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Bancroft, Hubert Howe (05 May 1832–02 March 1918), businessman and historian, was born in Granville, Ohio, the son of Azariah Ashley Bancroft, a farmer, and Lucy Howe, a teacher. His formal education stopped short of college, and at age sixteen Bancroft left home to learn the book trade from his brother-in-law in Buffalo, New York. Sent to California with a valuable consignment of books, Bancroft opened his own bookstore in San Francisco in December 1856, with capital supplied by his sister and credit from several New York firms. Efficiently run, and favored by a margin between California gold and depreciated eastern currency during the Civil War, Bancroft’s store proved phenomenally profitable. Within a decade, H. H. Bancroft & Co. supported extensive European travel for its proprietor and permitted him the luxury of semiretirement at age thirty-seven. In 1869–1870 he built a five-story building for his business, which expanded to include stationery, office supplies, printing, and bookbinding. He turned over the day-to-day operations to his younger brother, Albert, while he moved into the fifth floor and devoted himself to the study of history....

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Barker, Mary Cornelia (20 January 1879–15 September 1963), schoolteacher and teachers' union leader, schoolteacher and teachers’ union leader, was born in Rockmart, Georgia, the daughter of Thomas Nathaniel Barker, a teacher and small businessman, and Dora Elizabeth Lovejoy, a teacher. After spending her early years in rural Rockmart, Barker moved with her family to Atlanta, where she attended the public schools. She went on to Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, from which she received a diploma for completing the normal course in 1900....

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Albert C. Barnes Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1940. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 102 P&P).

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Barnes, Albert Coombs (02 January 1872–24 July 1951), collector, educator, and entrepreneur, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of John Jesse Barnes, a butcher, and Lydia A. Schafer. Barnes’s father lost his right arm in the Civil War, and his ability to support his family proved sporadic. However, Albert’s mother, to whom he was devoted, was hardworking and resourceful. Among his most vivid childhood memories were the exuberant black religious revivals and camp meetings he attended with his devout Methodist parents. Accepted at the academically demanding Central High School, which awarded bachelor’s degrees, his early interest in art was stimulated by his friendship with the future artist ...

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Henry Walton Bibb. Lithograph on paper, 1847, by Unidentified Artist. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Bibb, Henry Walton (10 May 1815–1854), author, editor, and antislavery lecturer, was born into slavery on the plantation of David White of Shelby County, Kentucky, the son of James Bibb, a slaveholding planter and state senator, and Mildred Jackson. White began hiring Bibb out as a laborer on several neighboring plantations before the age of ten. The constant change in living situations throughout his childhood, combined with the inhumane treatment he often received at the hands of strangers, set a pattern for life that he would later refer to in his autobiography as “my manner of living on the road.” Bibb was sold more than six times between 1832 and 1840 and was forced to relocate to at least seven states throughout the South; later, as a free man, his campaign for abolition took him throughout eastern Canada and the northern United States. But such early instability also made the young Bibb both self-sufficient and resourceful, two characteristics that were useful against the day-to-day assault of slavery: “The only weapon of self defense that I could use successfully,” he wrote, “was that of deception.”...

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Borchardt, Selma Munter (01 December 1895–30 January 1968), educator and labor leader, was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of Newman Borchardt, a soldier and government official, and Sara Munter. She completed a B.S. in education at Syracuse University in 1919 and received an A.B. from the same university in 1922. In 1933 she graduated from Washington College of Law (later known as American University College of Law), and in 1934 she was admitted to the Washington, D.C., Bar Association. In 1944 Borchardt had the honor of being admitted to the Supreme Court bar. In 1937 she received an M.A. in sociology from Catholic University and went on to complete all the requirements for a Ph.D. in sociology except the dissertation....

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Bradley, Milton (08 November 1836–30 May 1911), manufacturer of games and educational materials, was born in Vienna, Maine, the son of Lewis Bradley, a craftsman, and Fannie Lyford. After finishing high school in 1854 in Lowell, Massachusetts, Bradley found work in the office of a mechanical draftsman and patent agent. There he earned enough money to enroll himself in the Lawrence Scientific School at Cambridge, where he studied drafting. Half a year short of completing the two-year course, Bradley moved to Hartford, Connecticut, with his parents. Unsuccessful in securing employment there, he left home in 1856 for Springfield, Massachusetts, where he immediately found work with the Wason Car-Manufacturing Company as a draftsman....

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Brand, Virgil Michael (16 January 1862–20 June 1926), brewer and numismatist, was born in Blue Island, Illinois, the son of Michael Brand, a cooper and brewer, and Philippine Darmstädter, the daughter of a flour merchant. Michael Brand was born in Odernheim near Alzey in the Grand Duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt (not to be confused with the larger village of the same name in the Palatinate) and is said to have left Germany because he was involved in the Revolution of 1848. This is certainly possible, but many German immigrants who left for economic reasons later claimed they had left for political reasons, because it was more glamorous. Philippine Darmstädter was born in Framersheim, the next village over from Odernheim. Michael Brand established a brewery in Chicago under his own name, and it became one of the most prosperous breweries in the city. The firm was one of the very first to adopt Carl von Linde’s refrigeration machine, which meant that the company had an incalculable advantage over its competitors: in the summer, its beer was cold. Michael Brand became extremely wealthy, and in 1890, after a series of mergers, he sold out to English investors, who formed the United States Brewing Company. Michael Brand also established orchards at Brandsville in the Missouri Ozarks, where he sought to encourage viticulture. He owned an extensive library, and he must have had a great love for the classics, for he named his three sons Virgil, Horace, and Armin....

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Brooks, John Graham (19 July 1846–08 February 1938), reformer and sociologist, was born in Acworth, New Hampshire, the son of Chapin Kidder Brooks, a merchant, and Pamelia Graham. During his youth he worked at the store owned by his father, who also represented the town of Acworth in the state legislature. After graduating from Kimball Union Academy in 1866, Brooks attended the University of Michigan Law School but soon changed his mind about studying law. He left after a year and taught the next year on Cape Cod. In 1868, after a summer in Quebec perfecting his French, he enrolled in Oberlin College, in Oberlin, Ohio. After graduating in 1872 Brooks returned to New England and enrolled in the Harvard Divinity School, where he graduated with a degree in sacred theology in 1875. He was soon ordained and served as a Unitarian minister in Roxbury, Massachusetts. In addition to his pastoral duties, he involved himself in labor reform and organized classes in history and economics for the workingmen of the neighborhood. His liberal sermons attracted listeners from Cambridge and Beacon Hill. He was soon addressing informal groups on social problems. In 1880 he married the widow of another Unitarian minister, Helen Lawrence Appleton Washburn, who shared his reform impulses; they had three children....

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Brown, John (1810?–1876), field hand and author, was born in Southampton County, Virginia, the son of slaves Joe and Nancy. For most of his life as a slave he was called Fed or Benford. At around age ten he and his mother were moved to nearby Northampton County, North Carolina; eighteen months later he was sold alone and sent to Georgia, never again to see any of his kinfolk....

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Brown, William Wells (1814?–06 November 1884), author and reformer, was born near Lexington, Kentucky, the son of George Higgins, a relative of his master, and Elizabeth, a slave. Dr. John Young, Brown’s master, migrated with his family from Kentucky to the Missouri Territory in 1816. Eleven years later the Youngs moved to St. Louis. Although Brown never experienced the hardship of plantation slavery, he was hired out regularly and separated from his family. He worked for a while in the printing office of abolitionist ...

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Clapp, George Hubbard (14 December 1858–31 March 1949), businessman and numismatist, was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania (later absorbed into the north side of Pittsburgh), the son of DeWitt Clinton Clapp, a steel company official, and Delia Dennig Hubbard. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1877 with a bachelor of philosophy degree and was named the “first scholar” in the Scientific Department. Around 1882 he married Anne W. Love; they would have two children. Clapp worked as an engineer at the Penn Cotton Mill and then at Park Brothers’ Black Diamond Steel Works, where he met Captain ...

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Clarke, Lewis G. (1815–1897), author and antislavery lecturer, was born into slavery on the plantation of his maternal grandfather, Samuel Campbell, in Madison County, Kentucky, the son of Campbell’s mixed-race slave daughter Letitia and her white, Scottish-immigrant husband, Daniel Clarke, a soldier in the American Revolution. Lewis Clarke’s middle name is variously recorded as either George or Garrand. Clarke’s family history, which he traced back to the founding of the nation, inspired his quest for freedom and his subsequent dedication to the abolition cause in the North....

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Cohn, Fannia (05 April 1885?–24 December 1962), labor educator and leader, was born Fannia Mary Cohn in Kletzk, Minsk, Russia, the daughter of Hyman Cohn, a manager of a family-owned flour mill, and Anna Rosofsky. Fannia received her formal education at a private school and her radical political views from her middle-class Jewish parents. She joined the outlawed Socialist Revolutionary party in 1901 and arrived in New York City three years later filled with the romantic idealism of socialism....

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Coit, Eleanor Gwinnell (06 May 1894–07 June 1976), labor educator and leader in adult education, was born in Newark, New Jersey, the daughter of Henry Leber Coit, a pediatrician and pure-milk reformer, and Emma Gwinnell. She grew up in Newark, attended public schools, and followed an older sister to Smith College, from which she was graduated with an A.B. in history and English in 1916....

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Dennis J. Comey. Photograph by Zamsky Studio, used by permission of Sarony Studios Inc. Courtesy of Francis F. Burch.

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Comey, Dennis J. (26 May 1896–14 October 1987), Roman Catholic clergyman and labor arbitrator, was born Dennis Joseph Comey in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Dennis Joseph Comey, an iron worker at the Baldwin Locomotive Works, and Catherine Veronica Reagan Comey; the parents had been farmers who emigrated from Timoleague, County Cork, Ireland. The oldest of thirteen children, he excelled in studies and athletics at St. Joseph's College Preparatory School in Philadelphia. On 30 July 1914 he entered the Society of Jesus at St. Andrew-on-Hudson, Poughkeepsie, New York, and continued his classical studies. He earned his A.B. (1920), M.A. (1921), and Ph.D. (1929) in philosophy from Woodstock College, Maryland; he first taught Latin at Boston College High School (1921–1922) and then Latin, Greek, Spanish, and rhetoric at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. (1922–1925). He pursued theological studies at Woodstock College, where he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest on 20 June 1928. A year's concentration on ascetical theology at St. Beuno's College, Wales, preceded his solemn profession of his Jesuit vows in Rome, Italy, on 15 August 1931. In 1931 the Gregorian University in Rome named him a doctor of theology and in 1932 ...

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Cook, Alice (28 November 1903–07 February 1998), international labor scholar, educator, and advocate for workingwomen, was born Alice Hanson in Alexandria, Virginia, the eldest child of August Hanson, the son of Swedish immigrants, and Flora Kays, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Along with her two younger brothers, the family traveled the country following her father's work for the railroads. From her close-knit family Alice learned civic responsibility and activism at an early age, joining her mother and grandmother in a suffragists’ picket line at the White House during President ...

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Cook, George William (07 January 1855–20 August 1931), educator and civil rights leader, was born a slave in Winchester, Virginia. The names of his parents are unknown. In May 1862 the Cook family, which included seven children, became war refugees after the Union capture of Winchester. The family eventually settled in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where young George Cook’s most important early experience as a free person was working as a servant for David D. Mumma, a Pennsylvania state legislator. Permitted to use the Mumma family library, Cook developed the ambition to seek higher education, which would have remained beyond his grasp except for several fortunate events. After he moved to New York in 1871, Cook learned of Howard University from the Reverend ...