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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
20 Grace Abbott
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.