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Barnes, Djuna (12 June 1892–19 June 1982), writer, was born Djuna Chappell Barnes in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York, the daughter of Wald Barnes (born Henry Budington, recorded as Buddington), a musician, and Elizabeth Chappell. She was raised mostly in her birthplace, Fordham, and Huntington, Long Island, New York. The Barnes family, which believed in sexual freedom, included four brothers by Djuna’s mother, plus Wald’s mistress Fanny Faulkner and their three children; they were supported largely by Wald’s mother, Zadel Barnes Budington Gustafson, a journalist and suffragist. Djuna’s parents and grandmother Zadel tutored the children, especially in the arts. With the blessing of her father and grandmother (over the objections of her mother), at seventeen Djuna eloped with a soap salesman, Percy Faulkner, brother of Fanny Faulkner, but stayed with him only a few weeks. Djuna attended school sporadically, if at all; later she attended Pratt Institute (1913) and the Art Students League of New York (1915), studying life drawing and illustration....

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Bennett, Gwendolyn (08 July 1902–30 May 1981), writer and artist, was born in Giddings, Texas, the daughter of Joshua Robin Bennett and Mayme F. Abernathy, teachers on a Native American reservation. In 1906 the family moved to Washington, D.C., where Bennett’s father studied law and her mother worked as a manicurist and hairdresser. Her parents divorced and her mother won custody, but her father kidnapped the seven-year-old Gwendolyn. The two, with her stepmother, lived in hiding in various towns along the East Coast and in Pennsylvania before finally settling in New York....

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Bernstein, Aline Frankau (22 December 1880–07 September 1955), set and costume designer and author, was born in New York City, the daughter of Joseph Frankau, an actor, and Rebecca Goldsmith. Joseph Frankau, who was of German-Jewish ancestry, first named his daughter Hazel, but her mother changed it to Aline. Educated in the New York public schools and raised in the theater, as a child Aline wanted to be an actress, but her father encouraged her talent for drawing instead. After the early deaths of her parents (both had died by 1897), Aline became the ward of her aunt, Rachel, a drug addict. She attended Hunter College as a student of fine art. Tom Watson, a family friend and a member of the board of directors of the New York School of Applied Design, arranged for her to study drawing on scholarship at the school. She later studied portrait painting with ...

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Bourke-White, Margaret (14 June 1904–27 August 1971), pioneer photojournalist and industrial photographer, was born in New York City, the daughter of Joseph Edward White, an amateur photographer and an engineer and inventor for a printing press manufacturer, and Minnie Bourke, a teacher. Originally using the name Margaret White, she added her mother’s maiden name in 1927....

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Margaret Bourke-White. Gelatin silver print, c. 1952, by Thomas J. Abercrombie. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Demorest, Ellen Curtis (15 November 1824–10 August 1898), publisher and businesswoman, was born Ellen Louise Curtis in Schuylerville, New York, the daughter of Henry Curtis, a farmer and manufacturer, and Electa Abel. She attended local schools and graduated from Schuylerville Academy at age eighteen. Exposed to the fashion industry from an early age—her father’s factory made hats, and the nearby resort at Saratoga Springs regularly featured dapper visitors from across the nation—she established a prosperous local millinery business immediately after graduating. Within a year she had moved on to larger markets in Troy and finally—by the early 1850s—to New York City. Settling in Brooklyn, she met merchant William Jennings Demorest during a business transaction. They were married in 1858. In addition to raising two children from her husband’s first marriage—he was a widower—Demorest would have two of her own. Unlike most couples of their era, the Demorests became equal partners in professional as well as domestic life....

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Draper, Dorothy (22 November 1889–10 March 1969), interior decorator and columnist, was born in Tuxedo Park, New York, the daughter of Paul Tuckerman and Susan Minturn. She grew up in the environs of New York in an exclusive resort community where her parents were among the founding members in 1886. Educated primarily at home with a governess and tutor, her formal schooling was minimal, including two years at the Brearley School, a private girls’ school in New York City. Annual trips to Europe gave her a cosmopolitan exposure to the world, and she was presented at Sherry’s in 1907. Although she did not have any academic design training, her background and upbringing among the elite families of the Northeast contributed to her subsequent success as a decorator. She had complete confidence in her taste, and her social connections proved to be important in acquiring future clientele....

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Foote, Mary Anna Hallock (19 November 1847–25 June 1938), illustrator and author, was born on a farm near Milton, New York, the daughter of Nathaniel Hallock and Ann Burling, farmers. When Foote wrote her reminiscences (published posthumously in 1972 as A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West...

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Jane Heap. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ6-2112).

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Heap, Jane (01 November 1883–16 June 1964), artist and editor, was born in Topeka, Kansas, the daughter of George Heap, an engineer, and Emma (maiden name unknown). Interested in art from an early age, Heap attended the Art Institute of Chicago from 1901 until 1905 and later studied mural design in Germany. By the century’s second decade Chicago was in the midst of a “Renaissance” in art and literature. Writers and artists influenced by Nietzsche, Shaw, Picasso, and Gauguin attacked the straitlaced conservatism of the Victorian genteel tradition. Young midwesterners with artistic aspirations traveled to Chicago where they embraced and expressed an American modernism that owed much to European philosophies. Heap was among them....

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Jamison, Cecilia Viets (1837?–11 April 1909), painter and writer, was born in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada, the daughter of Viets Dakin and Elizabeth Bruce. Her Tory family had left the United States during the American Revolution. They resettled in Nova Scotia, where her paternal relatives had lived, including her great-grandfather, the Reverend Roger Viets, who was vicar general of Canada. When she was a teenager, she and her family moved back to the United States, settling in Boston. There and in New York she attended private schools, where she studied to be an artist....

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Loy, Mina (27 December 1882–25 September 1966), poet and artist, was born Mina Gertrude Lowy in London, England, the daughter of Sigmund Lowy, a tailor, and Julia Bryan. Loy received little formal education but at age seventeen was sent to art school in Munich. In 1901–1902 she returned to England, where she studied with the English painter Augustus John and began to exhibit her painting. It was also during this time that she met her first husband, art student Stephen Haweis (Hugh Oscar William Haweis). In 1903 Loy moved to Paris to study painting, married Haweis, and changed her name to Loy, a change, she remembered, that she “adopted in a spirit of mockery,” in response to her husband’s old and distinguished family name, which was pronounced ”Hoyes“ (Burke, pp. 66, 97). Loy and Haweis had three children; the first daughter died in infancy, the son in his teens....

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Mabel Dodge Luhan Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1934. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-106861).

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Luhan, Mabel Dodge (26 February 1879–13 August 1962), writer and patron, was born in Buffalo, New York, the daughter of Charles Ganson and Sarah Cook, members of the upper class who lived on inherited wealth. Like most Victorian women of her class, Luhan was educated to charm and groomed to marry. Stultified emotionally and intellectually at home and at the various finishing (or boarding) schools she attended, she worked throughout her life to create a world that would simultaneously establish her identity and serve as a model for the larger European and American communities that surrounded her. She moved from one “cosmos,” as she called them, to the next, with the expectation that each would provide the answer to her own and her contemporaries’ need to connect with something larger than the dying legacy of individualism left them by late Victorian culture....

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O’Neill, Rose Cecil (25 June 1874–06 April 1944), illustrator and writer, was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the daughter of William Patrick O’Neill, a bookseller, and Alice Asenath Cecelia Smith, a former schoolteacher. At the time of her birth, the O’Neill family occupied “Emerald Cottage,” a picturesque home with cupids and wreaths of roses ornamenting the ceiling in the octagonal living room. It is possible that these cupids, imprinted on her memory, later inspired her famous “Kewpie” illustrations of plump infants with tiny wings. In 1878 her family moved to Omaha, Nebraska, and at the age of thirteen, O’Neill, who attended parochial school, won a prize, awarded by the ...

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Pennell, Elizabeth Robins (21 Feb. 1855–7 Feb. 1936), author, art critic, and culinary writer, was born Elizabeth Robins in Philadelphia to Edward Robins, a member of the Philadelphia Exchange, and Margaret Miller, who died shortly after giving birth to her. In spite of the family’s devout Episcopalian background, Robins converted to Catholicism and enrolled his daughter in a convent at Conflans, France, and then at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Torresdale, a suburb of Philadelphia, where she was a bright, capable student. At the Convent of the Sacred Heart, she met Agnes Repplier, who would also go on to become a writer, with whom she maintained a lifelong friendship....

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Tuthill, Louisa Caroline Huggins (06 July 1799–01 June 1879), author, was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the daughter of Ebenezer Huggins, a prosperous merchant, and Mary Dickerman. Louisa was educated at seminaries for girls in New Haven and Litchfield, Connecticut. In 1817 she married Cornelius Tuthill, a minister from Hopewell, New York. They had four children. After continued ill health forced Cornelius to give up the ministry in 1818, he began editing the semiweekly literary periodical ...

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Wallace, Lila Bell Acheson (25 December 1889–08 May 1984), cofounder and co-owner of the Reader's Digest and philanthropist, cofounder and co-owner of the Reader’s Digest and philanthropist, was born in Virden, Manitoba, Canada, the daughter of T. Davis Acheson and Mary E. Huston. After Lila’s father completed his theological studies and became a Presbyterian minister, the family moved to the United States and became U.S. citizens. They lived in various small towns in the Midwest and West....

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Whitney, Anne (02 September 1821–23 January 1915), sculptor and poet, was born in Watertown, Massachusetts, to Nathaniel Ruggles Whitney, Jr., a justice of the peace, and Sally Stone. Whitney’s parents belonged to a liberal sect of the Unitarian church. Its doctrine professed the belief that men and women were created equal. Whitney was educated as a liberal thinker, believing in the equality of the sexes and the races and deploring oppression and injustice of any kind....