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Altman, Benjamin (12 July 1840–07 October 1913), merchant and art collector, was born in New York, New York, the son of Philip Altman, a dry goods merchant, and Cecilia (maiden name unknown). His father, a Jewish immigrant from Bavaria who had come to the United States in 1835, operated a small dry goods store named Altman & Co. on Third Avenue near Tenth Street. Young Altman worked with his brother Morris in his father’s shop in the afternoons. He left school at the age of twelve to work there full time and later held a variety of sales jobs with other dry goods shops in New York City and in Newark, New Jersey. When his father died in 1854, Altman and his brother took over the store, changing its name to Altman Bros. The business prospered, and by 1865 they moved to Third Avenue and Tenth Street; they moved again to a larger building on Sixth Avenue between Eighteenth and Nineteenth Streets in 1870. Morris left the business but remained a partner, and when he died in 1876, Altman became sole owner, later changing the name of the firm to B. Altman & Co....

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Blass, Bill (22 June 1922–12 June 2002), fashion designer, branding innovator, and philanthropist, was born William Ralph Blass in Fort Wayne, Indiana. His father, Ralph Aldrich Blass, was a traveling hardware salesman, and his mother, Ethyl Keyser, was a dressmaker who worked from their home. Although his sister, Virginia (Gina), was just two years older than he, they were never close. When Blass was barely five years old, his father committed suicide at home, which Blass later assumed to be from manic-depression, although his mother never discussed the family trauma with her children. His mother did not remarry, and the family struggled during the Depression years on her income from a small annuity, rent from a lakeside cabin, and dressmaking....

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Harkness, Rebekah West (17 April 1915–17 June 1982), philanthropist, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Allen Tarwater West, a stockbroker, and Rebekah Semple. The youngest of three children, Rebekah grew up surrounded by the amenities of a prominent St. Louis family. A vivacious, headstrong teenager with a penchant for the arts, she obeyed but did not agree with her father’s request that she resign from a St. Louis Opera production of ...

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Anna Hyatt Huntington At work on The Torch Bearers. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-112006).

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Huntington, Anna Vaughn Hyatt (10 March 1876–04 October 1973), sculptor and philanthropist, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the daughter of Alpheus Hyatt II, a professor of zoology and paleontology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at Boston University, and Audella Beebe, an amateur landscape painter. She attended private schools in Cambridge, but at about age seventeen, she began to show an interest in sculpture. This was encouraged by her family, especially by her older sister, Harriet R. Hyatt, who began sculpting in the 1880s. Anna may have accompanied her sister to the Cowles School in Boston to study drawing with ...

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Karolik, Maxim (1893–20 December 1963), art collector and philanthropist, was born in Bessarabia, Russia (now Rumania), the son of Orthodox Jewish parents. He was trained as an operatic tenor at the Academy in St. Petersburg and performed with the Petrograd Grand Opera Company as well as in opera houses in England and Italy. Karolik came to the United States about 1922 and made his New York debut in 1924 in a recital at Aeolian Hall. He performed to moderate acclaim until the early 1930s, when unspecified health problems caused him to abandon his singing career....

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Lewisohn, Irene (05 September 1892–04 April 1944), theater patron and practitioner and philanthropist, was born in New York City, the daughter of Rosalie Jacobs and Leonard Lewisohn, a German-Jewish immigrant who made his fortune in the mining and processing of copper and other minerals. The deaths of Lewisohn’s parents before she was ten years old left her older sister Alice and her with considerable wealth—and the social burden of such wealth. The daughter of a philanthropist, Lewisohn was impressed by the Henry Street Settlement, one of her father’s causes. After attending the Finch School in New York, she studied dance independently and eventually found her calling in the unique combination of social service and the arts....

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McCormick, Edith Rockefeller (31 August 1872–25 August 1932), philanthropist, socialite, and patron of the arts and psychiatry, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the daughter of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., an industrialist, and Laura Celestia Spelman. She spent her youth in Cleveland and New York City, where the family moved in 1880. In addition to attending the Rye Female Seminary, Edith received private tutoring and learned to play the cello. Unusually gifted and endowed with a strong scholarly inclination, she had mastered three foreign languages by the time she was ten years old....

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Paul Mellon Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Mellon, Paul (11 June 1907–01 February 1999), philanthropist, art collector, horse breeder, and conservationist, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Andrew W. Mellon, a banker, secretary of the treasury (1921–1932), and ambassador to Britain (1932–1933), and Nora McMullen Mellon. His parents divorced when he was five and his sister Ailsa was eleven. Under the terms of the divorce settlement, the children were to spend eight months with their father and four months with their mother, who was living in England. (When they reached the age of fourteen, the children were to decide how long they wished to stay with either parent.) As a child, Paul was afraid of his father, whom he described in his autobiography, ...

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Perkins, Charles Callahan (01 March 1823–25 August 1886), art critic, philanthropist, and administrator, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of James Perkins, a wealthy and generous merchant, and Eliza Greene Callahan. After early schooling in Boston and attendance at boarding schools in nearby Cambridge and in Burlington, New Jersey, Perkins entered Harvard. He disliked the curriculum there but graduated in 1843....

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Post, Marjorie Merriweather (15 March 1887–12 September 1973), business owner, entertainer, and philanthropist, was born in Springfield, Illinois, the daughter of Charles William Post, founder of Postum Cereal Company, and Ella Letitia Merriweather. After several of Charles Post’s entrepreneurial ventures failed, his family entered him in a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1891. The sanitarium’s doctor, ...

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Rockefeller, Abby Aldrich (26 October 1874–04 April 1948), philanthropist, was born Abby Greene Aldrich in Providence, Rhode Island, the daughter of Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich and Abby Pearce Chapman. After establishing himself in the mercantile life of Rhode Island, her father was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1881 he took his seat in the U.S. Senate, where he became a powerful chair of the Finance Committee. His political skills and his passion for art were his legacy to Abby....

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Rose, Billy (06 September 1899–10 February 1966), songwriter, show business impresario, and philanthropist, was born on the Lower East Side of New York City, the son of David Rosenberg, a button salesman, and Fannie Wernick. He was born William Samuel Rosenberg, according to most biographical sources, though one source states he adopted that name in school after being born Samuel Wolf Rosenberg. He grew up in the Bronx and attended public schools there, winning junior high school medals for sprinting and English. Medals and honors were important as proofs of stature and worth to Rose, who never grew taller than five feet three inches. In the High School of Commerce, he became an outstanding student of the Gregg system of shorthand, winning first a citywide competition (1917) and then a national competition (1918). In 1918 he left high school shortly before graduation to become head of the stenographic department of the War Industries Board, headed by ...

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Rosenwald, Lessing Julius (10 February 1891–24 June 1978), art and book collector and philanthropist, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Julius Rosenwald, a businessman, and Augusta Nusbaum. In 1908 he went to Cornell University but left in 1911 to work as a shipping clerk for Sears, Roebuck, of which his father was president. In 1913 Rosenwald married Edith Goodkind; they had five children. He served as a seaman, second class, in the U.S. Navy during World War I; after the war he returned to Sears, Roebuck. In 1920 his father sent him to Philadelphia to start that city’s first Sears store....

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Sackler, Arthur Mitchell (22 August 1913–26 May 1987), research psychiatrist, art collector, and philanthropist, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Isaac Sackler and Sophie (maiden name unknown). In the 1930s Sackler simultaneously studied medicine at New York University (NYU) and art history at NYU and the Cooper Union Art Institute. To fund his medical studies, he joined the William Douglas MacAdams medical advertising agency. Sackler earned his B.S. from NYU in 1933 and his M.D. from NYU in 1937. In 1935 he married Else Jorgensen; they had two children....

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Catherine Filene Shouse. Plaster, 1974, by Elaine Pear Cohen. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Joan D. Tolley.

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Shouse, Catherine Filene (09 June 1896–14 December 1994), philanthropist, patron of the arts, and advocate for careers for women, was born Catherine Filene in Boston, Massachusetts, the eldest daughter of A. Lincoln Filene and Thérèse Weil. As a child, she was known as Catherine; as an adult, she was always Kay. She grew up in a wealthy, progressive home where politicians, businessmen, musicians, and social reformers were frequent visitors. Her father, who never finished high school, engaged in civic, educational, and labor reforms while president of William Filene and Sons, the Boston retail store founded by her grandfather. Her mother, a talented amateur musician, supported the Boston Symphony Orchestra and founded a music settlement house....

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Stanford, Jane Eliza (25 August 1825–28 February 1905), philanthropist and collector, was born in Albany, New York, the daughter of Dyer Lathrop, a storekeeper and founder of the Albany Orphan Asylum, and Jane Anne Shields. Jane had some elementary schooling, followed by a year at the Albany Female Academy (established in 1814) when she was fifteen. In 1850 Jane married ...

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Stetson, John Batterson (05 May 1830–18 February 1906), hat manufacturer and philanthropist, was born in Orange, New Jersey, the son of Stephen Stetson, a hatter, and Susan Batterson. Like several of his brothers, Stetson learned the hat trade at an early age as an apprentice in his father’s shop. The long hours necessary to acquire and perfect the craft kept Stetson from receiving much formal education, but his mother taught him to read and write using the Bible and newspapers....