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Grace Abbott Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111723).

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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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Alexander, Will Winton (15 July 1884–13 January 1956), leading southern liberal, expert on race relations, and member of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal administration, leading southern liberal, expert on race relations, and member of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal administration, was born near Morrisville, Missouri, the son of William Baxter Alexander, a farmer, and Arabella A. Winton, a schoolteacher. Alexander received a B.A. from Scarritt-Morrisville College in 1908 and continued his studies at Vanderbilt University, where he received a Bachelor of Divinity in 1912. Ordained a Methodist minister in 1911, Alexander held pastorates at Nashville (1911–1916) and Murfreesboro, Tennessee (1916–1917). In 1914 he married Mabelle A. Kinkead; they had three sons....

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Douglas, Emily Taft (10 April 1899–28 January 1994), congresswoman and social activist, was born Emily Taft in Chicago, the daughter of Lorado Taft, a prominent American sculptor and a professor at the University of Chicago, and Ada Bartlett Taft. Her father was a distant cousin of President ...

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Edward Moore (Ted) Kennedy. Acrylic on canvas, 1962, by René Robert Bouché. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Time magazine.

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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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Lowenstein, Allard Kenneth (16 January 1929–14 March 1980), lawyer, congressman, and political agitator, was born Allard Augustus Lowenstein in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Gabriel Abraham Lowenstein, a medical school teacher who turned restaurateur, and Augusta Goldberg. Lowenstein later chose Kenneth to replace Augustus, his given middle name. Only a year old when his mother died he was not told at first that his stepmother was not his birth mother, which he discovered when he was thirteen. In 1945 Lowenstein graduated from Horace Mann School in New York City and four years later graduated from the University of North Carolina. At North Carolina he succeeded in ending the practice of pairing Jewish students as roommates and gained them access to campus fraternities, and when the student state legislature met in Chapel Hill in December 1945 he got a resolution passed opening it up to black participation. Becoming a powerful personality on campus, Lowenstein found a hero and friend in the school’s president, ...

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Thurgood Marshall, c. 1935–1940. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-84486).

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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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McCarthy, Charles (29 June 1873–26 March 1921), civil servant and reformer, was born in Brockton, Massachusetts, the son of John McCarthy, an engine-tender in a shoe factory, and Katherine O’Shea Desmond, a domestic servant who also maintained a boardinghouse for immigrant laborers. At the age of nineteen, after working at numerous occupations while reading vociferously, McCarthy was admitted to Brown University as a special student. There he distinguished himself academically and athletically, and became the first Brown player to score touchdowns against both Harvard and Yale. He also developed a long-lasting friendship with the team’s student trainer, ...

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Mercer, Charles Fenton (16 June 1778–04 May 1858), U.S. congressman and colonizationist, was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, the son of James Mercer, a jurist and planter, and Eleanor Dick. Fenton was raised at “Marlborough,” his grandfather’s extensive plantation on the Rappahannock River. Slaves performed all work on the estate, which reinforced the child’s perception that he held a privileged position in society. Although Mercer later came to loathe slavery in the abstract, a small number of slaves worked his farm and acted as servants throughout his long life....

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Owen, Robert Dale (09 November 1801–24 June 1877), reformer and congressman, was born in Glasgow, Scotland, the son of Robert Owen, an industrialist and social reformer, and Ann Caroline Dale. Owen’s early life was spent in New Lanark, Scotland, where his father managed the textile mills of his maternal grandfather. At the age of thirteen he toured factories that employed child laborers and from eighteen to twenty-two attended a progressive school in Hofwyl, Switzerland. These experiences stirred in him an early interest in social reform and confirmed for him his father’s conviction that education offered the potential for overcoming social divisions that were based on class, economic status, and gender. He returned to New Lanark to help teach workers’ children and to write ...

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Eleanor Roosevelt Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-25812 DLC).

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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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Rosenberg, Anna Marie Lederer (19 June 1902–09 May 1983), labor and personnel consultant and assistant secretary of defense, was born in Budapest, Hungary, the daughter of Albert Lederer, a furniture manufacturer, and Charlotte Bacskai, a children’s author and illustrator. Her father was prosperous until Emperor Franz Joseph canceled a furniture order, causing the family to go bankrupt, close down the factory, and move to the United States in 1912. Albert Lederer never forgot that experience, and, no longer at the whim of an emperor and appreciative of his newly found freedoms, he encouraged his daughter to be a patriotic American. She entered New York City’s Wadleigh High School in 1914 and organized the Future Voters League to encourage woman suffrage. While in high school in 1919 she settled a strike by students protesting compulsory military training, and that same year she served as a volunteer nurse and sold Liberty Bonds financing World War I. In 1919 she married an American soldier, Julius Rosenberg; they had one son. Later that year she became a naturalized citizen....

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Winston, Ellen Black (15 August 1903–19 June 1984), public welfare administrator, was born in Bryson City, North Carolina, the daughter of Stanley Warren Black, a lawyer, and Marianna Fischer, who was trained as a schoolteacher. Ellen’s parents were leaders in the small mountain community. Her father was president of the bank and chairman of the county school board. Her mother organized a local parent-teacher association and a women’s club, and she founded the public library that bears her name....

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Ximenes, Vicente Trevino (05 December 1919–27 February 2014), civil rights activist and government official, was the fifth of eight children born to José Jesus Ximenes and Herlinda Treviño y Ximenes in Floresville, Texas. José Ximenes, a graduate of Draughon’s Business College of San Antonio, was a prominent local figure who owned a mercantile, served as a court interpreter, and played an active role in Floresville political life. Both parents maintained a strong commitment to education. Herlinda Ximenes taught her children to read and write in both English and Spanish to help them advance academically in the substandard segregated Texas public school system. The Ximenes family was distinguished for having five children complete college degrees....