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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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Cotter, Joseph Seamon, Sr. (02 February 1861–14 March 1949), teacher, author, and civic leader, was born in Bardstown, Kentucky, the son of Michael (also spelled Micheil) Cotter, a boarding house owner, and Martha Vaughn. Although his father was known as an avid reader, Cotter was raised largely by his mother, a freeborn woman of mixed English, Cherokee, and African blood. It was from her naturally dramatic manner—she orally composed poems and plays as she worked at chores—that he acquired his love of language and stories. Having taught herself, she also taught Cotter to read and enrolled him in school, but at age eight economic necessity forced him to drop out and begin working at various jobs: in a brickyard, then a distillery, and finally as a ragpicker and a teamster. Until age twenty-two, manual labor consumed much of Cotter’s life....

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Gilbert, Helen Homans (29 October 1913–26 September 1989), college trustee and community volunteer, was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, the daughter of Robert Homans, a lawyer, and Abigail Adams. True to her Adams and Homans antecedents, she carried on a tradition of public service that dated back to the beginnings of the republic. She was, she said, “a New Englander with a family conscience who inherited community responsibility.” Robert Homans decided that both his daughters should attend college to prepare for careers as teachers “since no Homans woman in living memory had ever married.”...