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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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Cowles, Betsey Mix (09 February 1810–25 July 1876), educator and reformer, was born in Bristol, Connecticut, the daughter of Giles Hooker Cowles, a Congregationalist minister, and Sally White. To support their family of eight children, Cowles’s parents moved the family to the fledgling town of Austinburg in Ohio’s western reserve shortly after her birth. Two more children came along later. Cowles’s early education took place in subscription schools. Before the spread of state-funded public schools, parents who wished to educate their children had to make arrangements with traveling schoolmasters. Cowles herself joined the ranks of such teachers at age sixteen and taught in many communities throughout northeastern Ohio and western New York....

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Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-37939).

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Davis, Paulina Kellogg Wright (07 August 1813–24 August 1876), abolitionist, suffragist, and educator, was born in Bloomfield, New York, the daughter of Captain Ebenezer Kellogg and Polly Saxton. In 1817 the family moved to an undeveloped area near Niagara Falls. Davis’s enjoyment of the frontier’s exhilirating freedom ended with the deaths of her parents. In 1820 she went to live with a strict orthodox Presbyterian aunt in LeRoy, New York, where she was educated and attended church regularly....

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Dewey, Alice Chipman (07 September 1858–14 July 1927), educator and feminist, was born in Fenton, Michigan, the daughter of Gordon Orlen Chipman, a cabinetmaker, and Lucy Riggs. Orphaned at an early age, Alice and her younger sister were raised by their maternal grandparents Fred and Evalina Riggs. The Riggses were freethinkers who raised the sisters to be socially responsible and self-reliant. After finishing high school in Fenton, Alice attended for a year the Fenton Baptist Seminary, where she studied music. She taught school for several years in Flushing, Michigan, before a desire for further education and a growing interest in women’s rights spurred her to leave Fenton and enroll at the University of Michigan in 1882....

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Doyle, Sarah Elizabeth (23 March 1830–21 December 1922), educator and activist, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the daughter of Thomas Doyle, a bookbinder, and Martha Dorrance Jones. Her father died when Sarah was eleven years old. Her brother, Thomas Arthur, was mayor of Providence between 1864 and 1886, possessing a strong commitment to public schools and urban planning. Sarah Doyle attended the local public grammar school, then entered Providence High School in 1843, its first year, graduating in 1846. She began nearly four decades of teaching immediately after high school, first teaching for ten years in private schools. In 1856 Doyle joined the girls department of Providence High, serving as department principal from 1878 until her retirement in 1892. Doyle was an active and influential teacher, responsible for supervising her colleagues. She was a vice president of the Rhode Island Institute of Instruction, a teachers’ continuing-education organization, and she headed the literature section of its reading circle for several years. Doyle impressed many of her women students with her skill and dedication, and several who became teachers founded the Sarah E. Doyle Club in her honor. Organized in 1894 for the “mutual assistance and culture of members,” for decades the club served hundreds of Providence teachers through lectures and classes. She became the first woman to preside over a meeting of the National Education Association when president Thomas Bicknell gave her the gavel for a single session in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1884....

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Sarah Moore Grimké. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ61-1608).

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Grimké, Sarah Moore (26 November 1792–23 December 1873), abolitionist, writer-educator, and women's rights pioneer, abolitionist, writer-educator, and women’s rights pioneer, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the daughter of John Faucheraud Grimké, chief judge of the state supreme court, and Mary Smith. Sarah was educated by private tutors in subjects considered proper for well-bred southern girls—among them, French, watercolors, harpsichord, and embroidery. But from her older brother Thomas, a student at Yale, she learned Latin, Greek, mathematics, and geography. Raised in the upper classes of Charleston, Sarah gained firsthand experience with prosperity’s underside, African slavery. Her father “owned” several hundred slaves, some of whom she taught to read before he (and the law of the state) forbade it....

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Levi-Montalcini, Rita (22 April 1909–30 December 2012), Nobel Prize–winning neuroembryologist, was born Rita Levi in Turin, Italy, the youngest of four children of Adamo Levi, an electrical engineer and mathematician, and Adele Montalcini, a painter. She later added her mother’s maiden name to her surname. Born into a Jewish middle-class family, young Rita was aware of the different roles men and women played in the family and in society. Her caring but domineering father made all the household decisions, while her submissive mother would willingly accept her husband’s decisions without challenges. However, Rita had several women as role models or sources of inspiration. Her two aunts had doctoral degrees in literature and in mathematics, respectively, and helped foster her confidence in women’s intellectual capacity. When her governess’s tragic death from cancer inspired Rita to go into medicine, her cousin Eugenia enthusiastically supported and joined her to take up medical studies. She also had the backing of her mother and her twin sister, Paola....

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Belva Lockwood. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-BH834-55).

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Lockwood, Belva Ann Bennett McNall (24 October 1830–19 May 1917), teacher, lawyer, and social activist, was born on a farm in Royalton, Niagara County, New York, the second child of Hannah Green and Lewis Johnson Bennett. Lockwood began teaching in the rural one-room schools of Niagara County at age fifteen. She made her first public comments against gender discrimination after learning that male teachers were earning twice as much for similar work. In 1848 she married Uriah H. McNall, a local farmer and sawmill operator. McNall’s death in 1853 left his 22-year-old widow with the responsibility of raising their young daughter. Lockwood enrolled at Genesee College (now Syracuse University), receiving a bachelor of science degree in 1857. In September of that year she accepted a position as principal of the Lockport Union School, again experiencing wage discrimination because she was a woman. After listening to woman’s rights activist ...

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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....

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Spencer, Anna Garlin (17 April 1851–12 February 1931), minister, writer, and social reformer, was born in Attleboro, Massachusetts, the daughter of Francis W. Garlin, a city clerk, and Nancy Mason Carpenter, an active abolitionist, both of whom could trace their ancestry back to seventeenth-century New England. Reared in Providence, Rhode Island, and privately educated for the most part, Anna Garlin began her education and journalism career teaching in the Providence schools (1869–1871) and writing for the ...

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Stewart, Maria W. (1803–17 December 1879), writer, black activist, and teacher, was born Maria Miller in Hartford, Connecticut (information about her date of birth and parentage is not known). Orphaned at five years old and indentured to a clergyman’s family until she was fifteen, Maria Miller supported herself as a domestic servant and gained a rudimentary education by attending “Sabbath schools.” Miller’s marriage on 10 August 1826 to James W. Stewart, a Boston shipping agent, placed her in the small and vibrant free black Boston community that had established organizations and institutions in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries for northern blacks coming out of bondage. Stewart’s brief period of financial security ended when unscrupulous executors cheated the young widow out of her inheritance following the death of her husband in 1829....

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Thomas, M. Carey (02 January 1857–02 December 1935), educator and feminist, was born Martha Carey Thomas in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of James Carey Thomas, a physician, Quaker minister, and civic leader, and Mary Whitall, a Quaker leader and temperance reformer. Thomas grew up in the close-knit and deeply religious world of the Society of Friends. Her aunt ...

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Frances Willard. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ61-790).

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Willard, Frances Elizabeth Caroline (28 September 1839–17 February 1898), educator and international temperance leader, was born in Churchville near Rochester, New York, the daughter of Josiah Willard, a businessman and farmer, and Mary Hill, a schoolteacher. When she was two her father sold his substantial farm and business interests and moved his family to Ohio, where both parents studied at Oberlin College. In 1846 the family moved to Wisconsin, where Frances spent the rest of her childhood on their large frontier farm near Janesville. Except for brief stints in rural schools, Willard was tutored by her mother until 1857, when she studied for a year at Milwaukee Female College (later Milwaukee-Downer College) and then at North Western Female College (later part of Northwestern University), receiving a “Laureatte of Science” in 1859. In 1861 she was engaged to ...

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Mary Emma Woolley Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111858).

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Woolley, Mary Emma (13 July 1863–05 September 1947), educator, feminist, and peace activist, was born in South Norwalk, Connecticut, the daughter of Joseph Judah Woolley, a Congregational minister, and his second wife, Mary Augusta Ferris. May, as she was called, spent a happy, nurturing childhood in New England, first in Meriden, Connecticut, and then, beginning in 1871, at her father’s new pastorate in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Reverend Woolley’s attempts to combine religious and social work—whether in reaching out to factory workers or in challenging St. Paul’s injunction of silence for women—profoundly influenced his daughter....