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Bancroft, Frederic A. (30 October 1860–22 February 1945), historian, librarian, and philanthropist, was born Frederic Austin Bancroft in Galesburg, Illinois, the son of Addison Newton Bancroft, a businessman, and Catherine Blair. Bancroft, raised in abolitionist surroundings, attended school at Knox Academy, Knox College (1878–1881), transferred to Amherst College in 1881, and graduated a year later. He entered Columbia University’s School of Political Science in 1882 to study southern history with ...

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John Shaw Billings. Courtesy of the Clendening History of Medicine Library and Museum, University of Kansas Medical Center.

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Billings, John Shaw (12 April 1838–11 March 1913), army medical officer, library organizer, and public health activist, was born near Allensville, Indiana, the son of James Billings, a farmer and storekeeper, and Abby Shaw. Despite spotty secondary schooling, he ultimately went to Miami College (Ohio), where he earned his B.A. in 1857. He was awarded the M.D. by the Medical College of Ohio in 1860. Billings remained with the latter institution for a year as an anatomical demonstrator, but after the outbreak of the Civil War he joined the U.S. Army as a contract surgeon. In 1862 he was commissioned first lieutenant and assistant surgeon and went on to make army service his career. Also in 1862 he married Katharine Mary Stevens; they had five children....

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Brown, John Carter (28 August 1797–10 June 1874), book collector and philanthropist, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Nicholas Brown, a merchant and philanthropist, and Ann Carter, daughter of John Carter, the second printer of Providence. In 1816 he received an A.B. from Brown University, named for his father, and immediately joined the family mercantile firm, Brown & Ives. Although he was involved in several aspects of the shipping business and became a partner in 1832, he found time to travel extensively in Europe and the United States and to pursue his interests in historical subjects and books. Accustomed from childhood to a growing family library, he and his elder brother, Nicholas, “were predisposed to infection with the epidemic Bibliomania” and belonged to “a small group of American gentlemen of means who found in the London and Continental bookshops a reason for a European holiday” (Winship, pp. 9, 12). He resided in Europe from 1823 to 1826 and bought many books, most of which he shipped back to Brown University as gifts. The university made him a trustee in 1828 and a fellow in 1842. He continued to make donations to the university and to be involved in its affairs throughout his life....

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Folger, Henry Clay (18 June 1857–11 June 1930), industrialist, book collector, and philanthropist, was born in New York City, the son of Henry Clay Folger, a dealer in wholesale millinery, and Eliza Jane Clark. After attending Brooklyn’s Adelphi Academy on a scholarship, Folger entered Amherst College. When his father’s business failed during his junior year, Folger briefly attended the City University of New York. He returned to Amherst after being guaranteed the necessary funds by patrons who included Charles M. Pratt, an oil merchant and the father of Folger’s roommate. In March of his senior year Folger attended a lecture delivered by the aged poet and essayist ...

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Meigs, Return Jonathan (14 April 1801–19 October 1891), lawyer, abolitionist, and state librarian of Tennessee, was born near Winchester, Clark County, Kentucky, the son of John Meigs and Parthenia Clendinen. After the death of his father in 1807, he lived part of the time with his uncle James Lemme in Bourbon County, where he studied the classics under the tutelage of George Wilson. Subsequently he studied law and was admitted to the bar in Frankfort, Kentucky, in 1822....

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Rollins, Philip Ashton (20 January 1869–11 September 1950), author, bibliophile, and philanthropist, was born in Somersworth, New Hampshire, the son of Edward Ashton Rollins, a financier, and Ellen Chapman Hobbs, an author. His father, a Harvard-trained lawyer, was active in Republican politics and served as a high-level Treasury Department official in the ...

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Rosenwald, Lessing Julius (10 February 1891–24 June 1978), art and book collector and philanthropist, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Julius Rosenwald, a businessman, and Augusta Nusbaum. In 1908 he went to Cornell University but left in 1911 to work as a shipping clerk for Sears, Roebuck, of which his father was president. In 1913 Rosenwald married Edith Goodkind; they had five children. He served as a seaman, second class, in the U.S. Navy during World War I; after the war he returned to Sears, Roebuck. In 1920 his father sent him to Philadelphia to start that city’s first Sears store....

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Vaughan, John (15 January 1756–30 December 1841), wine merchant, librarian, and philanthropist, was born in London, England, the son of Samuel Vaughan, a merchant in the Jamaica trade, and Sarah Hallowell of Boston, Massachusetts. The family were Whigs in politics, dissenters in religion, and lovers of science, humanity, and America. Destined by his father for a mercantile career, young Vaughan spent the year 1776–1777 in Jamaica and in 1778 was sent to France to learn French and gain further business experience, with a view to settling eventually in America. In France, where he was attached to a merchant firm in Bordeaux, he became intimate with ...