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Banning, Margaret Culkin (18 March 1891–04 January 1982), writer, was born in Buffalo, Minnesota, the daughter of William Edgar Culkin, a Duluth newspaper executive, and Hannah Alice Young. She attended Vassar College, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated in 1912. Pursuing an interest in social work, she attended Russell Sage College on a fellowship in 1912–1913, then spent the following academic year at the Chicago School of Philanthropy, which awarded her a certificate in 1914 for completion of its program. That same year she married a Duluth lawyer, Archibald T. Banning, Jr. The couple, who were divorced in 1934, had four children, two of whom survived into adulthood....

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Bell, James Madison (03 April 1826–1902), abolitionist, poet, and lecturer, was born in Gallipolis, Ohio. His parents’ identities are unknown. At age sixteen, in 1842, he moved to Cincinnati. While there, in 1848, he married Louisiana Sanderlin (or Sanderline), with whom he had several children, and also learned the plastering trade from his brother-in-law George Knight. Bell worked as a plasterer during the day and attended Cincinnati High School for Colored People at night. Founded in 1844 by Reverend Hiram S. Gilmore, the school had a connection to Oberlin College and was said to have given impetus to the sentiment found in ...

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Henry Walton Bibb. Lithograph on paper, 1847, by Unidentified Artist. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Bibb, Henry Walton (10 May 1815–1854), author, editor, and antislavery lecturer, was born into slavery on the plantation of David White of Shelby County, Kentucky, the son of James Bibb, a slaveholding planter and state senator, and Mildred Jackson. White began hiring Bibb out as a laborer on several neighboring plantations before the age of ten. The constant change in living situations throughout his childhood, combined with the inhumane treatment he often received at the hands of strangers, set a pattern for life that he would later refer to in his autobiography as “my manner of living on the road.” Bibb was sold more than six times between 1832 and 1840 and was forced to relocate to at least seven states throughout the South; later, as a free man, his campaign for abolition took him throughout eastern Canada and the northern United States. But such early instability also made the young Bibb both self-sufficient and resourceful, two characteristics that were useful against the day-to-day assault of slavery: “The only weapon of self defense that I could use successfully,” he wrote, “was that of deception.”...

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Brown, William Wells (1814?–06 November 1884), author and reformer, was born near Lexington, Kentucky, the son of George Higgins, a relative of his master, and Elizabeth, a slave. Dr. John Young, Brown’s master, migrated with his family from Kentucky to the Missouri Territory in 1816. Eleven years later the Youngs moved to St. Louis. Although Brown never experienced the hardship of plantation slavery, he was hired out regularly and separated from his family. He worked for a while in the printing office of abolitionist ...

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Clarke, Lewis G. (1815–1897), author and antislavery lecturer, was born into slavery on the plantation of his maternal grandfather, Samuel Campbell, in Madison County, Kentucky, the son of Campbell’s mixed-race slave daughter Letitia and her white, Scottish-immigrant husband, Daniel Clarke, a soldier in the American Revolution. Lewis Clarke’s middle name is variously recorded as either George or Garrand. Clarke’s family history, which he traced back to the founding of the nation, inspired his quest for freedom and his subsequent dedication to the abolition cause in the North....

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Johnson, Osa (14 March 1894–07 January 1953), author, lecturer, and film producer, was born Osa Helen Leighty in Chanute, Kansas, the daughter of William Sherman Leighty, a railroad engineer, and Ruby Isabel Holman. In 1910 she left high school to marry Martin Johnson, whom she had met eleven years earlier when he visited Chanute as an eighteen-year-old itinerant photographer. In the meantime he had visited Europe alone and traveled with ...

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Helen Keller Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-112513).

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Keller, Helen (27 June 1880–01 June 1968), author, reformer, and symbol of personal courage, was born Helen Adams Keller in Tuscumbia, Alabama, the daughter of former Confederate captain Arthur H. Keller, a publisher and business entrepreneur, and Kate Adams. She was an unexceptional child until struck in her nineteenth month by an illness that was, possibly, scarlet fever. The event, she later recalled, “closed my eyes and ears and plunged me into the unconsciousness of a newborn baby.” Profoundly and permanently deaf and blind, she was to carve out a life that astonished nearly everyone....

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Waisbrooker, Lois (21 February 1826–03 October 1909), author, editor, and lecturer on Spiritualism, women's rights, and free love, author, editor, and lecturer on Spiritualism, women’s rights, and free love, was born Adeline Eliza Nichols in Catherine, New York, the daughter of Grandissen Nichols and Caroline Reed. Waisbrooker remembered her parents as “poor, uneducated, hard-working people,” her father supporting the family as a day laborer and her mother dying prematurely after bearing seven children. Her early education was meager as the family moved frequently among the rural districts of western New York. She married at a young age to a man named Fuller (first name unknown), and upon his death in the late 1840s she was left the sole support of their two small children. After an unsuccessful attempt to support them through domestic service, poverty and illness forced her to give up her children to other families. “Finally,” she recalled, “I added enough to the little store of education I received in childhood to enable me to meet the requirements of a country school” ( ...