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Flexner, Bernard (24 February 1865–03 May 1945), lawyer, social welfare advocate, and Jewish community leader, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of Morris (originally Moritz) Flexner and Esther Abraham. His parents, immigrants from Bohemia and the Rhineland, had settled in Louisville in the 1850s. Morris prospered as a hat merchant, but the panic of 1873 left his family of nine children impoverished. Bernard, who was the fifth child and fifth son, had two brothers who achieved eminence in American life. ...

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Gholson, Samuel Jameson (19 May 1808–16 October 1883), jurist and general, was born in Madison County, Kentucky. Little is known of his parents, but it is certain that the family moved to Russellville in northern Alabama in 1817. There Gholson studied law with Judge Peter Martin and gained admission to the bar in 1829. A year later, the young lawyer crossed the border into northeastern Mississippi, where he settled in Athens in Monroe County and established a law practice....

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Jansson, Eric (19 December 1808–13 May 1850), founder of the Janssonist religious sect and Bishop Hill utopian community, was born in Biskopskulla, Sweden, the son of Johannes Mattson, a landowner, and Sara Ersdotter. Jansson was born into and raised as a member of the Swedish Lutheran church. At age twenty-two, however, Jansson felt a personal call from God and was miraculously relieved of recurring bouts of rheumatism. Because his healing had occurred without the benefit of clergy, Jansson indicted the state church. “It dawned on me,” he noted, “that I had been deceived in the faith which I had received from the so-called evangelical Lutheran teaching,” and he concluded that “all the preachers and teachers were blind leaders” (quoted in Elmen, p. 3). These ideas festered within Jansson over the next decade as he became a ...

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Kitchin, William Hodge (22 December 1837–02 February 1901), lawyer and politician, was born in Lauderdale County, Alabama, the son of Boas Kitchin and Arabella Smith, planters. Kitchin grew up in his parents’ hometown of Scotland Neck in Halifax County, North Carolina, in the heart of the state’s black belt, after they moved back from Alabama in 1841. The family struggled during the recession in the 1840s but retained their slaves. At twenty-two Kitchin matriculated at Emory and Henry, a Methodist college in southwestern Virginia, but he did not graduate because the Civil War intervened. He promptly enlisted, rising to captain, a rank “Cap’n Buck” prized all his life. On furlough in 1863 he married Maria Figus Arrington of a prominent local family; they had eleven children, including two congressmen (one also a governor), a college president (Thurman D. Kitchin of Wake Forest College), and a state senator. Returning to the Army of Northern Virginia, the newlywed was wounded and captured at Spotsylvania Courthouse in May 1864. Always determined and strong-willed, he refused to take the oath of allegiance at the war’s end and remained in federal custody until mid-June 1865. Physically domineering, fast-tempered, and combatant, Kitchin modestly described himself as a military Baptist, a convenient stance in a region where Baptists outnumbered other denominations. In politics, he cultivated his seemingly instinctive knack for bombast and hurled religion and race, sometimes both together, at enemies....

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Julian William Mack Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-112324).

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Mack, Julian William (19 July 1866–05 September 1943), lawyer, judge, and Zionist leader, was born in San Francisco, California, the son of William Jacob Mack, an immigrant from Bavaria who prospered as a dry goods merchant, and Rebecca Tandler. Julian was the second of thirteen children born to the couple. Because of health reasons, William Mack resettled the family in Cincinnati in 1870, and there young Julian came under the influence of Rabbi ...

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Thomas Meagher. Lithograph by John Joseph Egan. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-97750).

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Meagher, Thomas Francis (23 August 1823–01 July 1867), Irish-American nationalist, lawyer, and soldier, was born in Waterford, Ireland, the son of Thomas Meagher, a merchant and member of the British Parliament, and (first name unknown) Quan. Both of Meagher’s parents came from wealthy and prominent Irish families. His mother died while Meagher was an infant. He was subsequently educated at his father’s alma mater, Clongowes-Wood, a Jesuit school in Ireland, and then at Stoneyhurst College in England from 1839 to 1843. Upon graduation he seemed destined to follow his father into a career in business, but in 1845 he joined the Young Ireland party and became embroiled in the rising debate over Irish independence from Great Britain. In the fateful year of 1848, when revolution swept over Europe, Meagher made an impassioned public appeal in Ireland for the violent overthrow of British rule. This advocacy earned him the popular title of “Meagher of the Sword,” which he carried for the rest of his life. His determination to overthrow British rule by violence also landed him in difficulty with the British authorities. In July 1848 he was arrested, tried, convicted of high treason, and condemned to death. Partly because of the prominence of his family, his sentence was commuted in 1849, and the British banished him for life to the island of Tasmania (then a British possession) off the southern coast of Australia....

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Rockwell, George Lincoln (09 March 1918–25 August 1967), leader of the American Nazi Party, was born in Bloomington, Illinois, the son of George “Doc” Rockwell, a vaudeville comedian, and Claire Schade, a dancer. Rockwell was six when his parents divorced; from then on he lived with one or the other of his parents in Maine, Rhode Island, and New Jersey....