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Brown, William Wells (1814?–06 November 1884), author and reformer, was born near Lexington, Kentucky, the son of George Higgins, a relative of his master, and Elizabeth, a slave. Dr. John Young, Brown’s master, migrated with his family from Kentucky to the Missouri Territory in 1816. Eleven years later the Youngs moved to St. Louis. Although Brown never experienced the hardship of plantation slavery, he was hired out regularly and separated from his family. He worked for a while in the printing office of abolitionist ...

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Coffin, Charles Carleton (26 July 1823–02 March 1896), novelist, journalist, and lecturer, was born in Boscawen, New Hampshire, the son of Thomas Coffin and Hannah Kilburn, farmers. He grew up on the family farm, attended the village school, and studied for a year at the local academy. Coffin, after his marriage to Sallie Russell Farmer in 1846, earned his living by farming and surveying, a skill he had taught himself. The couple had no children. In 1852, with his brother-in-law ...

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Dixon, Thomas (11 January 1864–03 April 1946), author, clergyman, and lecturer, was born Thomas Dixon Jr. near Shelby, North Carolina, the son of Thomas Dixon, a Baptist minister and farmer, and Amanda McAfee Dixon. Thomas, the third of five children, was born during the Civil War. The Dixon family, which had once been prosperous, was reduced to extreme poverty by the war's end in 1865, owing to the collapse of the Southern economy and the destruction of farmland. During the ensuing years of Reconstruction, as lawlessness stalked the South, the elder Dixon struggled to support his wife and children, and their humiliation and degradation led him, like many other formerly prosperous Southerners, to join the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan, a vigilante organization of white males that proclaimed the supremacy of the white race, had been founded in 1866 to restore honor to the South and to oppose social and political advancement by Negroes, as African Americans were then called. Both the senior Dixon and his brother, the favorite uncle of Thomas Dixon Jr., became leaders in the Klan, and young Thomas grew to adulthood revering the Klan and its teachings....

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Mark Twain Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-28785).

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Twain, Mark (30 November 1835–21 April 1910), author and lecturer, was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Florida, Missouri, the son of John Marshall Clemens, a lawyer, and Jane Lampton. Though he would intimate in good faith that his father descended from the gentry, his paternal grandparents were slave-owning farmers in Virginia, and his maternal grandparents in Kentucky, while better educated and more prosperous, were not wealthy. His father, having moved to Kentucky, was licensed to practice law in 1822. His parents moved in 1823 to Tennessee, where John Clemens accumulated a huge tract, perhaps as much as 75,000 acres, that would for decades figure in family councils as a potential fortune. He had minimal success as an attorney and speculator. In 1835 he embarked on various ventures in tiny Florida, Missouri, the home of John Adams Quarles, a capable farmer and storekeeper married to Jane Clemens’s younger sister....

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Warner, Charles Dudley (12 September 1829–20 October 1900), author and editor, was born in Plainfield, Massachusetts, the son of Justus Warner and Sylvia Hitchcock, farmers. In 1837, three years after her husband died, Sylvia Warner took her two sons to a guardian in Charlemont, Massachusetts, and, in 1841, on to her brother in Cazenovia, New York. Warner attended classes at the Oneida Conference Seminary in Cazenovia, enrolled at Hamilton College, and graduated in 1851 with a B.A. While still a student he published articles in the ...