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Coolidge, Dane (24 March 1873–08 August 1940), novelist, naturalist, and photographer, was born in Natick, Massachusetts, the son of Francis Coolidge, a corporal in the Civil War and, later, an orange grower in California, and Sophia Upham Whittemore. He moved with his family in 1877 to Los Angeles, where he roamed the fields and mountains around that still-small town and grew up a Republican and a Unitarian. Coolidge graduated from Stanford University in 1898, then studied biology at Harvard University from 1898 to 1899 before returning to the West....

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Dubos, René Jules (20 February 1901–20 February 1982), microbiologist and author, was born in Saint Brice, France, a farming community north of Paris, the son of Georges Andre Dubos, a butcher, and Adeline De Bloedt. Dubos’s parents soon moved farther into the countryside to the tiny village of Henonville, where René attended a one-room school until the family moved to Paris in 1914. The family’s economic uncertainties worsened when his father died after serving in World War I. During his childhood Dubos suffered from episodes of rheumatic fever, which led to the cardiac damage common before antibiotics. These severe illnesses, together with extremely poor eyesight, restricted his youthful activities and had a permanent impact on his life....

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Herrick, Clarence Luther (22 June 1858–15 September 1904), and Charles Judson Herrick (06 October 1868–29 January 1960), neuroscientists and editors, were born in the area of Minneapolis, Minnesota, the oldest and youngest sons of Henry Nathan Herrick, a Free Baptist minister and chaplain during the last year of the Civil War, and Ann Strickler....

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Kieran, John Francis (02 August 1892–10 December 1981), sports writer, radio personality, and naturalist, was born in the Bronx, New York City, the son of James Michael Kieran, an educator, and Kate Donahue. He grew up in a book-oriented home. His father was a public school principal who later became a professor of education at Hunter College and then president of that institution. His mother was a school teacher before her marriage who, said Kieran, “quoted the classics on the slightest provocation.”...

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Krause, Herbert Arthur (25 May 1905–22 September 1976), novelist, English professor, poet, and naturalist, was born near Friberg, Minnesota, the son of Arthur Krause, a farmer and blacksmith, and Bertha Peters. Krause’s parents were first-generation descendants of devout German immigrants who settled as farmers in the hill country north of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Their folkways and fundamentalist Lutheran religion were important concerns in his first two novels....

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Lea, Isaac (04 March 1792–08 December 1886), naturalist and publisher, was born in Wilmington, Delaware, the son of James Lea, a Quaker merchant, and Elizabeth Gibson. His family had been among those who accompanied William Penn on his second trip to America at the end of the seventeenth century. Originally, his family planned for Isaac to become a physician, and with that in mind he was sent to the Wilmington (Del.) Academy. These plans changed when the family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when Isaac was about fifteen, and he went to work in the wholesale and importing house run by his oldest brother. His mother fostered Isaac’s early interest in natural history. This interest was more fully developed through his friendship with geologist ...

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Loeb, Jacques (07 April 1859–11 February 1924), biologist, was born Isaak Loeb in Mayen, a town in the Prussian Rhineland, the son of Benedict (Baruch) Loeb, a merchant, and Barbara Isay. Loeb’s parents, observant Jews who were intellectually and politically liberal, both died when he was an adolescent, leaving him financially independent but not wealthy. In 1876 Loeb joined relatives of his mother in Berlin, where he completed secondary school, took the name Jacques, and began the study of medicine, first at the universities of Berlin and Munich, and from 1881 to 1885 at the University of Strassburg. His first scientific research, under the tutelage of the Strassburg physiologist Friedrich Goltz, concerned the psychological characteristics of brain-damaged dogs. He continued to explore problems of psychophysiology at the Berlin Agricultural College in 1885–1886 as an assistant to Nathan Zuntz and from 1886 to 1888 at the University of Wurzburg, where he worked under Adolf Fick....

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McMahon, Thomas A. (21 April 1943–14 February 1999), writer and educator, was born in Dayton, Ohio, the son of Howard Oldford McMahon, a physical chemist, and Lucille Nelson McMahon, a scientist. He grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, in a house his parents designed and built. After earning a B.S. from Cornell University in 1965, he entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he earned an M.S. in 1967 and completed his Ph.D. (with a focus on fluid mechanics) in 1970. He married Carol Ehlers on 20 June 1965; the couple had two children....

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Ord, George (04 March 1781–24 January 1866), naturalist, writer, and lexicographer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of George Ord, a retired sea captain who in 1798 became a ship chandler and rope maker, and Rebecca Lindemeyer. Educated in Philadelphia, Ord devoted himself from an early age to the study of science and literature. He entered his father’s rope-making business in 1800 and continued the business after his father’s death in 1806; he retired from the business in 1829 to devote more time to his avocational interests. In 1804 Ord married Margarette Biays, with whom he had three children, only one of whom survived infancy....

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Shull, George Harrison (15 April 1874–29 September 1954), botanist and geneticist, was born on a farm near North Hampton, Ohio, the son of Harrison Shull and Catherine Ryman, farmers. A devout member of the Old German Baptist Church, Shull’s father was also an unpaid lay minister; his mother, an avid reader, eventually became an accomplished horticulturist after her children were raised. Shull’s formal education was sparse. It is estimated that he only spent 46.5 months in formal school before he entered college and never spent a full year in school at a time. Despite these trying circumstances, George and his seven siblings were educated with the help of their mother, who encouraged study. Stimulated by a rural background that provided him proximity to both wild and agricultural plants, Shull’s interest in plants was apparent by the age of sixteen....

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Henry David Thoreau. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ61-361).

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Thoreau, Henry David (12 July 1817–06 May 1862), author and naturalist, whose surname is pronounced “thorough,” was born in Concord, Massachusetts, the son of John Thoreau, a merchant and pencil manufacturer of French ancestry, and Cynthia Dunbar, of Scottish background. He was the only one of the famed Concord authors to be a native of the town. Although he was raised in genteel poverty, Thoreau attended Concord Academy, a private school where his parents hoped he would receive a better education than the public schools could offer. His parents also did much to encourage his youthful interest in natural history. A shy child, he often preferred to keep to himself rather than play with others....