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Allen, Elizabeth Akers (09 October 1832–07 August 1911), poet and journalist, was born Elizabeth Ann Chase in Strong, Maine, the second of three daughters of Thomas Chase, a carpenter and circuit preacher, and Mercy Fenno Barton. Her childhood was traumatic. A fourth sibling died accidentally, and her frail mother, whose medical treatments led Elizabeth to vow to murder the doctor, died in 1836. Her father placed his daughters separately with acquaintances until he remarried the following year. Four-year-old Elizabeth’s foster parents forced her to work, whipped her, and shut her in the cellar when she failed to meet their expectations. She had some schooling at Farmington (Maine) Academy. She wrote her first verses at age twelve; these were published in a Vermont newspaper, having been submitted without her knowledge. Eager to escape a grim home, she began working at thirteen, first in a sweatshop-like bookbindery, later as a teacher....

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Barr, Amelia Edith Huddleston (29 March 1831–10 March 1919), author and teacher, was born in Ulverston, Lancashire, England, the daughter of the Reverend William Henry Huddleston and Mary Singleton. When Barr was young, her family moved often, according to her father’s assignment as a Methodist minister. Although her early education was frequently interrupted by relocations, returns on the Reverend Huddleston’s investments allowed Barr to attend the best private schools wherever the church sent the family. Furthermore, reading sophisticated books and treatises to her father reinforced her formal schooling and contributed to an excellent early education. This childhood security ended abruptly in 1847, when a family friend absconded to Australia with the Reverend Huddleston’s fortune, and Barr had to earn her own living as a “second teacher” at a school in Downham Market. Soon the family’s monetary situation improved and enabled Barr, in 1849, to attend Normal School in Glasgow to learn the Stowe teaching method, with its emphasis on moral training, lifelong learning, and understanding rather than rote learning. Marriage, in 1850, to Robert Barr, a prosperous young Scottish wool merchant, ended her teacher-training program. Nevertheless, teaching, on a formal or informal basis, was an important part of Barr’s life for the next twenty years....

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Bates, Katharine Lee (12 August 1859–28 March 1929), educator and writer, was born in Falmouth, Massachusetts, the daughter of William Bates, a Congregational minister, and Cornelia Frances Lee, a former schoolteacher. When Bates was less than a month old, her father died, leaving the family in straitened circumstances. They remained in Falmouth for a dozen years, then moved to Wellesley, Massachusetts, which would be Bates’s home and professional base for the rest of her life. Although the family was unusually education-minded—Bates’s paternal grandfather had been president of Middlebury College, and her mother had graduated from Mount Holyoke Seminary (later Mount Holyoke College)—poverty prevented her older brothers from continuing their schooling. Because they contributed to the family’s income, however, Bates was able to complete high school and to enroll in the newly established Wellesley College, from which she received her B.A. in 1880....

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Beers, Ethel Lynn (13 January 1827–11 October 1879), poet and writer, was born Ethelinda Eliot in Goshen, Orange County, New York, the daughter of Horace William Eliot, a druggist, postmaster, and justice of the peace, and Keziah Westcott. Her father was a soldier during the War of 1812 and was a direct descendant of ...

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Bennett, Gwendolyn (08 July 1902–30 May 1981), writer and artist, was born in Giddings, Texas, the daughter of Joshua Robin Bennett and Mayme F. Abernathy, teachers on a Native American reservation. In 1906 the family moved to Washington, D.C., where Bennett’s father studied law and her mother worked as a manicurist and hairdresser. Her parents divorced and her mother won custody, but her father kidnapped the seven-year-old Gwendolyn. The two, with her stepmother, lived in hiding in various towns along the East Coast and in Pennsylvania before finally settling in New York....

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Elizabeth Bishop Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-117839).

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Anne Agnes Colwell

Bishop, Elizabeth (08 February 1911–06 October 1979), poet, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, the daughter of Gertrude Bulmer and William Thomas Bishop, owners of the J. W. Bishop contracting firm. Bishop’s childhood was filled with a sense of loss that pervades her poetry. Her father died from Bright’s disease when she was eight months old. Her mother, psychologically distraught, spent the next five years in and out of psychiatric hospitals. With William’s death, Gertrude lost her U.S. citizenship and, when she experienced the decisive breakdown in her family home in Nova Scotia, was hospitalized in a public sanatorium in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Elizabeth Bishop was five when this breakdown occurred; she later recounted it in her prose masterpiece “In the Village.” Her mother, diagnosed as permanently insane, never saw Elizabeth again....

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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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Bleecker, Ann Eliza ( October 1752–23 November 1783), poet and novelist, was born in New York City, the daughter of Brandt Schuyler, a prosperous merchant from an upper-class New York family, and Margaret Van Wyck. Her father died two months before Ann Eliza’s birth, but he left his family of one son and three daughters in comfortable circumstances. In childhood she read widely, wrote verse, and was part of the cultural life of upper-class New York society....

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Bloede, Gertrude (10 August 1845–14 August 1905), poet, was born in Dresden, Germany, the daughter of Dr. Gustavus Bloede, a German Liberal, and Marie Jungnitz, an author of poems in English and German and half-sister of the Silesian poet Friedrich von Sallet. Gustavus Bloede, after imprisonment in Dresden during the revolution of 1848, escaped with his family to the United States, and they settled in Brooklyn, New York. Gertrude was privately educated and demonstrated natural abilities in music and language, speaking French and German fluently and reading Latin, Italian, and Dutch....

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Bogan, Louise (11 August 1897–04 February 1970), poet and critic, was born Louise Marie Bogan in Livermore Falls, Maine, the daughter of Daniel Joseph Bogan, a superintendent in a paper mill, and Mary Helen Murphy Shields. She grew up in various mill towns in the Northeast, moving often with her parents and brother. Her parents’ marriage was volatile, and her mother’s affairs haunted Bogan for much of her life....

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Bradstreet, Anne (1612–16 September 1672), poet, was born in England, probably in Northampton, the second child and eldest daughter of Dorothy Yorke and Thomas Dudley, steward to Theophilus Clinton, the earl of Lincoln. No state records remain of Bradstreet’s birth or marriage, and no one knows the location of her grave. Yet she came from a prominent family and attained individual fame. Her mother’s extraction and estate were described by ...

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Branch, Anna Hempstead (18 March 1875–08 September 1937), poet and reformer, was born in New London, Connecticut, the daughter of John Locke Branch, a lawyer, and Mary Lydia Bolles, an author. Anna Hempstead Branch was born and died in “Hempstead House”; she was the last of ten generations of descendents to live there. Her family was close and supportive. The death of her one sibling Johnny when Anna was thirteen may have intensified an already developing mysticism. Because her father’s law practice was in New York, she spent her school years there and in Brooklyn, studying at Froebel and Adelphi Academies before attending Smith College. At Smith, Branch made lifetime friends among professors and classmates, edited the college’s literary magazine, and served as Ivy Orator. In 1898 a year after her graduation, ...

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Bremer, Fredrika (17 August 1801–31 December 1865), novelist, travel writer, and poet, was born near Abo, Finland, the daughter of a wealthy merchant and his wife. The family moved to Stockholm, Sweden, in 1804 as Russia prepared to annex Finland, then a year later to a country estate near Arsta, Sweden. Bremer’s early life was unhappy; she was isolated and held under her parents’ strict control, her days consumed by a demanding academic regimen of history, philosophy, literature, music, art, and languages. She escaped the pressure by consuming romance novels by the British author Fanny Burney. Her health deteriorated, and in 1821 the family took her to the south of France to convalesce....

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Gwendolyn Brooks, late 1940s. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-107993).

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Brooks, Gwendolyn (07 June 1917–03 December 2000), poet and novelist, was born Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks at her grandmother's home in Topeka, Kansas, the daughter of David Anderson Brooks, a janitor, and Keziah Wims Brooks. When she was two months old, the family settled in Chicago, where she would live the rest of her life. Brooks and her brother had a sheltered upbringing in a cheerful, orderly household. (She would later draw on memories of those years for her poem “a song in the front yard” [1945].) At Forrestville Elementary School, where she learned that light skin and fine hair were valued, this shy child with dark skin and coarse hair felt socially isolated. Her mother, however, encouraged her interest in writing, and Brooks published her first poem in ...

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Brooks, Maria Gowen (1795–11 November 1845), poet, also known as “Maria del Occidente,” was born Abigail Gowen in Medford, Massachusetts, the daughter of William Gowen, a goldsmith, and Eleanor Cutter. At her father’s encouragement, by age nine Brooks had memorized extensive passages from a number of works, including John Milton’s ...

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Burgos, Julia de (17 February 1914–04 August 1953), poet and activist, was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, the daughter of Francisco Burgos Hans, a member of the National Guard, and Paula García. The family was extremely poor, which may explain the death of six of the twelve siblings. Despite their poverty, for Julia, a bright and studious child, the Burgos family found the means for an education. In 1933 she received a teaching degree from the University of Puerto Rico....

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Bush-Banks, Olivia Ward (27 February 1869–08 April 1944), writer, was born in Sag Harbor, New York, the daughter of Abraham Ward, probably a fisherman, and Eliza Draper, both members of the Montauk Indian tribe of Long Island and both also of African descent. When Olivia was nine months old her mother’s death forced the family to move to Providence, Rhode Island. Shortly after her father’s remarriage, Olivia came under the guardianship of her maternal aunt Maria Draper, whom she credited with having given her an education and a preparedness for life. Her aunt’s determination and endurance, Bush-Banks believed, was a result of her Native American upbringing. Olivia graduated from Providence High School, where she was trained as a nurse and developed strong interests in drama and literature....