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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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Addams, Jane (06 September 1860–21 May 1935), social reformer and peace activist, was the daughter of John Huy Addams, a businessman and Republican politician, and Sarah Weber. Born on the eve of the Civil War in the small farming community of Cedarville, just outside Freeport, in northern Illinois, she was the youngest of five children, four of whom were girls. Her mother died during pregnancy when Jane was two years old. The Addams family was the wealthiest, most respected family in the community. Jane’s father owned the local grain mill, was president of the Second National Bank of Freeport, had interests in a local railroad and a local insurance company, taught Sunday School, and was active in local Bible societies. A founding member of the Republican party and supporter of ...

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Anthony, Susan B. (15 February 1820–13 March 1906), reformer and organizer for woman suffrage, was born Susan Brownell Anthony in Adams, Massachusetts, the daughter of Daniel Anthony and Lucy Read. Her father built the town’s first cotton mill. When Susan, the second of eight children, was six, the family moved to Battenville, New York, north of Albany, where Daniel prospered as manager of a larger mill and could send Susan and her sister to a Friends’ seminary near Philadelphia. His good fortune, however, collapsed with the financial crisis of 1837; the mill closed, Susan left boarding school, the family lost its house, and for nearly a decade the family squeaked by, assisted by Susan’s wages as a teacher. Looking for a new start in 1845, Daniel moved to a farm near Rochester, the city that would be Susan’s permanent address for the rest of her life....

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Breckinridge, Madeline McDowell (20 May 1872–25 November 1920), woman suffragist and Progressive reformer, was born at Woodlake in Franklin County, Kentucky, the daughter of Henry Clay McDowell, a lawyer and businessman, and Anne Clay. Members from both sides of her family had been prominent since Kentucky’s earliest years. In 1882 her family moved to Ashland, the estate of her great-grandfather ...

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Breckinridge, Sophonisba Preston (01 April 1866–30 July 1948), social scientist and reformer, was born in Lexington, Kentucky, the daughter of William C. P. Breckinridge, a lawyer and U.S. congressman, and Issa Desha. Her father vigorously supported the rights of women and African Americans to secure higher educations. A rich legacy of political achievement and the prominent social standing of the Breckinridge family afforded Sophonisba many advantages in her early life. “Nisba,” as she was affectionately known, excelled in school and as an adolescent began taking courses at the Agricultural and Mechanical College in Lexington. In 1884 she enrolled at Wellesley College where she studied Latin and mathematics, graduating with an S.B. in 1888....

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Bunche, Ralph Johnson (07 August 1904–09 December 1971), scholar and diplomat, was born in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Fred Bunch, a barber, and Olive Agnes Johnson. His grandmother added an “e” to the family’s last name following a move to Los Angeles, California. Because his family moved frequently, Bunche attended a number of public schools before graduating first in his class from Jefferson High School in Los Angeles in 1922. He majored in political science at the University of California, Southern Branch (now University of California at Los Angeles or UCLA). He graduated summa cum laude and served as class valedictorian in 1927. He continued his studies in political science at Harvard, receiving his M.A. in 1928, then taught at Howard University in Washington, D.C., while working toward his Ph.D. at Harvard. In 1930 he married Ruth Ethel Harris; they had three children. Bunche traveled to Europe and Africa researching his dissertation and received his Ph.D. from Harvard in February 1934....

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Chapman, Oscar Littleton (22 October 1896–06 February 1978), humanitarian, politician, and secretary of the interior, was born in Halifax County, Virginia, the son of James Jackson Chapman and Rosa Blount, farmers. Portending his future liberalism, young Chapman rebelled against his southern heritage, choosing a picture of ...

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Dorr, Thomas Wilson (05 November 1805–27 December 1854), political and social reformer, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Sullivan Dorr, a wealthy merchant and business leader, and Lydia Allen, a prominent socialite and sister of noted inventor Zechariah Allen and Rhode Island governor and U.S. senator ...

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Du Bois, W. E. B. (23 February 1868–27 August 1963), African-American activist, historian, and sociologist, was born William Edward Burghardt Du Bois in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the son of Mary Silvina Burghardt, a domestic worker, and Alfred Du Bois, a barber and itinerant laborer. In later life Du Bois made a close study of his family origins, weaving them rhetorically and conceptually—if not always accurately—into almost everything he wrote. Born in Haiti and descended from Bahamian mulatto slaves, Alfred Du Bois enlisted during the Civil War as a private in a New York regiment of the Union army but appears to have deserted shortly afterward. He also deserted the family less than two years after his son’s birth, leaving him to be reared by his mother and the extended Burghardt kin. Long resident in New England, the Burghardts descended from a freedman of Dutch slave origin who had fought briefly in the American Revolution. Under the care of his mother and her relatives, young Will Du Bois spent his entire childhood in that small western Massachusetts town, where probably fewer than two-score of the 4,000 inhabitants were African American. He received a classical, college preparatory education in Great Barrington’s racially integrated high school, from whence, in June 1884, he became the first African-American graduate. A precocious youth, Du Bois not only excelled in his high school studies but contributed numerous articles to two regional newspapers, the Springfield ...

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Henry, Aaron E. (02 July 1922–19 May 1997), civil rights activist, politician, and pharmacist, was born in Dublin, in the Mississippi Delta. His sharecropping parents, Ed and Mattie Henry, strove to educate Aaron and his sister and shield them from the hardships of farm and manual labor. They moved to neighboring Coahoma County so that Henry could attend the segregated Coahoma Agricultural High School. Indeed his political awakening began in high school, where a few earnest teachers bravely schooled their students on civics and civil rights. With the coaxing of one young educator, Aaron and his classmates joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as at-large members in 1941....

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Holmes, John Haynes (29 November 1879–03 April 1964), Unitarian and later independent minister and a leading advocate of pacifism, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Marcus M. Holmes, a businessman, and Alice Haynes. Holmes was educated at Harvard College (A.B. 1902) and Harvard Divinity School (S.T.B. 1904) and entered the Unitarian ministry, holding early pastorates at Danvers (1902–1904) and Dorchester (1904–1907), Massachusetts, before moving in 1907 to the Church of the Messiah in New York City, where his influence as a minister dedicated to social reform began to be felt. In 1904 he married Madeleine Baker, with whom he had two children....

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Kennedy, Edward Moore (Ted) (22 February 1932–25 August 2009), U.S. senator and advocate for liberal reform, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the ninth and last child of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy and Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Sr., a banker, investor, and American ambassador to Great Britain. His dynasty-building father held high expectations for his children and established trust funds that would provide them with the financial security and freedom to pursue public service. As the baby brother, Kennedy spent his childhood catching up with his siblings in a highly competitive, politically oriented Irish Catholic family that turned everything into a contest, whether it was sailing, playing touch football, or getting attention at the dinner table. Kennedy later attributed his habit of copious research and preparation for legislation as a senator to the standards his father set for table talk....

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Langston, John Mercer (14 December 1829–15 November 1897), African-American political leader and intellectual, was born free in Louisa County, Virginia, the son of Ralph Quarles, a wealthy white slaveholding planter, and Lucy Jane Langston, a part–Native American, part-black slave emancipated by Quarles in 1806. After the deaths of both of their parents in 1834, Langston and his two brothers, well provided for by Quarles’s will but unprotected by Virginia law, moved to Ohio. There Langston lived on a farm near Chillicothe with a cultured white southern family who had been friends of his father and who treated him as a son. He was in effect orphaned again in 1839, however, when a court hearing, concluding that his guardian’s impending move to slave-state Missouri would imperil the boy’s freedom and inheritance, forced him to leave the family. Subsequently, he boarded in four different homes, white and black, in Chillicothe and Cincinnati, worked as a farmhand and bootblack, intermittently attended privately funded black schools since blacks were barred from public schools for whites, and in August 1841 was caught up in the violent white rioting against blacks and white abolitionists in Cincinnati....

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Livermore, Mary (19 December 1820–23 May 1905), reformer, writer, and suffrage leader, was born Mary Ashton Rice in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Timothy Rice, a laborer, and Zebiah Vose Glover Ashton. Mary’s family had a strong sense of patriotism and adhered to the strict tenets of a Calvinist Baptist faith. Fear of eternal damnation caused Mary such great pain that she found passages in the Bible to disprove this doctrine. She often pretended to be a preacher by delivering sermons to playmates. At the age of fourteen she attended a Baptist female seminary in Charlestown, Massachusetts, where she studied French, Latin, and metaphysics. Following her graduation in 1836 she joined the teaching faculty of the school....

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Marshall, Thurgood (02 July 1908–24 January 1993), civil rights lawyer and U.S. Supreme Court justice, was born Thoroughgood Marshall in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of William Canfield Marshall, a dining-car waiter and club steward, and Norma Arica Williams, an elementary school teacher. Growing up in a solid middle-class environment, Marshall was an outgoing and sometimes rebellious student who first encountered the Constitution when he was required to read it as punishment for classroom misbehavior. Marshall’s parents wanted him to become a dentist, as his brother did, but Marshall was not interested in the science courses he took at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, from which he was graduated with honors in 1930. He married Vivian “Buster” Burey in 1929; they had no children....

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Pinchot, Cornelia Bryce (26 August 1881–09 September 1960), politician and advocate of progressive causes, was born Cornelia Elizabeth Bryce in Newport, Rhode Island, the youngest daughter of Lloyd Stephens Bryce and Edith Cooper. Her father had been a Democratic congressman, a novelist, an intimate and political confidante of ...

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Robins, Raymond (17 September 1873–26 September 1954), social reformer, politician, and diplomat, was born on Staten Island, New York, the son of Charles Ephraim Robins, a businessman, and his second wife, Hannah Mariah Crow. After his father went bankrupt and moved to Colorado to mine for metals and his mother went into a mental asylum, Raymond grew up with relatives in Zanesville, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; and Brooksville, Florida. In the early 1890s Robins took coal mining jobs in Coal Creek, Tennessee, and in Leadville, Colorado. In 1893 he took a position as manager of a Florida phosphate company, where he became interested in phosphate mining and discovered a rich deposit of kaolin clay, used for porcelain production. He purchased land options worth $10,000 at once, but he sold the property to a New York company for $3,000 in 1893. The company’s lawyer, by using his knowledge and legal skills, outmaneuvered Robins, who, as a result, had to absorb a severe financial loss on what had looked like a sound investment. This experience convinced him to study law. Working as a lawyer, Robins felt, suited both his personal temperament and his social and political inclinations. In 1896 he graduated with a law degree from Columbian University (now George Washington University). He moved to San Francisco, where he was admitted to the bar in 1896....

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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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Rush, Benjamin (04 January 1746–19 April 1813), physician, professor of chemistry and of medicine, and social reformer, was born in Byberry Township, Pennsylvania, thirteen miles northeast of Philadelphia, the son of John Rush, a farmer and gunsmith, and Susanna Hall Harvey. John Rush died when Benjamin was five years old. His mother ran a grocery store to support the family. She sent Benjamin at age eight to live with an uncle by marriage, the Reverend Dr. ...

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Rustin, Bayard (17 March 1912–24 August 1987), civil rights leader and political activist, was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, the illegitimate son of an immigrant from the British West Indies. Raised by his maternal grandparents (his grandfather was a caterer), Rustin was educated in the local public schools. He first experienced racial discrimination as a member of his high school football team when he was denied service at a restaurant in Media, Pennsylvania. After high school, he worked at odd jobs, traveled widely, and studied at Wilberforce University in Ohio, Cheney State Teachers College in Pennsylvania, and the City College of New York, never earning a formal degree....