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Abbot, Gorham Dummer (03 September 1807–03 August 1874), educator of women and clergyman, was born in Brunswick, Maine, the son of “Squire” Jacob Abbot, a land trustee and sometime merchant, and his wife and second cousin, Betsey Abbot. Gorham Abbot grew up in the nearby town of Hallowell and, like his four brothers, graduated from Bowdoin College (A.B., 1826; A.M., 1829) and studied at Andover Theological Seminary. All of the Abbot brothers became teachers and clergymen, the two eldest, ...

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Casey, Josephine (01 January 1878?–27 January 1950), trade unionist, labor organizer, and women’s rights advocate, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the youngest of four children of Cornelius and Bridget Stephens Casey, who were Catholic Irish immigrants. Many details of her life are missing or incomplete, and it is unclear when Cornelius, a stone mason and unionist, died or when the Casey family settled on Chicago’s West Side. By 1905 Josephine Casey was a cashier at the Ashland Avenue station of the Chicago & Oak Park Elevated Railroad and served as recording secretary of the Amalgamated Association of Street and Electric Railway Employees, Union Local Division 308, which included women and men. She also became a charter member of the Chicago Women’s Trade Union League (CWTUL), founded in 1904, where she benefited from the mentoring of ...

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Claflin, Tennessee Celeste (26 October 1845–18 January 1923), radical feminist, was born in Homer, Ohio, the daughter of Reuben Buckman Claflin, a backcountry horse trader and sometime grist mill operator, and Roxanna Hummel, daughter of a Pennsylvania tavern keeper. The youngest of ten children, Tennessee experienced a bizarre, unsettled childhood. In early youth, while staying with relatives in Pennsylvania, she showed a knack for fortune telling, which her parents promptly put to use in a traveling family medicine show laced with spiritualist remedies. By age thirteen she rivaled her older sister ...

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Gram Swing, Betty (16 March 1893–01 September 1969), militant suffragist and women’s rights advocate, was born Myrtle Evelyn Gram in Omaha, Nebraska, the fifth of seven children of Danish immigrants Andreas Peter Gram and Karen Jensen. When their family farm proved unprofitable around 1905, the Grams moved to Portland, Oregon, where Andreas ran a small grocery store and taught Myrtle Danish folk songs that were the foundation of her lifelong love of singing and music....

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Leta Stetter Hollingworth. Courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society.

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Hollingworth, Leta Anna Stetter (25 May 1886–27 November 1939), psychologist and feminist, was born in a dugout near Chadron, Nebraska, the daughter of John G. Stetter and Margaret Elinor Danley. Her father, a fun-loving but irresponsible Virginian of German descent, worked as a peddler, entertainer, and itinerant cowboy. Her mother, the well-educated daughter of a neighboring Scotch-Irish farm family, died in 1890, leaving three girls to be reared by their maternal grandparents. At twelve Leta and her sisters moved to Valentine, Nebraska, to live with their father and his new wife, a troubled woman who made life a “fiery furnace.”...

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See M’Clintock, Mary Ann Wilson

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Perle Mesta Right, with U. S. Senate candidate Marjorie Bell Hinrichs at the Democratic party jubilee in Chicago. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92423).

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Mesta, Perle (12 Oct. 1889 or 1891–16 March 1975), political activist, businesswoman, diplomat, and hostess, was born Pearl Skirvin in Sturgis, Michigan, the daughter of William Balser Skirvin, a salesman, and Harriet Reid. The actual year of her birth was one of her best-kept secrets. Early in the twentieth century her father left Michigan for the oil fields of South Texas, where he made a fortune in the famed Spindletop field. The feisty “Billy” Skirvin moved to Oklahoma City, where he founded the American Oil and Refinery Company and built the luxurious fourteen-floor Skirvin Hotel. Pearl was educated in private schools in Galveston and studied voice and piano at the Sherwood School of Music in Chicago. In 1917 she married 54-year-old George Mesta, founder and president of the Mesta Machine Company located in Pittsburgh. During her years living in the nation’s steel capital she changed her name to the distinctive “Perle.”...

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James Mott. Right, with Gardiner Stow. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90671).

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Mott, James (29 June 1788–26 January 1868), merchant and reformer, was born at Cowneck (later North Hempstead), New York, the son of Adam Mott, a farmer and miller, and Anne Mott (Mott was both her maiden and her married name). Both parents were descended from a seventeenth-century Quaker emigrant from England, and Mott was brought up in a close-knit community of Long Island Friends. He received his education at a Friends’ boarding school at Nine Partners in New York’s Dutchess County. He excelled at Nine Partners and, after ten years, was appointed an assistant teacher and then a teacher. At the school he met Lucretia Coffin ( ...

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Neal, John (25 August 1793–20 June 1876), author and women's rights activist, author and women’s rights activist, was born in Falmouth (now Portland), Maine. His father, a Quaker schoolmaster of the same name, died a month after the birth of Neal and his twin sister, leaving Neal’s mother, Rachel Hall, the difficult task of raising them in precarious financial circumstances. He attended several Quaker schools, the town school, and Portland Academy until age twelve. Combative and rebellious from early childhood, Neal, in 1808, left his native village and a job as shopkeeper’s apprentice for an itinerant career as writing master, schoolmaster, and portrait sketcher. During the War of 1812, he became a partner in the dry-goods business of John Pierpont and Joseph Lord, managing a branch store in Baltimore. Their venture collapsed during the postwar recession. Pierpont went on to a career in the ministry—and to become the grandfather of ...

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Wendell Phillips. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-10319).

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Phillips, Wendell (29 November 1811–02 February 1884), orator, abolitionist, and women's rights and labor advocate, orator, abolitionist, and women’s rights and labor advocate, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of John Phillips, a well-to-do politician and philanthropist, and Sarah Walley. The youngest of eleven children, Wendell received strict and loving attention from both of his parents. From the first he was trained to see himself as a great leader, committed to addressing the great moral and political questions of his age. This drive for leadership was compounded by his early discovery that he possessed extraordinary gifts as an orator. Athletic, handsome, and intelligent, he impressed teachers and classmates alike with his unusual capacity to express himself and to influence others with eloquent speaking. After attending the Boston Latin School, he graduated from Harvard in 1831 and obtained a Harvard law degree in 1833. For the next three years Phillips resided in and around Boston as he attempted, halfheartedly, to establish a legal practice, a career for which he felt no great enthusiasm. Instead he yearned to pursue a vocation worthy of his august legacy. That vocation, finally, was the cause of abolitionism, which he discovered through the process of courtship and marriage....

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Reilly, Marion (16 July 1879–27 January 1928), leader in women's higher education, leader in women’s higher education, was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania, the daughter of John Reilly and Anna Lloyd. Her father was an entrepreneur in railroad development and an official of the Pennsylvania Railroad; he also served a term in the U.S. Congress from 1875 to 1877. The family moved to Philadelphia in 1881. Reilly was educated at the Agnes Irwin School, an academic preparatory school for girls in Philadelphia, and then at Bryn Mawr College. She was president of her class at Bryn Mawr, where she was awarded an A.B. degree in 1901. She remained at Bryn Mawr until 1907, pursuing a doctorate in mathematics and physics. She also did advanced study at Göttingen university in Germany, at Newnham College, Cambridge (1907–1908), and at the University of Rome (1910–1911). Her research was described by a colleague as “in the borderline between mathematics, physics and philosophy.” The product of her research abroad was published in Germany by another scholar before Reilly was able to present the dissertation at Bryn Mawr. The theft of her work resulted in Reilly’s not being awarded an advanced degree. Thus, to her bitter disappointment, her years of scholarly work and her contributions to theory in mathematics were never officially recognized....