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Alice Stone Blackwell. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-93550).

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Blackwell, Alice Stone (14 September 1857–15 March 1950), women's rights advocate and humanitarian reformer, women’s rights advocate and humanitarian reformer, was born in Orange, New Jersey, the daughter of Henry Browne Blackwell, a hardware merchant, and Lucy Stone, a suffrage leader. Blackwell was surrounded by reform activity from her early childhood on. Both of her parents were prominent suffrage workers and founders of the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). ...

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Borlaug, Norman Ernest (25 March 1914–12 September 2009), biologist, agronomist, and humanitarian, was born in Saude, Iowa, to grandchildren of Norwegian immigrants. He grew up on his family’s working farm, where he learned to fish, hunt, raise corn and oats, and tend livestock. His grandfather encouraged him to pursue education, so Norman left the family farm in 1933 to enroll in the University of Minnesota. His college years coincided with the depths of the Great Depression. To earn money, Borlaug left school in 1935 and found employment with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). In the CCC he saw the effect of starvation first hand, and this experience affected him deeply. Long before “food security” became a common phrase, Borlaug knew its significance. In 1937 he graduated with a B.S. in forestry from the College of Agriculture and secured a job with the United States Forest Service. In 1938 he married former classmate Margaret Gibson. The couple had three children....

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Pearl Buck Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1932. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G412-T-6033-005-A-x ).

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Buck, Pearl S. (26 June 1892–06 March 1973), author and humanitarian, was born Pearl Sydenstricker in Hillsboro, West Virginia, the daughter of Absalom Sydenstricker and Caroline Stulting, missionaries who were on furlough from their Presbyterian missionary activities in China when Pearl, their first daughter, was born in the United States. Three months later the infant was taken to China when her parents returned to their duties. Educated by her mother at home and then by a Chinese tutor, Buck later attributed much of her knowledge to the influence of her Chinese amah who, together with Chinese playmates, gave her many insights into her exotic surroundings and developed imaginative outlets. Indeed Buck claimed that in her early years she was more fluent in Chinese than in English. She received additional training at a mission school and in 1909 was sent to board for a year at Miss Jewell’s School in Shanghai. Her parents insisted that she attend college in the United States, so in 1910 she enrolled in Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she won several academic honors and graduated four years later with a bachelor of arts degree. She received a teaching assistantship at Randolph-Macon, but upon learning that her mother was seriously ill she returned to China to care for her....

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Oscar L. Chapman Testifying before Senate Interior Committee, 1950. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-94480).

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Chapman, Oscar Littleton (22 October 1896–06 February 1978), humanitarian, politician, and secretary of the interior, was born in Halifax County, Virginia, the son of James Jackson Chapman and Rosa Blount, farmers. Portending his future liberalism, young Chapman rebelled against his southern heritage, choosing a picture of ...

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Hale, Clara McBride (01 April 1905–18 December 1992), humanitarian and founder of Hale House, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she grew up. Her father was murdered when she was a child, and her mother died when Clara was sixteen. She left high school without graduating, although she eventually earned her high school equivalency diploma at the age of eighty-seven. After high school, she married Thomas Hale and moved with him to New York City. There she did cleaning, worked as a domestic, and studied business administration by taking night classes at City College. When she was twenty-seven, her husband died, leaving her with three children....

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Harrison, Tillson Lever (07 January 1881–10 January 1947), physician, humanitarian, and bigamist, was born in Tillsonburg, Ontario, Canada, the son of Henry Bailey Harrison, a banker, and Harriett Adele Tillson. Harrison's maternal grandfather was the town's wealthy patriarch, Edwin “E.D.” Tillson, whose company was the precursor of the Quaker Oats Company of Canada. Harrison enjoyed a charmed life, regularly winning prizes at county fairs for excellence in the poultry that he raised on E.D.'s experimental farm. In 1895 Harrison ran away to join the Twenty‐second Oxford Rifles militia, but was returned home when it was discovered that he was underage....

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Helen Keller Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-112513).

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Keller, Helen (27 June 1880–01 June 1968), author, reformer, and symbol of personal courage, was born Helen Adams Keller in Tuscumbia, Alabama, the daughter of former Confederate captain Arthur H. Keller, a publisher and business entrepreneur, and Kate Adams. She was an unexceptional child until struck in her nineteenth month by an illness that was, possibly, scarlet fever. The event, she later recalled, “closed my eyes and ears and plunged me into the unconsciousness of a newborn baby.” Profoundly and permanently deaf and blind, she was to carve out a life that astonished nearly everyone....

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Labouisse, Henry Richardson (11 February 1904–25 March 1987), statesman and humanitarian, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Henry Richardson Labouisse and Frances Devereaux Huger (occupations unknown). Labouisse graduated from Princeton in 1926 and from Harvard Law School in 1929. He practiced law in New York City from 1929 until 1941 and married Elizabeth Scriven Clark in 1935. The couple had one daughter. Elizabeth Labouisse died in 1945. The ...

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Mayo, Sara (26 May 1869–07 March 1930), physician and humanitarian reformer, was born Sara Tew Mayo on a plantation in Catahoula Parish, Louisiana, near the town of Vidalia, the daughter of George Spencer Mayo, a lawyer, and Emily Tew. After the death of her parents, Sara spent her early years in New Orleans at the home of her father’s cousin, Judge William Brainerd Spencer. After receiving her primary education in the city’s public schools, she attended Millwood High School in Jackson, a town north of New Orleans close to the Mississippi border. As a child, Sara showed an interest in nursing and medicine by constantly ministering to her dolls and pets. Determined to become a physician, she applied to Tulane University Medical School but was rejected. Undeterred, she left for Philadelphia, where she entered Woman’s Medical College, graduating in 1898. She then returned to New Orleans, where she was to practice medicine for the next thirty-two years....

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Nicholson, Timothy (02 November 1828–15 September 1924), Quaker reformer and printer, was born in Perquimans County, North Carolina, the son of Josiah Nicholson, a teacher and farmer, and Anna White. Both parents came from families long prominent in Quaker affairs in North Carolina, and by Timothy Nicholson’s own account, their influence and that of Quaker neighbors was such that he never questioned Quaker teachings. He was educated in the Quaker Belvidere Academy in Perquimans County and at the Friends Boarding School (now Moses Brown School) in Providence, Rhode Island. He married twice, first in 1853 to Sarah N. White, who died in 1865, and then in 1868 to her sister, Mary White. There were six children by the first marriage and two by the second....

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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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Salm-Salm, Agnes Elisabeth Winona Leclercq Joy (25 December 1844–21 December 1912), princess, adventurer, and wartime humanitarian, was born in Swanton, Vermont (or southern Canada), the daughter of William Leclercq Joy, a farmer, and his second wife, Julia Willard. Salm-Salm always remained secretive about her youth, thereby feeding romantic rumors about her age, ancestry, and past. After spending some time in Cuba, as she asserted in her autobiography, she arrived in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 1861, a vivacious, pretty young woman. There she attracted the attentions of Prince Felix zu Salm-Salm, the adventurous younger son of an old aristocratic German family. After serving in the Prussian and Austrian armies the prince had left Europe to escape his debts and to seek employment in the American Civil War....

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Smith, Emma Hale (10 July 1804–30 April 1879), humanitarian, was born at Harmony Township (now Oakland), Pennsylvania, the daughter of Isaac Hale and Elizabeth Lewis. Isaac was a farmer and hunter, and Elizabeth kept an inn or tavern in their large farmhouse. Working beside her mother and three sisters, Emma acquired business and social skills she would later use to support her own family, first by taking in boarders, and later by operating two hotels. From her mother, she also learned to use medicinal herbs and home remedies in caring for the sick....

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Harriet Beecher Stowe. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-10476).

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Stowe, Harriet Beecher (14 June 1811–01 July 1896), author, was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, the daughter of Lyman Beecher, a clergyman, and Roxana Foote. Her father, one of the most popular evangelical preachers of the pre–Civil War era, was determined to have a role in shaping the culture of the new nation. Her mother, from a cosmopolitan, novel-reading, Episcopalian family, studied painting and executed portraits on ivory. After bearing nine children, she died when Stowe was five. Stowe’s father quickly remarried, but from this point, Stowe’s sister ...

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Tutwiler, Julia Strudwick (15 August 1841–24 March 1916), educator, reformer, and humanitarian, was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The daughter of Henry Tutwiler and Julia Ashe, she grew up in a home devoted to education, which became her lifework. Her father had earned a master’s degree in foreign languages at the University of Virginia and had accepted a position as the first professor of ancient languages at the University of Alabama when it had opened in 1831. Resigning in 1837 because of a financial dispute, he established Greene Springs Academy in Havana, south of Tuscaloosa. His daughters studied Latin, science, and mathematics with boys, upsetting many citizens. Tutwiler and her father taught slaves and poor white children to read. This experience influenced her to devote her life to serving others. Many of her classmates gained prominent positions as adults and supported her causes....