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Adams, Henry (16 February 1838–27 March 1918), historian, novelist, and critic, was born Henry Brooks Adams in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Charles Francis Adams, a diplomat, legislator, and writer, and Abigail Brooks. He enjoyed unparalleled advantages, chief among them his famous name and many family connections: he was the great-grandson of President ...

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Arthur, Timothy Shay (06 June 1809–06 March 1885), editor, temperance crusader, and novelist, was born in Orange County, New York, the son of William Arthur and Anna Shay, occupations unknown. He was named for his maternal grandfather, Timothy Shay, an officer in the revolutionary war. By his mid-twenties, Arthur had yet to identify a profession or receive an education. In the 1830s, however, he began an intense program of self-education as well as a writing career as a journalist in Baltimore, where he quickly became a well-known and articulate champion of numerous social causes including temperance, Swedenborgianism, feminism, and socialism. In 1836 he married Eliza Alden; they had seven children....

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Arna Bontemps Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1939. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-100856).

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Bontemps, Arna Wendell (13 October 1902–04 June 1973), writer, was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, the son of Paul Bismark Bontemps, a bricklayer, and Maria Carolina Pembroke, a schoolteacher. He was reared in Los Angeles, where his family moved when he was three. He graduated from Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, in 1923....

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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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Calkins, Clinch (15 July 1895–26 December 1968), poet, polemicist, and novelist, was born Marion Clinch Calkins in Evansville, Wisconsin, the daughter of Judson Wells Calkins, a politically liberal owner of a general store, and Julia Clinch, a lover of music and literature. Calkins graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1918, packed artillery shells in a Milwaukee plant, and then returned to Madison to teach in the university’s English and art history departments and to do social work. She submitted a poem, “I Was a Maiden,” to an annual competition in the ...

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Calvert, George Henry (02 June 1803–24 May 1889), author, was born on his family’s estate near Bladensburg, Maryland, the son of George Calvert, a planter and politician, and Rosalie Eugenia Stier. As a child, Calvert was raised to be mindful of his aristocratic heritage—his paternal great-grandfather was the fifth Lord Baltimore, the founder of Maryland, and on his maternal side he was a descendant of Peter Paul Rubens—and his childhood years were spent in a style befitting a young man of wealth and gentility. In 1819 Calvert entered Harvard College, where he remained until 1823, at which time he was dismissed along with thirty other students for participating in the “Great Rebellion,” a protest aimed at limiting the restrictions over student activities, but which ultimately led to the students protesting the quality of the education that they were receiving at Harvard. After leaving Harvard, Calvert journeyed to Europe and stayed with an uncle in Antwerp before spending fifteen months studying history and philosophy at the University of Göttingen. Concurrent and subsequent to his time at Göttingen, Calvert traveled to Weimar, where he met Goethe, and he then visited Edinburgh, Paris, and Antwerp again before returning to America in 1827. Calvert settled in Baltimore, where he served as editor of the ...

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Frank, Waldo David (25 August 1889–09 January 1967), author and cultural critic, was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, the son of Julius J. Frank, a successful Wall Street attorney, and Helene Rosenberg. Growing up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Frank took an early interest in writing, finishing his first novel at age sixteen. After spending a year at a private prep school in Lausanne, Switzerland, Frank entered Yale University in 1907. While at Yale, he served as drama critic for the New Haven ...

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Edward Everett Hale Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-99518).

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Hale, Edward Everett (03 April 1822–10 June 1909), author, reformer, and Unitarian minister, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Nathan Hale, a journalist, and Sarah Preston Everett. His father was a nephew of revolutionary war hero Captain Nathan Hale, and his maternal uncle and namesake was the orator and statesman ...

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James Weldon Johnson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-42992).

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Johnson, James Weldon (17 June 1871–26 June 1938), civil-rights leader, poet, and novelist, was born in Jacksonville, Florida, the son of James Johnson, a resort hotel headwaiter, and Helen Dillet, a schoolteacher. He grew up in a secure, middle-class home in an era, Johnson recalled in ...

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Oliver La Farge Photograph by Louis Fabian Bachrach, 1930. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-116958).

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La Farge, Oliver Hazard Perry (19 December 1901–02 August 1963), anthropologist, author, and advocate of American Indian reform and welfare, was born in New York City, the son of Christopher Grant La Farge, an architect, and Florence Bayard Lockwood. A descendant and namesake of ...

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Lanusse, Armand (1812–16 March 1868), writer, civil rights activist, and educator, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Nothing is known of his personal life except that he married and had five children, four sons and a daughter. A brother, Numa Lanusse, also displayed considerable literary talent until his death at the age of twenty-six in a riding accident....

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Lippard, George (10 April 1822–09 February 1854), novelist and social reformer, was born on his father’s farm in West Nantmeal Township in Chester County, Pennsylvania, the son of Daniel B. Lippard and Jemima Ford. His father, an erstwhile schoolteacher and local official, sold his farm in 1824 and moved the family to nearby Germantown, where George’s German-speaking grandfather was living. Having become physically incapable of supporting a large family, the parents moved to Philadelphia, leaving George and his sisters in Germantown in the care of their grandfather and two maiden aunts. A sickly and intense youth, Lippard was considered a “queer” fellow “of no account” by some of his mates at the Concord School across from his home, which he attended from around 1829 to 1832....

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Neal, John (25 August 1793–20 June 1876), author and women's rights activist, author and women’s rights activist, was born in Falmouth (now Portland), Maine. His father, a Quaker schoolmaster of the same name, died a month after the birth of Neal and his twin sister, leaving Neal’s mother, Rachel Hall, the difficult task of raising them in precarious financial circumstances. He attended several Quaker schools, the town school, and Portland Academy until age twelve. Combative and rebellious from early childhood, Neal, in 1808, left his native village and a job as shopkeeper’s apprentice for an itinerant career as writing master, schoolmaster, and portrait sketcher. During the War of 1812, he became a partner in the dry-goods business of John Pierpont and Joseph Lord, managing a branch store in Baltimore. Their venture collapsed during the postwar recession. Pierpont went on to a career in the ministry—and to become the grandfather of ...

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Paul, Elliot (13 February 1891–07 April 1958), writer, was born Elliot Harold Paul in Malden, Massachusetts, the son of Howard Henry Paul, a varnish manufacturer, and Lucy Greenleaf Doucette. Howard Paul died in a mental institution shortly before Elliot’s fourth birthday. Consequently, older siblings and other relatives helped support the family. Paul showed early talent as a musician, but after graduating from high school in 1907, he joined his older brother in Montana and worked as a civil engineer for the U.S. Reclamation Service. He then returned east and spent the academic year 1908–1909 at the University of Maine, studying engineering. In 1909 Paul moved to Louisville, Kentucky, and worked for a year as a city engineer....

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Scott, Leroy Martin (11 May 1875–21 July 1929), writer, was born in Fairmount, Indiana, the son of Eli J. Scott and Eleanor S. Reader. He attended high school in Fairmount and graduated in 1897 from Indiana University. His first jobs were on newspapers, initially in Louisiana on a paper owned by his brother, and then on the ...

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Sinclair, Upton (20 September 1878–25 November 1968), novelist, reformer, and politician, was born Upton Beall Sinclair, Jr., in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Upton Beall Sinclair, Sr., a wholesale liquor salesman, and Priscilla Harden. Sinclair’s father was irresponsible and alcoholic and left the boy’s care to his mother, who encouraged him to read. In 1886 or 1887 the family moved to New York City, where in 1889 Sinclair attended public school classes for the first time. During the next two years he completed eight elementary grades and in 1892 enrolled in the City College of New York. In 1894 he began to sell jokes and puzzles to children’s periodicals and a year later was selling stories to juvenile magazines to support himself. He graduated from City College with a B.A. in 1897, abandoned an ambition to become a lawyer, and enrolled in graduate school at Columbia University, all the while writing almost a hundred “half-dime” novels for Street and Smith, America’s leading pulp-fiction publisher. Attracted to courses in music, contemporary politics, and poetry, especially that of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Sinclair decided to become an influential man of letters. In May 1900 he left Columbia without a graduate degree, rented a cabin for three months in southern Quebec, and wrote an idealistic novel, ...