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Bennett, Gwendolyn (08 July 1902–30 May 1981), writer and artist, was born in Giddings, Texas, the daughter of Joshua Robin Bennett and Mayme F. Abernathy, teachers on a Native American reservation. In 1906 the family moved to Washington, D.C., where Bennett’s father studied law and her mother worked as a manicurist and hairdresser. Her parents divorced and her mother won custody, but her father kidnapped the seven-year-old Gwendolyn. The two, with her stepmother, lived in hiding in various towns along the East Coast and in Pennsylvania before finally settling in New York....

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Benson, Eugene (01 November 1839–28 February 1908), art critic, painter, and essayist, was born in Hyde Park, New York, the son of Benjamin Benson. His mother’s name is not known. He went to New York City in 1856 to study painting at the National Academy of Design; he also learned portraiture in the studio of J. H. Wright. Taking up residence at the New York University Building, he formed close friendships with several other artists who lived there, most notably ...

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Cahill, Holger (13 January 1887–08 July 1960), author and curator, was born Sveinn Kristjan Bjarnarson, in Snifellsnessyslu, Iceland, the son of Björn Bjarnarson, a laborer, and Vigdis Bjarnadóttir. Cahill, however, later claimed he was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1893. In the 1890s the Bjarnarsons emigrated to North Dakota, where they hoped to obtain land. Unable to purchase property, Björn worked as a hired hand. Vigdis, whom Cahill later described as a stern “peasant woman” with a poetic streak, and Björn, “a failure in almost everything he did,” quarreled frequently, separating when Cahill was eleven. Struggling to support her son and his younger sister after Björn departed, Vigdis sent the boy to live with an Icelandic family on a nearby farm. After the family removed him from school, put him to work in the fields, and pressured him to be confirmed in the Lutheran church, he ran away. Settled with another family, Cahill finished high school and then set off for Canada, where he worked as a farm laborer and cowherder. By 1907 he was back in the United States, holding a job as a railroad clerk in St. Paul. While there, he later recalled that he read “Tolstoi by the acre” and took a correspondence course in journalism. This was followed by short stints as a watchman on a Great Lakes steamer and as an insurance salesman in Cleveland....

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Coates, Robert Myron (06 April 1897–08 February 1973), writer, was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of Frederick Coates, an inventor of special tools and machinery, and Harriet Davidson. Coates’s father was a restless man, and the family rarely remained in one place for long. Their stay in any given town depended, Coates explained in his memoirs, ...

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Dow, George Francis (07 January 1868–05 June 1936), antiquarian, editor, and museum curator, was born in Wakefield, New Hampshire, the son of George Prince and Ada Bingham Tappan. He grew up in Topsfield, Massachusetts, and lived there most of his life. After attending a commercial school in Boston, Dow entered the wholesale metal business, in which he was engaged from 1885 to 1898. During this time he became increasingly interested in local history and material culture. In 1893 Dow began to publish a local newspaper, the ...

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Jane Heap. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ6-2112).

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Heap, Jane (01 November 1883–16 June 1964), artist and editor, was born in Topeka, Kansas, the daughter of George Heap, an engineer, and Emma (maiden name unknown). Interested in art from an early age, Heap attended the Art Institute of Chicago from 1901 until 1905 and later studied mural design in Germany. By the century’s second decade Chicago was in the midst of a “Renaissance” in art and literature. Writers and artists influenced by Nietzsche, Shaw, Picasso, and Gauguin attacked the straitlaced conservatism of the Victorian genteel tradition. Young midwesterners with artistic aspirations traveled to Chicago where they embraced and expressed an American modernism that owed much to European philosophies. Heap was among them....

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Jarves, James Jackson (20 August 1818–28 June 1888), journalist, diplomat, and art connoisseur, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Deming Jarves, the inventor of Sandwich glass, and Anna Smith Stutson. Jarves received some formal education at Chauncy Hall School in Boston and enhanced his knowledge by extensive reading. At fifteen he was bedridden by what was diagnosed as a “rush of blood to the head” that left him temporarily blind and unable to continue at school. Gradually he improved but when the doctors recommended that he live in a milder climate than New England he had to forgo a Harvard education....

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Kocher, A. Lawrence (24 July 1885–06 June 1969), architect, editor, and scholar of American colonial architecture, was born Alfred Lawrence Kocher in San Jose, California, the son of Rudolph Kocher, a Swiss-born jeweler and watchmaker, and Anna (maiden name unknown). He received his B.A. from Stanford University in 1909 and his M.A. from Pennsylvania State University in 1916. He studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1909 to 1912. In 1910 he married Amy Agnes Morder. She died of cancer prior to 1932, the year of his marriage to Margaret Taylor. He had two children....

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Laffan, William Mackay (22 January 1848–19 November 1909), newspaper editor, publisher, and art connoisseur, was born in Dublin, Ireland, the son of Michael Laffan and Ellen Sarah FitzGibbon. He attended Trinity College of Dublin University and St. Cecilia’s School of Medicine. He did not graduate from either institution. Laffan became adept at modeling in clay, etching, and painting in oils and watercolors and was an artist for the Pathological Society of Dublin....

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McBride, Henry (25 July 1867–31 March 1962), art critic and writer, was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Little is known about his early life except that his parents were Quakers and that McBride’s first job after graduating from high school was writing and illustrating seed catalogs for a local nursery. By 1887 he had saved $200 and moved to New York City to study art. He attended the Artists’ and Artisans’ Institute for four years under iconoclast John Ward Stimson, then continued his studies at the Art Students League, eventually teaching at both organizations....

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Mumford, Lewis (09 October 1895–26 January 1990), urban historian and cultural critic, was born in Flushing, New York, the illegitimate son of Lewis Charles Mack, a Jewish businessman from New Jersey, and Elvina Conradina Baron Mumford, a German Protestant. Mumford never knew his father, learning his identity only in 1942. He grew up in a lower middle-class environment in Manhattan and in 1912 graduated from Stuyvesant High School, where he was chiefly interested in science and technology. New York’s museums and libraries contributed much to his education. Beginning in 1912 Mumford studied at City College, Columbia University, New York University, and the New School for Social Research. He earned enough credits for a degree but never graduated. Between 1914 and 1918 Mumford suffered from what he then regarded as incipient tuberculosis but which he later believed to have been a thyroid problem. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1918 to 1919. Having begun his career as a freelance writer, Mumford joined the staff of ...

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Norton, Charles Eliot (16 November 1827–21 October 1908), scholar and critic, was born at “Shady Hill,” his family’s estate in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His parents were Andrews Norton, biblical scholar and man of letters, and Catharine Eliot, daughter of a wealthy Boston merchant. Charles grew up in an academic household frequented by ...

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Pennell, Elizabeth Robins (21 Feb. 1855–7 Feb. 1936), author, art critic, and culinary writer, was born Elizabeth Robins in Philadelphia to Edward Robins, a member of the Philadelphia Exchange, and Margaret Miller, who died shortly after giving birth to her. In spite of the family’s devout Episcopalian background, Robins converted to Catholicism and enrolled his daughter in a convent at Conflans, France, and then at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Torresdale, a suburb of Philadelphia, where she was a bright, capable student. At the Convent of the Sacred Heart, she met Agnes Repplier, who would also go on to become a writer, with whom she maintained a lifelong friendship....

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Rosenberg, Harold (02 February 1906–11 July 1978), art critic and poet, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Abraham Benjamin, a scholar and poet, and Fanny Edelman. His formal education consisted of a year at City College of New York (1923–1924) and three years at St. Lawrence University, Brooklyn, where he earned a degree in law (1927)....

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Tuthill, Louisa Caroline Huggins (06 July 1799–01 June 1879), author, was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the daughter of Ebenezer Huggins, a prosperous merchant, and Mary Dickerman. Louisa was educated at seminaries for girls in New Haven and Litchfield, Connecticut. In 1817 she married Cornelius Tuthill, a minister from Hopewell, New York. They had four children. After continued ill health forced Cornelius to give up the ministry in 1818, he began editing the semiweekly literary periodical ...

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Wright, Willard Huntington (15 October 1888–11 April 1939), editor, novelist, and critic, was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, the son of Archibald Davenport Wright, a hotel proprietor, and Annie Van Vranken. In 1900 the Wrights moved to Santa Monica, California, a crucial move, for a good part of Wright’s early professional development occurred in southern California. Both Wright and his brother Stanton were regarded as precocious by their parents, and both gravitated toward the arts. Stanton Wright early settled on a painting career, but Willard Wright vacillated, experimenting with painting and music before concentrating on literature....