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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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Coppin, Fanny Jackson (1837–21 January 1913), educator, civic and religious leader, and feminist, was born a slave in Washington, D.C., the daughter of Lucy Jackson. Her father’s name and the details of her early childhood are unknown. However, by the time she was age ten, her aunt Sarah Orr Clark had purchased her freedom, and Jackson went to live with relatives in New Bedford, Massachusetts. By 1851 she and her relatives had moved to Newport, Rhode Island, where Jackson was employed as a domestic by ...

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Councill, William Hooper (12 July 1848–17 April 1909), black educator, was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the son of William Councill and Mary Jane (maiden name unknown), both slaves. In 1854 Councill’s father escaped to freedom in Canada, leaving his wife and children to be dispersed in the South by slave traders. In 1863 young William, his mother, and his youngest brother escaped from a plantation in northern Alabama to a U.S. Army camp in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Councill attended a freedmen’s school in Stevenson, Alabama, from 1865 to 1867 and later was tutored at night in Latin, physics, chemistry, and mathematics. In 1867 he established a school for freedmen in Jackson County and in 1869 began another in Madison County, laboring under the constant threat of Ku Klux Klan violence....

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Healy, Patrick Francis (02 February 1834–10 January 1910), Jesuit priest and university president, was born in Jones County, Georgia, the son of Michael Morris Healy, an Irish-American planter, and Mary Eliza (maiden name uncertain, but possibly Clark), a mulatto slave. The senior Healy deserted from the British army in Canada during the War of 1812 and by 1818 had made his way to rural Georgia where he settled, speculated in land, and acquired a sizable plantation and numerous slaves. He fathered ten children by an African-American woman he had purchased. Healy acknowledged Mary Eliza as “my trusty woman” in his will, which provided that she be paid an annuity, transported to a free state, and “not bartered or sold or disposed of in any way” should he predecease her. Healy also acknowledged his children by Mary Eliza, although by state law they were slaves he owned, and he arranged for them to leave Georgia and move to the North, where they would become free....

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King, Charles (16 March 1789–27 September 1867), editor, merchant, and college president, was born in New York, New York, the son of Rufus King, a diplomat, and Mary Alsop. His father, having succeeded Thomas Pinckney as minister plenipotentiary to the Court of St. James, moved with his family to London, England, in 1796. After a few years at a local school, Charles and his older brother John Alsop King were sent in December 1799 to Harrow, a private secondary school in Middlesex, where they had Lord Byron and Robert Peel as classmates. Leaving Harrow in December 1804, King and his brother then attended a branch of the École Polytechnique in Paris, France, for a few months, after which Charles King took a clerking position with Hope & Company, a banking firm in Amsterdam, the Netherlands....

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King, Stanley (11 May 1883–28 April 1951), businessman and college president, was born in Troy, New York, the son of Henry Amasa King, a lawyer and judge, and Maria Lyon Flynt. His family’s roots were in the Connecticut Valley, and in 1893 King moved with his family to Springfield, Massachusetts, where he attended the public schools. Enrolling in 1900 in Amherst College, his father’s alma mater, King completed the course in only three years, obtaining an A.B. summa cum laude. After reading law with his father’s firm, he entered Harvard Law School in 1904 as a second-year student, graduating in 1906 with an A.M. (having had only two years in residence at Harvard, he was deemed ineligible for an LL.B.)....

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Low, Seth (18 January 1850–17 September 1916), reform mayor and university president, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Abiel Abbot Low, a merchant, and Ellen Almira Dow. Low’s mother died a week after his birth, and two years later his father married Ann Davison Bedell Low, the widow of Low’s uncle. Low had all the advantages of wealth and social status: he enjoyed a home in fashionable Brooklyn Heights, summers spent in New England, and travel in Europe. After graduating first in his class from Columbia College in 1870, he joined his father’s tea and silk importing firm, A. A. Low and Brothers, eventually becoming a full partner. On 9 December 1880 he married Annie Wroe Scollay Curtis; they had no children....

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Pillsbury, John Sargent (29 July 1827–18 October 1901), businessman, politician, and "father" of the University of Minnesota, businessman, politician, and “father” of the University of Minnesota, was born in Sutton, New Hampshire, the son of John Pillsbury and Susan Wadleigh. He grew up in Sutton, where his father had a small manufacturing business. There he attended primary school and became an apprentice printer. In 1853 he moved to Warner, New Hampshire, where he worked as a store clerk for his brother and later went into business as a tailor and cloth merchant. It was there he met Mahala Fisk, whom he married in 1856; they had three children and adopted a fourth. In 1853, like many from the East, he traveled to the West Coast in search of greater opportunity and passed through Minnesota. He returned in 1855 and settled in St. Anthony, later incorporated into Minneapolis, and opened a hardware store that he operated for the next two decades. His business was almost wiped out during the panic of 1857 and by a disastrous fire the same year that burned his store to the ground. By living in near poverty for the next several years he paid his debts, restored his business, and eventually prospered....

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Russell, James Solomon (20 December 1857–28 March 1935), educator and priest, was born on the Hendrick Estate in Mecklenburg County near Palmer Springs, Virginia. His father, Solomon, and his mother, Araminta (maiden name unknown), both lived as slaves on adjoining properties, with the North Carolina state line between them. With the ambiguity of slave status following ...

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William James Simmons. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90544).

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Simmons, William James (26 June 1849–30 October 1890), Baptist leader, educator, and race advocate, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of enslaved parents, Edward Simmons and Esther (maiden name unknown). During his youth, Simmons’s mother escaped slavery with him and two of his siblings, relocating in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Simmons’s uncle, Alexander Tardieu (or Tardiff), a shoemaker, became a father for the children and a protector and provider for the fugitive slave family. He moved them among the cities of Philadelphia, Roxbury, Massachusetts, and Chester, Pennsylvania, constantly eluding persistent “slave catchers,” before permanently taking residence in Bordentown, New Jersey. While Simmons never received formal elementary or secondary school education, his uncle made a point of teaching the children to read and write. As a youth Simmons served as an assistant to a white dentist in Bordentown. At the age of fifteen he joined the Union army, participating in a number of major battles in Virginia and finding himself at Appomattox in 1865. After the war, Simmons once again worked briefly as a dental assistant. He converted and affiliated with the white Baptist church in Bordentown in 1867, announced his call to the ministry, and ventured to college with the financial support of church friends....

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Straus, Roger Williams (14 December 1891–28 July 1957), corporation executive and educational administrator, was born in New York City, the son of Oscar Solomon Straus, a lawyer, businessman, and diplomat, and Sarah Lavanburg. Straus’s father served as U.S. minister to Turkey and as secretary of commerce and labor in President ...

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Jonathan Williams. Engraving by R. W. Dodson, after a painting by Thomas Sully. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-91220).

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Williams, Jonathan (26 May 1750–16 May 1815), merchant, lay scientist, and first superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Jonathan Williams, a successful merchant, and Grace Harris. His father provided him with the finest education then available. Following several terms at Harvard College, Williams ventured to London in 1770 to conduct family business and finish studying under the aegis of his great-uncle ...