Historic, but not famous

Isabella Graham, founded Academy for Women in 1789

Isabella Graham (July 29, 1742 – July 27, 1814) was a Scottish-American philanthropist and educator. In 1765 she married Dr. John Graham, an army surgeon in the Royal Americans regiment. Two years later, she went with him to Canada. They had three daughters and two sons, one of which died in infancy in Scotland. The surviving children were; Jessie, Joanna Bethune, Isabella and John. She traveled the world with her husband, but after his death in 1774, she returned to Scotland while pregnant with her 5th child. She never remarried and raised her children while remaining in service to the church of Scotland.

Ms. Graham started her life of philanthropy in Scotland with the Penny Society, later known as the Society for the Relief of the Destitute Sick, a group for poor members, who contributed a penny a week to create a fund for providing for them when sick. She started the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows in 1797.While visiting Scotland from America in 1785, Dr. John Witherspoon (a member of the same church as Isabella in Scotland and a signer of the Declaration of Independence) spoke with Isabella regarding returning to the United States. After her children had completed their schooling, she came to New York City in 1789 and later that year established a school for young women.

Graham also founded, or helped organize, the Orphan Asylum Society (organized 1806), the Society for Promoting Industry among the Poor, and the first Sunday School for Ignorant Adults in New York. She also aided in organizing the first missionary society and the first monthly missionary prayer meeting in the city; was the first president of the Magdalen Society of New-York (founded 1812); systematically visited the inmates of the hospital, and the sick female convicts in the state prison; and distributed Bibles to hundreds of families, as well as tracts prepared under her own direction.

While living in New York City, Graham was a member of the New York Society Library along with many of the nation’s founding fathers and other influential individuals of the time. She is the only woman who is listed under members with a political occupation.

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