First Women’s Rights Activists I

Women’s Rights Advocates The first women who fought for their civil and legal rights were not a unique breed. Many were wives and mothers like most other females in the mid-nineteenth century. However, they must have developed a strong sense of self and some support from their husbands, for they found time in their busy lives to protest against the confining space that society had assigned them: women’s sphere. May Wright Sewall May Wright Sewall (1844 – 1920) Born May Eliza Wright May 27, 1844 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, May graduated in 1866 from North-Western Female College in Evanston, Illinois. There she earned a Bachelor of Science degree and a Master of Arts in 1871 and began a career in teaching…

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Mary Stafford Anthony

Educator and Suffragist Mary Stafford Anthony was the youngest sister of the famous social reformer and feminist Susan B. Anthony. Often overshadowed by her older sibling, Mary was a suffragist and educator who served as the first female school principal in western New York. She played an active role in several social reform organizations, including the New York Women’s Suffrage Association. Image: Mary Stafford Anthony At about 25 years of age Early Years Mary Stafford Anthony was born April 2, 1827 to Daniel and Lucy Read Anthony in Battenville, New York. Her parents had different religious beliefs; he was a liberal Quaker abolitionist. Although Lucy was a Baptist in her younger years, the Anthony children were raised as Quakers. Anthony…

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Richmond Bread Riot

Civil Unrest and Activism in the Confederate Capital Image: North Carolina Emigrants: Poor White Folk, by James Henry Beard During the Civil War, refugees like these traveled to Richmond hoping for a better life, but they only added to the overcrowding and lack of provisions that already existed there. A group of working-class women gathered in Belvidere Hill Baptist Church in the Oregon Hill section of Richmond, Virginia on the evening of April 1, 1863. A few had traveled from the outskirts of the city to attend this meeting of working class women. One of the leaders, Mary Jackson, was a peddler and another woman sewed tents to support her family. The women decided to meet the following morning and…

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Adaline Weston Couzins

Civil War Nurse in St. Louis, Missouri Union Nurse: Adaline Weston Couzins Adaline Weston Couzins was a Union nurse in Missouri. She was one of the Civil War Nurses on Hospital Ships that traveled up and down the Mississippi River, risking her life helping wounded soldiers. A Minie ball struck her in the knee in 1863, but she kept on nursing throughout the war and afterward. She was a woman of great courage and compassion for her fellow men and women. Early Life Adaline Weston was born August 12, 1815, in Brighton, England. At the age of eight, she came to America with her parents. In 1834, Adaline eloped with John Edward Decker Couzins, a carpenter and builder by trade….

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Mary Putnam Jacobi

Pioneer for Women in the Medical Professions Mary Putnam Jacobi was a prominent physician, author, scientist, activist, educator, and perhaps most importantly, a staunch advocate of women’s right to seek medical education and training. Men in medicine claimed that a medical education would make women physically ill, and that women physicians endangered their profession. Jacobi worked to prove them wrong and argued that it was social restrictions that threatened female health. Image: Mary Corinna Putnam as a medical student, 1860s Jacobi was the most significant woman physician of her era and an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, rising to national prominence in the 1870s. She was a harsh critic of the exclusion of women from the professions, and a social…

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Josephine Sophia White Griffing

Activist in the Abolitionist and Women’s Rights Movements Image: Family of Slaves Washington, DC, 1861 Josephine Sophia White Griffing was a social reform activist who campaigned for the abolition of slavery and women’s rights. In 1864, she moved to our nation’s capital to help the newly freed slaves who were streaming into the capital by the thousands. Griffing worked primarily as an agent for the Freedmen’s Bureau in Washington, DC. Early Years Josephine White was born December 18, 1814 in Hebron, Connecticut into a prominent New England family. Her father Joseph White Jr. served as a representative in the state legislature; her mother was sister of portrait artist Samuel Lovett Waldo. Little is known of Josephine’s childhood, and there are…

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Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin

Journalist and Founder of African American Women’s Clubs Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin was an African American leader, a publisher, journalist and editor of Women’s Era, the first newspaper published by and for African American women. She was an abolitionist and suffragist, and she is perhaps best remembered for her role in establishing clubs for African American women. Early Years Josephine St. Pierre was born August 31, 1842 in Boston, Massachusetts to John St. Pierre, a French and African man from Martinique, and Elizabeth Matilda Menhenick, a white woman from Cornwall, England. Her father was a very successful tailor in Boston and her family was a part of Boston society. Josephine received her education at public schools in Charlestown and Salem,…

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Bella Chapin Barrows

First Woman Eye Surgeon and Prison Reform Activist Image: Dr. Bella Chapin Barrows Credit: Hartland Historical Society Artist unknown Dr. Bella Chapin Barrows accomplished many firsts in her 68 years of life. She was the first woman employed by the U.S. State Department, first woman to have a private medical practice in Washington DC, first woman ophthalmologist (a specialist in eye ailments) in the United States, first woman eye surgeon, and first woman professor at a medical school (Howard University). Early Years Born Isabel Hayes April 17, 1845 in Irasburg, Vermont to Scottish immigrants Dr. Henry Hayes and Anna Gibb Hayes. Young Isabel – called Bella by everyone – helped her father on house calls by tending to wounds and…

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Olympia Brown

Suffragist and the First Woman Minister in the United States Olympia Brown was a suffragist, the first woman to graduate from a theological school, and the first woman minister in the United States.* In 1863, the Universalist Church ordained Brown, the first woman ordained by that denomination. She was also one of the first generation suffragists who survived long enough to vote after the Nineteenth Amendment was passed in 1920. Image: Olympia Brown in 1919 *Antoinette Brown Blackwell is often considered the first American woman minister (1853). She was ordained by a Congregationalist church in Butler, New York, but the Congregationalist denomination did not approve her ordination. Olympia Brown was fully ordained by the church; Blackwell was not. Early Years…

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Women’s Rights After the Civil War

Feminists and Activists for Women’s Equal Rights Image: Executive Committee of the National Woman Suffrage Association (1869) Women fought for more than 200 years to obtain the rights that were guaranteed to men in the U.S. Constitution. When the nineteenth century began, a woman was not permitted to vote or hold office; she had few rights to her own property or earnings; she could not take custody of her children if she divorced; she did not have access to a higher education. Birth of Feminism In the 1830s, thousands of women were involved in the movement to abolish slavery. While working to secure freedom for African Americans, these women began to see legal similarities between their situation and that of…

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