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Bellanca, August (14 March 1885–13 November 1969), trade union and political activist, was born in Sciacca, Sicily, Italy. His father was a farmer and a baker, but little else is known of his parents or his childhood in Sicily. Bellanca attended elementary school in Sciacca and went to work at age sixteen, when he was apprenticed to a tailor and a barber in Sciacca. Some time between 1900 and 1905, he immigrated to the United States and worked as a cigar maker in Tampa, Florida, and San Francisco, California, until he moved to the Northeast. Bellanca helped found the Brotherhood of Tailors, which became an important dissident group in the United Garment Workers of America (UGWA), a conservative affiliate of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Bellanca’s own immigrant background enabled him to become an organizing force among the garment workers, a group composed primarily of Italian and Eastern European Jewish immigrants who maintained their roots in ethnic communities and cultures....

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Candler, Asa Griggs (30 December 1851–12 March 1929), businessman and civic leader, was born near Villa Rica, Carroll County, Georgia, the son of Samuel Charles Candler, a farmer and merchant, and Martha Beall. Three of Asa Candler’s brothers also rose to prominence: one became a Methodist Episcopal bishop; one a justice on the Georgia Supreme Court; and the third a U.S. congressman. Candler married Lucy Elizabeth Howard in 1878, and they had five children. Lucy Candler died in Atlanta in 1919. Candler married Mary Little Reagan in 1923....

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Childs, Richard Spencer (24 May 1882–26 September 1978), business executive and political reformer, was born in Manchester, Connecticut, the son of William Hamlin Childs and Nellie White Spencer. His father founded the Bon Ami Company and, together with his other business ventures, became one of the wealthiest men in Brooklyn, New York, where the family moved in 1892. Richard Childs attended Yale University from 1900 to 1904 and earned a B.A. In 1904 he joined the advertising agency of Alfred William Erickson; eventually becoming a junior partner, he remained with the firm until 1918. He married Grace Pauline Hatch in 1912. They had four children (their firstborn died a day after birth). From 1919 to 1920 Childs was manager of the Bon Ami Company, and from 1921 to 1928 he was head of the drug specialties division of the A. E. Chew Company, a New York exporter. Childs worked for the American Cyanamid Company from 1928 to 1947 and headed its Lederle Laboratories division from 1935 to 1944....

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Peter Cooper. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-11083).

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Cooper, Peter (12 February 1791–04 April 1883), inventor, manufacturer, and civic benefactor, was born in New York City, the son of John Cooper and Margaret Campbell. His father was a struggling merchant who moved the family successively to Peekskill, Catskill, and finally Newburgh, New York, in search of financial success. Assisting his father in a series of occupations (hatter, brewer, shopkeeper, and brickmaker), Cooper obtained valuable practical work experience. Given his family’s relative poverty and constant movement, Cooper was only able to obtain a year’s worth of formal schooling; this deficiency in his formal education haunted him throughout his life....

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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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Craig, Isaac (1742–14 June 1826), American revolutionary officer and Pittsburgh business and civic leader, was born in Hillsborough, Ireland, to parents whose names and occupations are not known. He came to Philadelphia in late 1765 and worked in that city for about ten years as a master carpenter and builder. He became a patriot and in November 1775 was appointed as a first lieutenant in the first company of marines. That year Craig served on the ...

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Dawes, Rufus Cutler (30 July 1867–08 January 1940), utility executive and civic leader, was born in Marietta, Ohio, the son of Rufus R. Dawes, a businessman, and Mary Beman Gates. His family background included Marietta’s founders, while his father acquired a sizable fortune in a series of business ventures that included railroad construction, contracting, and a rolling mill operation. Although the latter enterprise failed in the Panic of 1873, his father soon entered the wholesale lumber business, and young Dawes grew up amid wealth....

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Drury, Victor S. (24 February 1825–21 January 1918), labor leader and political radical, was born in France. Little is known of his life before he participated in the overthrow of Louis-Philippe in 1848, except that he was a fresco painter. Drury was a delegate to the (First) International Working Men’s Association in 1864, where he witnessed debates between Karl Marx and anarchist followers of Auguste Blanqui and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. In 1867 Drury emigrated to New York City and organized French-speaking sections of the International. He contributed articles to the radical journals ...

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Dunn, Robert Williams (01 June 1895–22 January 1977), labor organizer, economic researcher, and political activist, was born in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, the son of a lawyer. Little is known about his early life. He graduated from Yale University in 1918.

Throughout his career, Dunn perceived labor issues and the rights of workers and their unions as closely related to the right to free speech. From 1918 to 1920 he worked in New England for the Amalgamated Textile Workers Unions as organizer and researcher. In 1920, during the aftermath of the Palmer Raids, he founded the New England Civil Liberties Union in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1923 he and ...

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Eagleson, William Lewis (09 August 1835–22 June 1899), editor and political activist, was born a slave in St. Louis, Missouri. The names of his parents and details about his early life are unknown. He married Elizabeth McKinney in 1865 in St. Louis; they had nine children. As a young man, he learned both printing and barbering, trades that he practiced intermittently throughout his life. In the 1870s, he settled in Fort Scott, Kansas, and started a newspaper, the ...

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Foner, Morris Moe (03 August 1915–10 January 2002), labor leader and political activist, was born in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, the third child of Abraham Foner, a seltzer delivery man, and Mary Smith Foner; both were Jewish immigrants from Bielsk, Russia (now Poland)....

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A. G. Gaston, 8 September 1963. Outside of his home in Birmingham, Ala., the same day it was torched in protest of his work in the Civil Rights Movement. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Gaston, A. G. (04 July 1892–19 January 1996), entrepreneur, was born Arthur George Gaston in Demopolis, Alabama, the son of Tom Gaston, a railroad worker, and Rosa Gaston (maiden name unknown), a cook. He grew up in poverty in rural Alabama before he and his mother moved to Birmingham, Alabama, after his father's death. He attended, and for a good time resided at, Tuggle Institute, where he received a moral and industrial education. In 1910 he graduated from the school with a tenth grade certificate. Before and after graduation, he worked at a variety of part-time jobs, including selling subscriptions for the ...

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Greenway, Isabella (22 March 1886–18 December 1953), congresswoman, businesswoman, and community activist, was born Isabella Selmes in Boone County, Kentucky, the daughter of Martha Macomb Flandrau and Tilden Russell Selmes, a rancher and lawyer. After Isabella’s birth, her mother took her to join Tilden Selmes in North Dakota, where ...

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Haywood, William Dudley (04 February 1869–18 May 1928), labor leader and political radical, known as “Big Bill,” was born William Richard Haywood in Salt Lake City, Utah, the son of William Dudley Haywood, an itinerant worker, and Elizabeth (maiden name unknown). The senior Haywood died when his son was three years old. Four years later Elizabeth married a hard-rock miner (name unknown). Haywood changed his middle name from Richard to Dudley in 1878. He received a rudimentary education and began working as a youngster at the odd jobs available in a small mining camp or in Salt Lake City, where his family occasionally lived. At the age of fifteen he became a miner, and that remained his primary occupation until 1901, when he became a full-time union official....

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Hinkle, Samuel Forry (09 June 1900–19 April 1984), manufacturer, was born in Columbia, Pennsylvania, the son of Samuel Wisler Hinkle, a pharmacist, and Elizabeth Forry. He graduated from Pennsylvania State College (later Pennsylvania State University) in 1922 with a B.S. in chemical engineering. He immediately took a job as chemist with the Norton Company in Chippewa, Ontario, Canada, a manufacturer of electric furnaces. In 1923 he moved to a position as chief chemist at another Canadian firm, National Abrasive Company of Niagara Falls, Ontario. One year later he returned to the United States to work for Hershey Foods Corporation in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where he spent the rest of his career. In 1935 he married Margaret Joseph in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. They had two sons....

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Hunt, H. L. (17 February 1889–29 November 1974), Texas oilman and supporter of archconservative political causes, was born Haroldson Lafayette Hunt in Ramsey, Illinois, the son of H. L. Hunt, Sr., and Ella Rose Myers, farmers. Hunt left home at sixteen, working as a laborer in the West. For a short time he attended Valparaiso University in Indiana but went into cotton farming in Arkansas about 1911. He later speculated in land, but the post–World War I recession wiped him out. In 1921 he decided to try the oil business in Arkansas, buying and selling leases but not yet becoming rich. In 1930 he learned that Columbus “Dad” Joiner was wildcatting in East Texas, activity that the experts said would surely fail. It did not. The result was one of the greatest oil strikes in history—the East Texas field. Hunt investigated, decided to buy Joiner out for $95,000, and soon became the largest independent operator in East Texas. He was on the way to accumulating a fortune....

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Jackson, Gardner (10 September 1896–17 April 1965), newspaperman, public official, and liberal gadfly, also known as “Pat,” was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the son of William Sharpless Jackson, a wealthy banker and railroad magnate, and Helen Banfield. In the Jackson family, affluence mingled with sympathy for the oppressed: Jackson’s father was a Quaker, and his mother was the niece of his father’s late and revered second wife, ...

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Jasper, John (04 July 1812–30 March 1901), Baptist preacher and orator, was born in Fluvanna County, Virginia, the son of slave parents, Philip Jasper, a slave preacher, and Nina, head servant of the Peachy family. (His father served as a preacher at slave funerals.) John worked as a cart boy accompanying the plantation ox cart and on errands around the Peachy “great house.” In 1825 his master hired him out to Peter McHenry, for whom he worked one year in Richmond before returning to the Peachy plantation. He later labored in the coal mines of Chesterfield County. Jasper’s master sent him to Richmond a third time to work at Samuel Hargrove’s tobacco warehouse. Jasper led a life he later confessed to have been irreligious and riotous. A fellow slave taught him to read and spell....