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Goodman, Paul (09 September 1911–02 August 1972), libertarian social-cultural critic and man of letters, was born in New York City, the son of Augusta Goodman, of German-Jewish middle-class background and a traveling saleswoman of apparel. His father, Barnett Goodman, abandoned the family around the time of Paul’s birth, and he was raised mostly by aunts and an older sister. Following a good record in humanities in New York City public schools, he majored in philosophy at the City College of New York (A.B., 1931). Then he worked as a counselor at a Zionist youth camp, was a sometime graduate student at Columbia University, and became a bohemian litterateur within a New York Jewish left-intellectual circle. His longest period outside the New York he fervently identified with was as a graduate student at the University of Chicago (1936–1940), studying literature and philosophy, finally receiving a Ph.D. in 1954....

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Hofstadter, Richard (06 August 1916–24 October 1970), historian, writer, and critic, was born in Buffalo, New York, the son of Emil A Hofstadter, a furrier, and Katherine Hill. His father, born in Cracow, Poland, was Jewish, and his mother, whose family had emigrated from Germany in the aftermath of 1848, was an Episcopalian. Although his mother died when he was ten, Richard was raised a Protestant. As an adult he came to identify with his father’s secular Jewish heritage, especially after his move to New York City, where he became involved with the city’s predominately Jewish, politically left intellectual groups....

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Howe, Irving (11 June 1920–05 May 1993), literary critic and historian, was born in New York City, the son of David Howe and Nettie Goldman, grocery store operators and later garment workers. Irving Howe was married twice, first to Arien Hausknecht, with whom he had two children, and later to Ilana Wiener....

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H. L. Mencken Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1932. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-42489).

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Mencken, H. L. (12 September 1880–29 January 1956), author, editor, and journalist, was born Henry Louis Mencken in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of August Mencken, a cigar manufacturer, and Anna Abhau. Having emigrated from Germany during the mid-nineteenth century, the Menckens and Abhaus had quickly adapted to life in the United States, and they provided a home more Victorian than German-American for their four children. Henry Mencken, the eldest, did attend a private German school for his earliest education, but he completed his formal education at Baltimore Polytechnic, a high school primarily responsible for producing engineers and technicians....

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Ripley, George (03 October 1802–04 July 1880), reform writer, literary reviewer, and communalist, was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts, the son of Jerome Ripley, a businessman, and Sarah Franklin. After attending private academies in the area, in 1819 Ripley went on to Harvard, where his personal and philosophical education was tumultuous. He tried desperately to hold onto the conservativism his parents had encouraged, but he was also attracted to liberal ideas in social reform and theology. When his transformation did not happen quickly enough to suit his classmates, he was ridiculed in one of Harvard’s student riots as “Ripley the pious, fickle as the wind, / For nine times an hour he changes his mind.” When he entered Harvard’s divinity school in 1823, Ripley was still trying to reconcile his inherited Calvinist beliefs with the new views that saw humanity’s inward nature as the source of all beauty and truth....

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Spingarn, Joel Elias (17 May 1875–26 July 1939), literary critic and social activist, was born in New York City, the son of Elias Spingarn and Sarah Barnett, Jewish immigrants from Austria and England. The senior Spingarn’s success as a wholesale tobacco merchant enabled him to provide his family with the material comfort and security to which late nineteenth-century urban elite Americans were accustomed. After graduating from New York City’s public school system, Joel Spingarn attended the Collegiate Institute of New York City and City College before enrolling in Columbia College, from which he received a B.A. with honors in 1895. In December of that year he married Amy Einstein, sister of the scholar and diplomat Lewis Einstein; they had four children....