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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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Hall, Prince (1735–04 December 1807), Masonic organizer and abolitionist, was born in Bridgetown, Barbados, the son of a “white English leather worker” and a “free woman of African and French descent”; his birth date is variously given as 12 Sept. 1748 (Horton). He was the slave of William Hall, a leather dresser. At age seventeen, Hall found passage to Boston, Massachusetts, by working on a ship and became employed there as a leather worker. In 1762 he joined the Congregational Church on School Street. He received his manumission in 1770. Official records indicate that Hall was married three times. In 1763 he married Sarah Ritchie, a slave. In 1770, after her death, he married Flora Gibbs of Gloucester, Massachusetts; they had one son, Prince Africanus. In 1798 Hall married Sylvia Ward. The reason for the dissolution of the second marriage is unclear....

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Reason, Patrick Henry (1816–12 August 1898), printmaker, abolitionist, and fraternal order leader, was born in New York City, the son of Michel Reason (from St. Anne, Guadeloupe) and Elizabeth Melville (from Saint-Dominique). Reason was baptized as Patrick Rison in the Church of St. Peter on 17 April 1816. While it is not known why the spelling of his name changed, it may have been an homage to political leader ...

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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....