Lydia Maria Child ranks among the most influential nineteenth-century women authors, and was one of the first American women to earn a living from her writing. She was renowned in her day as a crusader for truth and justice and a champion of excluded groups in American society – especially Indians, slaves and women. She then turned her energies to reform and became a leading abolitionist.
Maria Child is probably best remembered today for the Thanksgiving children’s poem, “Over the River and Through the Woods.” But in her lifetime she published more than fifty books, plus short stories, poems and articles for periodicals. The North American Review, the leading literary periodical of the time, commented: “We are not sure that any woman of our country could outrank Mrs. Child. Few female writers, if any, have done more or better things for our literature…”
Educator of African American Girls
Myrtilla Miner (1815–1864) established the first school in Washington, DC to provide education beyond the primary level to African American girls in 1851 – at a time when slavery was still legal in the District of Columbia. Although the school also offered other courses, its emphasis from the outset was on training teachers. Miner’s progressive methods in education, her struggles against considerable opposition, and her dogged determination have earned her a place in American history.
Childhood and Early Years
Myrtilla Miner was born on March 4, 1815, near Brookfield, New York of humble parentage. Though always frail in health, she earned enough by working in the hop fields near her home to further her education. She received a year’s training at Clinton in Oneida County, New York, under the most adverse circumstances of ill health and lack of funds.
Feminist, Philanthropist and Social Reformer
Image: Elizabeth Smith Miller (right)
with daughter Anne Fitzhugh Miller
Elizabeth Smith Miller (1822–1911 ) was a lifelong advocate and financial supporter of the women’s rights movement. Miller was well known for her hospitality and often opened her home to raise money for the women’s suffrage campaign. She is best known as a dress reformer, developing the practical knee-length skirt over pantaloons that became known as bloomers after activist Amelia Bloomer popularized them in her periodical The Lily.
Educator, Social Reformer and Humanitarian
Dorothea Dix (1802–1887) was a social reformer, primarily for the treatment of the mentally ill, and the most visible humanitarian of the 19th century. Through a long and vigorous program of lobbying state legislatures and the U.S. Congress, Dix created the first generation of American mental hospitals. During the Civil War, she served as Superintendent of Army Nurses for the Union Army.
Dorothea Lynde Dix was born on April 4, 1802 in Hampden, Maine. She was the first child of three born to Mary Bigelow Dix and Joseph Dix, an itinerant Methodist preacher. Her mother suffered from depression and was bedridden during most of Dorothea’s childhood. Her father was an abusive alcoholic. After her mother gave birth to two more children, Joseph and Charles, Dorothea assumed responsibility for their care.
Feminist, Suffragist, Newspaper Publisher and Social Reformer
Amelia Bloomer (1818–1894) was a feminist, social reformer and women’s rights activist. Amelia Bloomer owned, edited and published the first newspaper for women, The Lily, in which she promoted abolition, temperance, women’s suffrage, higher education for women and marriage law reform. Although she did not create the women’s clothing style known as Bloomers, her name became associated with it because of her early and strong advocacy.
Amelia Jenks was born May 27, 1818 into a family of modest means in Homer, New York. Although she received only a few years of formal schooling, Amelia was thought to be remarkably intelligent by her peers. She became a teacher, at first in the public schools and afterward as a private tutor.
Author, Editor and Champion of Women’s Education
Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879) was America’s first woman editor and the author of many novels and poems, publishing nearly fifty volumes of work in her lifetime. President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1864 after Hale had spent 40 years campaigning for a national day of thanks. An early activist for women’s education and property rights and editor of the 19th century’s most successful woman’s magazine (Godey’s) – these are only a few of the many accomplishments of the extraordinary woman who is now unknown to most Americans.
Childhood and Early Years
Sarah Josepha Buell was born October 24, 1788 in Newport, New Hampshire to Gordon and Martha Whittlesay Buell. A voracious reader of whatever books were available, Sarah noticed that “of all the books I saw, few were written by Americans, and none by women,” and she was inspired at an early age, to “promote the reputation of my own sex, and do something for my own country.”
Abolitionist, Writer and Social Reformer
Frances Wright (1795–1852) was a Scottish-born lecturer, writer, feminist, abolitionist and social reformer who became a U.S. citizen in 1825. That year she founded the Nashoba Commune in Tennessee as a Utopian community to prepare slaves for emancipation, but it lasted only three years. Her Views of Society and Manners in America (1821) brought her the most attention as a critique of the new nation.
Frances Wright was born September 6, 1795, one of three children born in Dundee, Scotland to Camilla Campbell and James Wright, a wealthy linen manufacturer and political radical. Both of her parents died young, and Fanny (as she was called as a child) was orphaned at the age of three, but left with a substantial inheritance.