Rebecca Lee Crumpler

First African American Woman Doctor Rebecca Lee was born in Delaware in 1833. An aunt in Pennsylvania, who spent much of her time caring for sick neighbors, raised her. Due to her aunt’s influence, Rebecca developed a strong compassion for the sick at a very young age, and learned to care for ill patients. The first formal school for nursing did not open until 1873, so she performed her work without any formal training. By 1852, she moved to Charlestown, Massachusetts, where she worked as a nurse for the next eight years. Her dedication gained her notice from the doctors she served under, and with their recommendations, she entered the New England Female Medical College in Boston in 1860. In…

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Edmonia Lewis

Women in Art: 19th Century Sculptor Edmonia Lewis was an American sculptor who created beautiful art and received great acclaim. In a world which did not encourage women of color, through incredible determination and sense of purpose, Lewis became the first professional African American and Native American sculptor, and often depicted African and Native peoples in her work. Among her best-known sculptures are Minnehaha, Charles Sumner, Phillis Wheatley and Abraham Lincoln. Early Years Edmonia Lewis’ 1865 passport application states that she was born on July 4, 1844 in Greenbush, New York. Her father was a free black of West Indian lineage. Edmonia often said she was given the name Wild Fire by her mother, who was an excellent weaver and…

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Susie King Taylor

African American Civil War Nurse and Teacher Susie Baker began life as a slave on August 6, 1848, at the Grest Plantation in Liberty County, Georgia, 35 miles south of Savannah. She was the first of nine children of Hagar Ann Reed and Raymond Baker. Her mother was a domestic servant for the Grest family. The Grests treated Susie and her brother with great affection, their childless mistress even allowing them to sleep on her bed when her husband was away on business. This easy-going atmosphere, Susie’s first experience of mutual trust between black people and white, became part of the standard by which she judged all later relationships with white people. About 1854 Mr. Grest allowed Susie and her…

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Mary Edwards Walker

First Woman Surgeon in the Union Army After the Battle of Fredricksburg in December 1862, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker worked as a Civil War field surgeon near the Union front lines, treating soldiers in a tent hospital. She tried to increase the survival rate by advising stretcher bearers not to carry wounded soldiers downhill with the head below the feet. Although she probably did not perform any amputations, she thought that many of them were unnecessary and encouraged some soldiers to refuse them. Mary Edwards Walker, second female doctor in the United States, was born in Oswego, New York, on November 26, 1832, into an abolitionist family. Mary was the youngest of five girls, followed by one boy. Her father,…

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Anna Ella Carroll

First (Unofficial) Woman Cabinet Member President Abraham Lincoln asked Anna Ella Carroll to become his special advisor and an unofficial member of his Cabinet, the first woman to ever hold such a position. Unfortunately, the public never knew about Carroll’s important contributions because a woman would not have been trusted to fill such roles in the U.S. government. Anna Ella Carroll was born on August 29, 1815, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in a twenty-two-room mansion called Kingston Hall on a 2000-acre tobacco plantation in Somerset County. She was the first of eight children born to Juliana Stevenson Carroll and Thomas King Carroll. Anna’s paternal grandfather, Charles Carroll, signed the Declaration of Independence. Anna was educated and trained by her father…

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Sarah Grimke

One of the First Social Reformers in the United States Sarah Moore Grimke, the lesser known of the Grimke sisters, was born November 26, 1792, in Charleston, South Carolina, the daughter of Judge John Grimke. Sarah was a writer, an abolitionist and an early advocate of women’s rights. At five years old, she saw a slave being whipped and tried to board a steamship that could take her to a place where there was no slavery. The Grimkes lived alternately between a fashionable townhouse in Charleston and a thriving cotton plantation in Beaufort with hundreds of slaves. Judge Grimke was the Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court. He was a strong advocate of slavery and of the subordination…

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Vinnie Ream

One of the First Women Artists in the United States Vinnie Ream (1847–1914) was an American sculptor whose most famous work was the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the U.S. Capitol rotunda. In 1866, at the age of 18, Ream was selected by Congress to sculpt a memorial statue of Lincoln, making her the first woman commissioned to create a work of art for the United States government. Ream later created sculptures of Samuel Kirkwood and Sequoyah for the National Statuary Hall. During her career, Ream sculpted portraits of the likes of women’s rights leader Susan B. Anthony; abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher; former slave Frederick Douglass; 20th President of the United States James A. Garfield; journalist Horace Greeley; Hungarian composer…

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Abby Kelley

One of the First Feminists in the United States Abby Kelley (1811–1887) was a Quaker abolitionist and radical social reformer active from the 1830s to 1870s. She became a fundraiser, lecturer and committee organizer for the influential American Anti-Slavery Society. Fighting for equal rights for women soon became a new priority for many ultra abolitionists and Kelley was among them, speaking on women’s rights in Seneca Falls, New York five years before the first Women’s Rights Convention would be held there. Image: Abby Kelley Charlotte Wharton, Artist Abigail Kelley was born on January 15, 1811, in Pelham, Massachusetts. She was quite delicate as a child, and her family encouraged her to spend time outdoors. She helped her father around the…

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Lucy Stone

One of the First Feminists in the United States Lucy Stone (1818–1893) was a prominent American abolitionist and suffragist, and a tireless advocate of rights for women. She began her career in social reform by speaking out against slavery at a time when women were discouraged and prevented from public speaking. She was a pioneer in the women’s rights movement, addressing several legislative bodies and urging them to pass laws giving more rights to women. Stone was also the first recorded American woman to keep her maiden name after marriage. Lucy Stone was born near West Brookfield, Massachusetts, on August 13, 1818. As a young girl, Lucy noticed that her mother was totally dependent on her father, even having to…

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Elizabeth Blackwell

First Woman Doctor in the United States Elizabeth Blackwell (1821–1910) was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States, and a social reformer in both the US and in England. By the time of Blackwell’s death in 1910, the number of female doctors in the United States had risen to over 7,000. Childhood and Early Years Elizabeth Blackwell was born near Bristol, England February 3, 1821, the third daughter among nine children of sugar refiner Samuel Blackwell and Hannah (Lane) Blackwell. Every member of the Blackwell family was involved in social reform movements. They believed in free and equal education for both sexes, which was radical thinking for that time period. Four maiden aunts also lived…

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