Graceanna Lewis

Pioneer Scientist and Abolitionist Graceanna Lewis was an early female natural scientist who became an expert in the field of ornithology (the study of birds). She is also remembered as an activist in the temperance, women’s suffrage and antislavery movements, and her home was a station on the Underground Railroad. Image: Graceanna Lewis, circa 1865 Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, PA. Early Years Graceanna Lewis was born August 3, 1821 on a farm in Chester County Pennsylvania, second of four daughters of Quaker farmers John Lewis and Esther Fussell Lewis. John died in 1824, leaving the children in the care of their mother, who endured a lengthy battle for control of the estate left to her by her husband.

Mary Peake

Teacher of Runaway Slaves at Fortress Monroe Mary Peake was a teacher, best known for starting a school for the children of former slaves in the summer of 1861, under the shade of a tree that would become known as the Emancipation Oak in present-day Hampton, Virginia. This makeshift outdoor classroom provided the foundation of what would become Hampton University. Image: Mary Peake Early Years In 1823, Mary Smith Kelsey was born free in Norfolk, Virginia. Her father was an Englishman “of rank and culture” and her mother was a free woman of color, described as light-skinned. When Mary was six, her mother sent her to the town of Alexandria (then part of the District of Columbia) to attend school…

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Maria Ruiz de Burton

First Female Mexican American Author to Write in English Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton is among the best remembered authors of nineteenth-century Mexican American literature. Fully bilingual, de Burton was the first female Mexican American to write novels in English: Who Would Have Thought It? and The Squatter and the Don. Early Years Though records are sparse, Maria Amparo Ruiz was born into an aristocratic Latino family in Loreto on the Baja California peninsula of Mexico. Her grandfather, Don Jose Manuel Ruiz, was sent to the frontier to assist in the founding of missions in Baja. Heading a large force of men, Ruiz left Loreto in 1780, and several missions were soon founded. For this, Ruiz was awarded a large…

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Women of Oberlin College

First College to Admit Women and Blacks The main reason women did not go to college in the early 19th century was because most people believed that, because women became wives, mothers or teachers of young children, they did not need to go to college. But the founders of Oberlin College knew that women could become even better wives, mothers and teachers if they were able to take college classes. Image: Mary Caroline Rudd Allen One of the first American women to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree, which she earned at Oberlin College. The Oberlin Four Oberlin College was founded in 1833 in Oberlin, Ohio, and became the first college in the United States to admit women as well…

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Virginia Minor

Women’s Suffrage Leader in Missouri Virginia Minor claimed that as a native-born, free, white citizen of the United States and over the age of 21, the 14th Amendment gave her the right to vote. She attempted to register to vote but was denied because of her gender. Minor filed suit but lost her case – Minor v. Happersett (1874) – in the U.S. Supreme Court. The publicity, however, greatly helped her cause. Virginia Louisa Minor was born March 27, 1824 in Caroline County, Virginia to Warner and Marie Timberlake Minor. Virginia moved with her family to Charlottesville when her father was appointed hotel keeper at the University of Virginia. Virginia was educated at home and for a short time at…

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Esther Hobart Morris

First Woman Justice of the Peace in America Wyoming can claim many firsts for women: the right to vote, the first woman governor, and the first woman judge in American history, Esther Hobart Morris. At the time of her appointment as Justice of the Peace, Morris was 59 years old. Although widely celebrated as a hero of the early suffragist movement, she spent the first 55 years of her life living quietly in New York state and Illinois. Early Years Esther Hobart was born August 6, 1814 in Tioga County, New York. Orphaned as a young girl, she served as an apprentice to a seamstress and ran a millinery business out of her grandparents’ home. She was a successful businesswoman…

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Mary Treat

Pioneer Scientist and Author Mary Treat was a naturalist from New Jersey and a major contributor to many scientific developments of the nineteenth century. She is most well known for her extensive work in botany and entomology. Four species of plants and insects were named after her. She also corresponded with Charles Darwin. Treat was a pioneer in several areas of natural sciences. Image: Mary Treat in 1904 Mary Lua Adelia Davis was born September 7, 1830 in Trumansburg, New York. Her parents were Isaac Davis, a Methodist minister, and Eliza (English) Davis and she had one sister, Nellie. In 1839 her family moved to Ohio where she attended public school and, for a short while, a private girls’ academy.

First Women Magazine Editors

Early Women Magazine Editors: Few and Far Between Ladies’ Magazine (1827-1836) was the first American magazine edited by a woman: Sarah Josepha Hale. In 1837 it merged with Lady’s Book and Magazine to become Godey’s Lady’s Book. Hale moved from Boston to Philadelphia to edit the new magazine. She did not regret the move. Image: 1849 Cover of Godey’s Lady’s Book Sarah Josepha Hale, Editor For the most part, women’s magazines of the nineteenth century focused on concerns seen as appropriate to woman’s sphere. Advertisers found the traditional home-centered woman to be an excellent customer for their clothing, cosmetics and household products; therefore, they preferred to patronize publications that would not lead women to question their place in society.

First Women Nurses

History of American Women Nurses Nurses in the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) The Revolutionary War shifted the role of some women from housewives to caregivers on the battlefront. Soon after the Continental Army was created in 1775 to fight in the Revolutionary War, General George Washington was made aware that the wounded and sick required good female nurses, as the wounded soldiers were suffering greatly. Image: Following the Army by Pamela Patrick White Many women camp followers were hired to serve as nurses in the Continental Army Backstory Throughout history most healthcare took place in the home by family, friends and neighbors with knowledge of healing practices. In the United States, family-centered sick care remained traditional until the nineteenth century. Sick…

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Marie Zakrzewska

Founder of the New England Hospital for Women and Children In 1862, Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, an American physician of Polish descent, made a name for herself as a pioneer female doctor. She founded the New England Hospital for Women and Children, the first hospital in Boston – and the second in the United States – to be run by women doctors and surgeons. Early Years Marie Zakrzewska (pronounced Zak-SHEV-ska) was born September 6, 1829 in Berlin, Germany, the eldest of six children to Ludwig Martin Zakrzewski and Caroline Fredericke Wilhelmina Urban. Her father was from a noble Polish family who had lost their wealth and property to the Russians, so he worked as a civil servant. Her grandmother was a…

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