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Ballard, Edna Anne Wheeler (25 June 1886–10 February 1971), and Guy Warren Ballard (28 July 1878–29 December 1939), controversial founders of the "I Am" movement, controversial founders of the “I Am” movement, were born, respectively, in Burlington, Iowa, and Newton, Kansas. Edna was the daughter of Edward G. Wheeler, reportedly a railway clerk, and Anna Hewitt Pearce; Guy the son of a farmer, Josephus Ballard, and Phebe Jane Leigh. “I Am” was a religious movement that grew at a phenomenal rate in the 1930s, became the subject of a celebrated fraud case and a landmark freedom of religion decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1940s, and has since held a modest but continuing place in American spiritual life....

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See Ballard, Edna Anne Wheeler

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Ballou, Adin (23 April 1803–05 August 1890), Universalist clergyman, reformer, and founder of Hopedale Community, was born in Cumberland, Rhode Island, the son of Ariel Ballou and Edilda Tower, farmers. A largely self-educated preacher, Ballou’s earliest religious experience was Calvinist in nature, and he later recalled the “very solemnizing effect” of the preaching he heard as a youth. At about age eleven, however, Ballou experienced a religious conversion, and a year later he was baptized into a Christian Connection church that emphasized a more enthusiastic and fundamentalist religiosity. Ballou developed a deep interest in religious matters over the next several years and eventually became a self-proclaimed preacher. At age eighteen, in the autumn of 1821, he was received into the fellowship of the Connecticut Christian Conference, a Christian Connection body. In 1822 he married Abigail Sayles; they had two children before Abigail died in 1829....

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Beissel, Johann Conrad (01 March 1692–06 July 1768), religious leader, was born in Eberbach, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, the son of Matthias Beissel, a baker, and Anna (maiden name unknown). He was baptized George Konrad Beissel. His alcoholic father died two months before his birth; his mother died when he was eight or nine. Conrad Beissel was raised by his older brothers and sisters. Possibly because of recent French depredation of the area where they lived, his family was very poor. Conrad was undernourished and remained comparatively small. According to tradition, he performed remarkably well during his brief attendance at his parish school. Nevertheless, he was largely self-educated. While still a youth, Beissel was apprenticed to a master baker, who also was a capable fiddler who taught Beissel to play the violin. Beissel became a popular performer and played at weddings, country dances, and other joyful occasions. He enjoyed the notoriety and attention, especially from women....

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Blackstone, William E. (06 October 1841–1935), Christian Zionist and author, was born in Adams, New York, the son of Andrew Blackstone, a tinsmith, and Sally (maiden name unknown). Born into a devout Methodist family, he had an evangelical conversion experience at the age of ten while attending a local Methodist revival meeting. He remained a Methodist for the rest of his life, although he criticized the denomination for the liberal or “modernist” direction it had taken by the turn of the twentieth century. Though he became a leading spokesperson for American fundamentalism and Zionism, Blackstone received no formal education or training. Rejected by the Union army on account of frailness, Blackstone spent the Civil War working for the Christian Commission, a missionary agency designed to provide spiritual counsel and medical aid to northern soldiers. He married Sarah Louis Smith in 1866; they had three children....

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Crummell, Alexander (03 March 1819–10 September 1898), clergyman, activist, and Pan-Africanist, was born in New York City, the son of Charity Hicks, a freeborn woman of Long Island, New York, and Boston Crummell, an African of the Temne people, probably from the region that is now Sierra Leone. Boston Crummell had been captured and brought to the United States as a youth. The circumstances of his emancipation are not clear, but it is said that he simply refused to serve his New York owners any longer after reaching adulthood. Boston Crummell established a small oyster house in the African Quarter of New York. Alexander Crummell received his basic education at the African Free School in Manhattan. In 1835 he traveled to Canaan, New Hampshire, along with his friends Thomas Sidney and ...

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Grace, Charles Emmanuel (25 January 1881–12 January 1960), Boyfriend of the World, better known as Daddy Grace or Sweet Daddy Grace or by his self-proclaimed title, was one of the more flamboyant African-American religious personalities of the twentieth century. He was born, probably as Marceline Manoel da Graca, in Brava, Cape Verde Islands, of mixed Portuguese and African ancestry, the son of Manuel de Graca and Gertrude Lomba. In the charismatic church that he founded and headed, however, he managed to transcend race by declaring, “I am a colorless man. I am a colorless bishop. Sometimes I am black, sometimes white. I preach to all races.” Like many other Cape Verdeans, Grace immigrated to New Bedford, Massachusetts, around the turn of the century and worked there and on Cape Cod as a short-order cook, a salesman of sewing machines and patent medicines and a cranberry picker....

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Hubbard, L. Ron (13 March 1911–24 January 1986), writer and founder of Dianetics and Scientology, was born Lafayette Ronald Hubbard in Tilden, Nebraska, the son of Harry Ross Hubbard, an officer in the U.S. Navy, and Ledora May Waterbury de Wolfe. Hubbard spent much of his youth with his maternal grandfather in Montana due to his father’s service in the navy. In 1923–1924 and again after 1929 Hubbard lived in Washington, D.C., graduating from high school there in 1930. Between 1927 and 1928 Hubbard traveled throughout the Far East. In 1930 he entered George Washington University but left before graduating, leading two expeditions to Central America (1932–1933) and a later one to Alaska (1940). While at the university, he conducted independent experiments on small energies (atomic and molecular physics). These experiments led directly to his research into the workings of the human mind....

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Kahane, Meir (01 August 1932–05 November 1990), rabbi and militant Jewish nationalist, was born Martin David Kahane in Brooklyn, New York. He grew up in a home that emphasized traditional Judaism and right-wing Revisionist Zionism. His father, Rabbi Yechezkel (Charles) Kahane, had studied in several rabbinical schools in Poland and Czechoslovakia, befriending there the Revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky....

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Magnes, Judah Leon (05 July 1877–27 October 1948), rabbi, communal leader, and first chancellor and first president of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was born in San Francisco, California, the eldest of five children of David Magnes and Sophie Abrahamson. His father had emigrated from Poland at age fifteen in 1863 and his mother from eastern Prussia in 1872. When Magnes was five, the family moved to nearby Oakland, California, where his father opened a dry-goods store. The Magneses were a close-knit family. English was the language of the home, although Magnes’s mother and maternal grandmother insisted that the children learn German. The family belonged to the local Reformed congregation, where Magnes received his early religious education. From his father he gained an empathy for the Jewish religious traditions and Yiddish culture of Eastern Europe and from his mother a grounding in German culture. In later life his appreciation for both religious-cultural strands in American Jewish life made him an ideal mediator between the two....

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Mendes, Henry Pereira (13 April 1852–20 October 1937), rabbi and communal leader, was born in Birmingham, England, the son of Rev. Abraham Pereira Mendes, a religious leader, and Eliza de Sola. He attended University College of the University of London from 1870 to 1872 and received private instruction in Jewish studies. A descendant of a long line of religious leaders on both his paternal and maternal sides, he decided early in life to minister to the religious needs of his people. Also interested in medicine, he received an M.D. from New York University in 1884....

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Randall, Benjamin (07 February 1749–22 October 1808), clergyman and one of the founders of the American Freewill Baptist sect, was born in New Castle, New Hampshire, the son of William Randall, a sea captain, and Margaret Mordantt. Some scholars spell his surname Randal. Young Randall often accompanied his father to sea and learned the trades of sail making and tailoring, skills he later used to provide income while an itinerant revivalist. His travels and apprenticeship did not allow for formal schooling, though it is reported by an early biographer that he took great interest in the study of religion....

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Ripley, George (03 October 1802–04 July 1880), reform writer, literary reviewer, and communalist, was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts, the son of Jerome Ripley, a businessman, and Sarah Franklin. After attending private academies in the area, in 1819 Ripley went on to Harvard, where his personal and philosophical education was tumultuous. He tried desperately to hold onto the conservativism his parents had encouraged, but he was also attracted to liberal ideas in social reform and theology. When his transformation did not happen quickly enough to suit his classmates, he was ridiculed in one of Harvard’s student riots as “Ripley the pious, fickle as the wind, / For nine times an hour he changes his mind.” When he entered Harvard’s divinity school in 1823, Ripley was still trying to reconcile his inherited Calvinist beliefs with the new views that saw humanity’s inward nature as the source of all beauty and truth....

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Ripley, Sophia Willard Dana (06 July 1803–04 February 1861), Transcendentalist and early feminist, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the daughter of Francis Dana, Jr., and Sophia Willard Dana. The eldest of four children, Sophia Dana grew up in an atmosphere of alternating uncertainty and stability. Her straying father, a black sheep son of the illustrious and prosperous Dana flock, which included a chief justice, lawyers, professors, seafarers, and merchants, was frequently “out west or away somewhere.” Her mother was from the academic Willard family, which included a Harvard College president and any number of influential liberal-thinking ministers. From early in her youth, Sophia was probably aware of her immediate family’s precarious financial arrangements. Because of her father’s irresponsible spending habits, her mother pragmatically opened a school in her Willard family home, “Fay House” (which stood on the edge of the grounds of Harvard College), where Sophia and her only sister, Mary Elizabeth Dana, later taught. In time, her grandfather largely disowned his namesake son for creating so many debts, noting in his will that while he was leaving him “one hundred dollars and no more” as his share of the family estate, he was bequeathing one sixth of his fortune to his grandchildren, with the provision that his son have no stake in the money. Sophia Dana’s share of that inheritance seems not to have substantially eased her later straitened circumstances, but her growing years in Fay House were comfortable and promising....

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Rose, Ernestine (13 January 1810–04 August 1892), freethinker, reformer, and feminist, was born Ernestine Louise Siismondi Potowski in Piotrkow, Poland, the only child of an orthodox rabbi and his wife. Although the Jewish religion discouraged female education, Ernestine was well educated and could read Hebrew and the Scriptures; as an adolescent, however, she rejected Judaism because of its second-class treatment of women. When Ernestine was sixteen years old her mother died, leaving her a considerable inheritance. Her father used this inheritance as a dowry, promising Ernestine’s hand in marriage to a much older man. Ernestine resisted and successfully argued her case before a Polish court to nullify the contract, an unprecedented move for a young Jewish woman before a Christian court. The same year her father married a sixteen-year-old woman, making Ernestine uncomfortable in the family house, and she left Poland in 1827....

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Silver, Abba Hillel (28 January 1893–28 November 1963), rabbi and Zionist leader, was born Abraham Silver in the Lithuanian village of Neustadt-Schirwindt, the son of Rabbi Moses Silver, a proprietor of a soap business, and Dina Seaman. The family immigrated to the United States in stages, settling on New York City’s Lower East Side in 1902, when Silver was nine years old. He attended public school in the mornings and Jewish religious seminaries in the afternoons yet still made time for his growing interest in the fledgling Zionist movement. He and his brother Maxwell founded the Dr. Herzl Zion Club, one of the first Zionist youth groups in America, in 1904. On Friday evenings, Silver attended the mesmerizing lectures of ...

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Tingley, Katherine Augusta Westcott (06 July 1847–11 July 1929), founder of the utopian Point Loma Theosophical community in San Diego, California, was born in Newbury, Massachusetts, the daughter of James P. L. Westcott, a lumber merchant and later hotel keeper, and Susan Ordway Chase. Little is known of Tingley’s early life, save that she attended a Congregational church and was married twice (to Richard Henry Cook in 1867, divorced after two months, and to George W. Parent around 1880, divorced after several years) before marrying Philo Tingley in 1888. At one point she may have acted with a stock company; in any case, she had a flair for the dramatic, and drama was a strong interest of hers. She also became interested in Spiritualism....

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Tomlinson, A. J. (22 September 1865–02 October 1943), Pentecostal evangelist, cofounder of the Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee, and founder of the Church of God of Prophecy, was born Ambrose Jessup Tomlinson near Westfield, Indiana, the youngest child and only son of Milton Tomlinson (1820-1899), a farmer and road contractor, and Delilah Hiatt (1826-1909). Milton, a nonpracticing Quaker prominent in local business circles and active in the Republican Party, groomed his son for the largely secular world of small-town commerce and civic duty. A gifted student, A. J. graduated from Westfield's Union High School and later performed in the drama troupe of a local literary society. After graduation he, like his father, combined farming with enterprise, partnering with a friend to launch a well-drilling business....

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White, Alma Bridwell (16 June 1862–26 June 1946), evangelist and founder of the Pillar of Fire denomination, was born Mollie Alma Bridwell in Lewis County, Kentucky, the daughter of William Bridwell, a farmer and tanner, and Mary Ann Harrison. Raised a Methodist, Alma joined a local congregation at age twelve and underwent a conversion experience four years later in which she felt the call to preach. After attending the Female Seminary in Vanceburg, Kentucky, for a year, she enrolled at Millersburg (Ky.) Female College in 1880. After teaching school in Millersburg for a year, Alma accepted an aunt’s offer to move to Bannack, Montana, a mining town seventy miles south of Butte. Between 1882 and 1886 she held a series of teaching positions. In 1887 she married Kent White, a young Methodist preacher from West Virginia, whom she had met four years earlier; they had two sons....

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Stephen Samuel Wise Photograph by Pirie MacDonald, 1913. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-75146).