Question of the Week: Do you have any groundbreaking women in your family lines?

+26 votes

The 19th century century saw major changes in the rights of women and the rise of women in fields traditionally dominated by men. Obvious names that come to mind are Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth (Cady) Stanton, and Florence Nightingale.

What women stand out as remarkable in your family branches?

asked in The Tree House by Julie Ricketts G2G6 Pilot (262k points)

Absolutely!  Elizabeth Banks, the re-headed Mystery Girl from Wisconsin.  Turns out she was really from New Jersey where her mother Sarah Brister died and she was sent to live with her sister.


Why was she groundbreaking?  Often studied in Women's studies as the Newspaper girl she broke into journalism when it was men only.  Her first job they put her in the window with a typewriter for show.  She went on to big things.  Eventually she ended up in London with the Queen and helping the war effort.  Here is just a sample:

Elizabeth L Banks

1870-July 18, 1938

"Newspaper Girl"


Sometimes I get extremely determined when I find someone interesting that I want to profile and yet can find little or nothing about them in order to give viewers of this website the information I want to give. Such is the case with Elizabeth L. Banks. I have found very little on her and yet I am 'antsy' to give you, the reader, SOMETHING.


Born in Taunton, New Jersey to John and Sarah (Brister) Banks, Elizabeth Banks has been eluding me for weeks. After a month of waiting, I finally received a call from my local library that they had indeed gotten in for me, her first autobiographical book,  "The Autobiography of a Newspaper Girl." When I went to the library to claim my 'interlibrary loan,' I was thrilled to see the book in excellent condition and as I returned to my car

with it, I just had to take a moment to remove it from its plastic pouch to thumb through it. An hour later, I was still sitting there looking through this book, written in 1902, which was a First Edition, and for whatever reason, feeling shivers run up and down my spine and 'goose bumps' upon my legs and arms. This book has entranced me.


Now, on with the story of Ms. Banks. As said earlier, she was born in Taunton, NJ. Early childhood details seem to be unavailable. Apparently her family relocated while she was still in school, to Wisconsin. Her autobiography thru 1902 opens as she is leaving the family and going off to earn her own living. Often while preparing to go to the female seminary college of Milwaukee-Downer, she was reminded by relatives (she never mentions a mother and father) of the sacrifices they were making for her to get an education. She was told to give great care to her graduation gown, as it had been bought in the general store with a precious ten pounds of butter and eight dozen eggs.


What she wanted was to be a reporter. She was a self taught typist and stenographer who, after sending out many copies of résumé, was able to attain a job working for a grocer as a typist for only eight dollars a week.

She's been dubbed as one of the "Type-writer Girls." After complaining to the grocer and pointing out how she was being stared at in the window typing, he promptly dropped the curtain.

I'm absolutely delighted to be a descendant of Pocahontas. We always thought we had Continental Indian ancestry but no, it's North American Indian.  No wonder I was often called Minihaha.

 Rutha Banks Cobb Thames who I believe fits this category. She was my gggggrandmother on my Mom,s side.She rode all over Chilton Co. on horseback delivering babies and treating measles. She was said to have delivered 100.s of babies. I tried to copy but couldn,t to this note . It can be seen on Family Search under Memories of John Thames ansd R utha It came from the  Thames Descendents book and was sent to me by Ashley Allison.

I will try and condense this to a comment, however it is much more.

Esther Coleman Hambley Wilson was Miss North Carolina 1934.  She was selected as Miss Salisbury, North Carolina as a 1934 Boyden High School graduate.  The 1934 Miss N.C. contest was held in Greensboro, N.C.

Esther's father William Hawkins Hambley would not allow her to go to the National Convention in Miami, Fl. that year.  In 1934 the American Legion was the primary sponsor of the Miss America Contest.

Esther's paternal great grandfather was Littleton William Coleman, a doctor in Rockwell, N.C., her Great Grandmother Jane Arey (my 2nd Cousin, 4 times removed). (Esther and I are 5th Cousins, once removed.)

 Esther's paternal grandfather was E.B.C. Hambley, a gold mining engineer from England who came to North Carolina to run the Gold HIll mining operations in 1875.  A great deal of history is written about E.B.C. Hambley.  

Esther's brother, E.B.C.II, is living in Charlotte, N.C. and being cared for by his son Richard.

 I have a copy of a letter  Esther's roommate (at the 1934 Miss N.C. contest) Edith McKinley, wrote to Esther asking for a copy of the "group picture" that was taken at the Greensboro contest.  Edith McKinley's daughter Pat Mitchell wrote a book "A Mountain to Climb" published this year about her mother's family and includes a mention of the Greensboro contest.

Esther married Frank Elmore Wilson, a Brigadier General in WWII who wrote her many letters during the war in Europe.  Those letters have been compiled by Esther's daughter Juliette Hamblely Wilson Smith and submitted to the Library of Congress which will be available for public viewing this year.

If you look on the internet at the "History of the Miss North Carolina Contest" you will find that the history begins in 1937.  However, if you physically go to the North Carolina Museum of HIstory in Raliegh, N.C. you will find a Miss North Carolina display area very close to the entrance with a display case of the history which include's Esther Hambley's name mentioned as Miss North Carolina 1934.

Esther died in 2012 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery with her husband Brigadier General Frank Elmore Wilson.

I will provide a picture of Esther's Miss North Carolina "engraved goblet" that her daughter Juliette sent me.  A copy of a letter written by Esther to her roommate Edith about the "group picture" she asked for, and an August 30, 1934, Greensboro newspaper clipping with a picture of Esther.  Her obituary Monday, October 15, 2012.

As I read all the postings, I realize that I must not have gone back far enough in my family history as I haven't come across anyone famous "yet."

I am sure I will, but I haven't found them yet.

Today you hear of many single moms. I think of my grandmother who at the age of 12 was given to a 24 year old in marriage. She then had 4 girls by age 24, at 28 she was a single mom. She put all the girls in one bedroom and turned the rest of her house into a boarding house. She may not be a famous woman but I believe woman like her all through history "broke ground" as they struggled to survive and to raise strong women to follow in their footsteps.
  • My woman is my g-grandmother's sister and oldest sibling.  She graduated from a local high school, graduated from 4 years of what is now University of Iowa medical school and became a doctor. Her parents obviously encouraged her yearning for education.
  • Elizabeth Eldridge was born 3 April 1852 to Jacob Mullen and Mary High Eldridge in Davenport, Scott, IA., the oldest of 9 children in a Jersey Ridge Rd. apple farm outside the city limits of Davenport. The groved farm went bankrupt and Jacob built a home in Davenport closer to schools and his real estate office. Fresh fruit was at a premium.
  • Historically, Jacob's father, Duncan Campbell Eldridge, an inventor, mover and shaker, and entrepreneur, arrived in the area by raft down the Mississippi River with his 2nd wife, Rebecca Lippincott, of the printing family, and 5-year-old son, Charles Henry.  Jacob's mother, Rachel Brown{e}, died and Duncan placed Jacob with widowed grandmother, Sarah Middleton Eldridge. before they left for the river trip.  Duncan thought the trip down the Ohio River  from Cincinnati to the Mighty Mississippi would be faster than land and safer from the Indians.  The log raft held a log cabin, 4-poster bed, pot-belly stove, clothes and provisions.  The only modality was to drift with the current.
  • The Black Hawk Treaty was signed about a mile from my house in 1832.  White Americans were against the loss of land to the indigenous peoples.  The NA's received $2,234 in goods and a $1,000 annuity each year after in an 1804 treaty. [This may be the reason why the NA tribes own so many casinos].  The 1804 treaty forced NA's to surrender all land east of the Mississippi to the U.S. government. The BH War in 1832 was a series of skirmishes which eventually opened the west side of the Mississippi to settlers.  Black Hawk was against turning his lands...Sauk, Fox, and Mesquakie, to settlement.
  • The Mississippi River in this area was shallow and very rocky.  You could walk across it or drive a horse and buggy.  Duncan and Rebecca, with their 5-year-old son, Charles Henry, were able to be towed by a river boat until the captain could no longer navigate the water, and the Eldridges were untied and left to drift.  It was Oct. 1835 when the Eldridge family arrived in what is now Davenport.  They were iced in on the river for 2 days and called for help closer to the Illinois side. They walked across the river, built a log cabin from the wood on the raft as the 2nd house in the area.  Come winter, the cold winds and snow made the cabin very cold. Rebecca made flour paste and put up the Cincinnati newspapers on the wall.  People would come in large numbers to read the news, some standing on tuffets.
  • Jacob, now 11 years old in Haddonfield, New Jersey where he was born, bought a team and did teaming until he was 19.  He sold his team and set out to live in Iowa with his father and step-family.  He stopped to see President Tyler, and arrived in Davenport in 1846.  Jacob's first marriage to Mary Louise Woodward left him a widower after 18 mos.  His 2nd marriage was to Mary High Williams whose family came to Davenport in 1844, who bore the 9 children and was in poor health til her death in 1885 at age 56. 
  • I've digressed greatly but wanted to show Elizabeth's "Lizzie's" back story.  In  1871, she married William I. Joy in her family home.  He was a veteran from the Civil War. They had 2 sons, Roy and Maynard, and she and William divorced.  In 1882, she married Dr. Reuben Eldridge, also a graduate of University of Iowa medical school.  It is said he was no relation, but I might have found a link.  He said she could no longer practice because she was a "pill doctor". Her training did not agree with his medical philosophy. They had 2 sons and 2 daughters.  They moved after she divorced Reuben, to Ames, IA, where she died of diabetes in 1923 and is buried with her granddaughter and son in Ames Municipal Cemetery. 
I'm most impressed by my Great Grandmother Comfort Waller Whittlesey, wife of Eliphalet Whittlesey. The young couple relocated to the frontier of Stockbridge Massachusetts just prior to the Rev War. She was pregnant with twins. They quickly erected the frame of their beautiful saltbox house. and they were under pressure to enclose at least one room before winter and before Eliphalet left to fight the British. Comfort made her own plaster/daub hauled it from the creekbed, and sealed one room. They had no window glass, so Comfort oiled paper and enclosed the window openings. Comfort faced the real threats of wild animals and indians because the home was on the frontier of Massachusetts. When Eliphalet returned from service, he found his wife and infant twins safely waiting him in that one snug little room. I am facinated by how our ancestors found solutions and faced problems
My great-grandmother was trained in nursing by Dr. Charles Mayo.  Dr Mayo and his brother William, I believe, started the Mayo Clinic in Rohester, Minnesota.  Not sure how ground-breaking, but fascinating.
Georgia O'Keeffe!

49 Answers

+17 votes

I have an ancestor who was certainly a ground-breaker concerning the rights of women, although perhaps not a good rôle model.

Elisaveta Dmitrievna Djambakouriane-Orbeliani had an affair with her husband's boss and ran off with him. While she was the guilty party, she was allowed to divorce her husband and remarry. The poor husband was banned from remarrying for five years.


Sorry about the coding below.
The Georgian comes out very strangely, but the link does actually work.

answered by J G G2G6 Mach 8 (83.3k points)
edited by Julie Ricketts
Julie -- I fixed it up a little. :-)
Thanks - you must be my Fairy Godmother - you always seem to be around to help when something goes wrong! :-)
hahaha ... it's just your "lucky" day!!!
She reminds me of the story I read comparatively recently about the woman in India who was granted a divorce from her husband because he wouldn't let her watch the local equivalent of "Days of our Lives."
I will have to suggest that to my own husband. ;)

Here is one link, shortened.  It sounds like a real triumph for women in India.

+16 votes
My maternal grandfather's sister, Clara Louise Bell, was commissioned to paint portraits of US Presidents. She was born December 18, 1886 at Newton Falls, Trumbull, OH and died on July 11, 1978.

Clara Louise Bell was an artist.  She had a national reputation for her miniature painting which included several US Presidents, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt (from photos) and John F. Kennedy, (also from photos). Before and after working on the miniature of President Roosevelt, she consulted with Eleanor Roosevelt.  Mrs. Roosevelt's favorate portrait of her husband was by Frank O. Salisbury. Miss Bell did not want to copy another artists work.
answered by Frank Gill G2G Astronaut (1.8m points)

Congratulations Frank.

You might want to add the link to Wikipedia to her profile.


This is very impressive!



Thank you for the suggestion. I don't know how to add the information about Clara Louise Bell to a link at Wikipedia.

Her brother, my grandfather, worked to help the family finance Clara to 0pay for art school. Thay school had a different name back then before it became named The Cleveland Institute of Art.


If you'd like to add Wikipedia's article as a source just copy/paste the following:

* Wikipedia contributors, "Clara Louise Bell," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed September 21, 2017).

+15 votes
Nettie Cronise Lutes, first woman to be admitted to the Ohio State Bar. (And I've just realized that I haven't entered her yet; project for this weekend!)
answered by Sharon Casteel G2G6 Mach 8 (87.5k points)
+12 votes

Not 19th century, but my 8th great grandmother Mary Coffin Starbuck [], just took the reins and her place in society.

Mary was the leading spirit in the organization of the Society of Friends. She became known as "The Great Mary" of Nantucket. She was a most extraordinary woman, participating in public gatherings and especially in Town Meetings, which were frequently held in her house. In 1701, under the influence of John Richardson, the famous Friend from England, and during his visit to Nantucket, she became a Friend and became the leader of a movement to establish a Friends Meeting on the island.

On account of her superior judgement, she was often consulted in town affairs as well as in religious matters. Until her death, she was probably the most influential person living on the island of Nantucket.

answered by J. Salsbery G2G6 Mach 2 (26.4k points)
+10 votes
I haven't (yet) found any remarkable women in my family tree, but my grandfather's boss definitely qualifies:
answered by Joke van Veenendaal G2G6 Mach 1 (14.3k points)
+12 votes

My grandmother's first cousin, Louise (Simonds) Orvis, was elected president of her Vermont village the year after U.S. women won the right to vote. It probably didn't hurt any that her father published the local newspaper and she owned and operated a resort hotel that was a major local business. She also was a pioneer in perceiving the potential of aviation to promote business, so she and another woman built an airstrip near the resort hotel.

And she was an attractive woman, based on this photo (not on WikiTree).

answered by Ellen Smith G2G6 Pilot (890k points)
+11 votes
The most famous woman in my tree is Alice Schille [Schille-7] a noted painter from Columbus, Ohio.  She has a nice Wikipedia write-up and William H Gerdts wrote fine art book of her paintings and watercolors which came out in 2001 which is mentioned on Wikipedia and which I've got a copy of.  She's a 2nd cousin 3 times removed of mine.  I entered her in, but I haven't done much with the profile yet.  Perhaps someone would be kind enough to mark her as "Notable"?
answered by Dave Dardinger G2G6 Pilot (368k points)
+19 votes

A lady with the same name as my mother and myself: Dorothy (Dolly) Berry also known as Barry. She was born 1901, native of West Village, Manhattan, New York. Dorothy was committed to helping poor people, street people, and particularly addicts. She helped start a 12-Step NA group in New York City, with Daniel L. Carlsen. They also started it in the New York Federal Prison System and called it Narcotics Anonymous. She was ordained as a minister in the Salvation Army in 1927. In 1945 she was named director of the Salvation Army’s Eastern Territorial Correctional Service Bureau for Women, a post she held until she retired in 1964. In 1959, she received the New York State Welfare Conference Direct Service Award for her help to women who have been in trouble with the law. Dorothy had obtained the rank of Brigadier General with the Salvation Army. She was affectionately called “Brigadier Dolly”. Maybe that’s why I wanted to join the Women’s Army Corps a week after I graduated from High School. (I ended up serving 20 years).

answered by Dorothy Barry G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
+14 votes
My grandmother Meena ([[Meacham-526 | Lillian Florence Meacham (1886 - 1973)]] said she would rather be an example TO her grandchildren than an example FOR her grandchldren, and she was both.

As a teenager at the turn of the 20th century, she was sent off to study piano at the Royal College of Music in London, and quickly fell in with the Bohemian crowd, including H G Wells and G.B. Shaw among her friends.At this time she also dabbled in [ Theosophy]

In 1907 she married the composer and Irish Music collector, [ Herbert Hughes]. (He wrote the music to "She Moved through the Fair" and "Down by the Sally Gardens", among other well known pieces).  In 1908 they had a son [ Patrick], later know as "Spike Hughes".

By 1911 she and Herbert had separated (though not divorced until 1922), and she moved to Italy with Pat where she supported herself by, among other things, making and selling wooden toys for children.

She returned to London where she was successful as ceramacist (one of her pieces hung at the Victoria and Albert) among other things.  She was also an early Buddhist.

She developed an interest in psychoanalysis (see [ Women Psychoanalysts in Great Britain] and scroll down to "Gunn") and studied with [ Freud] in (1924) and [ Ferenczi].  About 1926 she married the Egyptologist [ Battiscombe Gunn]  (known as Jack), with whom she had been living (though they were often apart pursuing their separate careers)  since the end of W W I.

In 1928 my father, [ J. B. Gunn] (known as Iain) was born in Cairo.  Meena established a successful psychoanalytical practice on Harley Street in London, while Jack became a professor at Oxford.

In 1940 she divorced Jack, and married Alex Grey-Clarke, a naval doctor, some 30 years her junior. A few years later he died of meningitis, contracted when he was shipwrecked in the Navy.  She continued her psychoanalytical practice, working with Anna Freud on children.  She was also involve in the first gender change operation in England.

In the 1960s she followed us to the US, where she continued to practice into her 80s.

A high school friend of mine who knew Meena said "she is the first liberated woman I ever met."

So, while she was not actively involved in the women's movement, by doing what she wanted to do and not letting gender stereotypes stop her, she set an example and helped the cause of women's rights.
answered by Janet Gunn G2G6 Mach 5 (59.6k points)
+9 votes
My aunt who is still living was the first woman President of the Advertising Specialty Board of Directors.  She was given both a Life Time Achievement Award and was inducted into the Industry Hall of Fame.  She tells stories about how when she would attend sales conventions she was told by possible buyers "they wanted to talk to someone in authority."  She was the sales manager!  She forged a path for women in the industry who came after her.  She gives a lot of credit to the men who gave her a chance (because there were no other women at that time) and always told me that there will always be people who don't believe in you because of how you look, your gender, your race, or any amount of things.... but then there are those who will believe in you and of all of them the most important person to believe in you is YOU.  She told me not to let obstacles be a block but to use them as stepping stones to learn how to deal with an obstacle and move forward.  She is in her mid 80s now but she is someone I have looked up to for most of my life.
answered by Laura Bozzay G2G6 Pilot (468k points)
Please convey a thank you to your Aunt. What a great role model!

I began working in a technical field in the mid 1970s and fully understand what she faced. Although you would no longer be told outright "since the secretary is on vacation you are the only girl in the office so it's your job to make the coffee and clean the kitchen", there continues to be subtle discrimination.
Thanks Kay I will.
+12 votes
My second cousin twice removed, Renaude Lapointe, was the first French Canadian woman to become Speaker of the Senate of Canada, from 1974 to 1979.  I found her on Wikipedia if you want to find more about her.

I did add other notable women surnamed Lapointe, including Suzanne Lapointe (who is not yet connected to the main tree), to WikiTree.

By the way, I did find some of my notable female distant cousins who share my patrilineal ancestor, but not theirs patrilineally.  One of them is Sarah LaFleur, a Japanese-American entrepreneur who founded a company in New York City called MM.LaFleur, whom she named after her mother, in order to focus on creating business apparels for women.  Her sister, Emma, is active as an actress in Japan.  FYI, they are the granddaughters of Kiichi Miyazawa, a politician who was the Prime Minister of Japan from 1991 to 1993.  However, unlike Kiichi, they share their relation with me on their father's side.
answered by Nicolas LaPointe G2G4 (4.8k points)

By this relation, we are 9th cousins twice removed (via Anne Loignon.)

Renaude and myself are 7th cousins four times removed 

+12 votes
Phoebe Palestine Morris ,my great grandmother, who at age 24 with her younger sister made the land run for the Cherokee Strip in 1893. Phoebe had a horse and wagon, and she drove the wagon with her little sister at her side. They had a tent and claimed 160 acres of land in western Oklahoma through the homestead  act. They had a spade and dug 30 feet for water. I have seen many photos of the 4 land runs, but I have never seen one with two women in a wagon. She heard about a man next to her land that was ill, so she nursed him back to health, married him, and they had twelve children.
answered by Alexis Nelson G2G6 Mach 1 (18.1k points)
edited by Alexis Nelson
+7 votes

Yes, for starters I have a cousin who was responsible for 'persuading' William Booth to journey to New Zealand and introduce the idea of the Salvation Army here. I would need to look through to see if there has been anyone else.

answered by Richard Shelley G2G6 Pilot (108k points)
+7 votes

Yes. Mary Esther Gaulden

She was a radiation geneticist, and authored some 60 scientific publications. She worked primarily with the giant chromosomes of the grasshopper neuroblast, which she found to be a very sensitive indicator of mutations. Her most recent interests led to her studies on the ovarian blood supply in mammals, and its implications for Downs syndrome. She was a founding member of the Radiation Research Society and the Environmental Mutagen Society, and was president of the Association of Southeastern Biologists in 1959. She served on the Committee on Toxicology, US. National Research Council (1989-1999), studying the environment on the International Space Station.

She was a founding member of NOW. 

  • In Dallas, she was one of 30 women who helped Betty Friedan found the National Organization for Women in 1966.
answered by Mags Gaulden G2G6 Pilot (457k points)
+10 votes

I have a Mother and Daughter in my part of the tree, that could be called 'groundbreaking'.

Dr. Lucy (Wellburn) Naish was one of the first female doctors in England. 

Her daughter Dr. Alice Mary (Naish) Stewart specialised in radiation. She took on the British Medical Association, and stopped pregnant women being X-rayed. Later in life she had a 14 year battle with the US Dept of Energy, after discovering that leaking radiation was causing cancer in workers at the Hanford Nuclear Weapons plant in Washington state. 

answered by Dave Welburn G2G6 Mach 7 (78.4k points)
I was X-rayed in 1969 at a USAF base in Georgia before having my baby. We all were X-rayed and told told it would make it easier for the doctor to deliver the baby. There was also a nurse who got mad if you would not take the shot to dry up milk. She did all she could to prevent mother's from breast feeding. Lucy was before her time. She has my vote!
+5 votes

Not my family, but the ancestor of a friend,. . .Mary McKeehan Patton made gun powder for the American troops during the Revolution.  

answered by Kitty Smith G2G6 Pilot (467k points)
+7 votes
Me niece Diane is not a ''known'' women but she is working in a sawmill, making a man's job.

She works with men said to be stronger than her. In the first years she had to prove she could do the job. She has been part of the team for over 15 years now.

We would not have seen that in 1950.
answered by Guy Constantineau G2G6 Pilot (338k points)
+7 votes

This morning I went and cast my vote in the New Zealand general election. I chose today for a reason as it was this day in 1893 that women were able to vote in parliamentary elections anywhere in the world. Although she is not in my family line, I'll introduce Kate Sheppard to you.  Ladies, every time you vote, remember Kate Sheppard from New Zealand.

answered by Fiona Gilliver G2G6 Mach 7 (76.9k points)
+6 votes

My first cousin five times removed, Joanna or Jackie Crookston(e), who led the women's protests in Tranent against the 1797 Militia Act, beating her drum, calling out " No militia," and confronting Captain Finlay of the Cinque Ports Dragoons. She was one of those killed in the ensuing Massacre of Tranent when the dragoons went on the rampage. 

answered by I O G2G6 Pilot (217k points)
+6 votes
My 3x grandmother, Emma Mary Cornish, left Suffolk for London as a single mother during the 19the century.  She had been a dressmaker in a small community. The man who was the father of her child didn't marry her,in fact he had a wife and children already. Emma left home with her younger sister. Amazingly she stayed in contact with her family, most of her brothers moved to London as well, and her widowed mother lived with one of the sons in the city. I call this ground breaking because her family was far from wealthy and yet she thrived in London, married and had two more children.
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