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Blake, Lillie Devereux (12 August 1835–30 December 1913), author and feminist, was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, the daughter of George Pollok Devereux, a planter, and Sarah Elizabeth Johnson. Though she was christened Elizabeth Johnson, her father called her “Lilly,” and she adopted that name with altered spelling. The Devereux were prominent slaveholders, and Lillie spent her early years on her father’s cotton plantation. After George Devereux’s death in 1837, she moved with her mother and sister to Connecticut, joining her mother’s family there. She was raised in New Haven in an atmosphere of Episcopalian respectability and Whiggish political convictions. Her education at a girls’ school was supplemented by private tutoring based on courses in the Yale curriculum....

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Bloomer, Amelia Jenks (27 May 1818–30 December 1894), temperance and women's rights reformer and editor, temperance and women’s rights reformer and editor, was born in Homer, New York, the daughter of Ananias Jenks, a clothier, and Lucy Webb. She received a basic education in Homer’s district schools and by the age of seventeen was teaching in Clyde, New York. After a year of teaching, Bloomer became a governess and tutor for a Waterloo, New York, family....

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Bradwell, Myra Colby (12 February 1831–14 February 1894), publisher and political activist, was born in Manchester, Vermont, the daughter of Eben Colby and Abigail Willey. She spent her childhood in Vermont and western New York, and when she was twelve, her family moved to Illinois. She attended local schools in Wisconsin and Illinois and became a schoolteacher. In 1852 she married ...

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Colby, Clara Dorothy Bewick (05 August 1846–07 September 1916), woman's rights activist and publisher, woman’s rights activist and publisher, was born in Gloucester, England, the daughter of Thomas Bewick and Clara Willingham. The Bewicks immigrated to the United States in 1849, settling on a farm in Windsor, Wisconsin; Clara and her maternal grandparents joined them in 1854. She entered the University of Wisconsin in 1865, initially enrolling in the “normal department” set up for women. However, with faculty assistance, she pursued the “classical course” designed for men. In 1869 she graduated as valedictorian of Wisconsin’s first class of women to be awarded the bachelor of philosophy degree. She remained at the university until 1871, teaching Latin and history and taking graduate classes in French, Greek, and chemistry....

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Dorr, Rheta Childe (02 November 1866–08 August 1948), journalist and feminist, was born in Omaha, Nebraska, the daughter of Edward Payson Child, a druggist, and Lucie Mitchell. Christened Reta Louise Child, Dorr later adopted the “Rheta Childe” spelling. In 1884 her father enrolled her at the University of Nebraska, where she took the “opportunity to loaf to my heart’s content.” Finding her “soul’s reflection” in Henrik Ibsen’s play ...

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Firestone, Shulamith (07 January 1945–28 August 2012), feminist, author, and activist, was born Shulamith Bath Shmuel Ben Ari Feuerstein in Ottawa, Canada, the second child and oldest daughter of six children born to Kate Weiss and Sol Feuerstein. The family Americanized its surname to Firestone when it moved to the United States. Shulie Firestone, as she was known, grew up in Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri, where she and her two sisters and three brothers were raised in the Orthodox Jewish tradition. Firestone attended the Rabbinical College of Telshe, near Cleveland, Ohio, and Washington University in St. Louis before transferring in 1964 to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she earned a B.F.A. in painting three years later. Throughout college Firestone supported herself by working as a mail sorter at the post office. In 1967 four male students at the Art Institute made a film about Firestone, entitled ...

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Fuller, Margaret (23 May 1810–19 July 1850), author and feminist, was born Sarah Margaret Fuller in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, the daughter of Timothy Fuller, a lawyer, and Margaret Crane. Her father taught his oldest child reading at age three and Latin at age six, but Fuller’s education grew eclectic in later childhood when she was left largely to her own resources. “To excel in all things should be your constant aim; mediocrity is obscurity,” her father wrote to Margaret when she was ten. Under such pressures, Fuller suffered periodically throughout her life from depression and headaches. Timothy Fuller was often away, serving four terms in Congress (1817–1825). Margaret’s mother, a devout Unitarian, was subdued by sickly health. In Fuller’s fictional ...

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Jones, Claudia (21 February 1915–25 December 1964), Communist, journalist, and feminist, was born Claudia Vera Cumberbatch in Trinidad, the daughter of Sybil Cumberbatch and Charles Bertram Cumberbatch. Jones's mother came from a family of landowners, while her father's family owned hotels. Claudia spent her first eight years in Trinidad while the colony experienced major political, social, and economic upheavals. In 1922 Claudia's parents migrated to New York, and she and her sisters arrived in February 1924. They came, Claudia explained three decades later in a letter to American Communist Party head ...

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La Follette, Suzanne (1893–23 April 1983), feminist, writer, and editor, was born Clara La Follette on her family’s 1,000-acre ranch near Pullman, Washington, the daughter of William LeRoy La Follette, a rancher, and Mary Tabor. La Follette “grew up on horseback,” roaming the unfenced ranges of the Snake River Canyon, an unspoiled area where Jeffersonian lifestyles and values still held sway. A product of this environment, from an early age she placed great value on individual liberty and feared the intrusive power of the state....

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Nichols, Clarina Howard (25 January 1810–11 January 1885), journalist, reformer, and advocate for women's rights, was born Clarina Irene Howard in West Townshend, Vermont, the eldest daughter of Chapin Howard and Birsha Smith. A prominent tradesman, land investor, Baptist elder, and local official, Chapin Howard raised his eight children with a combination of religious discipline and paternal solicitude. Clarina's prodigious intellect flowered at district schools and during her only term at a local select school in 1828. In a valedictory address, she compared “a scientific and an ornamental education for women,” signifying her passion for knowledge and pride in her cerebral accomplishments. At five feet, eight inches tall, she was a striking young woman with deep-set blue eyes, a high forehead, and long oval face....

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Clarina Howard Nichols. 1887. Public domain.

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Seymour, Mary Foot (1846–21 March 1893), journalist and businesswoman, was born in Aurora, Illinois, the daughter of Ephraim Sanford Seymour, a lawyer, and Rosette Bestor. Her father, who graduated from Middlebury College and practiced law in Galena, Illinois, published the Galena Directory and Miner’s Annual Register...

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Jane Grey Cannon Swisshelm. Albumen silver print, c. 1865, by Joel Emmons Whitney. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Swisshelm, Jane Grey Cannon (06 December 1815–22 July 1884), journalist and reformer, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Thomas Cannon, a merchant and real estate speculator, and Mary Scott. Reared in a strict Presbyterian family, she attended local schools and at age fourteen became a schoolteacher. In her spare time she painted....

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Vorse, Mary Heaton (09 October 1874–14 June 1966), feminist, journalist, and labor reform writer, was born Mary Heaton in New York City, the daughter of Hiram Heaton and Ellen Blackman. Her parents were well-to-do and from old New English stock. Growing up, Mary traveled with them in Europe a great deal. At sixteen she received private tutoring and studied art in Paris. She was determined to escape confining domesticity and pursue a rewarding career....

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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” ( ...