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Austin, Harriet N. (1825–1891), hydropathic physician and health and dress reformer, was born in Connecticut but raised in Moravia, New York. Little is known about her parentage or early life. At age twenty-six she enrolled in the first class of the coeducational American Hydropathic Institute operated by ...

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Bauer, Catherine Krouse (11 May 1905–22 November 1964), housing advocate and urban-planning educator, was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the daughter of Jacob Louis Bauer, a highway engineer, and Alberta Louise Krouse, a suffragist. Bauer graduated from Vassar College in 1926, having spent her junior year at Cornell University studying architecture. Following graduation she lived in Paris and wrote about contemporary architecture, including the work of the modernist Le Corbusier. In New York from 1927 to 1930, she held a variety of jobs and began a friendship with the architectural and social critic ...

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Bissell, Emily Perkins (31 May 1861–08 March 1948), volunteer social worker and author, was born in Wilmington, Delaware, the daughter of Champion Aristarcus Bissell, a lawyer and banker, and Josephine Wales. Her forebears settled in Connecticut where her father, a Yale graduate, was reared. Her maternal grandfather, John Wales, served as a U.S. senator from Delaware from 1849 to 1851. Bissell was educated in Wilmington and at Miss Charlier’s School in New York City....

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Blackwell, Elizabeth (03 February 1821–31 May 1910), physician, reformer, and medical educator, was born in Bristol, England, daughter of Samuel Blackwell, a prosperous sugar refiner, and Hannah Lane. Her father’s interest in abolitionism and in “perfectionist reform,” the belief that through education and spiritual regeneration human beings could achieve a just society on earth, coupled with a series of financial reversals, prompted a move to the United States in 1832 when Elizabeth was eleven....

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Buckel, C. Annette (25 August 1833–17 August 1912), physician, Civil War nurse, and mental health activist, was born Cloe Annette Buckel in Warsaw, New York, the daughter of Thomas Buckel and his wife (given name unknown), whose surname was Bartlett. Both parents died when Buckel, an only child, was three months old. Until the age of four she lived with her grandparents, and after they died she lived with two young aunts, neither of whom exhibited much warmth toward her. By age four Buckel had learned to read and write. Quickly outgrowing the local district school, she moved on to a more advanced one in a neighboring town. At age fourteen she started teaching school, boarding with her students’ parents, both in New York State and in Canada. While a youth she decided to become a physician. Financially unable to immediately begin formal medical school, she worked in a burnishing factory in Connecticut, living with her employer’s family, and studied Latin as she worked. By living simply and borrowing on a life insurance policy she had purchased, Buckel was able to enter the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1856. She later demonstrated the high regard she felt for the school by leaving it a bequest in her will....

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Campbell, Persia Crawford (15 March 1898–02 March 1974), economist and consumer leader, was born in Nerrigundah, Australia, the daughter of Rodolph Campbell and Beatrice Harriet Hunt, schoolteachers. She was the first of two children. Her parents were strong Presbyterians and instilled in her at an early age a love of learning. Before she entered high school her father died, leaving her mother as the sole breadwinner. Persia tried to help by making and selling dolls’ clothes. With her excellent grades she was able to enter a state scholarship high school for girls from families of modest incomes....

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Corson, Juliet (13 January 1841?–18 June 1897), founder of the New York Cooking School and pioneer in the scientific cookery movement, was born in Mount Pleasant, Massachusetts, the daughter of Peter Ross Corson, a prosperous produce merchant, and Mary Ann Henderson. (Although most obituaries and biographical sources give Corson’s birth date as 1842, the Vital Records of Roxbury, Massachusetts, give the date as 1841.) Corson’s family moved to New York City when she was six years old. In New York her uncle, Alfred Upham, helped to raise her and provided her with a classical education. She began to support herself in her late teens after her mother’s death....

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Daniel, Annie Sturges (21 September 1858–10 August 1944), physician and public health reformer, was born in Buffalo, New York, the daughter of John M. Daniel, a coal and wood merchant, and Marinda Sturges. Both of her parents died while Annie was still a young child, and she was subsequently sent to Monticello, New York, to live with relatives. Curiosity about biology and anatomy led her to enroll in the Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary, where she specialized in obstetrics, gynecology, and pediatrics. After receiving her M.D. in 1879, she worked as a pharmacist at the infirmary for a year before serving her internship. In 1881 Daniel was placed as the physician in charge of the Out-Practice Department, also known as the Tenement House Service, of the New York Infirmary. Assigned to this department by Dr. ...

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Dinwiddie, Emily Wayland (14 August 1879–11 March 1949), social worker and housing reformer, was born in Greenwood, Virginia, the daughter of William Dinwiddie, a Presbyterian evangelical minister, and Emily Albertine Bledsoe. Emily grew up on a farm where she developed a love for the outdoors, participated in climbing, hiking, and swimming, and studied plant life. She graduated with a B.A. from Peace Institute in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1898 and remained at the school for two years as a Latin teacher. She never married....

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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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Frederick, Christine (06 February 1883–06 April 1970), home efficiency expert, advertising consultant, and consumer advocate, was born Christine Isobel Campbell in Boston, Massachusetts, to William Campbell, a clergyman, and Mimie Scott of St. Louis, Missouri. Soon after Christine’s birth, Mimie fled this unhappy union and took the child to St. Louis, where they spent two years with her family. From the age of two until she was five, Christine lived in czarist Russia, where Mimie served as a governess. Upon their return, a nasty divorce and custody battle in a Massachusetts court awarded custody to William while a separate Missouri ruling awarded custody to her mother; Christine remained in St. Louis. When she was eleven years old her mother married Wyatt MacGaffey, whose name Christine took when the family moved to Chicago. The memory of her untrained mother fleeing an unhappy marriage and trying to support herself had a profound influence on Christine’s life choices....

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Furness, Betty (03 January 1916–02 April 1994), actress, product spokesperson, and consumer advocate, was born Elizabeth Mary (Betty) Furness in New York City to George Choate Furness, an executive with the Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation, and Florence Sturtevant, who later became an interior decorator. Betty was educated at New York City’s elite Brearley School and then attended the Bennett School for Girls in Millbrook, New York, where one of her classmates predicted she would become an actress. That prophecy made sense because Betty had long shown an interest in performing. Her introduction to the media came at age seven, when she accompanied her father to the studio to watch him produce informational radio talks about the care and use of batteries. She got her first job at age fourteen, modeling for the John Robert Powers Modeling Agency during summer vacation. Several years later she caught the eye of a well-known photographer named Hal Phyfe, who was taking graduation pictures at the Bennett School. He too was impressed by how personable and photogenic she was, and he made sure her photos got to the right people....

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Gleason, Rachel Brooks (27 November 1820–17 March 1905), sectarian physician and health reformer, was born in Winhall, Vermont; her parents’ names and occupations are unknown. She attended local schools, including Townsend Academy. In 1844, following a brief teaching stint, Rachel married Silas Orsemus Gleason, M.D., a recent graduate of Castleton Medical College; the couple had two children....

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Greene, Cordelia Agnes (05 July 1831–28 January 1905), physician and health reformer, was born in Lyons, New York, the eldest of five children of Jabez Greene and Phila Cooke. New England farmers and former Quakers turned Presbyterians, her parents settled in western New York along the banks of the Erie Canal shortly before her birth. Her father’s piety was matched only by his interest in progressive education, and his active role as a trustee in the local public school no doubt sparked his daughter’s lifelong concern with self-improvement. A serious student, she earned a teacher’s certificate from the county while still in her early teens....

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Jacqueline Karnell Corn

Hamilton, Alice (27 February 1869–22 September 1970), physician, was born in New York City, the daughter of Montgomery Hamilton and Gertrude Pond. Her family resided in Fort Wayne, Indiana, dependent on an inherited fortune. Because her parents did not believe in conventional education, Alice and her siblings did not attend school. They were taught by both parents. She had two years of formal education before entering the University of Michigan Medical School. After that, a long period of professional training and deep feelings of social commitment prepared her for work in occupational health. The professional training was an accomplishment for a woman of her generation. She received the M.D. from the University of Michigan in 1893, then spent two months as an intern in the Hospital for Women and Children in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and nine months at the New England Hospital for Women and Children near Boston. She was then advised that if she wished to pursue a career in bacteriology and pathology, study in Germany was necessary to make her an expert. She went to Germany to study at Leipzig and Munich for one year. The following year she studied at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore....

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Harris, Patricia Roberts (31 May 1924–23 March 1985), cabinet member and ambassador, was born in Mattoon, Illinois, the daughter of Bert Fitzgerald Roberts, a Pullman car waiter, and Hildren Brodie Johnson, a schoolteacher. After graduating from a Chicago high school, she entered Howard University, from which she was graduated, summa cum laude, with an A.B. in 1945. In 1943, while a student at Howard, she joined the nascent civil rights movement and participated in a sit-in to desegregate a cafeteria lunch counter in Washington, D.C. Roberts did graduate work at the University of Chicago. In 1946, while attending graduate school, she was also program director of the local YWCA. In 1949 she returned to Washington, D.C., where she pursued further graduate study at the American University until 1950. From 1949 to 1953 she served as an assistant director in the Civil Rights Agency of the American Council on Human Rights. Married in 1955 to attorney William B. Harris, who encouraged her to enter law school (the marriage was childless), she earned a J.D. degree at the George Washington University Law Center in 1960. Recognized early in her youth as an outstanding and diligent student, Harris graduated first out of ninety-four in her class....

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Haupt, Alma Cecilia (19 March 1893–15 March 1956), public health nursing leader, was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, the daughter of Charles Edgar Haupt, an Episcopal minister, and Alexandra Dougan. As the young sister of four brothers, Haupt described her childhood as a “tomboy existence tempered with exposure to the cultural and religious life” of her prominent St. Paul family. After completion of secondary education at West High School in St. Paul, she entered the Liberal Arts College at the University of Minnesota in 1911 and graduated four years later with a bachelor’s degree in physical education. After working for a year as a playground instructor in St. Paul and a social worker in Minneapolis, Haupt searched for a career that would provide her with mobility and, consequently, enrolled in the University of Minnesota School of Nursing. Upon graduation in 1919, she accepted a nursing position with the Minneapolis Visiting Nurse Association (MVNA), and within three years she became its nursing superintendent (1922–1924). Years later, Haupt recalled that the MVNA tasks of supervising home care and establishing a public health course for university nursing students were instrumental in directing her lifelong commitment to nursing’s critical role in the public’s health....

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Jacobs, Jane (04 May 1916–25 April 2006), writer, community organizer, and urban advocate, was born Jane Butzner in Scranton, Pennsylvania, to Dr. John Butzner, a physician, and Bess Robison, a nurse. She was raised with three siblings in nearby Dunmore, a middle-class suburb. Dr. Butzner, among the first in the city to own an automobile, took his daughter along on rides downtown, where she was captivated by the spectacle of urban life. As a teenager, she also spent summer months working at her aunt’s Presbyterian charity for impoverished Appalachian communities in rural North Carolina. A key influence was her great-aunt Hannah Breece, who, beginning at age forty-five in 1904, spent fourteen years traversing the Alaska territory as a schoolteacher for indigenous pupils. Likewise Jane Jacobs would assume the posture of urban political activist and critic only after age forty, and at seventy-six, she would retrace the trans-Alaskan journey of her familial role model and edit Breece’s memoir, published in 1996....

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Jean, Sally Lucas (18 June 1878–05 July 1971), health educator and nurse, was born in Towson, Maryland, the daughter of George Jean, a teacher, and Emilie Watkins Selby. Her mother was a devout Episcopalian from the South, while her father, who had fought for the northern troops during the Civil War, had been raised in a Presbyterian family. Jean, the youngest of their three children, had two experiences early in life that led her to dream of a nursing career. A close friend died of diphtheria, and shortly after that Jean played Florence Nightingale in a school play. Learning of Nightingale’s life-saving heroics, Jean resolved to follow in her footsteps. When Jean was fifteen her father died and she told her family of her desire to become a nurse. They urged her to become a teacher instead like her father. Obligingly she entered the Maryland State Normal School, from which she graduated in 1896....