1827: Emily Howland born (educator, reformer)

  • An active abolitionist, Howland taught at Normal School for Colored Girls in Washington, D.C. from 1857 to 1859.
  • During the Civil War she worked in Arlington, Virginia teaching freed slaves to read and write as well as administering to the sick during a smallpox outbreak.
  • In 1882 she assumed control over the Sherwood Select school as owner and consulting head, a position she held up to her one hundredth year in 1927, at which point it was renamed the Emily Howland School by the New York State Board of Regents.
  • She became the first female director of a national bank in the United States, at the Aurora National Bank in Aurora, New York in 1890, where she served up to her death, at age 101.
  • Howland was also active in women’s suffrage and peace. Also active in temperance, she was a member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.
  • In 1926 she received the Litt.D. degree from the University of the State of New York.
  • She was the first woman to have this honor conferred upon her from this institution. She was also the author of the book Historical Sketch of Friends in Cayuga County.


1829: Ellen Cheney Johnson (prison superintendent, reformer: temperance, prison reform; Sanitary Commission)

  • American prison reformer, founded the New England Women’s Auxiliary Association to the United States Sanitary Commission, worked with homeless and vagrant women after the Civil War through the Dedham Asylum for Discharged Female Prisoners, and served as superintendent of the Massachusetts Reformatory Prison for Women at Framingham.
  • Her home near the State House in Boston became a meeting place for welfare workers. Ellen founded the New England Women’s Auxiliary Association which in turn led her to an important position in the U.S. Sanitary Commission. She was involved with the executive and finance committees of the New England branch of the commission.
  • During this time Ellen would visit numerous correctional facilities and helped poor women around Boston so they could better fend for themselves. Throughout all this, Johnson witnessed the abuse which female prisoners had to endure. At this time, female prisoners were not separated from their male counterparts. Neither were the children they brought in with them, or the ones that were born in jail.
  • Ellen began a crusade for the reform of female treatment in correctional facilities. She and other women gathered at her home and began writing letters to newspapers requesting a separate facility for females. Their letters brought the subject to legislature. They gathered over 7000 signatures which helped pass the bill for an all-female prison in 1874.
  • In the meantime, Ellen became the leading advocate for the Temporary Asylum of Discharged Female Prisoners in Dedham, MA. The Reformatory Prison for women was finally opened in 1877 in Sherborn, near Framingham, MA. Ellen, being one of the five commissioners for the prison, became the superintendent of the prison.
  • Ellen ran the prison for fifteen years and was awarded a bronze medal and diploma for her achievements in the prison system by the World’s Columbian Exposition: for evidence of a model management in every detail. Ellen’s reformatory system has been studied thoroughly and received the highest praise from prison experts.
  • Ellen Cheney Johnson, while running the Massachusetts Reformatory Prison for Women at the turn of the nineteenth century, tried to bridge the approaches of rehabilitation and punishment. As she put it in her own writings, “No lesson is more important than that which teaches respect for the law and dread of its wrath. At the same time, it is a fundamental point in our theory that every criminal can be won by gentleness and patience.”
  • Ellen created programs inside the prison and outside as well to help the women achieve their goals. Johnson developed a system of indenture for house service in houses outside the prison walls. This was all done under sympathetic supervision.
  • She died suddenly while in London, England after addressing the International Congress of Women on June 28, 1899. Ellen Johnson left money to the city of Boston to build the Johnson Memorial Fountain (later renamed Westland Gate) in memory of her husband, Jesse Johnson.



1896: Rose Pesotta, union organizer and first woman vice president of the International Ladies Garment Worker Union (ILGWU), 1934

  • was an anarchist, feminist labor organizer and vice president within the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.
  • In 1913, at the age of 17, Pesotta emigrated to New York City and found employment in a shirtwaist factory, quickly joining the ILGWU, a union representing the mostly Jewish and Latina female garment workers. Working hard to educate her fellow workers, Pesotta was elected to the all male executive board of ILGWU Local 25 in 1920. She spent two years at Brookwood Labor College in the 1920s.
  • The union sent her to Los Angeles in 1933 to organize garment workers, her success there leading to an appointment as vice-president of the union in 1934. One of her biggest accomplishments in Los Angeles, California was the leading role she would play in the garment industry wide strike of 1933, as strikes were a rarity in this notoriously “open shop” city.
  • Pesotta also contributed occasional articles to the anarchist newspaper Road to Freedom (the successor to Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth), where she found herself on more than one occasion debating other anarchists on the merits of working within traditional union structures, and was heavily criticised for such activities by Marcus Graham.
  • Pesotta played a key role, together with Lea Roback, in the unionization of Montreal’s women’s garment workers, in the ILGWU, in April 1937.
  • In 1944 Pesotta resigned from the executive board of the union in protest of the fact that, despite 85% of the union’s membership were women, she was the sole female executive member. She had repeatedly complained to David Dubinsky, then president of the union, that she felt uncomfortable being the token women on the board but the union continued to not allow other women to rise to leadership positions, despite the fact that Dubinsky had voiced a similar protest years earlier about being the only Jew on the executive board. Rose Pesotta died in 1965.


1910: Pauli Murray, civil rights lawyer, Episcopal priest, first black person to earn a doctorate at Yale Law School, 1965

  • In 1933 Pauli Murray graduated from Hunter College; she had previously been rejected from Columbia University because they did not admit women at that time. After her graduation from Hunter College, she was rejected from the University of North Carolina because she was African-American. She attempted to challenge this with the help of the NAACP, but they rejected the case due to her being a resident of New York.
  • In 1941 she began attending Howard University law school with hopes of becoming a civil rights lawyer. In 1942, while still in law school, she became one of the founders of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). During her time in law school she also published two important articles on civil rights, an article about the Harlem race riot and an article called “Negroes Are Fed Up”. Murray was the only woman in her law school class at Howard, and it was there that she first became aware of sexism. For example, on her first day of class a professor remarked that he did not know why women went to law school.
  • She was elected Chief Justice of the Howard Court of Peers, the highest student position at Howard, and in 1944 she graduated first in her class. However, although men who graduated first in the class had been given the Julius Rosenwald Fellowship for graduate work at Harvard University, Murray was rejected from Harvard because of her gender. This occurred despite President Roosevelt writing a letter in support of her, after Murray herself had written to Eleanor Roosevelt.
  • She instead attended the University of California’s law school at Berkeley, where her master’s thesis was The Right to Equal Opportunity in Employment, the first master’s thesis ever published on that topic. It was published later as Black Theology and Feminist Theology: A Comparative View, in the Anglican Theological Review. After only three weeks of study Murray passed the California bar exam, although her graduate law advisor had insisted shortcomings in her background would cause her to fail.
  •  In 1950 she published “States’ Laws on Race and Color,” which Thurgood Marshall called “the Bible for civil rights lawyers.” The NAACP used her arguments while arguing the Brown v. Board of Education case.
  • She was appointed to the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women in 1961, for which she prepared a memo entitled A Proposal to Reexamine the Applicability of the Fourteenth Amendment to State Laws and Practices Which Discriminate on the Basis of Sex Per Se.
  • In 1963 she became one of the first to criticize the sexism of the civil rights movement, in her speech “The Negro Woman and the Quest for Equality”. In that speech, among other grievances, she criticized the fact in the 1963 March on Washington no women were invited to make one of the major speeches or to be part of its delegation of leaders who went to the White House.
  •  In 1965 Murray published her most famous article (coauthored by Mary Eastwood), “Jane Crow and the Law: Sex Discrimination and Title VII”, in the George Washington Law Review; it discussed Title VII as it applied to women, and drew comparisons between discriminatory laws against women and Jim Crow laws.
  •  She earned her JD degree from Yale in 1965, the first African American to do so; her dissertation was titled, Roots of the Racial Crisis: Prologue to Policy.
  • In 1966 she cofounded the National Organization for Women and helped draft its statement of purpose.
  • From 1968-1973, she was the Distinguished Professor of Law and Politics at Brandeis University.
  • In 1970 her essay “The Liberation of Black Women” appeared in the book Voices of the New Feminism; it analyzed how black women suffered from racism and sexism.
  • In 1977 she became the first black woman ordained as an Episcopal priest.

Quote for Today

“Individualism is the whole world rightly in ourselves, and welcome there. It is reality working with a sweet lack of interference, through us….It is the self thriving on what it has to do with, making beautiful what it has to do with.” – Pauli Murray

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