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Abbott, Edith (26 September 1876–28 July 1957), social reformer, social work educator, and author, was born in Grand Island, Nebraska, the daughter of Othman Ali Abbott, a lawyer and first lieutenant governor of Nebraska, and Elizabeth Maletta Griffin, a woman suffrage advocate. Abbott grew up in a comfortable and politically progressive household on the American prairie. However, the severe economic depression that began in 1893 caused Abbott to postpone her college plans after graduation from an Omaha girls’ boarding school. Instead, at the age of seventeen she became a teacher at the Grand Island High School....

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Brown, Josephine Chapin (20 October 1887–25 October 1976), public welfare administrator and social work educator, was born in Ogdensburg, New York, the daughter of Silas Edgar Brown, a physician and surgeon, and Mary Chapin. Josephine received her primary and secondary education in private schools at Ogdensburg and Utica and entered Bryn Mawr College in 1906. Shortly thereafter, Brown’s family, in financial difficulty, moved to St. Paul, Minnesota. She dropped out of college and taught school, but, after two years, aided by gifts through the college, Brown reentered Bryn Mawr. She graduated in June 1913 with a B.A. in physics and biology....

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de Schweinitz, Karl (26 November 1887–20 April 1975), social worker and educator, was born in Northfield, Minnesota, the son of Paul Robert de Schweinitz, a clergyman, and Mary Catherine Daniel. After attending Nazareth Hall and the Moravian Parochial School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, de Schweinitz received bachelor’s degrees from Moravian College in 1906 and from the University of Pennsylvania in 1907. He spent two years as a reporter, first for the ...

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Ferguson, Katy (1779?–11 July 1854), child welfare worker and school founder, was born a slave on board a schooner en route from Virginia to New York City. Her formal name was Catherine Williams, but she was known as “Katy.” Separated from her mother at the age of eight after the woman was sold by their master, a Presbyterian elder, Katy never saw her mother again. Although she never learned to read or write, Katy was allowed to attend church services, and before she was sold, her mother taught her the Scriptures from memory. Katy was deeply religious and a strong adherent of the Presbyterian faith. At the age of ten she promised her master that she would dedicate her life to God’s service if given her freedom. This request was denied, but Katy eventually obtained her freedom; she was purchased for $200 by an abolitionist sympathizer when she was fifteen or sixteen years old. Originally she was given six years to repay this debt, but eventually her benefactor accepted eleven months of service and $100 from a New York merchant for her freedom. Thereafter, as a free woman, Katy supported herself by catering parties for wealthy white families and by cleaning linens and other delicate fabrics....

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Jarrett, Mary Cromwell (21 June 1877–04 August 1961), social work educator, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of Caroline Watkins and Frank Asbury Jarrett, a bookkeeper, partner in a tailoring business, and reporter. Almost nothing is known of her early life. She graduated from the Woman’s College of Baltimore (later Goucher College) in 1900, taught for a short time, and did some volunteer work for the Baltimore Charity Society. From this typical female activity of the period, she moved to a paid position and the beginning of a lifetime career in social work and social work education....

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Lee, Porter Raymond (21 December 1879–08 March 1939), social worker and teacher, was born in Buffalo, New York, the son of Reuben Porter Lee, a banker, and Jennie Blanchard. He obtained his first experience in social service working at Westminster House, a Buffalo settlement, while he was still in high school. This plus a college course in the methods of modern philanthropy led him to pursue a career in social work. After graduating from Cornell University in 1903 he attended a summer institute at the New York School of Philanthropy, then the only center in the country providing professional social work training. That fall he began work as assistant secretary of the Charity Organization Society (COS) of Buffalo. He later described the six years he spent there under the supervision of secretary Frederick Almy as “the most important single factor” in his education. He married Ethel Hepburn Pollock in 1905; they would have five children....

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Pettit, Katherine Rhoda (23 February 1868–03 September 1936), educator and social worker, was born in Fayette County, Kentucky, the daughter of Benjamin F. Pettit, a farmer, and Clara Mason Barbee. After her early education in Lexington and Louisville, Pettit attended the Sayre Female Institute in Lexington from 1885 to 1887. She became a member of the Presbyterian church in her early years. A family friend, who was a clergyman, instilled in her a lifelong interest in the hardships of people living in the mountain regions of Kentucky. While in her twenties she joined the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), which was working with the highlanders of Kentucky, and she became a member of the rural library service of the State Federation of Women’s Clubs....

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Reynolds, Bertha Capen (11 December 1885–29 October 1978), social worker and educator, was born in Stoughton, Massachusetts, the daughter of Franklin Stewart Reynolds, a manufacturer of organs, and Mary Capen, a teacher. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Smith College in 1908 and was one of the early recipients (1914) of a certificate in social work from the Boston School for Social Workers, later part of Simmons College. In 1919 she was in the first class to graduate from the Smith College School for Social Work’s summer program....

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Taft, Jessie (24 June 1882–07 June 1960), sociologist, social worker, and educator, was born Julia Taft in Dubuque, Iowa, the daughter of Charles Chester Taft and Amanda May Farwell. Her parents came from Vermont but moved to rural Iowa, where her father became a prosperous merchant. Her mother was deaf, and this disability plus personality differences created a barrier between them. Jessie enjoyed school and music, graduating from West Des Moines High School, and independently chose to become a Unitarian....

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Towle, Charlotte Helen (17 November 1896–01 October 1966), social work educator, was born in Butte, Montana, the daughter of Herman Augustus Towle, a jeweler, and Emily Kelsey, a schoolteacher. The Towles had left Indiana to settle in Butte’s small middle-class community during the growth of the copper mines that fueled the economy of the region. Towle graduated from Butte High School in 1915 and attended Virginia College in Roanoke for one year. In 1916 she transferred to Goucher College in Baltimore, where she studied to become a teacher, graduating in 1919. Preferring to involve herself in community service, she eschewed education for a career in social work....

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Woolsey, Abby Howland (16 July 1828–07 April 1893), social worker, educator of nurses, and author, was born in Alexandria, Virginia, the daughter of Charles William Woolsey, a merchant, and Jane Eliza Newton. She spent her early years in England, then in Boston, where her father prospered in the sugar-refining business and she attended the Misses Murdock’s School. When, in January 1840, Woolsey’s father died on the sinking steamer ...