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Asimov, Isaac (02 January 1920–06 April 1992), writer, was born in Petrovichi, USSR, the son of Judah Asimov, a merchant, and Anna Rachel Berman. Asimov’s Russian-Jewish father and mother emigrated to New York City in 1923. After a number of years working odd jobs, they bought a candy store in Brooklyn in 1926, the first of many in that borough that Asimov would help run until he was twenty-two years old. Working long hours in the candy store left Asimov’s parents with little time to raise their children. His mother was especially hard on him, frequently hitting him when she lost her temper and reminding him that he was responsible for their hand-to-mouth existence. Asimov was a precocious child who taught himself to read before he was five, and he read omnivorously thereafter. At seven he taught his younger sister to read, “somewhat against her will,” he confesses in his memoir, ...

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Audubon, John James (26 April 1785–27 January 1851), naturalist and artist, was born Jean Rabin Fougère in Les Cayes, Santo Domingo, the son of Captain Jean Audubon, a French sea captain, planter, and slave dealer, and Jeanne Rabin (or Rabine), a young Frenchwoman employed as a chambermaid on the island. The traditional view, that Mlle Rabin was a Creole woman native to Santo Domingo, has been disproved. Audubon’s mother died before he was seven months old, and the child was cared for by another mistress of the father’s with whom he had several children. In 1791, fearing worsening conditions in Santo Domingo, Captain Audubon arranged for his son and a younger daughter by his mistress Catherine “Sanitte” Bouffard to be taken to France. There both were well cared for by Captain Audubon’s legal spouse, Anne Moynet Audubon, who had no children of her own. Both children were formally adopted by the couple in 1794, as was required if they were legally to inherit Captain Audubon’s name and property, and were baptized in 1800. At this time the boy received the name Jean-Jacques Fougère Audubon....

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Bache, Alexander Dallas (19 July 1806–17 February 1867), scientist and educator, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Richard Bache, a postmaster, and Sophia Dallas. An elite family history supported Bache’s upbringing. He was the great-grandson of Benjamin Franklin and was related to a number of influential men, including his uncle ...

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Burroughs, John (03 April 1837–29 March 1921), naturalist and author, was born in Roxbury, New York, the son of Chauncey A. Burroughs and Amy Kelly, farmers. He attended district schools in Roxbury and later studied briefly at two academies in Upstate New York. He became a teacher in 1854, at the age of seventeen, and for the next decade he taught in rural schools in New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. He studied medicine for a few months with a physician in Tangore, New York, where he met Ursula North, a farmer’s daughter. The two married in 1857; they adopted one child, born in 1878 to a woman with whom Burroughs had an extramarital affair (his wife did not learn of the child’s paternity until several years later). During the 1850s Burroughs discovered the Transcendentalist writings of ...

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Carver, George Washington (1864–05 January 1943), African-American scientist and educator, was born in Diamond (formerly Diamond Grove), Missouri, the son of Mary Carver, who was the slave of Moses and Susan Carver. His father was said to have been a slave on a neighboring farm who was accidently killed before Carver’s birth. His mother was apparently kidnapped by slave raiders while he was very young, and he and his older brother were raised by the Carvers on their small farm....

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Dana, James Dwight (12 February 1813–14 April 1895), geologist, zoologist, and teacher, was born in Utica, New York, the son of James Dana, a businessman, and Harriet Dwight. His father was a descendant of Richard Dana who settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1640. Dana, a studious scholar, was educated in the Utica High School, where his interest in science appeared early and developed through hard work, talent, and intelligence, despite his father’s disparagement of science as a career. Attracted to Yale College by ...

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Darlington, William (28 April 1782–23 April 1863), physician, botanist, and author, was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, the son of Edward Darlington, a farmer who also found time to serve in the Pennsylvania legislature, and Hannah Townsend. Wanting to escape the drudgery of farm work that had restricted his schooling to a few winter months each year, at age eighteen Darlington persuaded his father to pay the necessary fees for his apprenticeship to study medicine with John Vaughan in Wilmington, Delaware. In return, his father required that he give up his inheritance of a share of the family farm....

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Hall, Granville Stanley (01 February 1844–24 April 1924), psychologist and educator, was born in Ashfield, Massachusetts, the son of Granville Bascom Hall, a farmer and local leader, and Abigail Beals. Raised in a family of Congregational piety and intellectual and social ambition, Hall graduated from Williams College with a B.A. degree in 1867 and attended Union Theological Seminary from 1867 to 1869. Interested in a philosophical career, he then spent fifteen months of study in Berlin, where he was drawn to Hegelian philosophy and evolutionary naturalism. Although he returned to Union and earned a divinity degree in 1870, he did not want to preach. After teaching philosophy and literature at Antioch College from 1872 to 1876, he decided to focus on physiological psychology. At Harvard University he studied under ...

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Herbert, Henry William (07 April 1807–17 May 1858), writer and sportsman, was born in London, England, the son of William Herbert, dean of Manchester, and Letitia Emily Dorothea Allen, daughter of Joshua, Fifth Viscount Allen. Herbert’s father imbued him with a lifelong passion for field sports. Herbert attended Caius College, Cambridge, where he gained a modest reputation for scholarship and a greater one for convivial social life. Completing his studies in 1830, he became embroiled in “difficulties” of an undisclosed nature, which were serious or embarrassing enough for the family to take stern measures: emigration to North America. Initially, Herbert went to Canada. Although he gained knowledge of Canadian field sports, he did not find social life there to his liking. He settled in New York City in the early 1830s, a seemingly unlikely place for him but one where he found a group of men whose values and interests, including journalism and literature, were congenial and where he had ready access to New York State’s and New Jersey’s sporting counties....

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Holmes, William Henry (01 December 1846–20 April 1933), artist, scientist, and administrator, was born on a farm near Short Creek in southeastern Ohio, the youngest of three sons of Joseph Holmes and Mary Heberling Holmes. In 1856 Holmes's mother died and his grandparents, John and Mary Heberling, raised him in nearby Georgetown until 1860, when his father married Sarah I. Moore. At eighteen, Holmes entered McNeely Normal School to prepare for a teaching career. While excelling in drawing, geography, and natural history and immersing himself in the student life of McNeely, Holmes taught temporarily in the Harrison County schools. In 1870 he was asked to join the McNeely faculty to teach art and science. Art was Holmes's real passion, however; not teaching. Restless, he decided to go to the nation's capital between terms to study under Theodore Kaufmann. When not in the studio, Holmes was at the Smithsonian Institution drawing birds and, perhaps, also drawing attention to himself. He was discovered there by a Costa Rican ornithologist, José Zeledon, and hired on the spot as one of the Smithsonian's contract illustrators. Holmes liked his new work but learned that there was a difference between art and illustration when Assistant Secretary ...

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Long, Esmond (16 June 1890–11 November 1979), physician and medical historian, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of John Harper Long, a professor of physiological chemistry, and Catherine Stoneman. On graduating from the University of Chicago with an A.B. in 1911, Long found a post there as a chemical assistant under the noted chemical pathologist ...

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Lowell, Percival (13 March 1855–12 November 1916), astronomer and writer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Augustus Lowell, a president of cotton companies and director of banks, and Katherine Bigelow Lawrence, daughter of Abbott Lawrence, a textile manufacturer and founder of the city of Lawrence, Massachusetts. His brother ...

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MacNeven, William James (21 March 1763–12 July 1841), physician, professor, and Irish-American nationalist, was born on a small estate in Ballynahowne, County Galway, Ireland, the son of James MacNeven and Rosa Dolphin. William’s mother died when he was young, and he and his three brothers were raised by their aunt. At age ten or eleven William was sent to Prague to live with his uncle Baron William O’Kelley MacNeven, a court physician to Empress Maria Theresa. Following a classical education, William attended university in Prague and went on to study medicine at the University of Vienna, from which he graduated in 1783. In 1784 MacNeven returned to Dublin, where he established a medical practice....

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Major, Ralph Hermon (29 August 1884–15 October 1970), physician and historian of medicine, was born in Clay County, Missouri, the son of John Sleet Major, a banker, and Virginia Anderson. After completing his A.B. degree at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, in 1902, he traveled in Europe for three years. There he became proficient in German, French, Italian, and Spanish, adding to his knowledge of Greek and Latin. Back in America, he studied medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, obtaining his M.D. degree in 1910. He remained at Johns Hopkins for two years of postgraduate training in internal medicine before returning to Europe to spend 1912–1913 at the clinic of Friedrich Müller in Munich, Germany....

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Mills, Enos Abijah (22 April 1870–22 September 1922), nature writer, was born near Pleasanton, Linn County, Kansas, the son of Enos Abijah Mills, Sr., and Ann Lamb, farmers. Suffering from a digestive illness, young Mills went west in 1884 to Estes Park, Colorado, where a cousin, the Reverend Elkanah Lamb, had established the Longs Peak House guest lodgings. Mills soon built a cabin nearby and in 1885 made his first ascent of Longs Peak—he eventually climbed the 14,255-foot summit some forty times by himself and 257 times as a guide....

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Muir, John (21 April 1838–24 December 1914), naturalist, conservationist, and writer, was born in Dunbar, Scotland, the son of Daniel Muir and Anne Gilrye, farmers. He was educated in Dunbar’s common school and by his father’s insistence that he memorize a Bible chapter every day. With his father and two siblings, John migrated to Wisconsin in 1849; the rest of the family soon followed. On the family’s homestead near Portage, Daniel worked John, just entering his teens, as if he were an adult field hand, inflicting corporal punishment; John Muir later believed that this hard farm labor stunted his growth. The boy’s escape was to devour every book that he came across, and when his father forbade his reading at night, he devised a sort of wooden alarm clock attached to his bed. This “early-rising machine” awakened him very early in the morning, and he would read until it was time for his exhausting chores....

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Osler, Sir William (12 July 1849–29 December 1919), physician, educator, and historian, was born in Bond Head, Ontario, Canada, the son of Featherstone Lake Osler, an Anglican priest, and Ellen Free Pickton, both of Cornwall, England. William’s father left Britain’s Royal Navy for an evangelical calling in the backwoods of early nineteenth-century Ontario. In 1837 the Oslers came to their new home in Bond Head, forty miles north of Toronto. The young Osler was a proficient scholar, caught in the common mid-nineteenth-century dichotomy between science and church. Ultimately, another Anglican priest, the Reverend W. A. Johnson, settled the matter by nourishing Osler’s interest in natural science. Microscopy replaced the ministry. As early as 1869, Osler’s first published work analyzed microscopic forms in a pond near his home....

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Peterson, Roger Tory (28 August 1908–28 July 1996), ornithologist and artist, was born in Jamestown, New York, to Charles G. Peterson and Henrietta Bader Peterson. Both his parents had emigrated to America from Europe: his father had been born in Sweden, his mother in Germany to parents of Slavic descent. His father, an intensely practical man, worked for a company that made office furniture. Though he admired the artistic talent his son exhibited at an early age, he was also skeptical of Roger's dreamy absorption in nature and feared that the boy would not come to a good end. From earliest childhood Roger Tory Peterson enjoyed being alone in the woods and countryside, observing animals and especially birds. He began to sketch what he saw, and at the age of fourteen won a prize for a drawing of a butterfly. His active membership in a Junior Audubon Club from the age of eleven onward gave a focus to his life that the activities of other children his age did not, and in old age he remembered himself when young as a rebellious loner for whom nature provided salvation....

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Rush, Benjamin (04 January 1746–19 April 1813), physician, professor of chemistry and of medicine, and social reformer, was born in Byberry Township, Pennsylvania, thirteen miles northeast of Philadelphia, the son of John Rush, a farmer and gunsmith, and Susanna Hall Harvey. John Rush died when Benjamin was five years old. His mother ran a grocery store to support the family. She sent Benjamin at age eight to live with an uncle by marriage, the Reverend Dr. ...

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Sagan, Carl (09 November 1934–20 December 1996), space scientist, author, science popularizer, TV personality, and antinuclear weapons activist, was born Carl Edward Sagan in Brooklyn, New York. He was the son of Rachel Molly Gruber Sagan and garment industry worker Samuel Sagan, an immigrant from the Ukraine. Carl Sagan's Jewish background encouraged him “to ask questions early,” as he later observed (Davidson, p. 57); so did his mother's skeptical, sometimes acidic personality. At age five, he became interested in astronomy when he read in a library book that the stars are distant versions of our sun. His interest in science soared when his parents took him to the New York World's Fair of 1939–1940, which offered an optimistic and (as he later acknowledged) “extremely technocratic” view of the future (Davidson, p. 14)....