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Albert, Octavia Victoria Rogers (24 December 1853–1890?), author and activist, was born in Oglethorpe, Georgia, the daughter of slaves. Details of her life are sketchy. Little is known of her parents or her childhood beyond the date and place of her birth and the fact that she was born into bondage; thus, it is particularly intriguing that in 1870, only five years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and one year after Atlanta University opened, seventeen-year-old Octavia was among the 170 students enrolled at that institution. Further details of her life are equally sketchy. Most of what we know is culled from information in ...

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Anthony, Katharine Susan (27 November 1877–20 November 1965), author, was born in Roseville, Arkansas, the daughter of Ernest A. Anthony and Susan Jane Cathey. Her father was a distant relative of suffrage activist Susan B. Anthony, and her mother was an energetic suffragist. Anthony’s life work reflected a keen interest in women’s issues that undoubtedly flowed from her family circumstances....

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Bolton, Sarah Knowles (15 September 1841–20 February 1916), writer and reform activist, was born in Farmington, Connecticut, the daughter of John Segar Knowles and Elizabeth Miller, farmers. Bolton was a descendant, on her father’s side, of Joseph Jenckes, a governor of Rhode Island (1772–1732), and on her mother’s side, a descendant of Nathaniel Stanley, a treasurer of the Connecticut Colony....

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Brown, William Wells (1814?–06 November 1884), author and reformer, was born near Lexington, Kentucky, the son of George Higgins, a relative of his master, and Elizabeth, a slave. Dr. John Young, Brown’s master, migrated with his family from Kentucky to the Missouri Territory in 1816. Eleven years later the Youngs moved to St. Louis. Although Brown never experienced the hardship of plantation slavery, he was hired out regularly and separated from his family. He worked for a while in the printing office of abolitionist ...

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Pearl Buck Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1932. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G412-T-6033-005-A-x ).

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Buck, Pearl S. (26 June 1892–06 March 1973), author and humanitarian, was born Pearl Sydenstricker in Hillsboro, West Virginia, the daughter of Absalom Sydenstricker and Caroline Stulting, missionaries who were on furlough from their Presbyterian missionary activities in China when Pearl, their first daughter, was born in the United States. Three months later the infant was taken to China when her parents returned to their duties. Educated by her mother at home and then by a Chinese tutor, Buck later attributed much of her knowledge to the influence of her Chinese amah who, together with Chinese playmates, gave her many insights into her exotic surroundings and developed imaginative outlets. Indeed Buck claimed that in her early years she was more fluent in Chinese than in English. She received additional training at a mission school and in 1909 was sent to board for a year at Miss Jewell’s School in Shanghai. Her parents insisted that she attend college in the United States, so in 1910 she enrolled in Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she won several academic honors and graduated four years later with a bachelor of arts degree. She received a teaching assistantship at Randolph-Macon, but upon learning that her mother was seriously ill she returned to China to care for her....

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Calvert, George Henry (02 June 1803–24 May 1889), author, was born on his family’s estate near Bladensburg, Maryland, the son of George Calvert, a planter and politician, and Rosalie Eugenia Stier. As a child, Calvert was raised to be mindful of his aristocratic heritage—his paternal great-grandfather was the fifth Lord Baltimore, the founder of Maryland, and on his maternal side he was a descendant of Peter Paul Rubens—and his childhood years were spent in a style befitting a young man of wealth and gentility. In 1819 Calvert entered Harvard College, where he remained until 1823, at which time he was dismissed along with thirty other students for participating in the “Great Rebellion,” a protest aimed at limiting the restrictions over student activities, but which ultimately led to the students protesting the quality of the education that they were receiving at Harvard. After leaving Harvard, Calvert journeyed to Europe and stayed with an uncle in Antwerp before spending fifteen months studying history and philosophy at the University of Göttingen. Concurrent and subsequent to his time at Göttingen, Calvert traveled to Weimar, where he met Goethe, and he then visited Edinburgh, Paris, and Antwerp again before returning to America in 1827. Calvert settled in Baltimore, where he served as editor of the ...

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Fields, Annie Adams (06 June 1834–05 January 1915), literary hostess, author, and social reformer, was born Ann West Adams in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Zabdiel Boylston Adams and Sarah May Holland, both descended from prominent early Massachusetts settlers. Her father was a Boston physician who also taught at Harvard Medical School and served on the Boston school board. Annie’s childhood pleasures included easy access to books and Sunday visits to such distinguished relatives as the Adamses of Braintree. At ...

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Gunther, John (30 August 1901–29 May 1970), foreign correspondent and writer, was born in Chicago, the son of Eugene M. Gunther, a salesman, and Lisette Shoeninger, a schoolteacher. His mother stimulated Gunther’s interest in literature and history; at eleven he already was compiling a personal encyclopedia of world affairs. The wide-ranging interests, energy, and enthusiasm displayed at this early age characterized his personal and professional life. At the University of Chicago, where he graduated in 1922, he became literary editor of the campus newspaper while building his personal library by reviewing books for other journals as well. Eager for a writer’s career, he headed for Europe to soak up continental culture without waiting to receive his bachelor’s degree....

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Mumford, Lewis (09 October 1895–26 January 1990), urban historian and cultural critic, was born in Flushing, New York, the illegitimate son of Lewis Charles Mack, a Jewish businessman from New Jersey, and Elvina Conradina Baron Mumford, a German Protestant. Mumford never knew his father, learning his identity only in 1942. He grew up in a lower middle-class environment in Manhattan and in 1912 graduated from Stuyvesant High School, where he was chiefly interested in science and technology. New York’s museums and libraries contributed much to his education. Beginning in 1912 Mumford studied at City College, Columbia University, New York University, and the New School for Social Research. He earned enough credits for a degree but never graduated. Between 1914 and 1918 Mumford suffered from what he then regarded as incipient tuberculosis but which he later believed to have been a thyroid problem. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1918 to 1919. Having begun his career as a freelance writer, Mumford joined the staff of ...

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Shilts, Randy Martin (08 August 1951–17 February 1994), journalist, was born in Davenport, Iowa, the son of Bud Shilts, a salesman of prefabricated housing, and Norma (maiden name unknown). Neither of his parents graduated from high school. They raised four sons in a politically conservative Methodist family. Young Randy Shilts grew up in Aurora, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, where he organized a local chapter of Young Americans for Freedom and graduated from a public high school. Shilts entered the University of Oregon in 1969. Two years later he openly acknowledged his homosexuality and became a leader in the Gay People’s Alliance in Eugene. In his senior year Shilts ran unsuccessfully for student body president on the slogan “Come Out for Shilts.” After completing requirements for graduation with honors in English literature, Shilts decided that he “didn’t know how to write.” Changing his major to journalism, he learned that he could write well, won several journalism awards, and served as managing editor of the campus newspaper. In 1975 Shilts graduated at the top of his class with a B.S. in journalism....

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Ward, Maisie (04 January 1889–28 January 1975), Catholic writer, publisher, and social activist, was born in Shanklin, Isle of Wight, England, the daughter of Wilfrid Ward, the editor of the Dublin Review, and Josephine Mary Hope, a novelist. Baptized Mary Josephine, but always known as Maisie, she was a child of Victorian gentry that had Oxford Movement converts on both sides of the family. She grew up in an atmosphere where religion was pervasive; according to her son, Wilfrid Sheed, an essential key to understanding his mother was that her family lived and breathed in a Catholic culture in which being an “ardent, devout Catholic” was “taken for granted.”...

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Wormeley, Katharine Prescott (14 January 1830–04 August 1908), Civil War relief worker, translator, and biographer, was born in Ipswich, Suffolk, England, the daughter of Ralph Wormeley and Caroline Preble. Wormeley’s father was born in Virginia and raised in England, where he became a rear admiral in the Royal Navy. He married Preble in Boston then returned to Virginia to help found the College of William and Mary. From 1836 to 1847 the family lived in London, except for the years 1839–1842, which were spent in France and Switzerland. When her father died in 1852, Wormeley, her mother, and her siblings wintered in either Boston or Washington and lived the remainder of the year among the literary elite in Newport, Rhode Island....