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Bloor, Ella Reeve (08 July 1862–10 August 1951), radical labor organizer and feminist, was born on Staten Island, New York, the daughter of Charles Reeve, a successful drugstore owner, and Harriet Amanda Disbrow, a community affairs activist. While still a child, Ella moved to Bridgeton, New Jersey, where her family led a conservative, upper-middle-class life. An important counterinfluence was Ella’s great-uncle Dan Ware, a former abolitionist, liberal, Unitarian, greenbacker, and general freethinker. After attending local public schools, Ella spent a year at Ivy Hall Seminary, a finishing school she disliked. When she was fourteen, her mother began tutoring her at home....

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Coppin, Fanny Jackson (1837–21 January 1913), educator, civic and religious leader, and feminist, was born a slave in Washington, D.C., the daughter of Lucy Jackson. Her father’s name and the details of her early childhood are unknown. However, by the time she was age ten, her aunt Sarah Orr Clark had purchased her freedom, and Jackson went to live with relatives in New Bedford, Massachusetts. By 1851 she and her relatives had moved to Newport, Rhode Island, where Jackson was employed as a domestic by ...

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Madar, Olga Marie (17 May 1915–16 May 1996), labor union feminist, was born in Sykesville, Pennsylvania, the ninth of thirteen children of Paul Madar and Anna (Seman) Madar, both of whom were Czechoslovakian immigrants. Her father, originally a coal miner, later owned and operated a grocery store with his wife. The grocery did not survive the onset of the Great Depression and, like many immigrant families who migrated to the cities in search of work, the Madar family moved to Detroit in ...

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Perle Mesta Right, with U. S. Senate candidate Marjorie Bell Hinrichs at the Democratic party jubilee in Chicago. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92423).

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Mesta, Perle (12 Oct. 1889 or 1891–16 March 1975), political activist, businesswoman, diplomat, and hostess, was born Pearl Skirvin in Sturgis, Michigan, the daughter of William Balser Skirvin, a salesman, and Harriet Reid. The actual year of her birth was one of her best-kept secrets. Early in the twentieth century her father left Michigan for the oil fields of South Texas, where he made a fortune in the famed Spindletop field. The feisty “Billy” Skirvin moved to Oklahoma City, where he founded the American Oil and Refinery Company and built the luxurious fourteen-floor Skirvin Hotel. Pearl was educated in private schools in Galveston and studied voice and piano at the Sherwood School of Music in Chicago. In 1917 she married 54-year-old George Mesta, founder and president of the Mesta Machine Company located in Pittsburgh. During her years living in the nation’s steel capital she changed her name to the distinctive “Perle.”...

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Miller, Frieda Segelke (16 April 1890–21 July 1973), labor official and feminist, was born in La Crosse, Wisconsin, the daughter of James Gordon Miller, a lawyer, and Erna Segelke. Her mother died when Miller was five, at which time she was sent to live with her maternal grandparents. When she was thirteen her grandfather was lost in a boating accident and her father died soon thereafter. She was subsequently raised by her grandmother and an aunt....

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James Mott. Right, with Gardiner Stow. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90671).

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Mott, James (29 June 1788–26 January 1868), merchant and reformer, was born at Cowneck (later North Hempstead), New York, the son of Adam Mott, a farmer and miller, and Anne Mott (Mott was both her maiden and her married name). Both parents were descended from a seventeenth-century Quaker emigrant from England, and Mott was brought up in a close-knit community of Long Island Friends. He received his education at a Friends’ boarding school at Nine Partners in New York’s Dutchess County. He excelled at Nine Partners and, after ten years, was appointed an assistant teacher and then a teacher. At the school he met Lucretia Coffin ( ...

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Leonora O'Reilly. Pencil on paper, 1912, by Wallace Morgan. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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O’Reilly, Leonora (16 February 1870–03 April 1927), labor organizer and progressive reformer, was born in New York City, the daughter of John O’Reilly, a printer, and Winnifred Rooney, a garment worker. Leonora’s father died a year after she was born, and she spent her childhood watching her mother struggle to earn a wage that would support the household. Following a few years in elementary school, Leonora joined her mother in the garment trades, taking a job at a collar factory at age eleven....

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Peterson, Esther (09 December 1906–20 December 1997), government official, consumer and labor activist, and women's rights advocate, government official, consumer and labor activist, and women’s rights advocate, was born Esther Eggertsen in Provo, Utah, the fifth of six children of Annie Nielsen and Lars Eggertsen, the local superintendent of schools. Her mother was a Danish immigrant as were her paternal grandparents. Esther was raised in a Mormon Republican household. She attended Brigham Young University like her parents and siblings, graduating with a bachelor of science in physical education in 1927. Following graduation, she spent two years as a teacher at the Branch Agricultural College (now Southern Utah University) in Cedar City, Utah....

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Phelps, Aurora (1839–04 January 1876), land reformer, labor leader, and advocate of women's rights, was born in Cortland, New York, to John and Aurilla Phelps (maiden name unknown). Details of Aurora's early life are difficult to confirm. She grew up in Elmira, New York, where she joined the Baptist church. She and her family took two extended trips to England, the first when she was nine years old and the second at age eighteen. During her second voyage, she married, had a son, and was widowed, but no documentation of either her husband or her child survives. Phelps returned to the United States around 1859 and resumed use of her maiden name. She attended Oberlin College in Ohio, and continued her studies in Galesburg, Illinois....

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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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Wendell Phillips. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-10319).

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Phillips, Wendell (29 November 1811–02 February 1884), orator, abolitionist, and women's rights and labor advocate, orator, abolitionist, and women’s rights and labor advocate, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of John Phillips, a well-to-do politician and philanthropist, and Sarah Walley. The youngest of eleven children, Wendell received strict and loving attention from both of his parents. From the first he was trained to see himself as a great leader, committed to addressing the great moral and political questions of his age. This drive for leadership was compounded by his early discovery that he possessed extraordinary gifts as an orator. Athletic, handsome, and intelligent, he impressed teachers and classmates alike with his unusual capacity to express himself and to influence others with eloquent speaking. After attending the Boston Latin School, he graduated from Harvard in 1831 and obtained a Harvard law degree in 1833. For the next three years Phillips resided in and around Boston as he attempted, halfheartedly, to establish a legal practice, a career for which he felt no great enthusiasm. Instead he yearned to pursue a vocation worthy of his august legacy. That vocation, finally, was the cause of abolitionism, which he discovered through the process of courtship and marriage....

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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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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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Wyatt, Addie (08 March 1924–28 March 2012), labor leader, feminist, civil rights activist, and minister, was born Addie Cameron in Brookhaven, Mississippi, the daughter of Ambrose Cameron, a tailor and presser, and Maggie Mae Nolan, a schoolteacher. In 1930 the family left Brookhaven for Chicago, Illinois, in search of a better racial climate as part of the Great Migration, the mass exodus of African Americans out of the rural South to northern, western, and midwestern urban cities. The Camerons settled in the Bronzeville neighborhood, a rapidly growing African-American community on Chicago’s South Side that was rich in black-owned businesses and cultural institutions but plagued by slum housing, poverty, and joblessness....

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Maud Younger. On her arrival in Washington, D. C., from California, with her dog. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111574).