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Elizabeth Bentley. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109688).

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Bentley, Elizabeth Terrill (01 January 1908–03 December 1963), Communist party activist and government witness, was born in New Milford, Connecticut, the daughter of Charles Prentiss Bentley, a newspaper editor and department store manager, and Mary Burrill, a schoolteacher. After growing up in small towns in Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania, Bentley enrolled in Vassar College and in 1930 received an undergraduate degree in English. While at Vassar, she became involved in a variety of Socialist causes but did not demonstrate any interest in more radical left-wing ideas. For two years following graduation, she taught languages at the Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia, but left in 1932 for Columbia University, where she earned her M.A. in Italian in 1935. While working on her graduate degree, she accepted a fellowship that took her to the University of Florence for the 1933–1934 academic year....

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Blanchfield, Florence Aby (01 April 1884–12 May 1971), nurse and army officer, was born in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, the daughter of Joseph Plunkett Blanchfield, a stonemason and cutter, and Mary Louvenia Anderson, a nurse. In 1903 Blanchfield entered South Side Hospital Training School for Nurses in Pittsburgh, graduating in 1906. During postgraduate work at Johns Hopkins Hospital and Dr. ...

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Boyd, Belle (09 May 1844–11 June 1900), Confederate spy, was born in Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), the daughter of Reed Boyd, a store owner and manager of a farm, and Mary Rebecca Glenn. Both parents were from prominent Virginia families, and young Belle (christened Isabelle) was educated at Mount Washington Female College in Baltimore. When the Civil War broke out, she returned to her home and began raising funds for the Confederate army....

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Belle Boyd. Albumen silver print, c. 1864, by Unidentified Artist. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Claire Lee Chennault Right, with Major General Gilbert Cheves, at the start of a softball game in China, each serving as captain of a team drawn from the men under their command, 1945. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-111-SC-203553).

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Chennault, Claire Lee (06 September 1893–27 July 1958), military officer and airline executive, was born in Commerce, Texas, the son of John Stonewall Jackson Chennault, a small-scale cotton grower, and Jessie Lee. Chennault grew up on a small farm in Franklin Parish in northeastern Louisiana. His mother died when he was eight years old. Two years later, his father married Lottie Barnes, a local schoolteacher. Educated in the nearby town of Gilbert, he entered Louisiana State University in 1909. Shortly thereafter, his stepmother, who had persuaded him to continue his education, died. “I was alone again,” he later wrote, “and really never found another companion whom I could so completely admire, respect, and love.”...

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Cochran, Jacqueline (1910?–09 August 1980), pioneer aviator and business executive, was born in Muscogee, Florida, near Pensacola. Her parents both died during her infancy, and she was raised by foster families with whom she worked in the lumber mills of the Florida panhandle. By the age of fifteen she had also worked in a Columbus, Georgia, cotton mill and learned how to cut hair in a beauty shop. Cochran took nursing training at a hospital in Montgomery, Alabama, from 1925 to 1928, but by 1930 she had returned to Pensacola to work in a beauty salon. In 1932 she traveled to Philadelphia to work in a beauty shop and then moved in the same year to New York City, where her skill earned her a job at Antoine’s, a well-known Saks Fifth Avenue beauty shop. For the next four years she worked for this business, spending every winter working in Antoine’s branch in Miami Beach, Florida. She met ...

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Jacqueline Cochran Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105221).

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Coplon, Judith (17 May 1921–26 February 2011), Soviet spy during the Cold War, was born in Brooklyn, New York. Her father Samuel Coplon was a respected toy merchant; her mother Rebecca Moroh Coplon was a milliner. She and her older brother Bertram were raised in modest but comfortable circumstances. The petite Judith (just over five feet tall as an adult) was vivacious, pretty, and smart. At Brooklyn’s James Madison High School, she won awards, and her brilliant academic record earned her a scholarship to Barnard College. She threw herself into extracurricular activities, joined a communist youth group, and became an editor of the school newspaper. A history major fascinated by the development of the Soviet state, she compiled a superior academic record and graduated cum laude in 1943....