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Gibbs, George (17 July 1815–09 April 1873), ethnographer, geologist, and historian, was born at “Sunswick Farms” near Astoria, Long Island, New York, the son of George Gibbs, a gentleman farmer and amateur geologist, and Laura Wolcott. Both of his parents descended from wealthy, old-stock colonial families. At the age of nine, George was sent to the Round Hill School in Northampton, Massachusetts, which was directed by historian ...

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William Henry Holmes. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-48333).

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Holmes, William Henry (01 December 1846–20 April 1933), artist, scientist, and administrator, was born on a farm near Short Creek in southeastern Ohio, the youngest of three sons of Joseph Holmes and Mary Heberling Holmes. In 1856 Holmes's mother died and his grandparents, John and Mary Heberling, raised him in nearby Georgetown until 1860, when his father married Sarah I. Moore. At eighteen, Holmes entered McNeely Normal School to prepare for a teaching career. While excelling in drawing, geography, and natural history and immersing himself in the student life of McNeely, Holmes taught temporarily in the Harrison County schools. In 1870 he was asked to join the McNeely faculty to teach art and science. Art was Holmes's real passion, however; not teaching. Restless, he decided to go to the nation's capital between terms to study under Theodore Kaufmann. When not in the studio, Holmes was at the Smithsonian Institution drawing birds and, perhaps, also drawing attention to himself. He was discovered there by a Costa Rican ornithologist, José Zeledon, and hired on the spot as one of the Smithsonian's contract illustrators. Holmes liked his new work but learned that there was a difference between art and illustration when Assistant Secretary ...

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William John McGee Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103959).

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McGee, William John (17 April 1853–04 September 1912), geologist and anthropologist, was born near Farley, Dubuque County, Iowa, the son of James McGee, an Irish immigrant and farmer, and Martha Ann Anderson. McGee attended local schools intermittently until about the age of fourteen. An older brother who had attended college provided education in Latin, German, mathematics, and astronomy, and a maternal uncle helped teach McGee surveying, a skill for which there was much local demand. He learned blacksmithing and in the early 1870s manufactured and sold agricultural implements. With a brother and a cousin he obtained a patent in 1874 on an improved adjustable cultivator, which was not a financial success....

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John Wesley Powell. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-20230).

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Powell, John Wesley (24 March 1834–23 September 1902), explorer, geologist, and anthropologist, was born in Mount Morris, New York, the son of Joseph Powell, a tailor and Methodist Episcopal licensed exhorter, and Mary Dean. Powell’s parents, who were emigrants from England, moved the family successively west and finally settled in Wheaton, Illinois. Young Powell’s education was intermittent but included some course work at Wheaton and Oberlin Colleges. He worked on the family farm and taught school, but his real interests lay in all phases of natural history and in archaeology. He made numerous collections of natural objects, often by traveling overland or alone in a boat along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. He became well known among amateur natural historians and was elected secretary of the Illinois Society of Natural History in March 1861....

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Stevenson, Matilda Coxe Evans (12 May 1849–24 June 1915), ethnologist, geologist, and explorer, was born in San Augustine, Texas, the daughter of Alexander Hamilton Evans, a lawyer, writer, and journalist from Virginia, and Maria Coxe of New Jersey. Stevenson grew up in a privileged, middle-class household in Washington, D.C. Following her education in a girl’s finishing school and seminary, she defied convention and studied law as well as served an apprenticeship in chemistry and geology at the Army Medical School. Even though there were no opportunities for college or advanced degrees or employment in the sciences for women at the time, Stevenson decided to become a mineralogist and geological explorer. She was able to pursue these goals through her marriage, in 1872, to geologist and naturalist Colonel ...