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Grimké, Archibald Henry (17 August 1849–25 February 1930), lawyer, diplomat, and protest leader, was born a slave on “Caneacres” plantation near Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Henry Grimké, a lawyer and planter, and Nancy Weston, the family’s slave nurse. His parents probably never married, but his mother assumed the Grimké name. Grimké had an extremely difficult early life. After years of virtual freedom—he had attended Charleston schools for free African Americans though technically a slave—he and his brother ...

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Levitt, Abraham (01 July 1880–20 August 1962), lawyer and housing contractor, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Rabbi Louis Levitt and Nellie (maiden name unknown), immigrants from Russia. Little is known about his parents. Levitt grew up in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Because his family was very poor, he was forced to drop out of school at the age of ten to become a newsboy on Park Row. Later he worked as a dishwasher and held other menial positions, such as dock worker and waiter. Nevertheless, he educated himself by avidly reading books, newspapers, and magazines. He later said that by the time he was sixteen years old, he read some part of some book every day; his favorite subjects were history, economics, and philosophy. He also frequently attended lectures at Cooper Union and joined and regularly attended the meetings of various literary and scientific societies. When he was twenty years old, he took and passed a New York’s regents examination to gain entrance to the New York University Law School. Specializing in real estate law, he wrote an outstanding student manual on his specialty when he was a sophomore, the profits from which helped him finish his LL.B. Admitted to the New York bar in 1903, he established a private practice that soon flourished. Three years later he married Pauline A. Biederman; the couple had two sons, ...

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Nicholson, Timothy (02 November 1828–15 September 1924), Quaker reformer and printer, was born in Perquimans County, North Carolina, the son of Josiah Nicholson, a teacher and farmer, and Anna White. Both parents came from families long prominent in Quaker affairs in North Carolina, and by Timothy Nicholson’s own account, their influence and that of Quaker neighbors was such that he never questioned Quaker teachings. He was educated in the Quaker Belvidere Academy in Perquimans County and at the Friends Boarding School (now Moses Brown School) in Providence, Rhode Island. He married twice, first in 1853 to Sarah N. White, who died in 1865, and then in 1868 to her sister, Mary White. There were six children by the first marriage and two by the second....

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Phillips, Lena Madesin (15 September 1881–21 May 1955), lawyer, feminist, and founder of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women, was born Anna Lena Phillips in Nicholasville, Kentucky, the daughter of William Henry Phillips, a judge, and Alice Shook, a musician. At age eleven Phillips changed her name to Madesin in honor of her older brother who was studying medicine, “medecin,” in Paris. Phillips’s mother was a gifted musician and a staunch Methodist who impressed upon her daughter a high regard for education, music, and religion. Her father was the more easygoing of her parents and the one whose disposition Phillips felt she had inherited. Madesin and her father “were made of the same stuff,” Phillips wrote, “alike in temperament and taste” (Sergio, p. 10)....

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Pynchon, William (26 December 1590–29 October 1662), fur trader, magistrate, and founder of Springfield, Massachusetts, was born at Springfield, in Essex, England, the son of John Pynchon and Frances Brett, wealthy gentry. William was educated to read and write Latin, Greek, and Hebrew and served as a warden of Christ Church from 1620 to 1624. Like many members of his class, he supported the Puritans. In 1629 Pynchon invested £25 in the Massachusetts Bay Company and the following year accompanied Governor ...

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Sewall, Samuel (28 March 1652–01 January 1730), colonial merchant, judge, and philanthropist, was born at Bishop Stoke, Hampshire, England, the son of Henry Sewall, a pastor, and Jane Dummer. Sewall’s father had immigrated to Newbury, Massachusetts, in 1634, and although he was admitted to freemanship in 1637, he returned to England in 1646 and subsequently took the pulpit of North Baddesley. The family returned to Massachusetts in 1659....

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Sojourner Truth. From a carte de visite, possibly made in 1864, with an inscription below the picture: "I sell the shadow to support the substance." Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-119343).

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Truth, Sojourner (1799–26 November 1883), black abolitionist and women's rights advocate, black abolitionist and women’s rights advocate, was born in Hurley, Ulster County, New York, the daughter of James and Elizabeth Baumfree, who were slaves. Named Isabella by her parents, she took the name Sojourner Truth in 1843. As a child, Isabella belonged to a series of owners, the most memorable of whom were the John Dumont family of Esopus, Ulster County, to whom she belonged for approximately seventeen years and with whom she remained close until their migration to the West in 1849. About 1815 she married another of Dumont’s slaves, Thomas, who was much older than she; they had five children. Isabella left Thomas in Ulster County after their emancipation under New York state law in 1827, but she did not marry again....

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Wendell Willkie Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103648).

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Willkie, Wendell Lewis (18 February 1892–08 October 1944), corporation lawyer and executive, politician, and civil rights activist, was born in Elwood, Indiana, the son of Herman F. Willkie and Henrietta Trisch. His father was a lawyer and local reformer, and his mother was one of the first female lawyers in Indiana. Willkie attended local schools and Indiana University, graduating in 1913. After teaching high school in Kansas (Sept. 1913–Nov. 1914), he returned to Indiana University to complete a law degree in 1916....