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Adorno, Theodor (11 September 1903–06 August 1969), social and political theorist, aesthetician, and atonalist musical composer, was born Theodor Ludwig Wiesengrund in Frankfurt, Germany, the son of Oskar Wiesengrund, a wealthy wine merchant, and Maria Calvelli-Adorno, a professional singer of Corsican and Genoese origin. He adopted his mother’s maiden name when his scholarly writing began to appear in 1938, perhaps reflecting his close attachment to her rather than to his remote father. His mother had borne her only child at age thirty-seven and lavished attention and resources on him, particularly with regard to “high” culture. His schooling included piano and composition training at a professional level (one teacher was Alban Berg) and philosophy with Edmund Husserl....

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Bentley, Arthur Fisher (16 October 1870–21 May 1957), sociologist, political scientist, and philosopher, was born in Freeport, Illinois, the son of Angeline Alice Fisher and Charles Frederick Bentley, a banker. The family moved to Omaha and then to Grand Island, Nebraska. Bentley briefly attended both York College, Nebraska, and the University of Denver, Colorado, before returning to Grand Island to work in his father’s bank. In 1890 Bentley entered Johns Hopkins University to study economics and sociology. He returned again to Grand Island and, with his father, collected economic and agricultural data on the community of Harrison, Nebraska. Bentley received an A.B. in 1892. His undergraduate thesis, “The Condition of the Western Farmer as Illustrated by the Economic History of a Nebraska Township,” was published the next year in the ...

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Brokmeyer, Henry Conrad (12 August 1828–26 July 1906), philosopher and politician, was born in the vicinity of Minden, Prussia, the son of Frederick William Brockmeyer (Henry used both spellings), a Jewish businessman, and Sophia (maiden name unknown). Brokmeyer spent his youth in Prussia, but at age sixteen, apparently fleeing Prussian militarism, he emigrated to New York City with little money and little knowledge of English. On arrival, Brokmeyer worked his way as far south as Mississippi, where, it is said, he made a small fortune using slave labor in shoemaking....

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Dietzgen, Peter Joseph (09 December 1828–15 April 1888), writer and socialist philosopher, was born in Blankenberg near Cologne, now part of Germany, the son of Gottfried Dietzgen, a master tanner, and Margaret Lückeroth. He had an elementary education and some high school in Cologne prior to learning his father’s trade. In hours of recreation from the tannery he studied literature, economics, and philosophy and became fluent in French. His studies of French economists, the ...

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Firth, Roderick (30 January 1917–22 December 1987), philosopher and educator, was born in Orange, New Jersey, the son of Leo Earl Firth, who was in the advertising business, and Ida Lake. Firth attended primary and secondary schools in New Jersey and spent summers boarding at Mountain Farm in Cobbleskill, New York. In 1934 he graduated from Newark Academy and in the same year entered Haverford College....

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Inman, Mary (11 June 1894–Jan. 1985), trade union organizer, Marxist theorist, and author, was born Ida Mary Inman in Burnside, Kentucky, and moved to Creek Nation Indian Territory in Oklahoma when she was six. She was the fourth daughter and youngest of Mildred Taylor Inman and James Jett Inman’s nine children. Her mother died when Inman was eleven, her oldest sister died two years later, and she spent the next decade caring for her father and brothers....

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Thomas Jefferson. After a painting by Gilbert Stuart, artist. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-117117 DLC).

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Jefferson, Thomas (13 April 1743–04 July 1826), philosopher, author of the Declaration of Independence, and president of the United States, was born at Shadwell, in what became Albemarle County, Virginia, the son of Peter Jefferson, a pioneer farmer and surveyor, and Jane Randolph. He always valued the enterprising example of his father, who set him in the path of education; he became “a hard student,” indeed remained one throughout his life. Peter Jefferson died in 1757, leaving to his son a fair estate—5,000 acres and the slaves to work them. Less than three years later, Jefferson, already a proficient classical scholar, enrolled at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg....

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Marcuse, Herbert (19 July 1898–29 July 1979), author, professor, and political activist, was born in Berlin, Germany, the son of Carl Marcuse, a prosperous Jewish merchant, and Gertrud Kreslawsky, the daughter of a wealthy German factory owner. Marcuse studied at the Mommsen Gymnasium in Berlin before World War I and served with the German army in the war. Transferred to Berlin early in 1918, he observed and sympathized with the German revolution that drove Kaiser Wilhelm II out of Germany and established a Social Democratic government....

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Schurman, Jacob Gould (22 May 1854–12 August 1942), scholar and diplomat, was born on a farm near Freetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada, the son of Robert Schurman and Lydia Gouldrup, farmers. Schurman’s great-grandfather William Schurman, a Tory, acquired wealth in New Rochelle, New York, and with his family was exiled to Nova Scotia in 1783, moving to Prince Edward Island the following year. Family wealth had dissipated by the time of Schurman’s birth, and he grew up poor....

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Jacob Gould Schurman Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103872).

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van Heijenoort, Jean (23 July 1912–30 March 1986), logician, historian, and one-time revolutionary, was born Jean Louis Maxime van Heijenoort in Creil, France, the only child of Jean (Jan) Théodore Didier van Heijenoort, an émigré from Delft, Holland, who worked as an artisan, and Charlotte Hélène Balagny, a native of the region. After his father’s death at the beginning of World War I, Jean, who was only two, lived with his aunt while his mother worked as a domestic in a hotel. He grew up next to battlefields in wartime and in harsh postwar circumstances. As an adult he spoke of the profound effects of his father’s death and the deep unhappiness of his childhood. Education was his consolation. Recognized as brilliant by his primary school teachers in Creil, van Heijenoort was encouraged to take the scholarship examinations for the district secondary school in Clermont de l’Oise. Awarded a complete scholarship, from the age of eleven to eighteen he lived as a boarding student at the Collège of Clermont. After the unusual accomplishment of a double baccalaureate in philosophy and mathematics, he went on to the prestigious Lycée Saint Louis in Paris, where he specialized in mathematics....

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Zhitlowsky, Hayim (1865–06 May 1943), philosopher and theoretician of Jewish socialism, diaspora nationalism, and Yiddish culture, was born in Uschatchi, a small town near Vitebsk, Russia, the son of Yosef Zhitlowsky, a successful flax merchant, and Hava Hasia Weinstein. His father, a child prodigy, combined rabbinical learning with hasidic pietism and business acumen with devotion to modern Jewish enlightenment. Zhitlowsky disliked the traditional Jewish elementary education he received in ...