Famous American Social Reformers

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 1 Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman
41
Famous As: Abolitionist and Political activist
Birthdate: February 29, 1822
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Dorchester County, Maryland, United States
Died: March 10, 1913

Born to parents who were bonded slaves, Harriet Tubman life was a difficult one from the very beginning. Yet with her remarkable courage and determination, she not only escaped slavery herself, but also led other enslaved people to freedom. The prominent political activist and abolitionist was also the first woman to lead an armed expedition during the American Civil War.

 2 Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass
12
Famous As: Abolitionist, Social Reformer
Birthdate: 1818 AD
Birthplace: Talbot County, Maryland, United States
Died: February 20, 1895

Social reformer and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass was a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York. Born into slavery, he had a difficult early life. Eventually, he managed to escape and dedicated the rest of his life to promoting the cause of abolition. He was a great orator and writer.

 3 Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells
4
Famous As: Journalist
Birthdate: July 16, 1862
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Holly Springs, Mississippi, United States
Died: March 25, 1931
Civil rights and women's rights activist Ida B. Wells is remembered for speaking up against the lynching of Blacks in the U.S. She was born a slave and freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. She later co-founded the NAACP. She also co-owned and wrote for Memphis Free Speech and Headlight.

 4 Margaret Sanger

Margaret Sanger
8
Famous As: Activist
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.

 5 Jane Addams

Jane Addams
14
Birthdate: September 6, 1860
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Cedarville, Illinois, U.S.
Died: May 21, 1935

Jane Addams was an American social worker, reformer, settlement activist, public administrator, sociologist, and author. Addams was a prominent leader in the history of women's suffrage and social work in the USA. She is credited with co-founding one of America's most popular settlement houses, the Hull House in Chicago. Addams is also credited with co-founding the American Civil Liberties Union.

 6 William Lloyd Garrison

William Lloyd Garrison
8
Famous As: Journalist, Abolitionist
Birthdate: December 10, 1805
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Newburyport, Massachusetts, United States
Died: May 24, 1879

William Lloyd Garrison was an American journalist, abolitionist, social reformer, and suffragist. He is best remembered for founding The Liberator, an anti-slavery newspaper, which was published from 1831 to 1865. He also co-founded the American Anti-Slavery Society which helped fight slavery in the United States. In the 1870s, William Lloyd Garrison was an important figure in the women's suffrage movement.

 7 Dorothea Dix

Dorothea Dix
10
Famous As: Social Reformer
Birthdate: April 4, 1802
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Maine, US
Died: July 17, 1887

Dorothea Dix was an American advocate who fought for the welfare of the mentally ill. She helped create the first generation of mental asylums in the United States. Dix also played a key role during the Civil War, serving as a Superintendent of Army Nurses. In 1979, Dorothea Dix was made an inductee of the National Women's Hall of Fame.

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 8 Lucretia Mott

Lucretia Mott
3
Famous As: Abolitionist, Women's Rights Activist, Social Reformer
Birthdate: January 3, 1793
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Nantucket, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died: November 11, 1880

Lucretia Mott was an American women's rights activist, abolitionist, and social reformer. Mott played a major role in the events leading up to the Seneca Falls Convention, the first gathering supporting women's rights in the USA. Lucretia Mott's work influenced Elizabeth Cady Stanton whom she mentored. In 1983, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

 9 Josiah Henson

Josiah Henson
3
Famous As: Abolitionist
Birthdate: June 15, 1789
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Charles County, Maryland, United States
Died: May 5, 1883

Josiah Henson was an American abolitionist, author, and minister. Henson escaped to Upper Canada after being born into slavery and founded a settlement for other fugitive slaves in Kent County. Josiah Henson's autobiography about his escape from slavery is said to have inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe's title character in her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin.

 10 Carl Schurz

Carl Schurz
3
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: March 2, 1829
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Erftstadt, Germany
Died: May 14, 1906

Carl Schurz was a German-born American statesman, reformer, and journalist. After immigrating to the USA during the German revolutions of 1848–49, Schurz became an important member of the Republican Party. He also helped found the Liberal Republican Party which was organized to oppose the reelection of Ulysses S. Grant.  

 11 Florence Kelley

Florence Kelley
5
Famous As: Social Reformer
Birthdate: September 12, 1859
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: February 17, 1932

Florence Kelley was an American political and social reformer who pioneered the term wage abolitionism. Kelley's work for the minimum wage, children's rights, and eight-hour workdays are widely acclaimed today. After serving as the National Consumers League’s first general secretary, Florence Kelley helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.    

 12 Theodore Parker

Theodore Parker
5
Famous As: Transcendentalist
Birthdate: August 24, 1810
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Lexington, Massachusetts, United States
Died: May 10, 1860

Theodore Parker was an American transcendentalist minister whose words and quotations would later help inspire popular speeches of the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. A reformer and abolitionist, Parker played a key role in fighting against such laws as the Fugitive Slave Act.

 13 Abigail Folger

Abigail Folger
3
Famous As: Social worker
Birthdate: August 11, 1943
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: San Francisco, California, United States
Died: August 9, 1969

 14 Mary White Ovington

Mary White Ovington
3
Famous As: Journalist
Birthdate: April 11, 1865
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, United States
Died: July 15, 1951

Mary White Ovington was an American journalist and suffragist. She is best remembered as one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Throughout her life, Mary White Ovington remained active in the fight for women's suffrage in the United States of America. She also wrote several articles and books including an autobiography. 

 15 Thomas Morton

Thomas Morton
5
Famous As: English clergyman
Birthdate: 1579 AD
Birthplace: not known
Died: 1647 AD

Thomas Morton was a colonist in North America who immigrated from Devon, England. Morton was also a social reformer, writer, and lawyer best remembered for studying Native American culture. He is credited with founding the colony of Merrymount, present-day Quincy, Massachusetts.

 16 Gerrit Smith

Gerrit Smith
3
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: March 6, 1797
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Utica, New York, United States
Died: December 28, 1874

Gerrit Smith was an American social reformer, politician, abolitionist, and philanthropist. Although he was a prominent candidate for President of the USA in 1848, 1856, and 1860, Smith served only 18 months in the federal government. Throughout his life, he was a major financial contributor to the Republican Party and the Liberty Party.

 17 Daniel Carter Beard

Daniel Carter Beard
3
Famous As: Illustrator
Birthdate: June 21, 1850
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States
Died: June 11, 1941

Daniel Carter Beard was an American author, illustrator, social reformer, and Georgist. He is credited with founding the Sons of Daniel Boone, which he later integrated with the Boy Scouts of America. He also served as the editor of Boys' Life magazine and helped his sister assemble the Camp Fire Girls.

 18 George Ripley

George Ripley
2
Famous As: Journalist
Birthdate: October 3, 1802
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Greenfield, Massachusetts, United States
Died: July 4, 1880

George Ripley was an American journalist, Unitarian minister, and social reformer. He is best remembered for his association with Transcendentalism. Ripley is credited with founding a Utopian community named Brook Farm in Massachusetts. He later established himself as a literati, working for the New York Tribune and publishing the New American Cyclopaedia.

 19 Hannah Whitall Smith

Hannah Whitall Smith
2
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: February 7, 1832
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: May 1, 1911

 20 Grace Abbott

Grace Abbott
2
Famous As: Social Worker
Birthdate: November 17, 1878
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Grand Island, Nebraska, United States
Died: June 19, 1939

Grace Abbott is best remembered for her efforts toward securing reformation of child labor laws and the betterment of the work conditions of immigrant laborers. After her graduation, she moved to Hull House, where she focused on social work. She later penned books such as The Immigrant and the Community.

 21 Robert Dale Owen

Robert Dale Owen
2
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: November 7, 1801
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Glasgow, Scotland
Died: June 24, 1877

Born to Welsh social reformer Robert Owen, Robert Dale Owen followed in his father’s footsteps to become a socialist and even teamed up with his father to set up a socialist community in New Harmony, Indiana. He was also a key part of the Working Men's Party and the Democratic Party.

 22 Abigail Kelley Foster

Abigail Kelley Foster
6
Famous As: Social Reformer
Birthdate: January 15, 1811
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Pelham, Massachusetts, United States
Died: January 14, 1887

Born into a Quaker household, Abigail Kelley Foster later grew up to be a teacher and a strong anti-slavery advocate. Both she and her husband, Stephen Symonds Foster, also worked on women’s rights issues. She was also named to the National Women's Hall of Fame.

 23 Ellen Gates Starr

Ellen Gates Starr
2
Famous As: Social Reformer
Birthdate: March 19, 1859
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Illinois, United States
Died: February 10, 1940

Ellen Gates Starr is best remembered for co-establishing the Hull House social settlement in Chicago along with activist Jane Addams. Initially an art student, she later dedicated her life for the betterment of immigrant factory workers and reformation for child labor laws. She later retired to a Roman Catholic convent.

 24 Amanda Smith

Amanda Smith
2
Famous As: Leader
Birthdate: January 23, 1837
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Long Green, Maryland, United States
Died: February 24, 1915

Born into slavery, Amanda Smith later stepped into freedom after her father bought his and his family’s freedom. Starting as a domestic help, she later became a missionary and a Holiness movement leader, who invested in women’s education wholeheartedly and even established an orphanage for Black girls.

 25 Rose Schneiderman

Rose Schneiderman
0
Famous As: Trade unionist
Birthdate: April 6, 1882
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Sawin, Poland
Died: August 11, 1972

 26 Leon Sullivan

Leon Sullivan
2
Famous As: Civil rights leader
Birthdate: October 16, 1922
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Charleston, West Virginia, United States
Died: April 24, 2001

Born into a poor neighborhood, Leon Sullivan later bagged an athletic scholarship but had to abandon his sports career due to an injury. He later became a Zion Baptist Church pastor and was actively involved in the civil rights movement and Operation Breadbasket, the latter meant to uplift Blacks economically.

 27 Josephine Shaw Lowell

Josephine Shaw Lowell
2
Famous As: Biographer
Birthdate: December 16, 1843
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Roxbury, Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Died: October 12, 1905

Best remembered for establishing the New York Consumers League, Josephine Shaw Lowell believed that charity shouldn’t just relieve people’s suffering but also help people in overcoming their misery by rehabilitating them. She was also the first female commissioner of the New York Charities Commission and campaigned for women’s rights.

 28 Charles Loring Brace

Charles Loring Brace
2
Famous As: Philanthropist
Birthdate: June 19, 1826
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Litchfield, Connecticut, United States
Died: August 11, 1890

Known as the pioneer of the modern foster care system, Charles Loring Brace was raised by a single father. He established New York’s Children’s Aid Society and served as its executive secretary for almost 4 decades. His works inspired the Social Gospel movement. He also spearheaded the Orphan Train movement.

 29 Florence Jaffray Harriman

Florence Jaffray Harriman
2
Famous As: Socialite
Birthdate: July 21, 1870
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: New York, New York, United States
Died: August 31, 1967

Born to an affluent New York banker, Florence Jaffray Harriman initially established herself as a well-known socialite. She later invested in social reform, organizing events and campaigns on child labor and related issues. She also served as an American minister to Norway during World War II.

 30 Franklin Benjamin Sanborn

Franklin Benjamin Sanborn
2
Famous As: Journalist
Birthdate: December 15, 1831
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, United States
Died: February 24, 1917

A renowned social scientist, journalist, and teacher, Franklin Benjamin Sanborn is remembered for establishing the American Social Science Association. The Harvard alumnus was a prominent abolitionist and was associated with many intellectuals and literary legends in Concord, Massachusetts. As part of the Secret Six, he funded John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry.

 31 Frances Dana Barker Gage

Frances Dana Barker Gage
2
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: October 12, 1808
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Marietta, Ohio, United States
Died: November 10, 1884

Known for her involvement in various anti-slavery and women’s empowerment campaigns, Frances Dana Barker Gage was a prominent American social reformer. She was also associated with the farmers’ papers Ohio Cultivator and Field Notes. She also worked toward achieving women’s voting rights and property rights.

 32 Charles Eliot Norton

Charles Eliot Norton
2
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: November 16, 1827
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
Died: October 21, 1908

American art professor and author Charles Eliot Norton was also a prominent social reformer. The Harvard graduate not only lectured at his alma later but also penned a number of books, which included a translation of The Divine Comedy by Dante. He also campaigned in support of euthanasia.

 33 Thomas Mott Osborne

Thomas Mott Osborne
2
Famous As: Political Figure
Birthdate: September 23, 1859
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Auburn, New York, United States
Died: October 20, 1926

A renowned penologist, Thomas Mott Osborne is known for introducing several reforms for prisoners, such as self-help and humanitarian programs. While chairing the New York State Commission on Prison Reform, he disguised himself as a prisoner to learn about their living conditions. He had also been a Sing Sing State Prison warden.

 34 Mary Van Kleeck

Mary Van Kleeck
2
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: June 26, 1883
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Glenham, New York, United States
Died: June 8, 1972

Dutch-American social reformer Mary Van Kleeck is remembered for her relentless work for female factory workers and child laborers. She also headed the department of international studies of the Russell Sage Foundation for more than 3 decades. She supported Soviet socialism and also penned books such as Creative America.

 35 Sophonisba Breckinridge

Sophonisba Breckinridge
4
Famous As: Educator
Birthdate: April 1, 1866
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Lexington, Kentucky, United States
Died: July 30, 1948

Apart from being a prominent Progressive Era social reformer, Sophonisba Breckinridge also created history by becoming the first female to be named to the Kentucky bar and the first woman PhD holder in political science and economics at the University of Chicago. She also launched the journal Social Service Review.

 36 Julia Lathrop

Julia Lathrop
2
Famous As: Social worker
Birthdate: June 29, 1858
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Rockford, Illinois, United States
Died: April 15, 1932

Born to a well-known lawyer, Julia Lathrop initially worked in her father’s law office and later turned into a full-fledged social reformer working on areas such as education and children’s welfare. She also created history by serving as the first director of the U.S. Children’s Bureau.

 37 Benjamin Lundy

Benjamin Lundy
2
Famous As: Abolitionist
Birthdate: January 4, 1789
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Hardwick Township, New Jersey, United States
Died: August 22, 1839

Born into a Quaker household, Benjamin Lundy had developed anti-slavery sentiments quite early in life. He grew up to become one of the leading abolitionists of the 19th century. He also launched papers such as The National Enquirer and the anti-slavery association Union Humane Society.

 38 Madeline McDowell Breckinridge

Madeline McDowell Breckinridge
1
Famous As: Human Rights Activist
Birthdate: May 20, 1872
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Franklin County, Kentucky, United States
Died: November 25, 1920

Madeline McDowell Breckinridge is best remembered for leading the women's suffrage movement in Kentucky. Mostly involved with campaigns related to children’s and women’s rights, she also established the Lexington Civic League, geared toward controlling child labor and upliftment of poor children. She was also associated with efforts to prevent tuberculosis.

 39 Deborah Meier

Deborah Meier
1
Famous As: Educator
Birthdate: April 6, 1931
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States

A leading American scholar and educationist, Deborah Meier was the person behind the small-schools movement. Initially a kindergarten teacher, she campaigned for education for children from low-income families and also established the Central Park East school network, primarily focusing on New York’s East Harlem.

 40 Lillie Devereux Blake

Lillie Devereux Blake
1
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: August 12, 1833
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States
Died: December 30, 1913

Initially a novelist, Lillie Devereux Blake later devoted her life to the cause of women’s suffrage and empowerment of women. Raised in an affluent neighborhood, she was taught in the best schools. She had taken to writing after finding herself in a financial crisis following her husband’s suicide.

 41 Hannah G. Solomon

Hannah G. Solomon
1
Famous As: Social Reformer
Birthdate: January 14, 1858
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, United States
Died: December 7, 1942

Born to parents who were early Jewish settlers in Chicago, Hannah G. Solomon grew up to be an iconic figure of women’s empowerment in the US. She established the National Council of Jewish Women, modeled on an elite women’s club, to bring about social change and improve the lives of women.

 42 Ted Sizer

Ted Sizer
1
Famous As: Educator
Birthdate: June 23, 1932
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: New Haven, Connecticut, United States
Died: October 21, 2009

Best remembered as one of the foremost educators of the US, Ted Sizer was the man behind the formation of the Essential School movement and the Coalition of Essential Schools. The Yale and Harvard alumnus was also associated with Brown University and had penned several books, too.

 43 Ida Husted Harper

Ida Husted Harper
1
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: February 18, 1851
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Franklin County, Indiana, United States
Died: March 14, 1931

After getting married to an influential lawyer, Ida Husted Harper began writing for newspapers, focusing on women-centric columns. She later became an iconic figure of the American women’s suffrage movement and also penned works such as History of Woman Suffrage. She was also associated with the International Council of Women.

 44 Harold Rugg

Harold Rugg
1
Famous As: Educational Reformer
Birthdate: January 17, 1886
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Massachusetts, United States
Died: May 17, 1960

Best known for his educational text-book series Man and His Changing Society, Harold Rugg was a qualified civil engineer and had also taught engineering for a while. He later promoted the idea that various branches such as history, geography, and economics could be taught under an integrated program.

 45 Barbara Deming

Barbara Deming
1
Famous As: Writer, Journalist
Birthdate: July 23, 1917
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States
Died: August 2, 1984

Feminist social reformer Barbara Deming started her career as a firebrand journalist, writing for publications such as the New Yorker and Vogue. Obsessed with the works of Gandhi, she later started campaigning for peace and civil rights, and also formed Money for Women. She was also an open lesbian.

 46 Katherine Dreier

Katherine Dreier
1
Famous As: Artist
Birthdate: September 10, 1877
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, United States
Died: March 29, 1952

Katherine Dreier was not just an artist but also a social reformer. Born to German immigrants in the US, she studied art as a child and later represented the women’s suffrage movement. She also co-established Société Anonyme, a hub for art collectors, and was known for her abstract art creations.

 47 May Wright Sewall

May Wright Sewall
1
Famous As: Reformer
Birthdate: May 27, 1844
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Greenfield, Wisconsin, United States
Died: July 22, 1920

May Wright Sewall was a social reformer committed to the causes of women's rights, education, and world peace. She was passionately involved in the woman's suffrage movement. Besides her work as a social reformer, she also founded the Girls' Classical School in Indianapolis along with her second husband. She was active in the American Peace Society in her later years. 

 48 Lugenia Burns Hope

Lugenia Burns Hope
1
Famous As: Social reformer
Birthdate: February 19, 1871
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Died: August 14, 1947

Social reformer and civil rights activist Lugenia Burns Hope is remembered for launching the social welfare association Neighborhood Union, dedicated to the upliftment of Black women. She had also worked to secure equality for Black soldiers during World War I. She was later named to the Georgia Women of Achievement.

 49 Uriah Smith Stephens

Uriah Smith Stephens
1
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: August 3, 1821
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Cape May, New Jersey, United States
Died: February 13, 1882

Uriah Smith Stephens was instrumental in the formation of the labor organization Knights of Labor, often considered the first American national labor union. Though he wished to be a Baptist minister initially, financial constraints pushed him to be a tailor. He eventually devoted his life to his version of utopian socialism.

 50 Elisabeth Irwin

Elisabeth Irwin
1
Famous As: Educator
Birthdate: August 29, 1880
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, United States
Died: October 16, 1942

The daughter of a cotton merchant, Elisabeth Irwin developed feminist leanings early in life. She grew up to be an educator who established Little Red School House, regarded the first progressive school of New York City. She was also an open lesbian who raised two adopted children with her partner.