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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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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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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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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....