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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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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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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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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....