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Appleton, Thomas Gold (31 March 1812–17 April 1884), writer and artist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Nathan Appleton, a merchant, and Maria Theresa Gold. Nathan Appleton, whose family had settled in New England in 1635, helped develop Lowell, Massachusetts, into an industrial center and amassed a fortune that made it possible for Thomas to pursue his interests freely. After a year at the Boston Latin School and three at the Round Hill School conducted by Joseph Green Cogswell and ...

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Bissell, Emily Perkins (31 May 1861–08 March 1948), volunteer social worker and author, was born in Wilmington, Delaware, the daughter of Champion Aristarcus Bissell, a lawyer and banker, and Josephine Wales. Her forebears settled in Connecticut where her father, a Yale graduate, was reared. Her maternal grandfather, John Wales, served as a U.S. senator from Delaware from 1849 to 1851. Bissell was educated in Wilmington and at Miss Charlier’s School in New York City....

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Dorothy McLeod MacInerney

Blake, Mary Elizabeth (01 September 1840–26 February 1907), author, was born Mary Elizabeth McGrath in Dungarven, Ireland, the daughter of Patrick McGrath, an artisan in marble, and Mary Murphy. Mary’s family immigrated to Quincy, Massachusetts, when she was ten. Her father’s trade prospered, enabling him to provide his children with good educations. Mary attended Quincy High School from 1855 to 1859, Emerson’s Private School in Boston from 1859 to 1861, and the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Manhattanville from 1861 to 1863. Her major interests in school were music and modern languages. Upon graduating, Mary began teaching and writing poems, which were published in local newspapers. In 1865 she married John G. Blake, a prominent Boston physician; they had eleven children....

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Joseph Brodsky. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Brodsky, Joseph (24 May 1940–28 January 1996), poet, was born Iosif Alexandrovich Brodsky in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Russia, the son of Alexander I. Brodsky, a commercial photographer, and Maria M. Volpert Brodsky, both of whom were secular Jews. As an adult he anglicized his first given name. Maria Brodsky worked as a language teacher and translator and provided most of the family's income. Although he grew up in a nonreligious household, young Brodsky was acutely conscious of being Jewish because of prevailing anti-Semitism, a factor he later blamed for his father's abrupt dismissal from the navy and his subsequent lack of success, and which made the son feel like an outsider from an early age....

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Brown, Sterling Allen (01 May 1901–13 January 1989), professor of English, poet, and essayist, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Sterling Nelson Brown, a minister and divinity school professor, and Adelaide Allen. After graduating as valedictorian from Dunbar High School in 1918, Brown matriculated at Williams College, where he studied French and English literature and won the Graves Prize for an essay on Molière and Shakespeare. He was graduated from Williams in 1922 with Phi Beta Kappa honors and a Clark fellowship for graduate studies in English at Harvard University. Once at Harvard, Brown studied with Bliss Perry and notably with ...

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Brown, William Hill (late Nov.? 1765–02 September 1793), writer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Gawen Brown, an English-born clockmaker of repute, and his third wife, Elizabeth Hill Adams. He attended a Boston boys’ school and assisted in his father’s shop during vacation periods. In his lifetime Brown’s writings appeared under various initials or names such as “Pollio” or “Columbus.” His work reveals a broad acquaintance with classical and British literature and a keen awareness of contemporary American writers. His first published poems were witty treatments of political topics. “Shays to Shattuck: An Epistle” ( ...

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Chandler, Elizabeth Margaret (24 December 1807–02 November 1834), poet and essayist, was born in Centre, Delaware, near Wilmington, the daughter of Thomas Chandler, a physician and farmer, and Margaret Evans. Her father was a man of means; he descended from Quaker settlers on the Delaware River. Her mother died while Chandler was a baby....

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Chapman, John Jay (02 March 1862–04 November 1933), essayist and poet, was born in New York City, the son of Henry Grafton Chapman, a well-to-do stockbroker and later president of the New York Stock Exchange, and Eleanor Jay, the great-granddaughter of John Jay...

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Crafts, William (24 January 1787–23 September 1826), author and lawyer, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of William Crafts, an affluent merchant, and Margaret Tébout. The handsome and precocious Crafts studied under Charleston tutors and then went to Harvard College, entering in 1802 as a sophomore. Young Crafts’s geniality and his ease in learning foreign languages brought him popularity and a reputation for both wit and scholarship. After graduation in 1805, he studied law in Charleston at the office of Ford and DeSaussure; but after three years and apparently with only superficial knowledge he returned to Cambridge to pursue a master’s degree....

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Dana, Richard Henry (15 November 1787–02 February 1879), essayist and poet, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of Francis Dana, a lawyer and judge, and Elizabeth Ellery. Born into a socially prominent and affluent family, Dana was educated at Harvard, although his years there were framed by family tragedies. He entered the school in 1804, the year of the family’s loss of much of its fortune due to unsound investments by an older brother. Next he was expelled from the university without a degree for taking part in a student rebellion in 1807, the year of his mother’s death. He then studied law, first in Newport where he had lived with his maternal grandparents from age ten to fifteen, then in Baltimore, passing the bar in 1811. In an autobiographical sketch prepared for ...

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Davidson, Donald Grady (18 August 1893–25 April 1968), author and teacher, was born in Campbellsville, Tennessee, the son of William Bluford Davidson, a teacher and principal, and Elma Wells. The family followed the father—a cultivated man with a special interest in classical languages and literatures—from one small Tennessee community to another as he directed and taught at various schools. Family ties were close in this region, and the younger Davidson’s mind was shaped not only by his scholarly father but also by his musically talented mother, his maternal grandmother—who lived with the family and told him tales of the Federal occupation of middle Tennessee—and a number of granduncles who were Confederate veterans. Davidson attended several excellent preparatory schools and in 1909 began studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. After one year there, however, he encountered financial difficulties, and left the university to work as a schoolteacher in Cedar Hill and Mooresville, Tennessee, until he had saved enough money to return to Vanderbilt in 1914. He continued to finance his education by teaching English and German at Wallace University School in Nashville even while taking classes. Studying under ...

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Benjamin De Casseres Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1925. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G412-T-4766-008).

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De Casseres, Benjamin (1873–06 December 1945), author and journalist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of David De Casseres, a printer, and Charlotte Davis. On his father’s side he was a collateral descendant of Spinoza. De Casseres left high school at thirteen and went to work as a four-dollar-a-week office boy for ...

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Marsden Hartley Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1939. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 490 P&P).

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Hartley, Marsden (04 January 1877–02 September 1943), artist, essayist, and poet, was born Edmund Hartley in Lewiston, Maine, the son of Thomas Hartley, a spinner in a cotton mill, and Eliza Jane Horbury. His childhood was marred by the death of his mother in 1885, at which time her eight children were separated. Hartley remained with his father and an older married sister, Elizabeth, in Auburn, Maine, until 1889, when his father remarried Martha Marsden, an Englishwoman, and moved with her to Cleveland, Ohio. (In 1908 Hartley dropped his first name and decided to call himself Marsden, his stepmother’s maiden name, which he had adopted in 1906.) Left behind with Elizabeth, Hartley dropped out of school at fifteen and worked in a shoe factory. In 1893 he moved to Cleveland, where he joined his family and took a job as an office boy in a marble quarry....

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Hayne, Paul Hamilton (01 January 1830–06 July 1886), poet and man of letters, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Paul Hamilton Hayne, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, and Emily McElhenny, members of families prominent in politics, law, and religion. Two of the elder Hayne’s brothers were U.S. senators, one of whom, ...

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Hopkinson, Francis (02 October 1737–09 May 1791), author, composer, and judge, was born in Philadelphia, the son of Thomas Hopkinson, a lawyer and Pennsylvania councillor, and Mary Johnson. Hopkinson’s father emigrated from England in 1731. Hopkinson matriculated in the first class of the College of Philadelphia (later the University of Pennsylvania) in 1751; he graduated in 1757 and, with other members of his class, received an M.A. degree three years later....

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Jordan, June Millicent (09 July 1936–14 June 2002), poet, essayist, professor, and activist, was born in New York City to Granville Ivanhoe Jordan and Mildred Fisher Jordan. Her Jamaican parents migrated to the United States during the interwar years, first settling in Harlem, where Jordan was born, and later moving to the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. In the crucible of their immigrant striving—a rigorous itinerary of museums, planetariums, and symphonies; a precocious curriculum of ...

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Kenyon, Jane (23 May 1947–22 April 1995), poet and essayist, was born on the outskirts of Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Reuel Kenyon, a jazz pianist who had played with dance bands in Europe for ten years, and Pauline (Polly) Kenyon, a nightclub singer. When Reuel and Polly Kenyon’s first child, a son also named Reuel, was born, they settled down in a two-story house outside of Ann Arbor; he gave piano lessons and she gave sewing lessons from the home. Two upright pianos stood in the living room, books lay everywhere, and a well-used RCA Victor record player dominated one wall. There can be little doubt that growing up in a busy, artistically minded, musical household infused the rich lyric nature of Jane Kenyon’s mature poetry. Kenyon herself often spoke of her singular effort to create lyric poems, identifying them as “intense, musical cries of the spirit.” ( ...