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Hannah Arendt. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90832).

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Arendt, Hannah (14 October 1906–04 December 1975), political theorist and philosopher, was born in Hanover, Germany, the daughter of Paul Arendt, an engineer, and Martha Cohn. She was raised in her parents’ hometown, Königsberg, East Prussia, where the family moved when Paul Arendt became seriously ill with syphilis. He died in 1913. The years during World War I were especially difficult for the family; their safety was often threatened by the nearby battles of the Prussian and Russian armies. After the war, Arendt’s mother became a German Social Democrat and a follower of Rosa Luxemburg, whose writings later had a great influence on Arendt’s thought. In 1920 her mother married Martin Beerwald, who provided the family a renewed measure of security and Arendt with two older stepsisters....

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Brodbeck, May (26 July 1917–01 August 1983), philosopher, teacher, and university administrator, was born in Newark, New Jersey, the daughter of Louis Brodbeck and Etta Bragar. In 1941 she took a B.A. in chemistry from New York University. Upon graduating she spent a few years teaching high school chemistry, working in industry, and participating as a physicist in the Manhattan Project....

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Calkins, Mary Whiton (30 March 1863–26 February 1930), psychologist and philosopher, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the daughter of Wolcott Calkins, a Protestant clergyman, and Charlotte Whiton, a social activist. The close-knit family included two daughters and three sons, and Mary remained devoted to her family and its Christian values her entire life....

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de Laguna, Grace Mead (28 September 1878–17 February 1978), philosopher, was born Grace Mead Andrus in East Berlin, Connecticut, the daughter of Wallace R. Andrus, a soldier and accountant, and Annis Mead, a schoolteacher. De Laguna received a pioneer upbringing. In 1883, when she was about four years old, the family moved to Cheney in what is now eastern Washington State (then part of the Oregon Territory), where she attended a small school. They later moved to Tacoma, where de Laguna went to high school....

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Gestefeld, Ursula Newell (22 April 1845–22 October 1921), metaphysical writer and lecturer, was born in Augusta, Maine. Few details are known of her early life. She spent most of her career in Chicago.

Apparently not plagued by poverty, Gestefeld’s childhood household seemed preoccupied with illness. Ursula, like her mother a chronically sickly person, was given little hope of living beyond childhood. Yet, like so many eventually affiliated with New Thought and Christian Science, Gestefeld healed herself through “mind cure,” a term that emerged in the United States partly to describe the pioneering work of visionary farmer and healer ...

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Gulliver, Julia Henrietta (30 July 1856–26 July 1940), college president and philosopher, was born in Norwich, Connecticut, to the Reverend John Putnam Gulliver, college president and theological seminary professor, and Frances Woodbury Curtis. The family moved several times during her childhood because of changes in her father’s employment. In 1865 he left his Norwich pastorate for another in Chicago; in 1868 he moved to Galesburg, Illinois, to serve as president of Knox College for four years and then to Binghamton, New York, where he held a Presbyterian pastorate....

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Inman, Mary (11 June 1894–Jan. 1985), trade union organizer, Marxist theorist, and author, was born Ida Mary Inman in Burnside, Kentucky, and moved to Creek Nation Indian Territory in Oklahoma when she was six. She was the fourth daughter and youngest of Mildred Taylor Inman and James Jett Inman’s nine children. Her mother died when Inman was eleven, her oldest sister died two years later, and she spent the next decade caring for her father and brothers....

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Ladd-Franklin, Christine (01 December 1847–05 March 1930), psychologist and logician, was born in Windsor, Connecticut, the daughter of Eliphalet Ladd, a farmer and merchant, and Augusta Niles. Soon after the death of her mother, when Ladd-Franklin was twelve, she went to live with her paternal grandmother in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She graduated from Welshing Academy, a coeducational institution in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, in 1865 as valedictorian of her class. When, because of financial reverses, her father could not afford to send her to Vassar College, a maternal aunt provided the necessary funds. At Vassar she studied astronomy with ...

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Lane, Rose Wilder (05 December 1886–30 October 1968), a popular magazine writer, novelist, children's author, and noted libertarian thinker, was born near De Smet in the Dakota Territory (later South Dakota), the only surviving child of the homesteaders Laura Ingalls Wilder and Almanzo Wilder. During Rose's early childhood the family struggled to make a living as pioneers, traveling in a covered wagon throughout the Midwest before finally settling in Mansfield, Missouri, when Rose was eight. Rose's childhood was marked by poverty and the uncertainty of frontier life. She was ostracized by classmates for her shabby clothes and her worn shoes, and she worried constantly about burdening her parents. Among her most charged and symbolic early memories was a house fire that destroyed the family's home and possessions. Young Rose had started the fire to assist her ailing mother on her sickbed, and she would blame herself for the tragedy well into adulthood. Despite these difficulties Lane would later valorize the pioneer experience as a source of fundamental American values—including hard work, stoicism, and mutual aid—that were threatened by the modern welfare state....

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Rose Wilder Lane urging support of the Ludlow Resolution which is being considered by a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee, 10 May 1939. Photograph by Harris ﹠ Ewing. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-DIG-hec-26664)

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Langer, Susanne K. (20 December 1895–17 July 1985), philosopher, was born Susanne Katherina Knauth in New York City, the daughter of Antonio Knauth, an attorney, and Else Uhlich. Her parents had emigrated from Germany. Susanne attended Veltin School, a private school only a few blocks from their home on Manhattan’s West Side, and she was tutored at home. Throughout her youth, German was her primary language. Her childhood was rich with artistic exposure and development, especially in music. She learned to play the cello and the piano, and she continued with the cello for the rest of her life. Susanne acquired the habit of reciting the works of great poets as well as the traditional children’s rhymes and tales. She also wrote her own poems and stories, mainly to entertain her younger siblings, and she was an avid reader. “In my early teens, … I read ...

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Lynd, Helen Merrell (17 March 1896–30 January 1982), sociologist and social philosopher, was born in LaGrange, Illinois, the daughter of Edward Tracey Merrell and Mabel Waite. After serving briefly as the editor of a small Congregationalist journal, her father moved from one nondescript job to another, while her mother supplemented his meager income by taking in boarders. Raised a strict Congregationalist, Lynd rebelled against her parents’ narrow provincialism, especially concerning sexual behavior. Throughout her later work, a former colleague later commented, Lynd ran a protest against “cautious … Protestant forebears, who interpreted Christianity as a restraint on her vitality.” But Lynd herself also remembered her parent’s opposition to social injustice in their small midwestern town. Their vision of humanity, without regard to race, class, or nation, laid a basis for a holistic vision of human behavior that profoundly shaped her later thought. After the family moved to Framingham, Massachusetts, Lynd attended nearby Wellesley College (B.A. 1919), where she was especially influenced by Mary S. Case, who introduced her to philosophy, particularly Hegel. “Miss Case with my father,” she later reminisced in an interview, “were the great influences in my life.”...

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Paterson, Isabel (22 January 1886–10 January 1961), noted book critic and libertarian thinker, was born on Manitoulin Island in Ontario, Canada, to Francis and Margaret Bowler, recent settlers in the area who ran a grist mill. In the years after her birth her parents moved their family of nine children between Michigan, Utah, and other western territories before returning again to Canada, where they established a ranch. Isabel's childhood was marked by poverty and persistent clashes with her shiftless father. She and her siblings were expected to help support the family, and she received only about two years of formal schooling. Nonetheless Isabel loved to read and sought out books wherever they could be found. She was proud to identify herself as a daughter of the frontier and would later ground her individualism in the values of self-sufficiency and hard work she had learned as a child....

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Ayn Rand Photograph by Ben Pinchot, 1930. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114904).

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Rand, Ayn (02 February 1905–06 March 1982), writer and philosopher, was born Alissa Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg, Russia, the daughter of Fronz Rosenbaum, a chemist of Jewish descent, and Anna (maiden name unknown). The Russian Revolution, the beginning of which Rand witnessed when she was twelve years old, changed her life. Her family lost its financial and social position, and the remainder of her education, including the study of history at the University of Leningrad (1921–1924), was conducted according to Bolshevik guidelines. Rejecting communist economic and social ideology but not its opposition to religion—Rand abandoned her religious heritage first for secular agnosticism and later for militant atheism—she left the Soviet Union in 1926. She changed her name to Ayn (rhymes with “mine”) Rand (for the Remington-Rand typewriter that she brought with her) when she came to America. After a brief stay with relatives in Chicago, she made her way to California, where she worked as a Hollywood extra and then as a scriptwriter for two years and in wardrobe for another four. She became a naturalized citizen in 1931....