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Inez Milholland Boissevain Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1914. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G432-0661-B).

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Boissevain, Inez Milholland (06 August 1886–25 November 1916), lawyer, feminist, and suffrage activist, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of John Elmer Milholland, a reporter and editorial writer, and Jean Torrey. Her father supported many reforms, among them world peace, civil rights, and woman suffrage. It was probably through his influence that Inez acquired her sense of moral justice and her activist stance....

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DeCrow, Karen (18 December 1937–06 June 2014), feminist activist, author, and civil rights attorney, was born Karen Lipschultz in Chicago, the older of two daughters of businessman Samuel Meyer Lipschultz and Juliette Abt Lipschultz, a former professional ballet dancer. Educated in the city’s public schools, as a teenager she composed and submitted short stories to national magazines, and she pursued her interest in writing in college as well. She graduated from Sullivan High School in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood in 1955 and received a bachelor’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 1959....

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Farnham, Eliza Wood Burhans (17 November 1815–15 December 1864), author, prison reformer, and proponent of the superiority of women, was born in Rensselaerville, New York, the daughter of Cornelius Burhans and Mary Wood. Her father’s occupation is not known; her mother, a Quaker, died in 1820, after which her five children were scattered. Eliza eventually went to live with an aunt and uncle in Maple Springs, New York. The aunt, she later recalled, raised her through “neglect and hardship” ( ...

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Howorth, Lucy (01 July 1895–23 August 1997), lawyer, politician, and feminist activist, was born Lucy Somerville in Greenville, Mississippi, the youngest of four children and second daughter of Robert and Nellie Nugent Somerville. Many of her forefathers were legislators, lawyers, or judges. Her female ancestors were known as women of strong character who were well respected in their communities. Through homeschooling and example, Nellie Somerville passed on to her youngest child a love for learning and a concern for contemporary social issues. Nellie, a college graduate, advocated temperance and was president of the Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association. She was also a devout Methodist, a perspective never accepted by Lucy. Nellie began taking Lucy to community meetings, including suffrage rallies, before her first birthday. When she was older Lucy helped at suffrage conventions and met national women’s rights leaders including Dr. ...

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Laughlin, Gail (07 May 1868–13 March 1952), feminist, lawyer, and state legislator, was born Abbie Hill “Gail” Laughlin in Robbinston, Maine, the daughter of Robert Clark Laughlin, an ironworker, and Elizabeth Porter Stuart. After the death of her father, Laughlin’s indigent family moved to Saint Stephen, New Brunswick, where her mother’s family resided. In 1880 the family settled in Portland, Maine, where Laughlin graduated from Portland High School in 1886, receiving a medal for the highest marks....

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Belva Lockwood. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-BH834-55).

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Lockwood, Belva Ann Bennett McNall (24 October 1830–19 May 1917), teacher, lawyer, and social activist, was born on a farm in Royalton, Niagara County, New York, the second child of Hannah Green and Lewis Johnson Bennett. Lockwood began teaching in the rural one-room schools of Niagara County at age fifteen. She made her first public comments against gender discrimination after learning that male teachers were earning twice as much for similar work. In 1848 she married Uriah H. McNall, a local farmer and sawmill operator. McNall’s death in 1853 left his 22-year-old widow with the responsibility of raising their young daughter. Lockwood enrolled at Genesee College (now Syracuse University), receiving a bachelor of science degree in 1857. In September of that year she accepted a position as principal of the Lockport Union School, again experiencing wage discrimination because she was a woman. After listening to woman’s rights activist ...

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Margolin, Bessie (24 February 1909–19 June 1996), federal government attorney, Supreme Court advocate, and feminist, was born in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, the second (and first American-born) child of Russian Jewish immigrants Harry Margolin, a carpenter and peddler, and Rebecca Goldschmidt. The Margolins soon moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where Rebecca died a year after giving birth to her third child. A poor widower, Harry sent Bessie and her siblings to the Jewish Orphans Home in New Orleans. There Margolin lived for twelve years, flourishing under the home’s regimen of self-government and rigorous secular education at the Isidore Newman School, which the home founded for its wards and for children from the broader community. In 1925 sixteen-year-old Margolin, an adept writer and debater, delivered Newman’s commencement address and won a scholarship to attend Newcomb College, Tulane University’s coordinate college for women....

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Matthews, Burnita Shelton (28 December 1894–25 April 1988), women's rights activist and the first woman federal trial judge, women’s rights activist and the first woman federal trial judge, was born in Copiah County, Mississippi, the daughter of Burnell Shelton, a plantation owner and county official, and Lora Drew Barlow. The only girl in a family of five children, Matthews aspired to follow her older brother to law school, but when her mother died when she was sixteen her father sent her to study piano and voice at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. He said he thought she would be “happier doing what women did down there in Mississippi.” For a few years she supported herself by teaching music in public schools in Texas, Georgia, and Mississippi, and in 1917 she married her high school sweetheart, Percy Ashley Matthews, now a Washington lawyer; the couple did not have children....

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Mussey, Ellen Spencer (13 May 1850–21 April 1936), social reformer and attorney, was born in Geneva, Ohio, the daughter of Platt Rogers Spencer, an abolitionist, farmer and temperance advocate, and Persis Duty. Mussey’s father volunteered time to the underground railroad and was the inventor of Spencerian script, the standard form of handwriting employed in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century....

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Peter, Sarah Worthington King (10 May 1800–06 February 1877), penal reformer, women's advocate, and benefactress, penal reformer, women’s advocate, and benefactress, was born in Chillicothe, Ohio, the daughter of Thomas Worthington and Eleanor Van Swearingen. Her father was a wealthy landowner, politician, and a U.S. senator and later governor of Ohio....

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Phillips, Lena Madesin (15 September 1881–21 May 1955), lawyer, feminist, and founder of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women, was born Anna Lena Phillips in Nicholasville, Kentucky, the daughter of William Henry Phillips, a judge, and Alice Shook, a musician. At age eleven Phillips changed her name to Madesin in honor of her older brother who was studying medicine, “medecin,” in Paris. Phillips’s mother was a gifted musician and a staunch Methodist who impressed upon her daughter a high regard for education, music, and religion. Her father was the more easygoing of her parents and the one whose disposition Phillips felt she had inherited. Madesin and her father “were made of the same stuff,” Phillips wrote, “alike in temperament and taste” (Sergio, p. 10)....

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Rawalt, Marguerite (16 October 1895–16 December 1989), women's rights leader and lawyer, women’s rights leader and lawyer, was born in Prairie City, Illinois, the daughter of Charles Rawalt, a farmer and farm equipment dealer, and Viola Flake. She attended public and private schools in Illinois, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. She graduated from Bayview Junior College in 1914 and attended but did not graduate from San Antonio Junior College and the University of Texas. Rawalt’s ambition to go to law school was postponed for many years by a combination of financial constraints, World War I patriotism, and her marriage in 1918 to her dashing but emotionally immature and unambitious wartime sweetheart, Jack Tyndale. She worked as secretary and assistant to Texas governor Pat M. Neff from 1921 to 1924. But it was not until her marriage ended in divorce in 1927 and she moved to Washington, D.C., to work again for Neff (then a member of the U.S. Board of Mediation) that she found a law school she could attend at night. George Washington University Law School admitted her even though she did not possess an undergraduate degree, and she graduated in 1933....

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Sojourner Truth. From a carte de visite, possibly made in 1864, with an inscription below the picture: "I sell the shadow to support the substance." Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-119343).

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Truth, Sojourner (1799–26 November 1883), black abolitionist and women's rights advocate, black abolitionist and women’s rights advocate, was born in Hurley, Ulster County, New York, the daughter of James and Elizabeth Baumfree, who were slaves. Named Isabella by her parents, she took the name Sojourner Truth in 1843. As a child, Isabella belonged to a series of owners, the most memorable of whom were the John Dumont family of Esopus, Ulster County, to whom she belonged for approximately seventeen years and with whom she remained close until their migration to the West in 1849. About 1815 she married another of Dumont’s slaves, Thomas, who was much older than she; they had five children. Isabella left Thomas in Ulster County after their emancipation under New York state law in 1827, but she did not marry again....

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Wahl, Rosalie (27 August 1924–22 July 2013), state supreme court justice, legal educator, and feminist, was born Sara Rosalie Erwin in Gordon, Kansas, the third of four children of Claude Erwin, an oil pipeline maintenance worker whose job often took him far from home, and Gertrude Patterson Erwin. Gertrude died suddenly in 1928, and the death divided the family. Rosalie and her younger brother, Billy, were sent to live with Gertrude’s parents, Harry and Effie Patterson, on a small farm near Birch Creek, Kansas, close to the Oklahoma border. Their two older sisters remained with their father....

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Ward, Hortense Sparks (20 July 1872–05 December 1944), attorney and women's rights activist, attorney and women’s rights activist, was born in Matagorda County, Texas, the daughter of Frederick Sparks, a German immigrant and rancher, and Louisa Marie La Bauve. In 1883 the family moved to Edna, Texas, where her father owned and operated a saloon and served as deputy sheriff. Hortense attended grammar school in Edna and graduated from Nazareth Academy in Victoria, Texas, in 1890. She moved back to Edna after graduating and for a brief period taught school there. In 1891 she married Albert Malsch, a tinsmith; they had three daughters. In 1903 the family moved to Houston, where Hortense worked as a stenographer and notary. The couple divorced in 1906....

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Sue Shelton White. Sue S. White, head and shoulders portrait, facing slightly right, c. 1920. Photographic print. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-108594).

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White, Sue Shelton (25 May 1887–06 May 1943), feminist, suffragist, and attorney, was born in Henderson, Tennessee, to James Shelton White and Mary Calista Swain, both educators. The family moved to the small town of Montezuma where James and Mary continued to teach and where James was active in the Methodist ministry. In 1879 the family moved a few miles north to the slightly larger but still rural town of Henderson, where the couple also taught and James became superintendent of schools. After James's death in 1893, Mary struggled to support the family. She sold pianos and books, gave piano and voice lessons, and wrote for the local newspaper while she supervised and tutored her own children. Mary made few gender distinctions in the chores and duties she assigned to her sons and daughters, and young Sue, named for her father's sister, spent much of her time following her older brothers around and caring for her younger brother. Sue White's lifelong sensitivity on racial issues can be attributed to her mother's activities during these years and the family's residence in what Sue described as a "twilight zone" between white Henderson and an African American community known as "Jaybird." Sue was fourteen years old when her mother died in 1901....