bonnin’s later writings and her commitment to Native American self-determination....

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Bradley, Mamie Till (23 November 1921–07 January 2003), advocate for racial justice, was born Mamie Elizabeth Carthan. Her father, Wiley Nash Carthan, was a factory worker; her mother, the former Alma Spearman, had been a domestic. Mamie Carthan was born in Webb, Mississippi, a hamlet near the Tallahatchie County seat of Sumner, and was raised in Argo, a suburb of Chicago, where she graduated high school....

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Chapman, Maria Weston (26 July 1806–12 July 1885), abolitionist and reformer, was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, the daughter of Warren Weston and Anne Bates. Maria Weston was educated in England, where she lived with the family of her uncle Joshua Bates. She returned to the United States in 1828 to become the principal of the newly founded ...

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Dee, Ruby (27 Oct. 1922–11 June 2014), actor, author, and civil rights activist, was born Ruby Anne Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio, to Edward Nathaniel Wallace, who held various positions with the Pennsylvania Railroad, and Gladys Hightower. When the unstable Gladys left the family, her father married Emma Amelia Benson, a former teacher....

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Flores, Francisca ( December 1913–27 April 1996), Chicana feminist, journal editor, and antipoverty activist, was born in San Diego, California, the second of six children born to Maria Montelongo, a cook and union shop steward, and Vicente Flores, who worked in a slaughterhouse. One of Flores’s brothers died of tuberculosis in 1926; that same year she herself developed tuberculosis and spent the next ten years in a tuberculosis sanatorium. While there she met and befriended women veterans of the Mexican Revolution. Those friendships led her to organize a political discussion group, Hermanas de la Revolución Mexicana, for women in the sanatorium. Politicized by her experience, Flores emerged from the sanatorium in 1936 at age twenty-three, determined to live a life of activism. Two years later she married Laverne Lynn; the couple divorced around 1954 without having any children....

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Elizabeth G. Flynn Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-97791).

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Flynn, Elizabeth Gurley (07 August 1890–05 September 1964), labor organizer and activist, was born in Concord, New Hampshire, the daughter of Thomas Flynn, a quarry worker and civil engineer, and Annie Gurley, a tailor. Both parents were descended from a long line of Irish rebels. During Elizabeth’s childhood, the family was poor due to the hard times and her father’s preference for political argumentation over earning a living. In 1900 the Flynns moved to a cold-water flat in the Bronx, which became a gathering place for Irish freedom fighters and prominent socialists. Impressed by Elizabeth’s intelligence and militancy, they encouraged her activism....

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Foltz, Clara Shortridge (16 July 1849–02 September 1934), first woman lawyer on the Pacific Coast, suffrage leader, and founder of the public defender movement, was born in Lafayette, Indiana, the only daughter of Elias Shortridge and Talitha Harwood. Trained as a lawyer, Elias Shortridge turned instead to preaching among the Disciples of Christ and in 1860 became pastor to a well-established church in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. For a few years, Clara attended the progressive Howe’s Academy until her father was expelled from his congregation for unorthodoxy. She then became a teacher herself in nearby Illinois before eloping—at the age of fifteen—with a handsome Union soldier, Jeremiah Foltz. During hard years on an Iowa farm, she bore four children....

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Height, Dorothy Irene (24 March 1912–20 April 2010), social worker and civil rights and women’s activist, was born in Richmond, Virginia to James Edward Height and Fannie Burroughs Height. When Dorothy was four the family moved to Rankin, Pennsylvania (outside of Pittsburgh), part of the Great Migration northward by African Americans in the early twentieth century. Her father worked as a building contractor while her mother found employment as a private nurse. Height recalled being influenced by both her father’s activities in the black Baptist church and her mother’s involvement in the black clubwomen’s movement....

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Thomas L. Bynum and Torren L. Gatson

Hurley, Ruby (7 Nov. 1909–9 Aug. 1980), civil rights activist, was born Ruby Ruffin in Washington, D.C., to Alice and Edward R. Ruffin in 1909, the same year the NAACP was created. She attended public schools in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. After graduating from Dunbar High School in ...

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McMillan, Enolia (20 October 1904–24 October 2006), educator and civil rights activist, was born Enolia Virginia Pettigan in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. She was the eldest of four children born to former slave John Pettigan and domestic worker Elizabeth Fortune. Her family moved to Cecil County, Maryland in 1912 after her father bought a small farm. She graduated from Baltimore’s Douglass High School in 1922. She was recipient of the first scholarship from the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and attended Howard University, a traditionally black college in Washington, D.C., and graduated with a bachelor of arts in education in 1927....

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Milner, Lucille Bernheimer (1888?–14 August 1975), civil libertarian, social worker, and cofounder and long-time secretary of the American Civil Liberties Union, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Marcus Bernheimer, a wealthy Jewish wholesale grocer, and Ella Hayman. When she was five, Lucille’s father suffered losses in the depression of 1893 from which he never recovered; two years later her mother died of cancer. Lucille attended local public schools until she was diagnosed at sixteen with tuberculosis. She spent a year in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, after which she was pronounced cured and returned home to care for her ailing and financially distressed father....

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Mitchell, Juanita Jackson (2 Jan. 1913–7 July 1992), civil rights activist and lawyer, was born to Lillie Carroll Jackson, a schoolteacher, and Kieffer Albert Jackson, a traveling salesman, in Hot Springs, Arkansas. As the daughter of civil rights activists, Jackson was greatly influenced by her parents’ avocation of social justice and racial equality. By the 1920s the family relocated to Baltimore, Maryland. Jackson received her early education in the Baltimore public schools. After graduating from Fredrick Douglass High School in ...

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Moody, Anne (15 Sept. 1940–5 Feb. 2015), civil rights activist and author, was born Essie Mae Moody in Centreville, Mississippi; before starting high school, she discovered her name had originally been recorded as “Annie Mae Moody,” which she preferred. She was the eldest child of Fred Moody and Elmira (Williams) Moody, and the first of her mother’s ten children. Her parents worked as sharecroppers in Wilkinson County, near the Mississippi–Louisiana border....

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Pilpel, Harriet Fleischl (02 December 1911–23 April 1991), civil liberties lawyer and activist, was born Harriet F. Fleischl to former schoolteacher Ethel Loewy and Julius Fleischl, a self-educated businessman who worked for his family’s dairy and poultry business. Harriet grew up in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in the Bronx where she attended Evander Childs High School, served as captain of the debate team, and became interested in public affairs. The eldest of three children—all daughters—Harriet enjoyed a special relationship with her father, who expected her intellectual and academic achievements to equal those of her most accomplished male peers....

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Weil, Gertrude (11 Dec. 1879–30 May 1971), activist for women’s suffrage, social welfare, Zionism, and civil rights, was born in Goldsboro, North Carolina, to Henry Weil and Mina Rosenthal. Weil’s father and grandparents were antebellum Jewish immigrants from rural Württemberg and Bavaria. Settling in a southern mill and market town, they rose from peddlers to prosperous storekeepers to prominent entrepreneurs and philanthropists. Family wealth allowed Weil the autonomy to pursue a career of public service. Weil’s parents set examples of civic engagement, notably her mother who joined women emerging from domesticity and religious societies into civic organizations. After attending local public schools, the sixteen-year-old Weil was sent by her progressive parents to the coeducational Horace Mann School in New York. In ...