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Abigail Adams. After a painting by Gilbert Stuart. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-10016 DLC).

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Adams, Abigail (11 November 1744–28 October 1818), first lady and woman of intellect, was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, the daughter of William Smith, a Congregational minister, and Elizabeth Quincy. Abigail grew up in a prominent and wealthy family, descended from Puritan leaders and successful merchants. She had no formal schooling, both because of her recurrent illnesses and the limited options available to girls. Yet neither obstacle prevented her from achieving a remarkably broad and sophisticated education. She enjoyed the family’s well-stocked library, the stimulating company of educated relatives and parsonage visitors, and the attentive tutelage of her grandmother. Her studies ranged from Shakespeare to Locke, from Plato to French. She also began two lifelong habits: letter-writing to distant relatives and friends, and the practice of a deep Congregational faith....

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Fisher Ames. Oil on wood, c. 1807, by Gilbert Stuart. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of George Cabot Lodge.

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Ames, Fisher (09 April 1758–04 July 1808), Federalist party leader, member of Congress, essayist, and renowned orator, was born in Dedham, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel Ames, Sr., a physician, tavern keeper, and almanac writer, and Deborah Fisher. Intellectually honed, Ames was admitted to Harvard at twelve. Steeped in the classics, he excelled in elocution and participated in a debating club, the Institute of 1770. Graduating in 1774, he served with the Dedham militia at the time of the battle of Bunker Hill but did not see combat. At home he pursued his scholarly interests, reading widely in classical literature and history. He also occasionally taught school. Under the tutelage of the prominent ...

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Angelou, Maya (4 Apr. 1928–28 May 2014), writer, performer, and activist, was born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, the second child of Bailey Johnson, Sr., a doorman and Navy dietitian, and Vivian Baxter, a registered nurse, cocktail hostess, and Merchant Marine. Her brother, Bailey, Jr., nicknamed her Maya, and the name stuck. After their parents’ divorce, the two young children were sent alone on a train from San Francisco to Stamps, Arkansas, to be met and raised by their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, and their father’s brother, Uncle Willie, who was disabled. Grandmother Henderson had managed to build and own a general store with living quarters in the back, and it was also a safe black community gathering place in the segregated town. Uncle Willie provided a steady stream of good reading and high scholastic expectations, and their grandmother, “Momma,” taught them no-nonsense life skills, took them to church, and loved them....

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Arnold, Isaac Newton (30 November 1815–24 April 1884), congressman and biographer, was born in Hartwick, Otsego County, New York, the son of George Washington Arnold, a doctor, and Sophia Mason. His parents, natives of Rhode Island, had moved to Otsego County around 1800. Isaac attended local schools, including Hartwick Seminary. Between 1832 and 1835 he taught school and studied law, and in 1835 he was admitted to the bar. After practicing in Cooperstown for about a year, he moved in the fall of 1836 to Chicago, where he entered a partnership. In 1837 he was elected city clerk, a post he resigned in order to attend to his expanding practice....

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Ashe, Arthur (10 July 1943–06 February 1993), tennis player, author, and political activist, was born Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr., in Richmond, Virginia, the son of Arthur Ashe, Sr., a police officer, and Mattie Cunningham. Tall and slim as a young boy, Ashe was forbidden by his father from playing football; he took up tennis instead on the segregated playground courts at Brookfield Park, near his home. By the time he was ten he came under the tutelage of a local tennis fan and physician from Lynchburg, Walter Johnson. Johnson had previously nurtured Althea Gibson, who would become the first African American to win Wimbeldon, in 1957 and 1958, and his second protégé would prove no less successful....

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Elizabeth Bentley. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109688).

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Bentley, Elizabeth Terrill (01 January 1908–03 December 1963), Communist party activist and government witness, was born in New Milford, Connecticut, the daughter of Charles Prentiss Bentley, a newspaper editor and department store manager, and Mary Burrill, a schoolteacher. After growing up in small towns in Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania, Bentley enrolled in Vassar College and in 1930 received an undergraduate degree in English. While at Vassar, she became involved in a variety of Socialist causes but did not demonstrate any interest in more radical left-wing ideas. For two years following graduation, she taught languages at the Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia, but left in 1932 for Columbia University, where she earned her M.A. in Italian in 1935. While working on her graduate degree, she accepted a fellowship that took her to the University of Florence for the 1933–1934 academic year....

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Bigelow, John (25 November 1817–19 December 1911), writer, and diplomat, was born in Bristol (now Malden-on-Hudson), New York, the son of Asa Bigelow and Lucy Isham, successful farmers and merchants. At thirteen he entered Washington (later Trinity) College in Hartford, Connecticut, but transferred to Union College in Schenectady, New York, from which he was graduated in 1835. In New York City Bigelow studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1838....

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Bishop, Abraham (05 February 1763–28 April 1844), politician and writer, was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of Samuel Bishop, a political notable of New Haven, and Mehetabel Bassett. Bishop graduated from Yale College in 1778, when he was fifteen, and was admitted to the bar on 6 April 1785. He did not practice law but followed eventually in the political footsteps of his father, who was a long-term officeholder, having served as town clerk, mayor, deputy in the state assembly, and judge of the county and probate courts. The younger Bishop visited Europe in 1787 and 1788, spending a lengthy period in France, an experience that one commentator suggested led to “the unsettlement of his religious views and the development of his passion for democracy” (Dexter, p. 17)....

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Bollan, William (1710?–1782), colonial agent and lawyer, was born in England and emigrated from there to America while a teenager. He pursued a legal career by studying as an apprentice under the tutelage of Massachusetts attorney Robert Auchmuty. Little is known of Bollan’s early life and career. However, by 1733 he had begun to gain prominence as an attorney, as evidenced by his acquisition of Harvard College and Boston’s Anglican parish, King’s Chapel, as clients. Bollan was an Anglican, which placed him in a religious minority in Congregational-dominated Boston. By the mid-1730s he had begun to venture into land speculation in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island....

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Carroll, Anna Ella (29 August 1815–19 February 1894), writer and political lobbyist, was born in Somerset County, Maryland, the daughter of Thomas King Carroll, a plantation owner and, later, governor of Maryland, and Julianna Stevenson, daughter of a prominent Baltimore physician. The eldest of nine children, Carroll received an unusually thorough education from her father, including the subjects of history, geography, philosophy, and law. Although little evidence remains of her life prior to midcentury, Carroll was clearly fascinated by politics at a precocious age, writing at fourteen to her governor father, “It is my principle, as well as that of Lycurgus, to avoid ‘mediums’—that is to say people who are not decidedly one thing or the other. In politics they are the inveterate enemies of the state” (Blackwell, ...

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Carter, Landon (18 August 1710–22 December 1778), patriot and diarist, was born in Lancaster County, Virginia, the son of Robert “King” Carter, a planter-merchant member of the King’s Council, and Elizabeth Landon. The young Landon was sent to England for schooling when aged nine. Showing special promise as a scholar, he continued there for seven years before returning to Virginia in 1726, where he enrolled at the College of William and Mary in 1727 before settling to learn the tobacco planter and consignment business as assistant and companion to his aged father. In 1732 Carter’s father died, and Carter received a large inheritance. That year he married Elizabeth Wormeley. After Elizabeth’s death in 1740, he married Maria Byrd in 1742, and they had one child. Following Maria’s death in 1744, he married Elizabeth Beale in 1746; they had three children before she died around 1755. In all he had eight children. Carter was a widower for a long period at the end of his life, the years of his diary keeping. The three marriages brought substantial increases in property holding....

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Childs, Morris (10 June 1902–02 June 1991), Communist official and American intelligence double agent, was born Moishe Chilovsky in Kiev, Ukraine, the son of Joseph Chilovsky, a cobbler, and Anna Chilovsky. Joseph Chilovsky, a Jew, fled Tsarist oppression, arriving in America in 1910; he sent for the rest of his family late the next year. (In 1926 the spelling of their name was Americanized, and Morris became a naturalized citizen the following year.) In 1916 Morris went to work as an apprentice in his father's business; then he became a milkman. In 1919 he joined the Communist party in Chicago. Twice arrested for participating in street demonstrations, he soon became a protégé of future party leader ...

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Amanda Khiterman and Michal R. Belknap

Dennis, Peggy (01 January 1909–25 September 1993), communist Party activist and journalist, was born Regina Karasick in New York City to Meyer and Berta Karasick, Jewish-Russian revolutionaries who in 1904 had traded the confines of czarist oppression for the capitalist society they despised. Determined never to assimilate once they settled in America, the Karasick family remained active in the socialist movement, even after the failed Russian Revolution of 1905, which dashed their hopes of returning home....

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John Dickinson. Engraving by B. L. Prevost, 1781. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-26777).

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Dickinson, John (08 November 1732–14 February 1808), statesman and political pamphleteer, was born in Talbot County, Maryland, the son of Samuel Dickinson, a plantation owner and merchant, and his second wife, Mary Cadwalader. Owners of extensive properties in Delaware as well as Maryland, the family moved in John’s youth to Kent, near Dover, Delaware. He was tutored at home until the age of eighteen when he began the study of law in the office of John Moland. Three years later he left for London for further legal training at the Middle Temple, the Inns of Court, and Westminster. After completing his studies in 1757, he returned to Philadelphia to open a law office. His extensive knowledge of legal history and precedent as well as his skills in writing and presentation soon earned him an outstanding reputation....

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Digges, Thomas Attwood (04 July 1742–06 December 1821), gentleman, confidential agent, ne'er-do-well, and novelist, gentleman, confidential agent, ne’er-do-well, and novelist, was born in Warburton, Maryland, the son of William Digges and Ann Attwood, the owners of “Warburton Manor.” Digges was sent abroad to be educated. Family tradition holds that he attended Oxford University, but his Catholic faith and the absence of his name in university records make this unlikely. In 1767, after being disowned by his family for reasons that are not known, Digges purportedly went to live in Portugal, where he stayed until 1773 or 1774. In a subsequent letter to ...

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English, William Hayden (27 August 1822–07 February 1896), congressman, vice presidential candidate, and historian, was born in Lexington, Indiana, the son of Elisha G. English and Mahala Eastin. Elisha, a landowner and railroad vice president, was a Democrat who served in the Indiana legislature for nearly twenty years and was friends with many important politicians. William benefited from his father’s contacts and status and was influenced by his views....