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…

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Helen Dortch Longstreet

Second Wife of General James Longstreet Helen Dortch Longstreet, known as the Fighting Lady, lived a long and eventful life. She earned her nickname as a champion of causes such as preservation of the environment, women’s suffrage and civil rights for African Americans. She also spent a great deal of time and energy defending her husband’s actions during the Civil War. Helen Dortch, born on April 20, 1863 in Carnesville, Georgia, was the daughter of Mary Pulliam and James Speed Dortch. She was educated at the Georgia Baptist Female Seminary in Gainesville, Georgia and the Notre Dame Convent in Baltimore, Maryland. On July 3, 1863, General James Longstreet (1821-1904) strongly objected to plan of attack formulated by General Robert E….

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Sarah Grimke

Sarah Grimke helped pioneer the antislavery and women’s rights movements in the United States. The daughter of a South Carolina slave-holder, she began as an advocate for the abolition of slavery, but was severely criticized for the public role she assumed in support of the abolitionist movement. In Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, and the Condition of Woman (1838), Grimke defended the right of women to speak in public in defense of a moral cause. Childhood and Early Years Sarah Moore Grimke was born on November 26, 1792, in Charleston, South Carolina. She was the eighth of fourteen children and the second daughter of Mary and John Faucheraud Grimke, a wealthy plantation owner who was also an attorney…

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Women’s Rights During the Civil War

Women Find New Power and Independence The American Civil War illustrates how gender roles can be transformed when circumstances demand that women be allowed to enter into previously male-dominated positions of power and independence. This was the first time in American history that women played a significant role in a war effort, and by the end of the war the notion of true womanhood had been redefined. During the decades prior to the Civil War, female activists flocked to the abolitionist movement and exerted considerable pressure on the Southern slavocracy. Authors like Lydia Maria Child published pamphlets and books condemning the institution of slavery. Although many male politicians searched for a negotiated settlement, female abolitionists refused to accept any compromise…

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Peggy Eaton

Peggy Eaton was the wife of John Eaton, President Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of War. Rumors of an extramarital affair caused other cabinet wives to shun her. The resulting scandal, the “Petticoat Affair,” brought about the resignation of Jackson’s entire cabinet and changed the direction of the political careers of two powerful men: John C. Calhoun and Martin Van Buren. Margaret Peggy O’Neill, born December 3, 1799, was the oldest of six children born to William and Rhoda Howell O’Neill. Peggy’s father was the owner of Franklin House, a popular Washington, DC boarding house and social center for politicians. Peggy was well-educated, and was known for her ability to play the piano and her “vivacious” temperament.

Grace Bedell

A Child’s Letter to One of Our Greatest Leaders Image: In 1999 the village of Westfield, New York erected these statues commemorating the meeting between Abraham Lincoln and Grace Bedell on February 16, 1861. Grace was eleven years old in 1860, when she wrote a letter to the presidential candidate from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln. Grace’s father was a staunch Republican and active Lincoln supporter, and one day in October 1860 he brought home a picture of Lincoln and his running mate in the 1860 presidential election, Hannibal Hamlin. Years later Grace explained her feelings that day: You are familiar with Mr. Lincoln’s physiognomy, and remember the high forehead over those sadly pathetic eyes, the angular lower face with the deep…

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Sarah Helen Whitman

Sarah Helen Whitman was a poet, essayist and fiancee of author Edgar Allan Poe. Whitman and Poe were engaged, and had her family not interfered in the relationship, they might have married. She was also active in the women’s suffrage movement in Rhode Island as well as in other efforts at social reform. Sarah Helen Power was born in Providence, Rhode Island on January 19, 1803, six years to the day before Edgar Allan Poe. Reading from an early age, Sarah was given a good education. She began writing poetry while at school, and beginning in the 1820s, her poetry appeared in newspapers, magazines, annuals and gift books.

Caroline Harrison

First First Lady to Support Women’s Rights Caroline Harrison, the wife of President Benjamin Harrison, was First Lady from 1889 until her death. She is remembered for her efforts to refurbish the aging White House. Her public support of women’s rights and higher education for women focused greater attention on those issue and promoted greater acceptance of a First Lady’s political ideals. Early Years Caroline Scott was born on October 1, 1832 in Oxford, Ohio, the second daughter of Mary Potts Neal and John Witherspoon Scott, a minister and professor of science and math at Miami University in Oxford. Along with two sisters and two brothers, Carrie, as she was called by friends and family, was raised in a modest,…

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Lydia Maria Child

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…

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Sarah Ballou

A Union Soldier’s Letter to His Wife Image: Sullivan and Sarah Ballou Sarah Ballou’s husband, Sullivan, left his family, law practice and a promising political career to enlist in the Union Army. On July 14, 1861, Sullivan Ballou wrote a poignant letter to his wife, expressing his love for her and his patriotism toward his country. A week later he fought in the first battle of the Civil War at Bull Run. Sarah would not see this letter for many months. Sarah Hart Shumway was born on February 26, 1837 in Worcester, Massachusetts to Christopher Columbus and Catharine Fowler Shumway. Sullivan Ballou was born March 28, 1829 in Smithfield, Rhode Island to Hiram and Emeline Bowen Ballou. He lost both…

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