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A Woman of the Century:   A Crowdsourcing Project of the Nineteenth and Twenty-First Centuries

July 30 - August 5

Women of the Week

Anna Byford Leonard, Helen Livermore Webster, and Mary Emma Holmes are this week's Women of the Week.   

  • To learn about them by viewing their items, please click on their images.  

  • To read their biographical sketches in A Woman of the Century, please click on the highlighted page number(s) to the left of their images.


Anna Byford Leonard (2).jpg

LEONARD, Anna Byford

July 31, 1843

sanitary reformer

Mount Vernon, IN

p. 457

Anna Byford Leonard, a sanitary reformer, ceramic artist, art teacher, author, and missionary leader was born in Mount Vernon, Indiana on July 31, 1843.  The daughter of William Heath Byford, a physician and surgeon who was the founder of Woman's Medical College of Chicago, Anna spent most of her life in Chicago, Illinois and later lived in New York City.  

Anna became Chicago's first female Sanitary Inspector in 1889, and she was instrumental in the establishment of the eight-hour law.  She was a strong advocate for children and women in the workplace.  Anna's personal network included Rachel Foster Avery and Dr. John E. Owens. 

By 1891, she was President of the Woman's Canning and Preserving Company.  In February of 1892, The St. Paul Daily Globe noted that the company had "capital of $1,000,000" and only female stockholders.

Widely respected, Anna was appointed as the Sanitary Inspector for the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893.

In addition, Anna was a ceramic artist and art teacher.   In 1894, 1897, and 1898, she contributed articles about china painting to Art Amateur.  She lived in New York City and was active in the art world, serving as the Corresponding Secretary for the New York Society of Ceramic Arts.  Anna's work was exhibited  at Madison Square Garden in 1896 at the National Commercial Travellers' Fair and at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City in 1901, as part of the exhibition by the New York Society of Ceramic Arts. Along with Rhoda Holmes Nicholls, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, and many other artists, she was a member of the Arts Club of New York City.

Also active in missionary work, Anna was Corresponding Secretary for the Board of Foreign Missions in 1911.

Helen L. Webster (2).jpg

WEBSTER, Miss Helen L.

August 1, 1853

professor of comparative philology in Wellesley College

Boston, MA

p. 756

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, on August 1, 1853, Helen Livermore Webster grew up in Salem, Massachusetts. After having graduated from Salem Normal School, she taught high school in Lynn while continuing her own studies.

Helen received her Ph.D. in Comparative Philology from the University of Zurich. Her A Woman of the Century profile noted:

"She handed to the faculty a dissertation, entitled 'Zur Gutturalfrage im Gotischen,' which attracted general comment by its wide research and scholarly handling" (756).

Dr. Webster taught at Barnard, Vassar, and Wellesley, where she was the Chair of Comparative Philology. After Reverend Silas Tertius Rand passed away, she wrote the preface to his Legends of the MicMacs.

Helen passed away on January 4, 1928, and was buried in Pine Grove Cemetery in Lynn, Massachusetts.

Mary Emma Holmes.jpg

HOLMES, Mrs. Mary Emma

August 3, 1839

woman suffragist

Peoria County, IL

p. 389-390

Mary Emma Smith Holmes was born on a farm near Peoria, Illinois on August 3, 1839.  

A dedicated reformer, she was a member of the Equal Suffrage Association, and the National American Woman Suffrage Association.  In addition, Mary Emma was a leader of the Illinois Woman's Christian Temperance Union.

On May 18, 1937, just a week after she received the title of "mother" of the Illinois Federation of Women's Clubs because she was the oldest living member, Mary Emma passed away at age ninety-seven.  She was buried in Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois.