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Abbot, Charles Greeley (31 May 1872–17 December 1973), astronomer, was born in Wilton, New Hampshire, the son of Harris Abbot and Caroline Ann Greeley, farmers. Abbott began the study of chemistry and physics at Phillips Andover Academy and graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1894 with a thesis in chemical physics under the direction of ...

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Abernathy, Ralph David (11 March 1926–17 April 1990), civil rights leader and minister, was born David Abernathy in Linden, Alabama, the son of William L. Abernathy and Louivery Valentine Bell, farmers. A sister’s favorite professor was the inspiration for the nickname “Ralph David,” and although Abernathy never made a legal change, the name remained with him from age twelve....

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Abrams, Creighton Williams, Jr. (15 September 1914–04 September 1974), army officer, was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, the son of Creighton W. Abrams, a railway repairman, and Nellie Randall. At the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Abrams excelled in horsemanship, played football, and attained a mediocre academic record, finishing 185th in a class of 276. He graduated in 1936 and was commissioned a second lieutenant of cavalry. That same year he married Julia Harvey, with whom he would have six children....

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Acheson, Dean Gooderham (11 April 1893–12 October 1971), lawyer and secretary of state, was born in Middletown, Connecticut, the son of Edward Campion Acheson, an Episcopal minister, and Eleanor Gertrude Gooderham. He grew up in comfortable, middle-class circumstances. His mother’s family wealth and his father’s appointment as a bishop in 1915 attest to his family’s secure place in local Connecticut society. Acheson attended Groton and then Yale University, receiving his B.A. in 1915 with an undistinguished academic record. In May 1917 he married Alice Caroline Stanley; they had three children. At Harvard Law School, he studied under ...

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Acosta, Bertrand Blanchard (01 January 1895–01 September 1954), aviation pioneer, was born in San Diego, California, the son of Aphonse Ferdinand Acosta and Martha Blanche Snook, businesspeople. Acosta became enthralled with aviation at an early age, built gliders and later powered aircraft, and taught himself to fly. Because of this interest, at age sixteen his parents enrolled him in Throop Polytechnic Institute (later the California Institute of Technology) in Pasadena so that he could study aeronautical engineering, but he never graduated. Beginning in 1911 Acosta spent almost every moment not in school working for ...

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Adams, Charles Francis (27 May 1835–20 March 1915), railroad official, civic leader, and historian, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Charles Francis Adams (1807–1886), a diplomat and politician, and Abigail Brown Brooks. He was the grandson of John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) and great-grandson of ...

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Adams, Don (13 April 1923–25 September 2005), comedian and actor, was born Donald James Yarmy in New York City, the second of the three children of William Yarmy, a restaurant manager, and Consuelo Morgan. Adams, who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, liked to read and draw but had an aversion to New York public schools. Much of his youth was spent frequenting the movie theaters on 42nd Street, where he believed he received a better education. At parties he and his neighborhood friends, a number of whom also forged careers in show business, tried to top each other performing comic bits. Adams's forte became impersonations of the Hollywood stars of the day....

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Adams, Grizzly (22 October 1812–25 October 1860), mountain man and wild animal tamer, was born John Adams in Medway, Massachusetts, the son of Eleazar Adams and Sybil Capen. Adams apparently served an apprenticeship as a cobbler, but when he was twenty-one he began hunting and trapping animals, for showmen, in the woods of Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire. He delighted in his work, which was cut short when he tried to control an unruly Bengal tiger. In doing this favor for an exhibitor, Adams was badly mangled. When he recovered his health, he went back to making boots and shoes....

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Adams, Herbert Samuel (28 January 1858–21 May 1945), sculptor, was born in West Concord, Vermont, the son of Samuel Minot Adams, a machinist and patternmaker, and Nancy Ann Powers. Adams grew up in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. He studied at a technical school in Worcester and at the Massachusetts Normal Art School in Boston before traveling to Paris, where he studied with Antonin Mercié at the École des Beaux-Arts from 1885 to 1890. In 1888 he made a bronze fountain for the town of Fitchburg that features two boys playing with turtles. In 1888–1889 his work won an honorable mention at a Paris exhibition....

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Adams, John (19 October 1735–04 July 1826), second president of the United States, diplomat, and political theorist, was born in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts, the son of John Adams (1691–1760), a shoemaker, selectman, and deacon, and Susanna Boylston. He claimed as a young man to have indulged in “a constant dissipation among amusements,” such as swimming, fishing, and especially shooting, and wished to be a farmer. However, his father insisted that he follow in the footsteps of his uncle Joseph Adams, attend Harvard College, and become a clergyman. John consented, applied himself to his studies, and developed a passion for learning but refused to become a minister. He felt little love for “frigid John Calvin” and the rigid moral standards expected of New England Congregationalist ministers....

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Adams, John Quincy (11 July 1767–23 February 1848), secretary of state, sixth president of the United States, and U.S. congressman, was born in Braintree, Massachusetts, the son of John Adams (1735–1826), second president of the United States, and Abigail Smith Adams (Abigail Adams...

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Adams, Samuel (27 September 1722–02 October 1803), revolutionary politician, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Massachusetts governor, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Samuel Adams and Mary Fifield. Of the twelve children born to the couple, he was one of only three who survived their parents. The elder Samuel Adams was a prosperous investor in real estate and other ventures, including the ill-fated land bank of 1740–1741, and the owner of a brewery. He also held several public offices—Boston selectman, justice of the peace, and member of the provincial assembly....

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Adams, Sherman Llewelyn (08 January 1899–27 October 1986), public servant, was born in East Dover, Vermont, the son of Clyde H. Adams, a grocer, and Winnie Marion Sherman. Through his father he was descended from a collateral branch of the famous Quincy Adams clan. In 1901 the family moved to Providence, Rhode Island, but Adams’s parents divorced soon thereafter. In 1916 Adams enrolled at Dartmouth College. His academic record there was solid, but he was best remembered for the gusto with which he threw himself into extracurricular activities. For Adams, physical fitness was practically a religion....

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Adler, Mortimer J. (28 December 1902–28 June 2001), philosopher, was born Mortimer Jerome Adler in New York City, the son of Ignatz Adler, a jewelry salesman, and Clarissa Manheim Adler, a former schoolteacher. The family household was modest, and as a child Mortimer Adler developed a love of reading. Though an excellent student, he was bored in the classroom, and in 1918, at age fifteen, he left DeWitt Clinton High School, determined to educate himself through books of his own choosing. He was soon hired as secretary to ...

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Adonis, Joe (22 November 1902–26 November 1971), organized crime leader, was born Giuseppe Antonio Doto in Montemarano, near Naples, Italy, and illegally entered New York City as a teenager. After settling in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, he adopted the surname “Adonis,” believing that it reflected his good looks. He soon joined forces with other hoodlums who would become famous in organized crime— ...

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Agassiz, Louis (26 May 1807–14 December 1873), zoologist and geologist, was born Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz in Motier, Switzerland, the son of Rodolphe Agassiz, a Protestant pastor, and Rose Mayor. Louis early in life spurned family pressure to become a businessman and planned to devote himself to the professional study of nature. At the age of twenty-one he predicted he would become “the first naturalist of his time, a good citizen and a good son… . I feel within myself the strength of a whole generation to work toward this end” (Lurie [1960], p. 31)....

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Agee, James Rufus (27 November 1909–16 May 1955), writer, was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, the son of Hugh James Agee, a construction company employee, and Laura Whitman Tyler. The father’s family were poorly educated mountain farmers, while the mother’s were solidly middle class. Agee was profoundly affected by his father’s death in a car accident in 1916. He idealized his absent father and struggled against his mother and her genteel and (he felt) cold values. “Agee’s mother wanted him to be clean, chaste, and sober,” the photographer ...

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Agnew, D. Hayes (24 November 1818–22 March 1892), surgeon and medical educator, was born David Hayes Agnew in Nobleville (Christiana), Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the son of Robert Agnew, a physician, and Agnes Noble. In 1833 Agnew, who grew up in a deeply religious Presbyterian household, entered Jefferson College at Cannonsburg, a stronghold of Presbyterianism in western Pennsylvania. In 1834 Agnew left Jefferson to attend Newark College, established in that year by the Delaware legislature, where his cousin, the Reverend John Holmes Agnew, was professor of languages. With other students at Newark he founded the Athenaeum Literary Society, but when his cousin left in 1835, objecting to a lottery that supported the college, Agnew left with him. After studying medicine at home under his father, Agnew entered the Medical Department of the University of Pennsylvania in 1836—one of the youngest members of the class. Agnew received his M.D. in 1838. The title of his graduating thesis was “Medical Science and the Responsibility of Medical Character.”...

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Ailey, Alvin (05 January 1931–01 December 1989), actor, dancer, and choreographer, was born in Rogers, Texas, the son of Alvin Ailey, a laborer, and Lula Elizabeth Cliff, a cotton picker and domestic. Before Ailey was a year old, his father abandoned the family, leaving them homeless for close to six years. During that time Ailey and his mother made their way, often by foot, across the unforgiving terrain of the impoverished and bitterly racist Brazos Valley in southeastern Texas to seek shelter with relatives and find work in nearby fields....

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Alarcón, Hernando de (fl. 1540–1541), Spanish explorer, , is believed to have been born in Trujillo, Spain. The names of his parents and the circumstances and year of his birth are all unknown. The only documented period of his life is 1540–1541, when he acted in response to the commands of Antonio de Mendoza, the viceroy of New Spain (Mexico). In the spring of 1540 Mendoza directed Alarcón to sail north from Acapulco, Mexico, to support the land explorations of ...