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Commoner, Barry (28 May 1917–30 September 2012), scientist-activist, biologist, and environmentalist, was born Barry Commoner in Brooklyn, New York, to Isaac (Isador) and Gussie Commoner, Russian immigrants. His uncle, the Slavonic scholar Avrahm Yarmolinsky, recommended the family adopt a more anglicized spelling of their last name. Commoner attended Brooklyn’s James Madison High School, where he discovered his passion for biology. Assisted by his wife, the poet ...

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Coolidge, Albert Sprague (23 January 1894–31 August 1977), chemical physicist, political activist, and civil libertarian, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Frederic Shurtleff Coolidge, an orthopedic surgeon, and Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. His mother was the daughter of Albert Arnold Sprague, a pioneer merchant of Chicago, which made it possible for Sprague Coolidge to be financially independent. He was directly descended from John Coolidge of Watertown, Massachusetts, who emigrated from England in 1630 and whose farm occupied almost all of what is now Cambridge, Massachusetts. His college preparatory education was at the Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. He graduated summa cum laude with an A.B. from Harvard College in 1915. That year he married Margaret Stewart Coit. They had five children....

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Hexamer, Charles John (09 May 1862–15 October 1921), civil engineer and political advocate for German-American causes, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Ernest Hexamer, a civil engineer, and Marie Klingel. His father was a prominent “forty-eighter,” one of the wave of educated, liberal German immigrants who came to the United States after the European revolutions of 1848. Hexamer attended the University of Pennsylvania, receiving a B.S. in 1882, an A.M. in 1884, and a Ph.D. in 1886. He also received an LL.D. from the National University in 1899. He married Annie Josephine Haeuptner in 1891 and worked as an engineer in Philadelphia from 1882 until his retirement in 1917. He authored ...

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Mather, Kirtley Fletcher (13 February 1888–07 May 1978), scientist and liberal activist, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of William Green Mather, a railroad ticket agent, and Julia Sabrina King. Neither parent attended college, but they encouraged Kirtley’s interest in science and appreciated his chance, in high school, to take a course in earth science that required frequent field trips. Raised a liberal Baptist, Mather saw no conflict between biblical revelation and the concept of human evolution....

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Pauling, Linus Carl (28 February 1901–19 August 1994), biochemist, physical chemist, and political activist, was born in Portland, Oregon, the son of Herman Henry William Pauling, a druggist, and Lucy Isabelle Darling. Fascination with his father’s pharmacy sparked an early interest in chemistry, although Pauling himself attributed his decision to enter a career in science to observing a boyhood friend’s experiments with a chemistry set and to his fascination with scientists portrayed in novels. His father’s early death forced the family to survive by running a boarding house. From about age thirteen Pauling took various jobs, from delivery boy to movie projectionist, to help his family, while conducting chemistry experiments in a makeshift basement laboratory at home. He entered Oregon State Agricultural College (later Oregon State University) at age sixteen, without completing high school, to major in chemical engineering. There he met his future wife, Ava Helen Miller, while he was teaching undergraduate chemistry though still a student. In 1922 he graduated summa cum laude and then entered graduate school at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Pauling and Miller married in 1923; they had four children....

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Reed, Philip Dunham (16 November 1899–10 March 1989), corporation executive and internationalist, was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the son of William Dennis Reed, an insurance company executive, and Virginia Brandreth Dunham. He received the B.S. in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin with his class of 1921 despite an interruption for army training toward the end of World War I....