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Babson, Roger Ward (06 July 1875–05 March 1967), businessman, author, and philanthropist, was born in Gloucester, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel Babson, a dry-goods merchant and wholesaler, and Ellen Stearns. As a child, Babson spent his summers in Gloucester on his paternal grandfather’s farm, an experience that later prompted him to write that he “owed more to that farm than any educational institution.” Off the farm, the young Babson, who was a rowdy albeit “nervous” boy, worried his mother by associating not with other middle-class Yankee children but with the “Gould Courters,” an Irish street gang....

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Bishop, Charles Reed (25 January 1822–07 June 1915), banker, cabinet minister, and philanthropist, was born near Glens Falls, New York, the son of Samuel Bishop, a toll collector on the Hudson River, and Maria Reed. Charles’s mother died when he was two years old, and his father remarried. He was cared for first by an aunt and then by his paternal grandfather on whose farm he received an education in hard work and practical business. His only formal education was at Glens Falls Academy, which he attended in the seventh and eighth grades. Around 1838, after leaving school, he became a clerk in a mercantile house in Warrensburgh, New York, where he learned the intricacies of bookkeeping, inventory, and other business skills. In 1842 he moved to Sandy Hill, New York, to take a job as a bookkeeper and head clerk....

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Coffin, Charles Fisher (03 April 1823–09 September 1916), banker, Quaker minister, and philanthropist, was born at New Garden, Guilford County, North Carolina, the son of Elijah Coffin, a teacher and banker, and Naomi Hiatt, a Quaker minister. In 1824 his family moved to Milton, Indiana, and in 1833 they went to Cincinnati for a year before moving to Richmond, Indiana, where Charles would live for the next half-century....

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W. W. Corcoran. Engraving after drawing by Charles Loring Elliott, 1812-1868. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90033).

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Corcoran, William Wilson (27 December 1798–24 February 1888), banker, investor, and philanthropist, was born in Georgetown, District of Columbia, the son of Thomas Corcoran, an Irish-born merchant, real estate seller, and local politician, and Hannah Lemmon. Corcoran, who is usually referred to as “W. W.” rather than William, was educated in local Georgetown schools and spent one year at Georgetown College (now Georgetown University). In 1815 he left college to go into the business of operating a dry goods store with his two older brothers, James and Thomas, Jr. In 1817 Corcoran opened a branch store, and by 1820, the three brothers expanded their interests to include an auction and commission house. After the company went bankrupt in a financial panic in 1823, Corcoran worked until 1847 to pay off all their creditors in full, an act that demonstrated his views regarding honor....

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Creighton, Edward (31 August 1820–05 November 1874), pioneer telegraph builder, banker, and philanthropist, was born in Belmont County, Ohio (near the present town of Barnesville), the son of James Creighton and Bridget Hughes, farmers. Creighton’s father had emigrated in 1805 from County Dungannon, Ireland, to the United States. In 1830 the Creighton family moved to a farm in Licking County, Ohio. Edward Creighton began full-time employment on the family farm and as a wagoner at the age of fourteen. In these early years he worked on the pike roads of Ohio with the young ...

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Drexel, Anthony Joseph (13 September 1826–30 June 1893), investment banker and philanthropist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Francis Martin Drexel, an investor, and Catherine Hookey. Under the supervision of his father, young Tony Drexel was brought up in Philadelphia, where he was richly educated in art, music, and languages....

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Girard, Stephen (20 May 1750–26 December 1831), merchant, banker, and philanthropist, was born in Bordeaux, France, the son of Pierre Girard, an officer in the French navy, and Odette Lafargue. He was blind, or partially sighted, in one eye at birth and, therefore, probably received less formal education than his peers. At age fourteen he signed on as a cabin boy for vessels sailing to the West Indies. His first American port of entry was New Orleans. After receiving a license to serve as a ship captain at age twenty-three, Girard was named an officer on a voyage to Port-au-Prince, Saint Domingue (now Haiti), in 1774. He departed the West Indies and set sail for New York with a consignment of sugar and coffee. Rather than returning to France, Girard remained in New York and became an employee of the shipping firm of Thomas Randall & Son. He purchased a half-interest in the ship ...

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Hepburn, Alonzo Barton (24 July 1846–25 January 1922), banker and philanthropist, was born in Colton, New York, the son of Zina Earl Hepburn and Beulah Gray, farmers. He attended St. Lawrence Academy in Potsdam from 1861 to 1867. For lack of funds, he left Middlebury College early in his sophomore year (1868). He was a mathematics instructor at St. Lawrence Academy for one term and principal of the Ogdensburg Educational Institute for a year. He studied law in the Ogdensburg office of Stillman Foote and Edward C. James. Admitted to the bar in November 1871, he enjoyed a busy practice until his home town’s fortunes declined when the New York Central Railroad bypassed it. Hepburn married Hattie A. Fisher in 1873; she died eight years later. The couple had two children....

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Kelly, Eugene (25 November 1808–19 December 1894), merchant, banker, and philanthropist, was born in County Tyrone, Ireland, the son of Thomas Boye Kelly. His mother’s name and his parents’ occupations are unknown. Little is known of his family background save that his father, heir to a formerly prominent and prosperous line, lost the balance of his fortune because of his participation in the rebellion of 1798. Following the rebellion, the elder Kelly changed his name from “O’Kelly” to the more common “Kelly” as a precaution against reprisals for his activities. Eugene received his education in a local hedge school, after which he became a draper’s apprentice....

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Littlefield, George Washington (21 June 1842–10 November 1920), cattle dealer, banker, and philanthropist, was born in Panola County, Mississippi, the son of Fleming Littlefield and Mildred Terrell Satterwhite White, plantation owners. At the age of nine he moved with his family to a 1,500-acre plantation on the Guadalupe River, north of Gonzales, Texas. A year after his father’s death in 1853, George’s mother inventoried the family’s holdings and divided them among her children. Consequently, George received five slaves, mules, horses, cattle, oxen, hogs, tools, and a carriage at the young age of twelve. After attending Baylor University in Independence, Texas, in 1857 and 1858, Littlefield returned to work on his mother’s expanding plantation. He then joined the Eighth Texas Cavalry, also known as Terry’s Texas Rangers, in August 1861. He fought as a lieutenant at Shiloh and as a captain in both Tennessee and Kentucky, most notably at the battle of Chickamauga. While returning to battle from a recruiting trip to Texas, Littlefield married Alice P. Tiller, whom he had known in Gonzales, in January 1863 in Houston. The couple had no children. He became major of his regiment, but while replacing a wounded lieutenant colonel at Mossy Creek, he sustained a life-threatening wound in December 1863. Acting on the advice of a surgeon, Littlefield resigned from service in late summer of the next year....

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Paul, Josephine Bay (10 August 1900–06 August 1962), businesswoman and philanthropist, was born Josephine Holt Perfect in Anamosa, Iowa, the daughter of Otis Lincoln Perfect, a realtor, and Tirzah Holt. In 1906 the family moved to Brooklyn, New York, where Josephine Perfect grew up. In 1916 Josephine graduated from Brooklyn Heights Seminary and enrolled at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, where she studied for a year. She then spent the next ten years as a secretary and as the director of the Brooklyn Junior League’s bookstore, helping the store to recover from near bankruptcy. In 1928 Josephine and her sister Tirzah established a greeting card business in Brooklyn. With Tirzah as designer and Josephine as sales manager, the sisters managed to sustain a thriving business with distribution stretching from the East Coast to the Midwest. In 1933, following Tirzah’s marriage, the sisters dissolved the business....

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George Peabody. Engraving by John Chester Buttre, second half of the nineteenth century. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-98992).

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Peabody, George (18 February 1795–04 November 1869), merchant, investment banker, and philanthropist, was born in South Danvers (now Peabody), Massachusetts, the son of Thomas Peabody, a leather worker and a farmer, and Judith Dodge. His parents, though not wealthy, managed to provide their son with a basic education. As a boy George came to know the value of work. At age eleven he worked in Sylvester Proctor’s grocery in Danvers, and for a short time in 1811 he served as a clerk in the dry-goods store of his brother David....

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Peabody, George Foster (27 July 1852–04 March 1938), investment banker and philanthropist, was born in Columbus, Georgia, the son of George Henry Peabody, a merchant, and Elvira Canfield. When he was thirteen, in April 1865, Union troops invaded this small farming community and set fire to most of the buildings near the center of town, including the Peabody store. The family rebuilt the store and opened for business that fall, about the time that Peabody arrived at Deer Hill Institute in Danbury, Connecticut, a private Episcopal boys school. Peabody left the school after less than six months when the family’s efforts to rebuild the business failed. Soon thereafter his father suffered a nervous breakdown, and his mother became the sole financial support for the family....

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Pettiford, William Reuben (20 January 1847–21 September 1914), pastor, banker, and race leader, was born in Granville County, North Carolina, the son of William Pettiford and Matilda (maiden name unknown), farmers. Pettiford, a free black, spent his early years laboring on the family farm. He received a rudimentary education at home and then attended Marion Normal School and was employed from 1877 to 1880 as a teacher and financial agent at Selma Institute (now Selma University). In 1869 he married Mary Jane Farley, who died that same year. In 1873 he married Jennie Powell, who died in September 1874. In 1880 he married Della Boyd, with whom he had three children. She outlived him....

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Riis, Mary Phillips (29 April 1877–04 August 1967), financier and social welfare reformer, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the daughter of Richard F. Phillips, a cotton broker and later president of the Cotton Exchange in St. Louis, and Lina Rensch. She was educated in England and France but held no college degree. She moved to New York and was acting in small parts on Broadway when, at the age of twenty-six, she met the social reformer ...

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Schiff, Jacob Henry (10 January 1847–25 September 1920), banker and philanthropist, was born in Frankfurt, Germany, the son of Moses Schiff, a merchant, and Clara Niederhofheim. Schiff attended Jewish schools in Frankfurt until the age of fourteen, then embarked on a business apprenticeship before entering the banking firm of a brother-in-law. In 1865, armed with letters of reference, he emigrated to the United States, where he joined the brokerage firm of Frank & Gans (New York City) as a clerk. A year later he formed, with Henry Budge and Leo Lehman, the partnership of Budge, Schiff & Company. In 1870 Schiff became a naturalized U.S. citizen....

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Seligman, Jesse (11 August 1827–23 April 1894), international banker and philanthropist, was born in Baiersdorf, Bavaria, the son of David Seligman, a farmer and woolen merchant, and Fanny Steinhardt, a storekeeper. Jesse left for the United States in 1841, at the behest of his older brothers, who had already established a successful merchant business in New York City. By 1843 the entire Seligman clan of eight brothers (Joseph, William, James, Jesse, Henry, Abraham, Leopold, and ...

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Walker, Maggie L. (15 July 1867–15 December 1934), educator, social activist, and bank president, was born Maggie Lena Draper in Richmond, Virginia, the daughter of Elizabeth Draper, a former slave, and Eccles Cuthbert, an Irish-American journalist. Her natural parents could not marry. (The Virginia law prohibiting the marriage of mixed-race couples was overturned in 1967, a century after Maggie's birth.) In 1868 Elizabeth Draper married William Mitchell, a mulatto butler who, like herself, was employed by the wealthy abolitionist and Union spy ...