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Louis Bromfield Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1933. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103721).

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Bromfield, Louis (27 December 1896–18 March 1956), novelist, experimental farmer, and newspaper columnist, was born in Mansfield, Ohio, the son of Charles Bromfield, a banker and local Democratic office holder, and Annette Marie Coulter. His father was from an old New England family, and his mother was the daughter of a pioneer family of Richland County, Ohio; both ancestries would influence his later fiction. Bromfield attended Mansfield public schools, spending summers on his mother’s family’s farm. In 1914–1915 he studied agriculture at Cornell University and then briefly attended Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio. He then studied journalism at Columbia University until his enlistment in the U.S. Army Ambulance Service in June 1917. He served with Section 577, attached to the French army, from December 1917 to February 1919. He participated in seven major battles during World War I and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. He was discharged in June 1919 while still in France....

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Colman, Norman Jay (16 May 1827–03 November 1911), agricultural journalist and first secretary of agriculture, was born near Richfield Springs, New York, the son of Hamilton Colman and Nancy Sprague, farmers. He attended local academies and soon was teaching school himself. In 1847 Colman left home for Kentucky, where plans to open a school in Owensboro were ended by an illness. He recovered and directed a public school in Brandenburg before enrolling at the University of Louisville Law School, earning a degree in 1849. He opened a successful law office in New Albany, Indiana, married Clara Porter in 1851, and in 1852 was elected district attorney. A year later they moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and purchased a farm, although Colman continued to practice law and was elected an alderman within two years. The couple had two children before Clara Colman died in 1863....

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London, Jack (12 January 1876–22 November 1916), writer, war correspondent, and agronomist, was born in San Francisco, California, the son of Flora Wellman and, allegedly, William Henry Chaney, a reformer and professor of astrology. Chaney separated from his common-law wife when he learned of her pregnancy, angrily denying his paternity and later insisting (in two 1897 letters written in response to London’s inquiries) that he had been impotent at the time of the child’s conception. Wellman nevertheless named her son “John Griffith Chaney” on his birth certificate....

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Jack London. Photograph by Arnold Genthe. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G4085- 0411 P&P).

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Robinson, Solon (21 October 1803–03 November 1880), author, agricultural journalist, and Indiana pioneer, was born in Tolland, Connecticut, the son of Jacob Robinson, a farmer and cooper, and Salinda Ladd. His father died when Solon Robinson was about six, and then his mother married James Robinson, one of her deceased husband’s cousins. After his mother died and her second husband refused further responsibility for his stepchildren, Solon Robinson was in the care of William Bottom. He worked on his guardian’s farm, got a little education in a country school near Lisbon, Connecticut, and briefly worked as a carpenter’s apprentice, which was harder labor than his health could stand. In 1818, for unknown reasons, Solon successfully petitioned that Vine Robinson, an uncle in Brooklyn, Connecticut, be his guardian. Solon’s later devotion to temperance may have been learned from his uncle, but little more is known about the next few years of his life....

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Will Rogers Left, with Will Hays, c. 1925. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-83080).

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Rogers, Will (04 November 1879–15 August 1935), entertainer and social commentator, was born William Penn Adair Rogers near Oologah, Oklahoma, in what was then the Cooweescoowee District of Indian Territory, the son of Clement Vann Rogers and Mary America Schrimsher, Cherokee ranchers. Rogers County, which contains both Oologah, site of the historic Rogers home, and Claremore, site of the Will Rogers Memorial and Museum, is named after the prominent father, not the prominent son. “Uncle Clem” was a major player in Oklahoma politics before and after statehood (1907), serving as a judge, as a member of the Dawes Commission (to distribute Indian lands prior to statehood), and as the first local banker. Will’s loving wife, the former Betty Blake, whom he married in 1908, later remembered that “Will had everything he wanted. He had spending money and the best string of cow ponies in the country. No boy in Indian Territory had more than Uncle Clem’s boy.” (Yet being “Uncle Clem’s boy” could have its downside, too.)...