Abigail Fillmore

14th First Lady of the United States Abigail Fillmore was the wife of Millard Fillmore and the first of the First Ladies to hold a job after marriage. She believed that women should have equal access to higher education and had the capacity to succeed at all intellectual pursuits. Though suffering from several physical ailments, she appeared at many public and official events with the President. Childhood and Early Years Abigail Powers was born on March 13, 1798 in Stillwater, Saratoga County, New York, while it was still on the fringe of civilization. She was one of seven children: five brothers and one sister. Her father, a locally prominent Baptist preacher named Lemuel Powers, died May 18, 1800, but he…

Read Article

Maria Stewart

First African American Woman to Lecture in Public Maria Stewart was an essayist, lecturer, abolitionist and women’s rights activist. She was the earliest known American woman to lecture in public on political issues. Stewart is known for four powerful speeches she delivered in Boston in the early 1830s – a time when no woman, black or white, dared to address an audience from a public platform. Childhood and Early Years She was born free as Maria Miller in 1803 in Hartford, Connecticut. All that is known about her parents is their surname, Miller. At the age of five, she lost both her parents and was forced to become a servant in the household of a white clergyman. She lived with…

Read Article

Myrtilla Miner

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….

Read Article
Dorothea Dix

Dorothea Dix

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…

Read Article

Prudence Crandall

Connecticut Educator of African American Girls Prudence Crandall (1803-1890) was controversial for her education of African American girls in Canterbury, Connecticut. In the fall of 1831, she opened a private school, which was boycotted when she admitted a 17-year-old African-American female student in fall 1833. This is widely regarded as the first integrated classroom in the United States. Crandall is Connecticut’s official State Heroine. Prudence Crandall was born in Hopkinton, Rhode Island on September 3, 1803 to a Quaker family. In 1820 her father moved the family to the small town of Canterbury, Connecticut. Most women during the early 1800s did not receive much education, but Quakers believed in equal education, regardless of gender. Prudence Crandall attended the New England…

Read Article

Narcissa Whitman

Pioneer and Missionary in Oregon Country Narcissa Whitman (1808-1847) traveled some 3,000 miles from her home in upstate New York to Oregon Country. She was the first white woman to cross the Rocky Mountains in 1836 on her way to found the Whitman Mission among the Cayuse Indians near modern day Walla Walla, Washington. She became one of the best known figures of the 19th century through her diaries and the many letters she wrote to family and friends in the east. Childhood and Early Years Narcissa Prentiss was born on March 14, 1808 in Prattsburgh, New York, the third of nine children of Stephen and Clarissa Prentiss and the oldest of their five daughters. Her father cleared land for…

Read Article

Isabella Graham

Scottish-American Educator and Philanthropist Isabella Marshall Graham (1742-1814) was a Scottish-born charity worker, educator and philanthropist who founded one of the earliest relief societies in the United States. She was one of the leading figures in the movement to provide assistance to the poor who were coming into American cities in search of work in the early days of the industrial revolution. Born in Lanarkshire, Scotland, on July 29, 1742, Isabella Marshall grew up on an estate at Eldersley near Paisley. An inheritance from her grandfather enabled her to attend boarding school for seven years, where she received an excellent education. At 17, she became a member of the Church of Scotland under the ministry of Dr. John Witherspoon, later…

Read Article

Elizabeth Ann Seton

Educator and Founder of the Sisters of Charity Elizabeth Seton (1774–1821) was the first native born American to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church (September 14, 1975). She established the first Catholic school in the nation at Emmitsburg, Maryland, where she founded the first American congregation of Religious Sisters, the Sisters of Charity. Her enduring legacy now includes six religious communities with more than 5,000 members, hundreds of schools, social service centers and hospitals throughout America and around the world. Image: Monument in St. Raymond’s Cemetery Bronx, New York Childhood and Early Years Elizabeth Ann Bayley was born on August 28, 1774, the second child of a socially prominent couple, Dr. Richard Bayley and Catherine Charlton of New York…

Read Article

Lydia Sigourney

Poet, Author, Educator and Businesswoman Lydia Sigourney (1791–1865) was a popular poet, essayist and travel writer during the early and mid 19th century. Most of her works were published with just her married name Mrs. Sigourney. Her poetry, like her prose, was about public subjects – history, slavery, missionary work and current events – or treated personal matters, especially loss and death, as experiences common to all. In contrast to Emily Dickinson or Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sigourney wrote for popular consumption, and was among the first American women to establish a successful writing career. Childhood and Early Years Lydia Huntley was born in Norwich, Connecticut, on September 1, 1791, the only child of a gardener-handyman and his wife. Lydia’s commitments…

Read Article

Susanna Rowson

Early American Educator, Novelist and Actress Susanna Rowson’s novel Charlotte Temple became the first bestseller in America when it was published in 1794 by Matthew Carey of Philadelphia. Rowson (1762–1824) was a British-American novelist, poet, textbook author, playwright and actress. She was also a pioneer in female education, opening the Academy for Young Ladies in Boston in 1797, offering an advanced curriculum to young ladies, and operating the school until her retirement in 1822. Childhood and Early Years Susanna Haswell was born in 1762 in Portsmouth, England to Royal Navy Lieutenant William Haswell and Susanna Musgrave Haswell, who soon died from complications of childbirth, an event that surely influenced Rowson’s fiction. Her father left Susanna in England in the care…

Read Article