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Mary Austin. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111457).

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Austin, Mary Hunter (09 September 1868–13 August 1934), writer, was born in Carlinville, Illinois, the daughter of George Hunter, an attorney, and Susannah Savilla Graham. Throughout her earliest years, Austin’s father, who was her sole source of literary and personal support, suffered from ill health owing to a malarial fever contracted during his Civil War service. After the deaths of her father and sister, which occurred when she was ten years old, Austin led a lonely life in a home where her mother’s emotional energy was devoted to her eldest son. Writing became the solitary child’s means of expression. She studied art and majored in science at Blackburn College, receiving her B.S. in 1888. Although her first twenty years were spent in the Midwest, Austin dedicated much of her life as a writer to the culture and landscape of the Southwest. In 1888 she moved with her mother and siblings to California’s San Joaquin Valley, where the family established a desert homestead and she taught school. In 1891 she married Stafford Wallace Austin; they had a daughter the following year. Her daughter was severely retarded, and Austin was eventually forced to commit her to an institution, where she died in 1918....

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Mayo, Katherine (24 January 1867–09 October 1940), writer, was born in Ridgeway, Pennsylvania, the daughter of James Henry Mayo, a mining engineer, and Harriet Elizabeth Ingraham. Mayo and her family moved regularly as her father pursued mining opportunities. She was educated at private schools in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she lived between 1883 and 1888. Her family then moved to Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey. After finishing school, Mayo pursued studies in colonial history on her own....

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Jessica Mitford Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114729).

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Mitford, Jessica (11 September 1917–23 July 1996), writer and social critic, was born at Batsford Park, Gloucestershire, England, the daughter of David Bertram Ogilvy Freeman Mitford (the second Lord Redesdale) and Sydney Bowles Mitford. Since her parents felt that girls did not need to go to school, they tutored their six daughters at home but dispatched their one son to Eton. While her pro-Nazi sister, Unity, decorated their sitting room with swastikas and fasces, Jessica Mitford retaliated by scratching hammers and sickles in the windows with a diamond ring. In 1937 she eloped with Esmond Romilly, her second cousin and a nephew of Winston Churchill. After the couple briefly supported the Loyalist guerrillas in Spain, they were married in Bayonne, France. Home again in England, they worked for an advertising agency in London until 1939 then traveled to the United States and held a variety of jobs. Jessica Mitford became a union organizer, tended bar in a Miami restaurant, and clerked in a dress shop in Washington, D.C....

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Lillian Smith Photograph by C. M. Stieglitz, 1944. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109699).

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Smith, Lillian Eugenia (12 December 1897–28 September 1966), essayist, novelist, and social critic, was born in Jasper, Florida, the daughter of Anne Hester Simpson and Calvin Warren Smith, a prominent businessman and civic leader. The relative economic and social security of her childhood, richly re-created in her ...

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Alexis de Tocqueville. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-116351).

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Tocqueville, Alexis de (29 July 1805–16 April 1859), French political theorist, historian, and statesman, was born Alexis-Charles-Henri-Maurice Clérel de Tocqueville in Paris, the son of Hervé-Louis-François-Jean Bonaventure Clérel and Louise-Madeleine Le Peletier Rosanbo, from an aristocratic and politically active Norman family. Tocqueville’s father became a prefect with the restored Bourbon government after the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte. Charles X made him a peer of France in 1827. His family furnished the requisite background for Tocqueville’s own government service. Having studied law, Tocqueville became an assistant magistrate....

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Trilling, Diana (21 July 1905–23 October 1996), critic and author, was born in New York City, the daughter of Joseph Rubin, a manufacturer of straw braid, and Sadie Helene Forbert Rubin. Both parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland. After graduating from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, Diana Rubin went to Radcliffe College, earning a B.A. in fine arts in 1925. She moved back to her parents' home in New York, then traveled widely with her widowed father, including to South America, and worked until 1929 for the National Broadcasting Company as an assistant to a writer for a children's radio serial. In 1927 she met ...

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Wesley, Dorothy Porter (25 May 1905–17 December 1995), librarian and African-American historiographer, was born Dorothy Louise Burnett in Warrenton, Virginia, the daughter of Hayes J. Burnett, a physician, and Bertha (Ball) Burnett, a tennis player who was instrumental in the establishment of the New Jersey Tennis Association. She grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood in Montclair, New Jersey, where she attended racially mixed public schools. Upon completing high school she enrolled at Miner Normal School (later Miner Teachers College, which became part of the University of the District of Columbia) in 1923. While there a developing love of books led her away from a teaching career toward her ultimate life's work, beginning with a yearlong stint filling in for a librarian on sick leave at Miner in 1925. Realizing that she needed a college degree, she enrolled at nearby Howard University and earned a B.A. in 1928....

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Frances Wright. Illustration from Gleason’ Pictorial, 1854. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-101388).

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Wright, Frances (06 September 1795–13 December 1852), reformer and author, was born in Dundee, Scotland, the daughter of James Wright, a linen merchant, and Camilla Campbell. Wright’s father was an ardent supporter of Thomas Paine, and although “Fanny” was younger than three when her parents died, she later remarked on “a somewhat singular coincidence in views between a father and daughter, separated by death when the first had not reached the age of twenty-nine, and when the latter was in infancy” (Eckhardt, pp. 5–6). After her parents’ death, she and her siblings were parceled out to various relatives, and Wright went to live with her aunt and maternal grandfather in England. She and her sister Camilla were reunited in Dawlish around 1806, only to suffer the death of their brother and their grandfather three years later....