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Abbott, Edith (1876-1957), social reformer, social work educator, and author  

Kathleen Banks Nutter

Abbott, Edith (26 September 1876–28 July 1957), social reformer, social work educator, and author, was born in Grand Island, Nebraska, the daughter of Othman Ali Abbott, a lawyer and first lieutenant governor of Nebraska, and Elizabeth Maletta Griffin, a woman suffrage advocate. Abbott grew up in a comfortable and politically progressive household on the American prairie. However, the severe economic depression that began in 1893 caused Abbott to postpone her college plans after graduation from an Omaha girls’ boarding school. Instead, at the age of seventeen she became a teacher at the Grand Island High School....


American, Sadie (1862-1944), social welfare activist and educator  

Gerald Sorin

American, Sadie (03 March 1862–03 May 1944), social welfare activist and educator, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of German-Jewish immigrant Oscar L. American and Amelia Smith. Little is known of her childhood, but she was educated in Chicago public schools.

American became a founder in 1893 and later executive secretary of the philanthropic, middle-class reform organization the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW). In her early thirties she held positions in dozens of social welfare, charitable, and educational institutions from 1893 to 1904, including that of president of the New York Section of the NCJW and of the Consumers’ League of New York State (1893–1894). She also directed the Woman’s Municipal League in New York City and was chair of its Tenement House Committee (1893–1894)....


Banning, Margaret Culkin (1891-1982), writer  

Ann T. Keene

Banning, Margaret Culkin (18 March 1891–04 January 1982), writer, was born in Buffalo, Minnesota, the daughter of William Edgar Culkin, a Duluth newspaper executive, and Hannah Alice Young. She attended Vassar College, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated in 1912. Pursuing an interest in social work, she attended Russell Sage College on a fellowship in 1912–1913, then spent the following academic year at the Chicago School of Philanthropy, which awarded her a certificate in 1914 for completion of its program. That same year she married a Duluth lawyer, Archibald T. Banning, Jr. The couple, who were divorced in 1934, had four children, two of whom survived into adulthood....


Barrett, Janie Porter (1865-1948), educator and social welfare advocate  

Cynthia Neverdon-Morton

Barrett, Janie Porter (09 August 1865–27 August 1948), educator and social welfare advocate, was born in Athens, Georgia, the daughter of Julia Porter. Various biographical accounts indicate that Janie’s parents were former slaves, while others speculate that her father was white. Little is known about either parent. During her early childhood, Janie resided in the home of the Skinners, a white family whom her mother served as housekeeper. After her mother’s marriage to a railway worker, Janie remained with the Skinners, who encouraged her to further her education....


Barrows, Isabel (17 April 1845–25 October 1913), ophthalmologist, stenographer, and reformer  

Thaddeus Russell

Barrows, Isabel (17 April 1845–25 October 1913), ophthalmologist, stenographer, and reformer, was born Katharine Isabel Hayes in Irasburg, Vermont, the daughter of Scottish immigrants Henry Hayes, a physician, and Anna Gibb, a schoolteacher. The family moved to Hartland and then Derry, New Hampshire, where Isabel Hayes graduated from Adams Academy. In 1863 she married William Wilberforce Chapin, a Congregational minister. The following year the couple traveled to India for a missionary assignment. Less than a year after arriving in India, William Chapin died of diphtheria. Six months later Isabel Chapin returned to the United States. She moved to Dansville, New York, where she worked as a bath assistant at a water-cure sanatorium....


Bauer, Catherine Krouse (1905-1964), housing advocate and urban-planning educator  

Eric Fure-Slocum

Bauer, Catherine Krouse (11 May 1905–22 November 1964), housing advocate and urban-planning educator, was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the daughter of Jacob Louis Bauer, a highway engineer, and Alberta Louise Krouse, a suffragist. Bauer graduated from Vassar College in 1926, having spent her junior year at Cornell University studying architecture. Following graduation she lived in Paris and wrote about contemporary architecture, including the work of the modernist Le Corbusier. In New York from 1927 to 1930, she held a variety of jobs and began a friendship with the architectural and social critic ...


Beecher, Catharine Esther (1800-1878), educator and social reformer  

Kathryn Kish Sklar

Beecher, Catharine Esther (06 September 1800–12 May 1878), educator and social reformer, was born in East Hampton, New York, the oldest child of Lyman Beecher, the most prominent Evangelical clergyman of the 1820s, and Roxana Foote. At the age of ten Catharine Beecher moved with her family from the isolated and rural tip of Long Island to class-conscious Litchfield, Connecticut. There she acquired the normal accomplishments of her well-born status. When her mother died of consumption in 1816, Catharine assumed responsibility for her younger siblings, including Harriet and ...


Bonney, Mary Lucinda (1816-1900), educator and reformer  

Karen L. Graves

Bonney, Mary Lucinda (08 June 1816–24 July 1900), educator and reformer, was born in Hamilton, New York, the daughter of Benjamin Bonney and Lucinda Wilder, farmers. Her father, a veteran of the War of 1812, was an officer in the New York State Militia. Her mother had been a schoolteacher until marriage in 1808. Bonney and her brother, Benjamin, grew up in a home marked by the characteristics of “intelligence, integrity, and piety” (Fairbanks, p. 138)....


Brown, Josephine Chapin (1887-1976), public welfare administrator and social work educator  

Blanche D. Coll

Brown, Josephine Chapin (20 October 1887–25 October 1976), public welfare administrator and social work educator, was born in Ogdensburg, New York, the daughter of Silas Edgar Brown, a physician and surgeon, and Mary Chapin. Josephine received her primary and secondary education in private schools at Ogdensburg and Utica and entered Bryn Mawr College in 1906. Shortly thereafter, Brown’s family, in financial difficulty, moved to St. Paul, Minnesota. She dropped out of college and taught school, but, after two years, aided by gifts through the college, Brown reentered Bryn Mawr. She graduated in June 1913 with a B.A. in physics and biology....


Clark, Septima Poinsette (1898-1987), educator and civil rights activist  

Nancy Elizabeth Fitch

Clark, Septima Poinsette (03 May 1898–15 December 1987), educator and civil rights activist, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the daughter of Peter Porcher Poinsette, a caterer who was a former slave, and Victoria Warren Anderson, who took in laundry to supplement the family income. Septima’s mother, who had been raised in black-governed Haiti, instilled in her daughter a determination to succeed in spite of white racism....


Coman, Katharine (1857-1915), economic historian and social reformer  

Marilyn Elizabeth Perry

Coman, Katharine (23 November 1857–11 January 1915), economic historian and social reformer, was born in Newark, Ohio, the daughter of Levi Parsons Coman and Martha Seymour. An abolitionist and leader of a voluntary group serving in the Civil War, Katharine’s father held various occupations, including those of teacher, storekeeper, and lawyer. Because of poor health he moved his family to a farm near Hanover, Ohio, after the Civil War. Both of Katharine’s parents had college degrees, her father from Hamilton College and her mother from an Ohio seminary. Consequently, they sought good educations for all their children, male and female alike. As a young girl, Katharine took lessons in Latin and mathematics along with her brothers. She first attended Steubenville Female Seminary, but when the school refused to give her more challenging studies, Levi Coman moved his daughter to the high school of the University of Michigan. She later entered the university and received a bachelor of philosophy degree in 1880....


Cook, Alice (1903-1998), international labor scholar, educator, and advocate for workingwomen  

Brigid O'Farrell

Cook, Alice (28 November 1903–07 February 1998), international labor scholar, educator, and advocate for workingwomen, was born Alice Hanson in Alexandria, Virginia, the eldest child of August Hanson, the son of Swedish immigrants, and Flora Kays, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Along with her two younger brothers, the family traveled the country following her father's work for the railroads. From her close-knit family Alice learned civic responsibility and activism at an early age, joining her mother and grandmother in a suffragists’ picket line at the White House during President ...


Cook, Vivian E. J. (1889-1977), educator  

Sterling Stuckey

Cook, Vivian E. J. (06 October 1889–28 July 1977), educator, was born Vivian Elma Johnson in Colliersville, Tennessee, the daughter of Spencer Johnson, a farmer, and Caroline Alley, a teacher. One of eight children, she grew up under the enterprising spirit of her parents, both of whom were born in slavery. The fact that her mother was the first black schoolteacher in the Tennessee community of Fayette County set a special standard of achievement for her and her seven siblings. The family moved to Memphis when she was very young and the decision was made to favor the girls with a higher education. All four were to graduate from college, but Vivian, thanks to the financial assistance of a brother, inventor and railway postal clerk Thomas W. Johnson, was able to attend Howard University and later earn a master’s degree in English from Columbia University....


Cooper, Anna Julia Haywood (1858?–27 February 1964), author, educator, and human rights activist  

Frances Richardson Keller

Cooper, Anna Julia Haywood (1858?–27 February 1964), author, educator, and human rights activist, was born, probably on 10 August 1858, in Raleigh, North Carolina, the daughter of Hannah Stanley, a slave. Though her paternity is uncertain, she believed her mother’s master, Dr. Fabius J. Haywood, to have been her father. She later described her ancestry: “The part of my ancestors that did not come over in the Mayflower in 1620 arrived … a year earlier in the fateful Dutch trader that put in at Jamestown in 1619… . I believe that the third source of my individual stream comes … from the vanishing Red Men, which … make[s] me a genuine F.F.A. (First Family of America).”...


Coppin, Fanny Jackson (1837-1913), educator, civic and religious leader, and feminist  

Linda M. Perkins

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 ...


Corson, Juliet (13 January 1841?–18 June 1897), founder of the New York Cooking School and pioneer in the scientific cookery movement  

Susan Matt

Corson, Juliet (13 January 1841?–18 June 1897), founder of the New York Cooking School and pioneer in the scientific cookery movement, was born in Mount Pleasant, Massachusetts, the daughter of Peter Ross Corson, a prosperous produce merchant, and Mary Ann Henderson. (Although most obituaries and biographical sources give Corson’s birth date as 1842, the Vital Records of Roxbury, Massachusetts, give the date as 1841.) Corson’s family moved to New York City when she was six years old. In New York her uncle, Alfred Upham, helped to raise her and provided her with a classical education. She began to support herself in her late teens after her mother’s death....


Cotten, Sallie Swepson Sims Southall (13 June 1846–04 May 1929), advocate of women's education and the women's club movement in North Carolina  

William E. Stephenson

Cotten, Sallie Swepson Sims Southall (13 June 1846–04 May 1929), advocate of women's education and the women's club movement in North Carolina, advocate of women’s education and the women’s club movement in North Carolina, was born in Lawrenceville, Virginia, the daughter of Thomas Southall and Susan Sims. Because of her father’s precarious fortunes as planter and hotelkeeper, she came to Murfreesboro, North Carolina, at the age of thirteen to live with her father’s wealthy cousin. She attended Wesleyan Female College and Greensboro Female College, graduating in 1863. While teaching in Edgecombe County, North Carolina, in 1864, she met Robert Randolph Cotten, a Confederate cavalryman. They were married in 1866....


Cowles, Betsey Mix (1810-1876), educator and reformer  

Kim M. Gruenwald

Cowles, Betsey Mix (09 February 1810–25 July 1876), educator and reformer, was born in Bristol, Connecticut, the daughter of Giles Hooker Cowles, a Congregationalist minister, and Sally White. To support their family of eight children, Cowles’s parents moved the family to the fledgling town of Austinburg in Ohio’s western reserve shortly after her birth. Two more children came along later. Cowles’s early education took place in subscription schools. Before the spread of state-funded public schools, parents who wished to educate their children had to make arrangements with traveling schoolmasters. Cowles herself joined the ranks of such teachers at age sixteen and taught in many communities throughout northeastern Ohio and western New York....


Craft, Ellen (1826?–1891), abolitionist and educator  

Miriam DeCosta-Willis

Craft, Ellen (1826?–1891), abolitionist and educator, was born on a plantation in Clinton, Georgia, the daughter of Major James Smith, a wealthy cotton planter, and Maria, his slave. At the age of eleven Ellen was given by her mistress (whose “incessant cruelty” Craft was later to recall) as a wedding present to Ellen’s half sister Eliza on the young woman’s marriage to Robert Collins of Macon, Georgia. Ellen became a skilled seamstress and ladies’ maid, esteemed for her grace, intelligence, and sweetness of temper. In Macon she met another slave two years her senior, ...


Crandall, Prudence (1803-1890), abolitionist and teacher  

Sandra Opdycke

Crandall, Prudence (03 September 1803–28 January 1890), abolitionist and teacher, was born in Hopkinton, Rhode Island, the daughter of Pardon Crandall, a Quaker farmer, and Esther Carpenter. When Crandall was ten her family moved to another farm in Canterbury, Connecticut. As a young woman she spent a few years (1825–1826, 1827–1830) at the New England Friends’ Boarding School in Providence and also taught school for a time in Plainfield, Connecticut....