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Bagley, Sarah George (29 April 1806–?), millworker, reformer, and physician, was born in Candia, New Hampshire, the daughter of Nathan Bagley and Rhoda Witham, farmers.

Bagley grew up in a family whose economic situation became increasingly precarious during the course of the nineteenth century. Nathan Bagley originally farmed land in Candia, which he had inherited from his father, but he later moved on to farming land in Gilford, New Hampshire. After losing litigation in 1822, he sold his land in Gilford and eventually moved to Meredith Bridge, New Hampshire (now Laconia), where he became an incorporator of the Strafford Cotton Mill Company in 1833. However, Nathan Bagley did not own a home after 1824; it was Sarah Bagley who made the down payment on a house for her family in Meredith Bridge in the 1840s. She probably used money she had saved during her stints as a factory worker in Lowell, Massachusetts....

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Barnum, Gertrude (29 September 1866–17 June 1948), settlement-house worker and labor reformer, was born in Chester, Illinois, the daughter of William Henry Barnum, a Cook County circuit court judge, and Clara Letitia Hyde. Growing up in suburban Chicago, Barnum had a privileged childhood. As a young adult, she appears to have rejected the dictates of her class when she refused to make her formal debut into Chicago society. At the age of twenty-five she went to the University of Wisconsin, majoring in English. However, after one year of study at which she excelled, Barnum left the university to become an activist for social change in the settlement-house movement....

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Brooks, John Graham (19 July 1846–08 February 1938), reformer and sociologist, was born in Acworth, New Hampshire, the son of Chapin Kidder Brooks, a merchant, and Pamelia Graham. During his youth he worked at the store owned by his father, who also represented the town of Acworth in the state legislature. After graduating from Kimball Union Academy in 1866, Brooks attended the University of Michigan Law School but soon changed his mind about studying law. He left after a year and taught the next year on Cape Cod. In 1868, after a summer in Quebec perfecting his French, he enrolled in Oberlin College, in Oberlin, Ohio. After graduating in 1872 Brooks returned to New England and enrolled in the Harvard Divinity School, where he graduated with a degree in sacred theology in 1875. He was soon ordained and served as a Unitarian minister in Roxbury, Massachusetts. In addition to his pastoral duties, he involved himself in labor reform and organized classes in history and economics for the workingmen of the neighborhood. His liberal sermons attracted listeners from Cambridge and Beacon Hill. He was soon addressing informal groups on social problems. In 1880 he married the widow of another Unitarian minister, Helen Lawrence Appleton Washburn, who shared his reform impulses; they had three children....

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Calloway, Ernest (01 January 1909–31 December 1989), African American labor and civil rights leader, journalist, and public intellectual, was born in Heberton, West Virginia. His father, also named Ernest, was a coal miner, and his mother, Mary Hayes, was the elder Calloway’s second wife. In 1913 the family moved to Jenkins, Kentucky, where Calloway spent his teenage years. A bright and restless youth, Calloway rebelled against the racial segregation and tight social control he experienced in a company-dominated southern coal town. After working in the mines with his father, he hoboed across the United States during the early years of the Great Depression. In March 1934 Calloway’s first published article appeared in a National Urban League magazine and led to his receiving a scholarship to attend Brookwood Labor College, an independent school that supported working-class insurgency. Calloway’s stint at Brookwood imbued him with commitments to industrial unionism, interracial organizing, and democratic socialism that endured throughout his long career....

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César Chávez Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111017).

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Chávez, César Estrada (31 March 1927–23 April 1993), labor leader and social activist, was born in North Gila Valley, near Yuma, Arizona, the son of Librado Chávez and Juana Estrada. In 1888 two-year-old Librado, his siblings, and his mother immigrated to the Arizona territory to join his father, who had fled the harshness of life at Hacienda del Carmen in Porfirian, Mexico. Juana Estrada, also a native of Chihuahua, married Librado in 1924, and soon after the couple purchased a small grocery/garage/pool hall not far from his parents’ 160-acre ranch and raised six children. After losing their property during the depression, the family soon joined the migrant harvest circuit....

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Dudley, Helena Stuart (31 August 1858–29 September 1932), settlement house worker and peace activist, was born in Florence, Nebraska, the daughter of Judson H. Dudley, a land developer, and Caroline Bates. Her early life was rather unsettled as the Dudley family moved about the West in pursuit of her father’s real estate ventures. Helena Dudley did not attend college until the age of twenty-six when she spent a year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She then went on to Bryn Mawr college, graduating with the first class in 1889 with a degree in biology. Like so many other college-educated women of her generation, she became a teacher, first at the Pratt Institute and, a year later, at the Packer Institute, both in Brooklyn, New York....

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Elizabeth G. Flynn Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-97791).

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Flynn, Elizabeth Gurley (07 August 1890–05 September 1964), labor organizer and activist, was born in Concord, New Hampshire, the daughter of Thomas Flynn, a quarry worker and civil engineer, and Annie Gurley, a tailor. Both parents were descended from a long line of Irish rebels. During Elizabeth’s childhood, the family was poor due to the hard times and her father’s preference for political argumentation over earning a living. In 1900 the Flynns moved to a cold-water flat in the Bronx, which became a gathering place for Irish freedom fighters and prominent socialists. Impressed by Elizabeth’s intelligence and militancy, they encouraged her activism....

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Grigsby, Snow Flake (13 February 1899–22 March 1981), civil rights advocate and trade unionist, was born in Newberry County near Chappells, South Carolina, the son of Fred Grigsby and Kitty (maiden name unknown), farmers. Named in the African manner for the unusual snowfall that fell on his birth date, he learned the lesson of fending for one’s self in a family of twelve children raised by religious, education-minded, politically active parents. He embraced individualism but benefited from philanthropy and endorsed government activism. He left home to receive his high school diploma at Harbison Junior College (1923) in Irmo, courtesy of the Presbyterian Church. Heading north to look for what he called “rosy opportunities,” he worked menial jobs by night and attended the Detroit Institute of Technology by day. He graduated in 1927 but failed to find employment as a pharmacist. Like his father, a one-time federal mail contractor, he became a postal employee. He married Eliza Red, and they raised a son and a daughter....

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Harrison, Hubert Henry (27 April 1883–17 December 1927), black intellectual and radical political activist, was born in Concordia, St. Croix, Danish West Indies (now U.S. Virgin Islands), the son of William Adolphus Harrison and Cecilia Elizabeth Haines. Little is known of his father. His mother had at least three other children and, in 1889, married a laborer. Harrison received a primary education in St. Croix. In September 1900, after his mother died, he immigrated to New York City, where he worked low-paying jobs, attended evening high school, did some writing, editing, and lecturing, and read voraciously. In 1907 he obtained postal employment and moved to Harlem. The following year he taught at the White Rose Home, where he was deeply influenced by social worker Frances Reynolds Keyser, a future founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1909 he married Irene Louise Horton, with whom he had five children....

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Hutchins, Grace (19 August 1885–15 July 1969), labor researcher and social reformer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Edward Webster Hutchins, a lawyer, and Susan Barnes Hurd. Descendants of early Massachusetts colonists, her parents held an elite position in Boston society, were members of the Trinity Episcopal Church, and were actively involved in the community. Her father helped form the Boston Bar Association and founded the Legal Aid Society. Her mother participated heavily in philanthropic work....

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Kelley, Florence (12 September 1859–17 February 1932), social reformer, was born into a patrician Quaker and Unitarian family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of William Darrah Kelley, a leading politician, and Caroline Bartram Bonsall, a descendant of John Bartram, the Quaker botanist. Kelley’s rural residence and a childhood plagued by illness meant that she attended school only sporadically. Although her brief enrollment in Quaker schools introduced her to the wider reform world beyond her family and taught her mental discipline, most of her intellectual development occurred as part of her relationship with her father and her mother’s aunt, ...

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Mason, Lucy Randolph (26 July 1882–06 May 1959), labor activist and social reformer, was born at “Clarens,” on Seminary Hill near Alexandria, Virginia, the daughter of Landon Randolph Mason, an Episcopal minister, and Lucy Ambler, a reformer. A direct descendant of George Mason...

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McDowell, Mary Eliza (30 November 1854–14 October 1936), reformer and administrator, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the daughter of Malcolm McDowell, a manufacturer, and Jane Gordon. She grew up in the large house of her maternal grandfather, a steamboat builder, and mixed freely with children of Irish and German immigrants living in an industrial neighborhood in Cincinnati. McDowell attended public school and for a few years a private girls’ school; however, because she was needed at home to help with younger brothers, she did not continue her education, which she later regretted. She followed her father into the Methodist church, shared his sympathy for African Americans, and was proud of his military career and that of her uncle, General ...

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A. Philip Randolph Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-97538).

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Randolph, Asa Philip (15 April 1889–16 May 1979), founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and civil rights leader, was born in Crescent City, Florida, the son of James William Randolph, an itinerant African Methodist Episcopal preacher, and Elizabeth Robinson. The family placed great stress on education. Thus Randolph, an honor student, was sent to Cookman Institute in Jacksonville, Florida (later Bethune-Cookman College). Although greatly influenced by his father’s political and racial attitudes, Randolph resisted pressure to enter the ministry and later became an atheist. Upon graduation from Cookman, in 1907, he found himself barred by racial prejudice from all but manual labor jobs in the South, and so in 1911 he moved to New York City, where he worked at odd jobs during the day and took social science courses at City College at night....

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Margaret Dreier Robins Left, facing front, c. 1921. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-113066).

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Robins, Margaret Dreier (06 September 1868–21 February 1945), social reformer and labor leader, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Theodor Dreier, a prosperous businessman, and Dorothea Adelheid. As a teenager Margaret suffered from various physical ailments that left her weak and depressed. Rather than retire to a life of semi-invalidism, however, she threw herself into volunteer work, starting at the age of nineteen when she became treasurer of the women’s auxiliary at Brooklyn Hospital, where her father was a trustee. She did not attend college but sought out private tutoring in philosophy, history, and public speaking. In 1902 Margaret Dreier joined the State Charities Aid Association and the recently established Women’s Municipal League (WML). Soon afterward she and social worker ...

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Rodgers, Elizabeth Flynn (25 August 1847–27 August 1939), labor leader and social reformer, was born in Woodford, County Galway, Ireland, the daughter of Robert Flynn and Bridget Campbell. When Elizabeth was seven, her family emigrated, first to New York City and then to London, Ontario, Canada. She attended Catholic schools until she was fourteen, at which time she became a tailoress. In 1864 she married George Rodgers, a Welsh-born iron molder whom she had known since childhood; they had twelve children. The couple moved to Toronto, then to Detroit. In 1876 they moved to the west side of Chicago....