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Clark, Peter Humphries (1829–21 June 1925), educator, politician, and civil rights leader, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of Michael Clark, a barber, and his wife (name unknown). Clark was the product of a complex, mixed racial ancestry that provided the basis for a lifelong struggle to find a place for himself in both the white and African-American worlds. The oral tradition of Peter Clark’s family and of the Cincinnati African-American community contends that Michael Clark was the son of explorer ...

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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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Dennett, Mary Coffin Ware (04 April 1872–25 July 1947), birth control and sex education reformer and pacifist, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, the daughter of George Whitefield, a wool merchant, and Livonia Coffin Ware. When Dennett was ten her father died and the family moved to Boston, where she attended public schools and went on to Miss Capen’s School for Girls in Northampton, Massachusetts. Dennett then studied at the school of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where she displayed a great talent for tapestry and leather design. From 1894 to 1897 she headed the Department of Design and Decoration at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia. After a trip to Europe with her sister, during which they collected gilded Cordovan leather wall hangings, the sisters opened a handicraft shop in Boston. Dennett helped organize the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts in 1897. She served on the council of the society until 1905, when her interest in politics and social welfare began to supersede her interest in the arts. In 1900 she married William Hartley Dennett, a Boston architect with whom she had two sons. The marriage ended in divorce in 1913 with Dennett receiving custody of their children....

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W. E. B. Du Bois Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1946. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-42528).

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Du Bois, W. E. B. (23 February 1868–27 August 1963), African-American activist, historian, and sociologist, was born William Edward Burghardt Du Bois in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the son of Mary Silvina Burghardt, a domestic worker, and Alfred Du Bois, a barber and itinerant laborer. In later life Du Bois made a close study of his family origins, weaving them rhetorically and conceptually—if not always accurately—into almost everything he wrote. Born in Haiti and descended from Bahamian mulatto slaves, Alfred Du Bois enlisted during the Civil War as a private in a New York regiment of the Union army but appears to have deserted shortly afterward. He also deserted the family less than two years after his son’s birth, leaving him to be reared by his mother and the extended Burghardt kin. Long resident in New England, the Burghardts descended from a freedman of Dutch slave origin who had fought briefly in the American Revolution. Under the care of his mother and her relatives, young Will Du Bois spent his entire childhood in that small western Massachusetts town, where probably fewer than two-score of the 4,000 inhabitants were African American. He received a classical, college preparatory education in Great Barrington’s racially integrated high school, from whence, in June 1884, he became the first African-American graduate. A precocious youth, Du Bois not only excelled in his high school studies but contributed numerous articles to two regional newspapers, the Springfield ...

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Gougar, Helen Mar Jackson (18 July 1843–06 June 1907), suffragist, temperance reformer, and lecturer, was born near Litchfield in Hillsdale County, Michigan, the daughter of William Jackson and Clarissa Dresser, farmers. After attending the preparatory department of Hillsdale College from 1855 to 1859, she moved to Lafayette, Indiana, to teach in the public schools in order to help support her family. There she joined the Second Presbyterian Church, where she met John D. Gougar, a promising young lawyer, whom she married in 1863. The couple, who had no children, made their home in Lafayette for the rest of their lives....

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Gram Swing, Betty (16 March 1893–01 September 1969), militant suffragist and women’s rights advocate, was born Myrtle Evelyn Gram in Omaha, Nebraska, the fifth of seven children of Danish immigrants Andreas Peter Gram and Karen Jensen. When their family farm proved unprofitable around 1905, the Grams moved to Portland, Oregon, where Andreas ran a small grocery store and taught Myrtle Danish folk songs that were the foundation of her lifelong love of singing and music....

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Hogg, Ima (10 July 1882–19 August 1975), civic leader, collector, and philanthropist, was born in Mineola, Texas, the daughter of James Stephen Hogg and Sarah Ann “Sallie” Stinson. Her father was governor of Texas in the 1890s and later a wealthy oilman. He named Ima after a character in a poem by his late brother Thomas....

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Hope, Lugenia D. Burns (19 February 1871–14 August 1947), community organizer and educator, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Ferdinand Burns, a well-to-do carpenter, and Louisa M. Bertha. Lugenia was raised in a Grace Presbyterian, middle-class family. Her father’s sudden death forced her mother to move the family to Chicago to maintain their class standing and provide Lugenia, or “Genie” as she was called, with educational opportunities lacking in St. Louis. From 1890 to 1893, while her older siblings worked to support the family, Lugenia attended high school and special classes, the Chicago School of Design, the Chicago Business College, and the Chicago Art Institute....

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Howland, Emily (20 November 1827–29 June 1929), educator, suffragist, and philanthropist, was born in Sherwood, New York, the daughter of Slocum Howland, a wealthy merchant and landowner, and Hannah Tallcot. Her ancestors were members of the Society of Friends (Quakers), and it was in that strict tradition of speech, dress, and conduct that Emily was raised....

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Logan, Rayford Whittingham (07 January 1897–04 November 1981), historian of the African diaspora, university professor, and civil rights and Pan-Africanist activist, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Arthur Logan and Martha Whittingham, domestic workers. Two circumstances of Logan’s parents are germane to his later life and work. Although he grew up in modest circumstances, his parents enjoyed a measure of status in the Washington black community owing to his father’s employment as a butler in the household of Frederic Walcott, Republican senator from Connecticut. And the Walcotts took an interest in the Logan family, providing them with occasional gifts, including money to purchase a house. The Walcotts also took an interest in Rayford Logan’s education, presenting him with books and later, in the 1920s and 1930s, introducing him to influential whites in government. Logan grew up on family lore about the antebellum free Negro heritage of the Whittinghams. It is open to question how much of what he heard was factual; nevertheless, he learned early to make class distinctions among African Americans and to believe that his elite heritage also imposed on him an obligation to help lead his people to freedom and equality....

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George P. Marsh. Photograph from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-BH8201-4981).

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Marsh, George Perkins (15 March 1801–23 July 1882), scholar, politician, and diplomat, was born in Woodstock, Vermont, the son of Charles Marsh, a prominent lawyer, and Susan Perkins. The Marshes were among New England’s aristocracy of Puritan intellectuals. Woodstock, unlike western Vermont of the free-spirited Green Mountain Boys, was a town of law-abiding, substantial settlers, conservative in religion and politics. George, in a milieu of book lovers, became an avid reader, although a lifelong eye ailment periodically forced him to turn from the printed page to the outdoor world. As a child, with his father or friends, he observed firsthand the effects of deforestation in early Vermont settlements, the decline of fish in the rivers, and the destruction of precious topsoil....

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Stantial, Edna Lamprey (22 Feb. 1897–10 Mar. 1985), suffragist, archivist of the women’s suffrage movement, and women’s rights activist, was born Edna Frances Lamprey in Reading, Massachusetts, the daughter of Frank and Mollie McClelland Stantial. She grew up in nearby Melrose, graduated from Melrose High School in ...

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Turner, James Milton (22 August 1839?–01 November 1915), educator and diplomat, was born a slave in St. Louis County, Missouri, the son of John Turner, a free black farrier, and Hannah Turner, the slave of Aaron and Theodosia Young, formerly of Kentucky. Mother and son were freed by Theodosia Young on 12 March 1844. Educated in clandestinely operated schools in St. Louis, in defiance of Missouri law, Turner was sent by his parents to preparatory school at Oberlin College in Ohio during the mid-1850s. He remained there for no more than two years and returned to St. Louis during the late 1850s. He worked as a porter until the outbreak of the Civil War, when he joined the war effort as a body servant to Colonel Madison Miller, a Union officer....

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Valentine, Lila Hardaway Meade (04 February 1865–14 July 1921), proponent of public schools, public health, and woman suffrage, was born in Richmond, Virginia, the daughter of Richard Hardaway Meade, a businessman, and Kate Fontaine. Largely self-taught, she read widely. She married Benjamin Batchelder Valentine, a poet and businessman, in 1886. Beginning in 1888, with major surgery after the stillbirth of their only child, her physical health remained always precarious....

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Ware, Caroline Farrar (14 August 1899–05 April 1990), historian, consumer activist, and expert on community development, was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, the daughter of Henry Ware, a lawyer, and Louisa Farrar Wilson. Ware came from a prominent Unitarian family with an activist tradition. Her abolitionist grandfather and great aunt participated in the Port Royal experiment after the Union occupation of the Sea Islands of South Carolina in November 1861. Charles Ware served as a labor superintendent of cotton plantations, while his sister, Harriet Ware, taught in a school for freedmen and women. Her parents were active in community affairs. Her father served as the treasurer of many voluntary organizations; her mother taught Sunday school and did volunteer work for the Red Cross and the Girl Scouts....

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Mary Emma Woolley Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111858).

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Woolley, Mary Emma (13 July 1863–05 September 1947), educator, feminist, and peace activist, was born in South Norwalk, Connecticut, the daughter of Joseph Judah Woolley, a Congregational minister, and his second wife, Mary Augusta Ferris. May, as she was called, spent a happy, nurturing childhood in New England, first in Meriden, Connecticut, and then, beginning in 1871, at her father’s new pastorate in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Reverend Woolley’s attempts to combine religious and social work—whether in reaching out to factory workers or in challenging St. Paul’s injunction of silence for women—profoundly influenced his daughter....