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Charles Francis Adams, Jr. During his Civil War service. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-B8171-7390).

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Adams, Charles Francis (27 May 1835–20 March 1915), railroad official, civic leader, and historian, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Charles Francis Adams (1807–1886), a diplomat and politician, and Abigail Brown Brooks. He was the grandson of John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) and great-grandson of ...

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Benson, Oscar Herman (08 July 1875–15 August 1951), educator and organizer of youth groups, was born in Delhi, Iowa, the son of P. C. Benson and Celia Ortberg, farmers. His father died when Oscar was still a child, and he became the principal support for his mother and three younger siblings. He continued to farm and took on additional jobs to pay for his education. At the age of eighteen, while working in a sawmill, he lost three fingers in an accident. His neighbors, in admiration of his determination to succeed, took up a collection that enabled him to continue his schooling. In 1898 Benson graduated from Epworth (Iowa) Seminary and Teaching College and then financed three further years of college (the State University of Iowa, Iowa State Teachers’ College, and the University of Chicago) by teaching in rural schools. In 1902 he married Sadie J. Jackson; they had three children....

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Kay Boyle. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-113309).

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Boyle, Kay (19 February 1902–27 December 1992), writer, educator, and political activist, was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, the daughter of Howard Peterson Boyle, a lawyer, and Katherine Evans, a literary and social activist. Her grandfather had founded the West Publishing Company, and the financial security afforded by this background allowed the Boyle family to travel extensively. Boyle’s education was sporadic, culminating in two years of architecture classes at the Ohio Mechanics’ Institute (1917–1919). In 1922 Boyle joined her sister Joan in New York City, where she began to work for ...

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Bruce, William Cabell (12 March 1860–09 May 1946), author, municipal politician, reformer, and U.S. senator, was born at “Staunton Hill,” his father’s plantation, in Charlotte County, Virginia, the son of Charles Bruce, a planter, Virginia state senator, and captain during the Civil War, and Sarah Alexander Seddon, both members of established, affluent families in Virginia. Although the Bruce family lost much of their wealth during the Civil War, William still grew up surrounded by maids, servants, tailors, and tutors. Bruce’s mother, a devout Christian, instilled in William strong religious beliefs that influenced his character throughout his formative years....

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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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Cotter, Joseph Seamon, Sr. (02 February 1861–14 March 1949), teacher, author, and civic leader, was born in Bardstown, Kentucky, the son of Michael (also spelled Micheil) Cotter, a boarding house owner, and Martha Vaughn. Although his father was known as an avid reader, Cotter was raised largely by his mother, a freeborn woman of mixed English, Cherokee, and African blood. It was from her naturally dramatic manner—she orally composed poems and plays as she worked at chores—that he acquired his love of language and stories. Having taught herself, she also taught Cotter to read and enrolled him in school, but at age eight economic necessity forced him to drop out and begin working at various jobs: in a brickyard, then a distillery, and finally as a ragpicker and a teamster. Until age twenty-two, manual labor consumed much of Cotter’s life....

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De Zavala, Adina Emily (28 November 1861–01 March 1955), teacher and historic preservationist, was born at De Zavala Point, Harris County, Texas, the oldest of six children of Augustine De Zavala and Julia Tyrell. Her paternal grandfather was Lorenzo de Zavala, a native of Yucatan and first ad interim vice president of the Republic of Texas. In 1867 her father, a merchant and shipbuilder, moved his family to Galveston, Texas. Adina was enrolled as a student at the Ursuline Convent there from 1871 to 1878. In 1878 the family moved to Shavano, Bexar County, Texas, where Augustine De Zavala owned a ranch and general store. Adina De Zavala enrolled at Sam Houston Normal Institute in Huntsville, Texas, in 1879 and received a teacher’s certificate in 1881. She taught elementary school in Terrell, Texas, from 1884 to 1886; in Austin in 1890; and in San Antonio from 1893 to 1907. Her father died in 1892, and in 1897 she and her mother and sisters moved from the ranch into a home in San Antonio, where she resided for most of the rest of her life. She resigned from the San Antonio school system in January 1907, after receiving a reprimand from the school board for “assuming an independent and insubordinate attitude toward her superior officers,” and devoted the rest of her life to patriotic and historical organizations and to historical writing and journalism....

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Dean, Vera Micheles (29 March 1903–10 October 1972), international affairs specialist and teacher, was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, the daughter of Alexander Micheles, a Russian of German-Jewish background who immigrated to the United States in 1888 and later returned to Russia as a sales representative for the U.S.-based Gillette Company, and Nadine Kadisch, a translator of English novels into Russian. Growing up in Russia, the Micheles children received private tutoring and became fluent in seven languages. After the 1917 revolution, the family had to move to London for political reasons, and Vera was sent to Boston. There she attended business school, worked briefly as a stenographer, and then enrolled at Radcliffe College. After graduating with distinction in 1925, she earned an M.A. from Yale University. In 1928 she received her Ph.D. from Radcliffe in international law and international relations and became a U.S. citizen....

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Anna E. Dickenson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102148).

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Dickinson, Anna Elizabeth (28 October 1842–22 October 1932), orator and lecturer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the youngest child of John Dickinson, a merchant who never recovered from the Panic of 1837, and Mary Edmondson. Devout Quakers, the Dickinsons were active members of the local antislavery society. Dickinson was two when her father died, and her mother kept the family together by teaching school and taking in boarders. Dickinson attended a series of Friends’ educational institutions, but her formal training ended by the time she was fifteen....

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W. E. B. Du Bois Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1946. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-42528).

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Du Bois, W. E. B. (23 February 1868–27 August 1963), African-American activist, historian, and sociologist, was born William Edward Burghardt Du Bois in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the son of Mary Silvina Burghardt, a domestic worker, and Alfred Du Bois, a barber and itinerant laborer. In later life Du Bois made a close study of his family origins, weaving them rhetorically and conceptually—if not always accurately—into almost everything he wrote. Born in Haiti and descended from Bahamian mulatto slaves, Alfred Du Bois enlisted during the Civil War as a private in a New York regiment of the Union army but appears to have deserted shortly afterward. He also deserted the family less than two years after his son’s birth, leaving him to be reared by his mother and the extended Burghardt kin. Long resident in New England, the Burghardts descended from a freedman of Dutch slave origin who had fought briefly in the American Revolution. Under the care of his mother and her relatives, young Will Du Bois spent his entire childhood in that small western Massachusetts town, where probably fewer than two-score of the 4,000 inhabitants were African American. He received a classical, college preparatory education in Great Barrington’s racially integrated high school, from whence, in June 1884, he became the first African-American graduate. A precocious youth, Du Bois not only excelled in his high school studies but contributed numerous articles to two regional newspapers, the Springfield ...

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Elliott, Harriet Wiseman (10 July 1884–06 August 1947), educator, political organizer, and government official, was born in Carbondale, Illinois, the daughter of Allan Curtis Elliott, a merchant who extended easy credit to poor coal miners, and Elizabeth Ann White, a staunch supporter of ...

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Follett, Mary Parker (03 September 1868–18 December 1933), theorist of social organization and civic leader, was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, the daughter of Charles Allen Follett and Elizabeth Curtis Baxter. Follett’s father attempted a variety of jobs and her mother took in boarders before the family finally moved in with Follett’s wealthy maternal grandfather. In 1888 Follett enrolled at the Harvard Annex, the precursor of Radcliffe College, and graduated summa cum laude in 1898. During this ten-year period she also spent a year at Newnham College, Cambridge University, and worked for a few years as a schoolteacher at Mrs. Shaw’s School in Boston. Follett’s perceptiveness as an observer of social and political phenomena was evident even before her college graduation when Longmans, Green published her book ...

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Garfield, Harry Augustus (11 October 1863–12 December 1942), lawyer, educator, and public official, was born in Hiram, Ohio, the son of James A. Garfield, the twentieth president of the United States, and Lucretia Rudolph (Lucretia Rudolph Garfield). A witness to the fatal shooting of his father in 1881, Garfield grappled with the implications of that tragedy for the rest of his life. He earned a B.A. at Williams College, 1881–1885, and after teaching briefly at St. Paul’s, a private school for boys, he studied law at Columbia University, 1886–1887, and in England at Oxford University and the Inns of Court, 1887–1888. In the latter year he married Belle H. Mason; they had four children....

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Gilbert, Helen Homans (29 October 1913–26 September 1989), college trustee and community volunteer, was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, the daughter of Robert Homans, a lawyer, and Abigail Adams. True to her Adams and Homans antecedents, she carried on a tradition of public service that dated back to the beginnings of the republic. She was, she said, “a New Englander with a family conscience who inherited community responsibility.” Robert Homans decided that both his daughters should attend college to prepare for careers as teachers “since no Homans woman in living memory had ever married.”...

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Gildersleeve, Virginia Crocheron (03 October 1877–07 July 1965), college administrator and international affairs expert, was born in New York City, the daughter of Henry Alger Gildersleeve, a judge, and Virginia Crocheron. She received her early education at home and was affected by such experiences as attending court with her father and visiting the Columbia University library. The death of her much-loved brother, Harry, Jr., when she was fourteen devastated her. In part to distract her from her grief, her parents enrolled her in New York City’s exclusive Brearley School....

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Girty, Simon (1741–18 February 1818), British Loyalist and frontier warrior, was born near Harrisburg in colonial Pennsylvania, the son of farmers. One of at least four children born to Simon Girty and Mary Newton, young Simon was raised in modest circumstances. He received no formal education and remained illiterate. When only ten years of age, his father was killed by an Indian. Girty later maintained that his stepfather met a similar fate. In the course of the French and Indian War, Simon was captured by the Seneca and held captive for thirty-six months. During his captivity, Girty became familiar with the language of his captors....