Famous American Educators

Eons before kindergarten became an integral part of our education system and a compulsory one at that, young children were made to slog at factories and mines, clean chimneys and work as household helps. They attended no school and were deprived of basic education. What is even scarier is that the children were considered adults by the tender age of seven. Thanks to a man named Friedrich Froebel who laid the foundation for pre-school education by inventing kindergarten. But he isn’t the only one. History is rife with many such powerful educational reformers and educators who with their vision, dedication, and hard work did everything in their power to make the world a better place. When we think of educators, names like Confucius, Aristotle, John Locke and Henry David Thoreau spring readily in our minds. But even America has homed educators who have rocked history by breaking down all barriers, opening new doors of understanding, and revolutionizing the teaching method. Dr. Temple Grandin, Anne Sullivan, Stephen Hawking, Elizabeth Blackwell, Emma Willard and Lisa Delpit are examples of some of America’s eminent educators who redefined education system in their own unique way. Let us explore their timeline, trivia, and interesting facts in the biographies below.

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

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Booker T. Washington
5
Birthdate: April 5, 1856
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Westlake Corner, Virginia, United States
Died: November 14, 1915
Booker T. Washington was born into slavery but rose to be an advisor to many U.S. presidents and also became the director of the Tuskegee Institute. His Atlanta Compromise, initially accepted and later rejected by black leaders, urged the blacks to work for their freedom through education and not revolt.

 2 
Richard Feynman
(Physicist)

Richard Feynman
4
Birthdate: May 11, 1918
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: New York, New York, United States
Died: February 15, 1988

Theoretical physicist Richard Feynman won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965, along with Julian Schwinger and Shin'ichirō Tomonaga, for his research on quantum electrodynamics. He also contributed to the development of the atomic bomb. Feyman made it to Physics World’s list of the 10 greatest physicists of all time.

 3 
John Dewey
(Philosopher)

John Dewey
11
Birthdate: October 20, 1859
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Burlington, Vermont, United States
Died: June 1, 1952

A staunch advocate of progressive education and liberalism, the American philosopher and psychologist was the founder of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. John Dewey’s famous writings included The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology and Human Nature and Conduct. According to him, passion for knowledge and intellectual curiosity were central to a teacher. He called himself a democratic socialist.

 4 
Helen Keller
(Author, First Deafblind Person to Earn a B.A. Degree)

Helen Keller
21
Birthdate: June 27, 1880
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Tuscumbia, Alabama, United States
Died: June 1, 1968

A prolific author, having written 12 published books and several articles, Helen Keller was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. Her autobiography, The Story of My Life, made Keller famous and was adapted for film and stage. She was also an activist and campaigned for women's suffrage, labour rights, socialism and other such causes.

 5 
Margaret Sanger
(Founder of the 'Birth Control' Movement)

Margaret Sanger
4
Birthdate: September 14, 1879
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Corning, New York, United States
Died: September 6, 1966

Margaret Sanger was an American writer and sex educator. She is credited with popularizing the term birth control. A birth control activist, Sanger established the first birth control clinic in America. She also set up organizations that later became the well-known non-profit organization Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She also played a key role in legalizing contraception in the US.

 6 
Stedman Graham
(Educator)

Stedman Graham
8
Birthdate: March 6, 1951
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Middle Township, New Jersey, United States
Stedman Graham is known to people as the partner of legendary talk show host Oprah Winfrey. He owns the marketing firm S. Graham & Associates and has also authored many business and self-help books, taught at Full Sail University, and spoken at various events. He owns a non-profit, too.

 7 
Sal Khan
(Teacher)

Sal Khan
7
Birthdate: October 11, 1976
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Metairie, Louisiana, U.S.

What began as amateur math tutorials for his cousin later became Sal Khan’s dream project, the online education platform Khan Academy, which now has over 42 million users worldwide. Named to Time 100 in 2012, the American-born Bengali former hedge fund analyst is an MIT and Harvard alumnus.

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 8 
Tony Danza
(Actor)

Tony Danza
6
Birthdate: April 21, 1951
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, United States

 9 
Christa McAuliffe
(Former Astronaut who was chosen for the STS-51-L mission from among 11,000 applications)

Christa McAuliffe
4
Birthdate: September 2, 1948
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Died: January 28, 1986

Christa McAuliffe was an American astronaut and teacher who died while serving as a payload specialist on board Space Shuttle Challenger, which exploded during STS-51-L. McAuliffe was all set to become the first teacher in space as she was part of the NASA Teacher in Space Project. In 2004, she was posthumously honored with the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.

 10 
Ralph Nader
(Political Activist)

Ralph Nader
4
Birthdate: February 27, 1934
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Winsted, Connecticut, United States
Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe at Any Speed was his critique of the safety measures of U.S. automobile manufacturers. His activism has led to the passage of acts such as the Consumer Product Safety Act. One of Time’s 100 Most Influential Americans, he inspired the documentary An Unreasonable Man

 11 
Timothy Francis Leary
(American psychologist)

Timothy Francis Leary
4
Birthdate: October 22, 1920
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States
Died: May 31, 1996

Psychologist and former Harvard professor Timothy Leary was an advocate of psychedelic drugs. His research experiments included the controversial Concord Prison Experiment and Marsh Chapel Experiment. After being fired from Harvard for his actions, he continued promoting his theories through catchphrases such as “turn on, tune in, drop out.”

 12 
James Naismith
(The Inventor of the Game of 'Basketball')

James Naismith
4
Birthdate: November 6, 1861
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Almonte, Mississippi Mills, Canada
Died: November 28, 1939
Canadian-American physician and coach James Naismith is considered as the inventor of basketball. He authored the first basksetball rule book and established the University of Kansas basketball team. He served as the Kansas Jayhawks athletic director and coach, and trained legends such as Adolph Rupp and Dean Smith.

 13 
Anne Sullivan
(Educator)

Anne Sullivan
9
Birthdate: April 14, 1866
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Agawam, Massachusetts, United States
Died: October 20, 1936

 14 
Michio Kaku
(Physicist who wrote the best-selling books Physics of the Impossible)

Michio Kaku
4
Birthdate: January 24, 1947
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: San Jose, California, United States

Apart from teaching at the City College of New York, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku also often pens his thoughts in blogs and has written several bestselling books, such as The God Equation. His research is focused on the string theory. He also believes in the existence of aliens.

 15 
Betty Shabazz
(Educator)

Betty Shabazz
9
Birthdate: May 28, 1934
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Pinehurst, Georgia, United States
Died: June 23, 1997

Civil rights activist and educator Betty Shabazz, or Betty X, was the wife of Black nationalist leader Malcolm X. Raised by her adoptive parents in Detroit, she met Malcolm X at a Nation of Islam event in Harlem. She died when her apartment was set on fire set by her grandson.

 16 
Sonya Curry
(Dell Curry's Wife)

Sonya Curry
6
Birthdate: May 30, 1966
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Radford, Virginia, United States

The wife of NBA star Dell Curry and the mother of basketball players Seth and Stephen Curry, Sonya Curry grew up amid poverty and often had racist encounters with the Ku Klux Klan. Once a star volleyball player at Virginia Tech, she now heads the Christian Montessori School founded by her.

 17 
Katie Porter
(Politician)

Katie Porter
7
Birthdate: January 3, 1974
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Fort Dodge, Iowa, U.S.

Currently a member of the House of Representative from the 45th Congressional District in Orange County, California, American politician Katie Porter practiced law before taking up teaching as her full time profession. Eventually she won the 2018 election to the House and is now a member of the House Natural Resources Committee and deputy chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

 18 

Ta-Nehisi Coates
12
Birthdate: September 30, 1975
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Baltimore, Maryland, United States

Author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates gained international prominence while serving as the national correspondent at The Atlantic. His writings on socio-political issues related to African Americans and white supremacy garnered him much appreciation. He is a recipient of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center Prize for Writing to Advance Social Justice. He also writes fiction and comics.

 19 

Joseph Campbell
4
Birthdate: March 26, 1904
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: White Plains, New York, United States
Died: October 30, 1987
Joseph Campbell taught literature at the Sarah Lawrence College and specialized in comparative mythology and comparative religion. His notable works include The Hero with a Thousand Faces and the four-volume Historical Atlas of World Mythology. He also worked on the miniseries, The Power of Myth, with Bill Moyers.

 20 

Arnold Schoenberg
5
Birthdate: September 13, 1874
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Leopoldstadt, Vienna, Austria
Died: July 13, 1951
Austrian-born composer Arnold Schoenberg was part of the German Expressionist Movement and led the Second Viennese School. Being Jewish, he was banned by the Nazis and later became an American citizen. Known for his twelve-tone technique, he coined the term developing variation and formed motifs without a centralized melodic idea.

 21 
Jane Elliott
(Schoolteacher)

Jane Elliott
6
Birthdate: May 27, 1933
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Riceville, Iowa, United States

Jane Elliott is an American schoolteacher best known for inventing and popularizing the Blue eyes/Brown eyes exercise. The exercise, which was first conducted on April 5, 1968, with her third-grade class, aims at helping people understand the ill-effects of racial discrimination. The classroom exercise has inspired a couple of documentaries namely The Eye of the Storm and The Angry Eye.  

 22 
Brene Brown
(Researcher)

Brene Brown
7
Birthdate: November 18, 1965
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: San Antonio, Texas, U.S.

Apart from being a University of Houston research professor, Brene Brown has also been a successful author of New York Times bestsellers such as Braving the Wilderness, and a podcast host. She also has a lecture featured on Netflix, while her Ted Talk is one of the world’s top-five most-viewed. 

 23 
John G. Trump
(Scientist)

John G. Trump
15
Birthdate: August 21, 1907
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: New York, New York, United States
Died: February 21, 1985

Better known as former U.S. president Donald Trump’s uncle, John G. Trump was an MIT physicist and engineer. Though he had initially aspired to be an architect and join his brother Fred’s real-estate business, John later concentrated on his research that led to the invention of high-voltage generators.

 24 
Peter Drucker
(Management Consultant)

Peter Drucker
5
Birthdate: November 19, 1909
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Vienna, Austria
Died: November 11, 2005

 25 

Jaime Escalante
4
Birthdate: December 31, 1930
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: La Paz, Bolivia
Died: March 20, 2010

Jaime Escalante  was a Bolivian-American educator. He is best remembered for teaching calculus to students at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles from 1974 to 1991. He had an illustrious career and was a much-respected figure in teaching.  The film Stand and Deliver is based on his life. He received Presidential Medal for Excellence in Education in 1988. 

 26 
Itzhak Perlman
(Violinist)

Itzhak Perlman
4
Birthdate: August 31, 1945
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel
A bout of polio at age 4 left Itzhak Perlman’s legs paralyzed but could not deter his spirit. The Juilliard alumnus has won 16 Grammys and the coveted Leventritt Prize for his phenomenal compositions. He has also served as a conductor for Detroit Symphony and orchestras. 

 27 
Ennis Cosby
(Teacher)

Ennis Cosby
4
Birthdate: April 15, 1969
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, United States
Died: January 16, 1997

The only son of comedian Bill Cosby, Ennis Cosby made headlines when he was shot dead at 27, in an attempted robbery on a deserted Southern California road. He was dyslexic and discussed his disability with the children he taught as a student-teacher at the Alfred E. Smith Elementary School.

 28 
Aaron Copland
(Composer, Teacher)

Aaron Copland
5
Birthdate: November 14, 1900
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, United States
Died: December 2, 1990

 29 
Marilyn Milian
(Judge, TV personality)

Marilyn Milian
4
Birthdate: May 1, 1961
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Astoria, New York, United States

 30 
Roxane Gay
(Writer)

Roxane Gay
7
Birthdate: October 15, 1974
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.

Roxane Gay is an American writer, editor, professor, and social commentator. She is credited with founding an Illinois-based small press called Tiny Hardcore Press as well as the now-defunct Gay Magazine, which was founded in association with Medium. Roxane Gay is the recipient of a couple of Lambda Literary Awards and an Eisner Award for Best Limited Series.

 31 
Coyote Peterson
(Wildlife Educator & YouTuber)

Coyote Peterson
4
Birthdate: September 1, 1981
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Newbury Center, Ohio, United States

 32 
Stephen Covey
(Educator, Author)

Stephen Covey
4
Birthdate: October 24, 1932
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
Died: July 16, 2012

 33 
George P. Bush
(Politician)

George P. Bush
10
Birthdate: April 24, 1976
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Houston, Texas, U.S.

 34 

Tom Laughlin
4
Birthdate: August 10, 1931
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Died: December 12, 2013

 35 
Sylvia Earle
(Marine biologist)

Sylvia Earle
7
Birthdate: August 30, 1935
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Gibbstown, New Jersey, U.S.
Sylvia Earle is known for her research on marine algae and she was the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Earle held the world record for the deepest untethered dive and was named by Time Magazine as its first Hero for the Planet, in 1998. She also featured in Netflix Original documentary Seaspiracy.

 36 
Erin Murphy
(Actress)

Erin Murphy
6
Birthdate: June 17, 1964
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Encino, California, USA

 37 
Wynton Marsalis
(Trumpeter)

Wynton Marsalis
5
Birthdate: October 18, 1961
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

 38 
Horace Mann
(Educator & Politician)

Horace Mann
4
Birthdate: May 4, 1796
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Franklin
Died: August 2, 1859

 39 

Henry Louis Gates Jr.
7
Birthdate: September 16, 1950
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Keyser, West Virginia

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is an American literary critic, historian, professor, filmmaker, and public intellectual. He is currently serving as the director of the Hutchins Center at Harvard University. Over the years Gates has been honored with several prestigious awards including the National Humanities Medal. In 1997, he was named in Time magazine's 25 Most Influential Americans list.

 40 
Joshua Chamberlain
(Educator & War Hero)

Joshua Chamberlain
4
Birthdate: September 8, 1828
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Brewer
Died: February 24, 1914

 41 
Linda Lee Cadwell
(Teacher & Bruce Lee's Widow)

Linda Lee Cadwell
4
Birthdate: March 21, 1945
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Everett, Washington, United States
Linda Lee Cadwell, former wife of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, is a teacher and author who met Bruce at a Kung Fu workshop in Seattle. Her memoir Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew inspired Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. She was a trustee of the Bruce Lee Foundation.

 42 
Lola Van Wagenen
(Historians)

Lola Van Wagenen
4
Birthdate: March 21, 1945, 1938
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Provo, Utah, United States

Lola Van Wagenen is an American historian who is credited with co-founding non-profit educational organizations like Consumer Action Now (CAN) and Clio Visualizing History, Inc. Consumer Action Now went on to establish several environmental education and consumer-oriented programs in an attempt to raise awareness about the effects of consumers' buying habits on the environment.

 43 
Benjamin Graham
(Economist, Investor)

Benjamin Graham
4
Birthdate: May 8, 1894
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: London, England
Died: September 21, 1976

 44 
David Eisenhower
(Writer, Educator)

David Eisenhower
4
Birthdate: March 31, 1948
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: West Point, New York, United States

Author, academic, and public policy fellow David Eisenhower teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. Best known for his Pulitzer Prize-shortlisted book Eisenhower at War: 1943-1945, he is the grandson of former U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower and the son of John Eisenhower. He is also the son-in-law of Richard Nixon.

 45 
Adam Nimoy
(Director)

Adam Nimoy
6
Birthdate: August 9, 1956
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, USA

 46 
Edward Said
(Professor)

Edward Said
6
Birthdate: November 1, 1935
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Mandatory Palestine
Died: September 25, 2003

 47 

Brandon Sanderson
11
Birthdate: December 19, 1975
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Lincoln, Nebraska, U.S.

Best known for works such as the Mistborn trilogy and The Emperor's Soul, sci-fi and epic fantasy author Brandon Sanderson had initially studied biochemistry and then switched to literature. He has also worked as a missionary in South Korea and now teaches creative writing at his alma, Brigham Young University.

 48 
John McWhorter
(Linguist)

John McWhorter
6
Birthdate: October 6, 1965
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Philadelphia

 49 
Mamie Till
(Activist)

Mamie Till
5
Birthdate: November 23, 1921
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: near Webb, Mississippi, USA
Died: January 6, 2003

 50 

Mary McLeod Bethune
4
Birthdate: July 10, 1875
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Mayesville, South Carolina, United States
Died: May 18, 1955