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Anderson, Mary (27 August 1872–29 January 1964), labor leader and federal administrator, was born in Lidköping, Sweden, the daughter of Magnus Anderson and Matilda Johnson, farmers. She received her only formal education at a local Lutheran school. Inspired by letters from her older sister Anna who had moved to the United States, Mary and her sister Hilda traveled to Ludington, Michigan, in 1889. Sixteen years old when she arrived in America, Anderson struggled to learn English while she worked as a dishwasher and cook in a boardinghouse for lumber workers....

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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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Bambace, Angela (14 February 1898–03 April 1975), labor organizer, was born in Santos, Brazil, the daughter of Antonio Bambace, a shipping company operator, and Giuseppina Calabrese. Antonio’s failing health precipitated the family’s return to Italy. In 1901 they emigrated to the United States, where they settled in New York City’s East Harlem. Due to Antonio’s ill health, Giuseppina supported the family by working in a ladies hat factory....

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Barker, Mary Cornelia (20 January 1879–15 September 1963), schoolteacher and teachers' union leader, schoolteacher and teachers’ union leader, was born in Rockmart, Georgia, the daughter of Thomas Nathaniel Barker, a teacher and small businessman, and Dora Elizabeth Lovejoy, a teacher. After spending her early years in rural Rockmart, Barker moved with her family to Atlanta, where she attended the public schools. She went on to Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, from which she received a diploma for completing the normal course in 1900....

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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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Barry, Leonora (13 August 1849–15 July 1930), labor leader, was born Leonora Marie Kearney in Kearney, County Cork, Ireland, the daughter of John Kearney and Honor Brown. When Kearney was three, the family sailed for the United States and settled on a farm in Pierrepont, New York, not far from the Canadian border. She grew up there, but upon her mother’s death and father’s remarriage, she determined to set out on her own. Though only fifteen, she arranged for a year of preparatory study with the head of a girls’ school in a neighboring town and obtained her teacher’s certificate. She spent the next several years teaching in a rural school....

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Bellanca, Dorothy Jacobs (10 August 1894–16 August 1946), labor organizer, was born in Zemel, Latvia, the daughter of Harry Jacobs, a tailor, and Bernice Edith Levinson. Seeking a better life, the Russian Jewish family emigrated to America in 1900 and began a new life in Baltimore, Maryland. Dorothy’s mother died a short time after their arrival....

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Beyer, Clara Mortenson (13 April 1892–25 September 1990), reformer and labor law administrator, was born in Middletown, California, the daughter of Danish immigrants Morten Mortenson, a carpenter and unsuccessful chicken farmer, and Mary Frederickson. Her father died in a trolley accident when she was fifteen. As the eldest of four children remaining at home, Beyer delayed further schooling until her mother sold the farm. She then worked her way through high school and the University of California, Berkeley, gaining firsthand understanding of labor conditions and unskilled workers’ lives. At Berkeley she absorbed the institutional approach to labor economics, which emphasized the law and social institutions rather than market forces; she received a B.S. in 1915 and an M.S. in economics in 1916 with a thesis called “Organized Labor in San Francisco, from 1892–1902.”...

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Bloor, Ella Reeve (08 July 1862–10 August 1951), radical labor organizer and feminist, was born on Staten Island, New York, the daughter of Charles Reeve, a successful drugstore owner, and Harriet Amanda Disbrow, a community affairs activist. While still a child, Ella moved to Bridgeton, New Jersey, where her family led a conservative, upper-middle-class life. An important counterinfluence was Ella’s great-uncle Dan Ware, a former abolitionist, liberal, Unitarian, greenbacker, and general freethinker. After attending local public schools, Ella spent a year at Ivy Hall Seminary, a finishing school she disliked. When she was fourteen, her mother began tutoring her at home....

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Borchardt, Selma Munter (01 December 1895–30 January 1968), educator and labor leader, was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of Newman Borchardt, a soldier and government official, and Sara Munter. She completed a B.S. in education at Syracuse University in 1919 and received an A.B. from the same university in 1922. In 1933 she graduated from Washington College of Law (later known as American University College of Law), and in 1934 she was admitted to the Washington, D.C., Bar Association. In 1944 Borchardt had the honor of being admitted to the Supreme Court bar. In 1937 she received an M.A. in sociology from Catholic University and went on to complete all the requirements for a Ph.D. in sociology except the dissertation....

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Capetillo, Luisa (28 October 1879–10 April 1922), feminist and labor leader, was born in the town of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, the daughter of Luisa Margarita Perone, a domestic servant, and Luis Capetillo Echevarría, a laborer. Her parents were drawn together by their shared belief in democratic ideals expressed in the attempted European revolutions of 1848. Perone had migrated to Arecibo from France to work as a governess for a wealthy family, but ended up laboring as a domestic servant. She participated in the city's intellectual life, distinguishing herself as one of the few women to regularly attend afternoon meetings in the city's cafés. Echevarría, a migrant from the Basque region of Spain, took a succession of jobs on the docks, in agriculture, and in construction. The couple never married, but they raised their daughter together, giving her a broad education. With her parents' encouragement, Capetillo read European literature and philosophy, studying the work of the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, the French anarchist and free-love advocate Madeleine Vernet, and the English philosopher John Stuart Mill. Capetillo later described education as “the mother of freedom” (Valle-Ferrer, p. 74). She thanked her own mother for allowing her to “freely delve into things” unhindered by “tradition.”...

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Carr, Charlotte Elizabeth (03 May 1890–12 July 1956), social worker and reformer, was born in Dayton, Ohio, the daughter of Joseph Henry Carr, a successful businessman, and Frances Carver. Carr developed an early sensitivity to problems of poverty and injustice, and when her parents insisted on her becoming a debutante instead of going to college she ran away and got a job in Pittsburgh. Her parents relented and enrolled her at Vassar College. Carr later said she learned little at Vassar; her higher education began in 1915 when she graduated and started “bumming around.” After serving as a matron in an Ohio orphan asylum Carr moved to New York, where she worked for the State Charities Aid Association and then for the New York Probation and Protective Association. Next came a stint as a policewoman, doing night patrols in the Brooklyn Bridge area. She then did personnel work at the American Lithographic Company and Knox Hat Company in New York (1921–1923) and at Stark Mills in New Hampshire (1923)....

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Christman, Elisabeth (02 September 1881?–26 April 1975), labor organizer and reformer, was born in Germany, the daughter of Henry Christman, a laborer and musician, and Barbara Guth. Probably in 1884 she immigrated to Chicago with her parents. At the age of thirteen Elisabeth left the German Lutheran school she attended to work at the Eisendrath Glove Company....

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Cohn, Fannia (05 April 1885?–24 December 1962), labor educator and leader, was born Fannia Mary Cohn in Kletzk, Minsk, Russia, the daughter of Hyman Cohn, a manager of a family-owned flour mill, and Anna Rosofsky. Fannia received her formal education at a private school and her radical political views from her middle-class Jewish parents. She joined the outlawed Socialist Revolutionary party in 1901 and arrived in New York City three years later filled with the romantic idealism of socialism....

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Coit, Eleanor Gwinnell (06 May 1894–07 June 1976), labor educator and leader in adult education, was born in Newark, New Jersey, the daughter of Henry Leber Coit, a pediatrician and pure-milk reformer, and Emma Gwinnell. She grew up in Newark, attended public schools, and followed an older sister to Smith College, from which she was graduated with an A.B. in history and English in 1916....

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Collins, Jennie (1828–20 July 1887), labor reformer and woman suffragist, was born in Amoskeag, New Hampshire, to humble circumstances. Orphaned by the age of fourteen and largely self-taught, Collins joined the ranks of New England women employed in the textile mills of Lawrence and Lowell, Massachusetts. In the 1840s she moved to Boston, where she worked briefly as a domestic servant and then became a tailor in the city’s prospering garment industry....

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Sara Agnes Conboy. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111524).

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Conboy, Sara Agnes McLaughlin (03 April 1870–07 January 1928), trade union official, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Michael McLaughlin and Sara Mellyn. Her father died when she was eleven years old, and young Sara, the oldest of several siblings, went to work in a local candy factory. There she earned $2.50 for a sixty-hour workweek. She then worked for a time in a button factory before going to work in a carpet factory in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Still working sixty hours a week, Sara was able to make at most $12 or $13 weekly as a skilled weaver. After only two years of marriage to Joseph P. Conboy, a Boston postal worker, Sara was suddenly left a widow with an infant to support. She returned to the Roxbury Carpet Company, continuing to work long hours and subject to frequent layoffs if looms needed repair or the company had excess stock....

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de Graffenried, Mary Clare (19 May 1849–26 April 1921), labor investigator, was born in Macon, Georgia, the daughter of Colonel William Kirkland de Graffenried, a lawyer, and Mary Holt Marsh. Her father had opposed secession, but once the Civil War began, he supported the struggle and became a prominent member of Governor ...

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Dodd, Bella Visono ( October 1904–29 April 1969), teachers' union lobbyist and lawyer, teachers’ union lobbyist and lawyer, was born Maria Assunta Isabella Visono in Picerno, Italy, southeast of Naples, the daughter of Rocco Visono, a grocer, and Teresa Marsica. She was raised in the nearby village of Avialano by foster parents until she was old enough to join her family in New York City at the age of five. Her family moved several times and finally out of the tenements into a large house in Westchester left to her mother by two elderly women for whom she had worked. Determined to become “an American,” Bella excelled in school, rejected Catholicism, and, after World War I, avidly began reading newspapers....