Famous Female Educators

In honor of Women’s History Month, here are a few famous female educators we want to spotlight:


First Lady Abigail Powers Fillmore (1798-1853)

Abigail Powers Fillmore began teaching school at the age of sixteen.  Not only was she a well-respected teacher, she was also a passionate and enthusiastic lifetime learner.  In addition to teaching, the young Abigail Powers helped establish a circulating library near her home, a prototype to the public library of today.

After her marriage in 1826 to Millard Fillmore, Abigail kept her teaching position. By doing so, Abigail Fillmore has the distinction of being the 1st First Lady to continue her career after marriage.


First Lady Lucretia Rudolph Garfield (1832-1918)

Lucretia Rudolph enrolled in the inaugural first term of Hiram College in 1850 with the intent of becoming a teacher.  While there she organized the “Ladies’ Literary Society” for women to orate and debate, sang in the glee club, and wrote essays and drew sketches for the school magazine, The Eclectic Star.

Her future husband, James A. Garfield, began attending classes at Hiram in 1851. Lucretia took her first teaching job in Chagrin Falls, Ohio in 1853. It was during this time that James Garfield wrote his first letter to her. This was the beginning of a long, written correspondence, and the two were a couple by the time she returned to Hiram.


First Lady Caroline Scott Harrison (1832-1892)

Caroline Scott grew up in Ohio college towns. The young “Carrie” was a vivacious girl who showed early talent in music and art. In 1845, the Scott family moved to Pleasant Hill, Ohio where Dr. John Witherspoon Scott, an early advocate for women’s education, helped establish the Ohio Female College. He also served on the faculty of the nearby Farmers’ College. Benjamin Harrison enrolled in the Farmers’ College in 1847. The serious, solemn Benjamin was attracted to the expressive and playful fifteen year old Carrie Scott, and the two fell in love.

In 1849, Dr. Scott took the position of president of the newly formed Oxford Female Institute. While attending classes there, Caroline also gave piano and drawing lessons. Benjamin Harrison transferred to Miami University in 1850, and he and Caroline became engaged. Harrison graduated in 1852, and accepted an unpaid law apprenticeship in Cincinnati. Caroline took a teaching position at a girls’ school. Ben and Carrie married in October of 1853.


Clara Harlowe Barton (1821–1912)

Clara Barton was an educator, nurse and founder of the American Red Cross.

Clara Barton was born on December 25, 1821, in Oxford, Massachusetts. She became a teacher at age 15, and later opened a free public school in New Jersey.  Barton was an independent nurse during the Civil War. While visiting Europe, she worked with a relief organization known as the International Red Cross, and lobbied for an American branch when she returned home. The American Red Cross was founded in 1881, and Barton served as its first president.


Anne Sullivan (1866–1936)

Anne Sullivan was a teacher who taught Helen Keller, a blind and deaf child, how to communicate and read Braille.

Born on April 14, 1866, in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts, Sullivan was a gifted teacher best known for her work with Helen Keller, a blind and deaf child whom she taught to communicate.  At only 20 years of age, Sullivan showed great maturity and ingenuity in teaching Keller and worked hard with her pupil, bringing both women much acclaim. Sullivan even helped Keller write her autobiography.


Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867–1957)

Pioneer author Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the autobiographical “Little House” kids’ book series, the basis of the popular television show Little House on the Prairie.

Wilder was born on February 7, 1867, near Pepin, Wisconsin. From 1882–1885 she was a teacher in South Dakota. She married Almanzo Wilder in 1885. In 1932, she published Little House in the Big Woods, the first of her “Little House” books. Wilder finished the last book in 1943. On February 10, 1957, she died at age 90, on her farm in Mansfield, Missouri.


Charlotte Hawkins Brown (1883–1961)

Charlotte Hawkins Brown was a teacher and founder of the Palmer Memorial Institute, a trailblazing Southern prep school for African-American students.

Brown, a granddaughter of a slave, was born on June 11, 1883 in Henderson, North Carolina.  She was educated in Massachusetts before returning to the South to teach African-American children. In 1902, she opened the Palmer Memorial Institute, named after a benefactor; it went on to become a famed 200-acre prep school offering black students rich course offerings. Brown was also a world-traveler and suffragist.


Margaret Hamilton (1902-1985)

Margaret Brainard Hamilton was an American film character actress best known for her portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s classic film The Wizard of Oz (1939).

A former schoolteacher, she worked as a character actress in films for seven years before she was offered the role that defined her public image. The Wicked Witch of the West was eventually ranked number four in the American Film Institute’s 2003 list of the 50 Best Movie Villains of All Time, making her the top-ranking female villain. In later years, Hamilton made frequent cameo appearances on television sitcoms and commercials. She also gained recognition for her work as an advocate of causes designed to benefit children and animals, and retained a lifelong commitment to public education.


Christa Corrigan McAuliffe (1948–1986)

High school teacher Christa McAuliffe was the first American civilian selected to go into space. She died in the explosion of the space shuttle ‘Challenger’ in 1986.

McAuliffe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on September 2, 1948. A high school teacher, she made history when she became the first American civilian selected to go into space in 1985. On January 28, 1986, McAuliffe boarded the Challenger space shuttle in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The shuttle exploded shortly after lift-off, killing everyone on board.


Rita Pierson (1951-2013)

Rita F. Pierson was a famous professional educator whose career began in 1972. She taught special education at elementary, junior high, and high school levels. She was a popular counselor, coordinator, and an assistant principal.

Pierson was born on October 27, 1951, in Texas.  She graduated from Booker T. Washington High School, and later entered Elmhurst College to pursue a degree in education on a full scholarship.

Rita Pierson continued her education at Texas Southern University and received her Master’s degree where she received countless honors and prestigious recognition. Pierson earned numerous awards for her contributions to education and is well-known for her commentaries on TED Talks.


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