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Did You Know These Women Were Homeschooled?

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Did You Know These Women

Were Homeschooled?


homeschooledIt’s interesting to see how many firsts, founders, feminists, and reformers appear when we visit historical women who were homeschooled.

Famous Homeschooled Women

For starters, there’s Susan B. Anthony (1820 – 1906), the reformer and women’s rights leader. Susan could read and write at age three. She went to a district school for a time before leaving it for the school her father created in their home for his own and neighbors’ children. Early in her adult life, she spent a bit of time teaching in this schoolherself.

Homeschooler Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910) was born in the same year as Susan B. Anthony. She did not attend school and was taught at home, predominantly by her father. At 34 years of age, Nightingale became a nurse to British troops during the war with Russia and went on to found the nursing profession as a result of her work.

Another homeschooled woman, Dr. Mary Walker (1832 – 1919), was a Civil War physician. The United States presented her a Congressional Medal of Honor in 1865; Dr. Walker was the only Civil War woman to receive one. How did this woman who became a woman’s rights advocate and physician spend her school days? “Her early education was obtained in the school conducted by her father, mother, and sisters on the family farm,” explains the Dictionary of American Biographies. “She acquired the ambition to study medicine from her father. The rest of society disapproved of her ambition, her dress (trousers), and her doing man’s work.”

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In the case of homeschooled Mary D. Leakey (1913 – 1996), her childhood is described as “a bit odd” (Lisa A. Lambert, Pioneers: The Leakeys, The Rourke Book Co., 1993). Mary grew up traveling through Europe as her father, a landscape artist, looked for scenes to paint. After her father died, Mary and her mother returned to England, where Mary was put into school for the first time.

“She did not adjust well to the restrictions of life at the different schools she briefly attended,” writes biographer Lisa Lambert. “At one school, she ate soap so that she would appear to be ‘foaming at the mouth,’ and on another occasion she deliberately caused an explosion in chemistry class. After expulsion from two schools, Mary was educated at home by her mother or tutors.”

Mary grew up to become a well-known “fossil hunter,” and, with her husband, Richard Leakey, made major contributions to our understanding of early human ancestors. On December 9, 1996, the day Mary Leakey passed away, National Public Radio reviewed her accomplishments. After Richard Potts, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins project, recited a most impressive list, reporter Charlayne Hunter-Gault asked him, “And yet she never – she wasn’t a trained scientist, was she?”

Potts replied, “No, but she always had a great love for the origin of things, for discoveries about pre-history, and also for drawing, drawing of stone artifacts, of cave paintings, which she greatly admired and enjoyed work on in East Africa, and that gave her a tremendous degree of skill in observation and detail.”

A Few Other Homeschooled Women of Note

Abagail Adams – distinguished and influential first lady; wife of U.S. President John Adams; mother of President John Quincy Adams.

Elizabeth Blackwell – first woman in the United States to receive a medical degree

Jill Ker Conway – historian and first woman president of Smith College

Gloria Steinem – founder and long-time editor of Ms. magazine

Frances E. C. Willard – educator, temperance leader, and suffragist

Continuing gratitude to Mac and Nancy Plent, who homeschooled their family many years ago and wrote An A In Life: Famous Homeschoolers. Mac and Nancy were kind enough to allow me to share their research in the pages of one of my books, Homeschoolers’ Success Stories.


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