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A. Bronson Alcott. At age fifty-three. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-54729).

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Alcott, A. Bronson (29 November 1799–04 March 1888), Transcendentalist and reformer, was born Amos Bronson Alcox in Wolcott, Connecticut, the son of Joseph Chatfield Alcox and Anna Bronson, farmers. Farming the rocky Connecticut soil was not lucrative, and Alcott worked hard with his parents to help support seven younger siblings, thereby limiting his opportunities for a formal education. He attended the local district school until age ten, but thereafter his intellectual growth largely depended on his own reading and discussions with friends of a similar scholarly bent, the first being his cousin William Andrus Alcott. William later attended Yale College and established a career as a physician and popular author of health manuals, but continuing poverty prevented Bronson from obtaining a college education. At age fifteen he, like many of his young Connecticut contemporaries, began peddling small manufactured goods, first in Massachusetts and New York, then in Virginia and the Carolinas....

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Hazard, Thomas Robinson (03 January 1797–26 March 1886), manufacturer and reformer, was born in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, the son of Rowland Hazard, a manufacturer and merchant, and Mary Peace. Hazard’s father established the Peace Dale Manufacturing Company, the first water-powered wool-carding and fulling mill in South Kingstown, about 1802, on the site of an eighteenth-century fulling mill. By 1814 the company had expanded to include spinning and perhaps the earliest power loom-weaving in the state. After limited formal education at Westtown in Pennsylvania, and after training in mill management and operations at the growing enterprise, Hazard worked in the family’s woolen business between 1813 and 1842....

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Horace Mann. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ61-358).

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Mann, Horace (04 May 1796–02 August 1859), educator and social reformer, was born in Franklin, Massachusetts, the son of Thomas Mann and Rebecca Stanley, farmers. Although earlier historical accounts that described his childhood as impoverished are inaccurate (his family was moderately prosperous), they are correct in their assertion that Mann’s values were shaped during childhood by his family, his community, and in no small part by his relations with the local Congregationalist preacher, ...

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Rushdoony, R. J. (25 Apr. 1916–8 Feb. 2001), theologian, Presbyterian minister, political activist, and education reformer, was born Rousas John Rushdoony in New York City to Armenian refugees fleeing Turkish persecution during World War I. Presbyterian minister Yeghiazar Khachadour and Vartanoush (Gazarian) Rushdouni’s first son, George, perished in the Turkish siege of Van, and the family immigrated to the United States via Russia. The Rushdoonys anglicized their names—Yeghiazar opting for an abbreviated Y. K. and Vartanoush adopting Rose, the English translation of her name—and settled in a growing Armenian community in Kingsburg, California. Y. K. took his family with him as he served as a pastor to Armenian communities in California and Michigan during the 1920s and 1930s. As the family moved about the United States, R. J. Rushdoony learned English and resolved to follow his father into the ministry....