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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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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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Elliott, Sarah Barnwell (29 November 1848–30 August 1928), writer and women's rights advocate, writer and women’s rights advocate, was born in Savannah, Georgia, the daughter of the Right Reverend Stephen Elliott, Jr., first Episcopal bishop of Georgia, and Charlotte Bull Barnwell, his second wife. At the time of Elliott’s birth, her father was in charge of a school for young women. After the Civil War and her father’s death, Elliott moved with her mother and sisters to Sewanee, Tennessee, in the Cumberland mountains, where her brother was teaching at the newly opened University of the South, a school their father had helped to found. Elliott lived in Sewanee for much of the rest of her life, with the exception of her residence in New York from 1895 to 1902, years in which she pursued a full-time writing career. She never married. Her most advanced educational opportunity came in attending lectures at Johns Hopkins University in the summer of 1886....

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-106490).

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Gilman, Charlotte Perkins (03 July 1860–17 August 1935), feminist critic and author, was born Charlotte Anna Perkins in Hartford, Connecticut, the daughter of Frederic Beecher Perkins, a man of letters and librarian, and Mary Ann Fitch Wescott. Her great-grandfather was theologian Lyman Beecher...

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Irwin, Inez Leonore Haynes Gillmore (02 March 1873–25 September 1970), writer and feminist, was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the daughter of Gideon Haynes, a prison warden and social reformer, and Emma Jane Hopkins, a Lowell Mills girl (factory mill worker) before her marriage. After two years in Brazil the family returned to Boston, where Irwin grew up, genteely poor, with thirteen brothers and sisters. “As I look back on my life,” she wrote in an article for the ...

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Neal, John (25 August 1793–20 June 1876), author and women's rights activist, author and women’s rights activist, was born in Falmouth (now Portland), Maine. His father, a Quaker schoolmaster of the same name, died a month after the birth of Neal and his twin sister, leaving Neal’s mother, Rachel Hall, the difficult task of raising them in precarious financial circumstances. He attended several Quaker schools, the town school, and Portland Academy until age twelve. Combative and rebellious from early childhood, Neal, in 1808, left his native village and a job as shopkeeper’s apprentice for an itinerant career as writing master, schoolmaster, and portrait sketcher. During the War of 1812, he became a partner in the dry-goods business of John Pierpont and Joseph Lord, managing a branch store in Baltimore. Their venture collapsed during the postwar recession. Pierpont went on to a career in the ministry—and to become the grandfather of ...

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Olsen, Tillie Lerner (14 January 1912–01 January 2007), writer and ardent feminist, was born Tillie Lerner in Omaha, Nebraska, to Samuel Lerner and Ida Goldberg Lerner, Jewish immigrants who fled Europe after participating in the failed Russian revolution of 1905. The second and most unconventional of six talented children, Tillie grew up in Omaha, where her father worked as a candymaker, paperhanger, and painter and was active in socialist politics. She expressed her own rebelliousness in a high school humor column, which earned her popularity and notoriety, and in quarrels with her senior English teacher, which apparently got her expelled....

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Tillie Lerner Olsen. 1980. Associated Press.

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Paley, Grace (11 Dec. 1922–22 Aug. 2007), short story writer, poet, antiwar activist, and feminist, was born Grace Goodside in the Bronx, the third child of Isaac Goodside and Manya Ridnyik. Grace was the baby of the family; her sister Jeanne and brother Victor were respectively fourteen and sixteen years older. Her parents, both Socialist activists, anglicized their name from Gutseit when they emigrated from the Ukraine in ...

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Taylor, Valerie, (7 Sept. 1913–22 Oct. 1997), feminist novelist and radical activist, was born Velma Nacella Young in Aurora, Illinois, to Elsie M. Collins and Marshall J. Young in a family of independent Midwestern farmers and feminists. In addition to economic hardships, undiagnosed polio that resulted in curvature of the spine as well as her extreme nearsightedness were early challenges in her life. They did not keep her from excelling, and she graduated from the local high school in ...

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Wells, Helena (1760–1824), novelist and advocate of improved education for women, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the daughter of Robert Wells and Mary Rowand, who had emigrated from Scotland in 1753. She was educated at home by her father, a successful bookseller and newspaper publisher. According to Helena’s older brother William Charles Wells, by 1775 Robert Wells “had become extremely offensive to the people of Carolina from his constantly maintaining the cause of royalty” in his newspaper. He consequently moved his family to London, his three daughters arriving there in 1777 and 1778. In the 1780s Helena Wells worked as a teacher and possibly a governess; for a few years beginning in 1789 she operated a London boarding school for girls in partnership with an older sister. Forced to abandon teaching because of poor health, she became a writer....