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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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Adams, John Quincy (04 May 1848–03 September 1922), newspaper editor and publisher, civil rights leader, and Republican party activist, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of Henry Adams, a prominent minister and educator, and Margaret Corbin. Both his parents were free persons of color. Following private schooling in Wisconsin and Ohio, Adams graduated from Oberlin College. After a brief teaching stint in Louisville, in 1870 he followed his uncle, Joseph C. Corbin, to work in Arkansas in the Reconstruction. By 1874 he had risen from schoolteacher to assistant superintendent of public instruction. His lifelong activism in the Republican party began in Arkansas; there he twice served as secretary to Republican state conventions, was elected as justice of the peace on the party ticket, and held the offices of engrossing clerk of the state senate and deputy commissioner of public works. The defeat of the Arkansas Republican party in 1874 and the racial repression that followed led Adams to return to Louisville, where he again engaged in teaching....

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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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Jane Addams. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-95722).

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Albrier, Frances Mary (21 September 1898–21 August 1987), civil rights activist and community leader, was born in Mount Vernon, New York, the daughter of Lewis Redgrey, a supervisor in a factory, and Laura (maiden name unknown), a cook. Following the death of her mother when Frances was three, she and her baby sister were reared by her paternal grandparents, Lewis Redgrey, a Blackfoot Indian, and Johanna Bowen, a freed slave, on their 55-acre farm in Tuskegee, Alabama....

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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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Altgeld, John Peter (30 December 1847–12 March 1902), governor of Illinois and leader of midwestern reform forces in the 1890s, was born in Nieder Selters in Nassau, Germany, the son of John Peter Altgeld, a wagon maker and farmer, and Mary (maiden name unknown). He was three months old when he and his parents immigrated to the United States and settled in Newville or Mansfield, Ohio. Raised in poverty by a stern and parochial father who saw no benefit in education, Altgeld received instruction only in a few terms of public school and Methodist Sunday school. Seeking to escape his father’s control, in 1864 he joined the Ohio Home Guards for a 100-day stint. This experience confirmed his desire for advancement, but he also contracted a disease, probably malaria, which recurred throughout his life....

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Andrew, John Albion (31 May 1818–30 October 1867), reformer, antislavery advocate, and Civil War governor of Massachusetts, was born in Windham, Maine, the son of Jonathan Andrew, a farmer and general store owner, and Nancy Green Pierce, a schoolteacher. Educated at private academies and then at Bowdoin College, from which he graduated in 1837, Andrews learned early about the evils of slavery and the religious necessity to oppose it. One of his contemporaries at Bowdoin was ...

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Susan B. Anthony. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-23933).

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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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Barnard, Kate (23 May 1875–23 February 1930), Progressive reformer and politician, was born Catherine Anna Barnard in Alexandria, Nebraska, the daughter of John P. Barnard, a lawyer and real estate speculator, and Rachael Mason Shiell. Shortly after Barnard’s birth her family moved to the small frontier town of Kirwin, Kansas, where her mother died in 1877. She attended public school in Kirwin until the early 1890s, when she and her father moved to the new territory of Oklahoma. The experiences of her early adulthood resemble those of other women Progressives in at least two ways. First, she was introduced to politics by her father, a local politician. Second, she tried several lines of work before she became a reformer. From 1896 to 1899 she taught in rural schools; then, in 1902 she exchanged teaching for stenography. Startled by the degree of poverty in her own neighborhood in Oklahoma City, she decided in the fall of 1905 to conduct a campaign to clothe the community’s poor. The crusade gained her public recognition and convinced her of the importance of volunteer associations. She resuscitated a local charity organization and was appointed its matron in December 1905. She began to realize that unionization could be another weapon with which to combat poverty and, consequently, became a deputy organizer for the International Women’s Union Label League....

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Bates, Barnabas (1785–11 October 1853), reformer and activist, was born in Edmonton, England. Soon after his birth he immigrated to New England with his parents, whose names are not known. Educated for the Baptist ministry, Bates began his career in Hyannis, Massachusetts, in 1808, and then relocated to Bristol, Rhode Island, in 1814. Within a year he became master of the local Masonic lodge, and his sermons began to drift toward Unitarianism. Unhappy with these developments, his small congregation attempted to depose their pastor in 1816, but the coup was only a partial success: Bates lost his salary but kept the church, which remained empty for the next eight years. During this time, Bates parlayed his reputation as an “undeviating Republican” into government appointments as the Bristol postmaster and then as port collector. He used the latter office to thwart the efforts of some reputed local slave smugglers and thereby earned the enmity of Bristol’s powerful deWolf family. At the urging of Senator James deWolf, the Senate rejected Bates’s 1824 renomination as port collector....

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Bayne, Thomas (1824–1889), dentist and politician, was born into slavery in North Carolina and was known as Samuel Nixon before his escape from bondage in 1855. He was sold several times before being purchased by C. F. Martin, a dentist in Norfolk, Virginia. As the slave of Martin, Bayne learned sufficient dentistry to serve as the doctor’s assistant and to make dental house calls. Bayne also developed bookkeeping skills and monitored the doctor’s accounts....

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Belmont, Alva Erskine Smith Vanderbilt (17 January 1853–26 January 1933), social leader and suffragist, was born Alva Erskine Smith in Mobile, Alabama, the daughter of Murray Forbes Smith, a cotton merchant, and Phoebe Ann Desha. As a child, Alva summered with her parents in Newport, Rhode Island, and accompanied them on European vacations. In 1857 the Smiths moved to New York City, where they settled in Madison Square. Murray Smith later went to Liverpool, England, to conduct his business, and Alva, her mother, and her sisters moved to Paris. Alva attended a private boarding school in Neuilly, France, for one year....

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Bird, Francis William (22 October 1809–23 May 1894), radical reformer and antislavery politician, was born in Dedham, Massachusetts, the son of George Bird, a paper mill superintendent, and Martha C. Newell. Bird graduated from Brown College in 1831. He took an active interest in the welfare of his hometown of East Walpole, Massachusetts, where he continued the family paper manufacturing business. Bird lost his first wife and infant daughter to illness after one year of marriage. He married Abby Frances Newell in 1843; they had at least two children....

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Bowen, Louise deKoven (26 February 1859–09 November 1953), philanthropist, social reformer, and suffragist, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of John deKoven, a successful banker, and Helen Hadduck. Louise grew up with all the pleasures and privileges of wealth and power. She graduated from the prestigious Dearborn Seminary at the age of sixteen and soon thereafter began teaching Sunday school and dabbling in charity work. She established the Huron Street Club, one of the first boys’ clubhouses in Chicago; helped to create a kitchen garden association for girls; and regularly visited the hundred families of the boys in her church class, offering help when needed. In 1886 she married Joseph Tilton Bowen, a Chicago businessman. She gave up her Sunday school class and other church-related social work so that she would have time to care for their four children. Unwilling, however, to give up all philanthropic activities when her children were very young, Bowen joined the board of managers of the Maurice Porter Memorial Hospital. She later held board positions with other hospitals and helped establish the Visiting Nurse Association of Chicago....

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Madeline Breckinridge. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111461).

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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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Sophonisba Breckinridge. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-99076).