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Bell, James Madison (03 April 1826–1902), abolitionist, poet, and lecturer, was born in Gallipolis, Ohio. His parents’ identities are unknown. At age sixteen, in 1842, he moved to Cincinnati. While there, in 1848, he married Louisiana Sanderlin (or Sanderline), with whom he had several children, and also learned the plastering trade from his brother-in-law George Knight. Bell worked as a plasterer during the day and attended Cincinnati High School for Colored People at night. Founded in 1844 by Reverend Hiram S. Gilmore, the school had a connection to Oberlin College and was said to have given impetus to the sentiment found in ...

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Henry Walton Bibb. Lithograph on paper, 1847, by Unidentified Artist. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Bibb, Henry Walton (10 May 1815–1854), author, editor, and antislavery lecturer, was born into slavery on the plantation of David White of Shelby County, Kentucky, the son of James Bibb, a slaveholding planter and state senator, and Mildred Jackson. White began hiring Bibb out as a laborer on several neighboring plantations before the age of ten. The constant change in living situations throughout his childhood, combined with the inhumane treatment he often received at the hands of strangers, set a pattern for life that he would later refer to in his autobiography as “my manner of living on the road.” Bibb was sold more than six times between 1832 and 1840 and was forced to relocate to at least seven states throughout the South; later, as a free man, his campaign for abolition took him throughout eastern Canada and the northern United States. But such early instability also made the young Bibb both self-sufficient and resourceful, two characteristics that were useful against the day-to-day assault of slavery: “The only weapon of self defense that I could use successfully,” he wrote, “was that of deception.”...

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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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Burleigh, Charles Calistus (03 November 1810–13 June 1878), antislavery lecturer and reformer, was born in Plainfield, Connecticut, the son of Rinaldo Burleigh, a farmer and educator, and Lydia Bradford. Burleigh came from a family that was passionately committed to antislavery and other moral reforms. His father was the first president of the Windham County Antislavery Society, his sister taught at ...

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Clarke, Lewis G. (1815–1897), author and antislavery lecturer, was born into slavery on the plantation of his maternal grandfather, Samuel Campbell, in Madison County, Kentucky, the son of Campbell’s mixed-race slave daughter Letitia and her white, Scottish-immigrant husband, Daniel Clarke, a soldier in the American Revolution. Lewis Clarke’s middle name is variously recorded as either George or Garrand. Clarke’s family history, which he traced back to the founding of the nation, inspired his quest for freedom and his subsequent dedication to the abolition cause in the North....

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Craft, William (1824–28 January 1900), runaway slave and abolitionist lecturer, was born in Georgia, where he was a slave for the first twenty-four years of his life. In 1841 his owner, also named Craft, mortgaged William and his sister Sarah to a Macon bank. Later, when the slaveholder could not make the payments, the bank sold the slaves at an auction. Craft’s new owner permitted him to hire himself out as a carpenter, and Craft was allowed to keep earnings over $220 annually. In 1846 William married Ellen ( ...

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Devine, Edward Thomas (06 May 1867–27 February 1948), social worker, writer, and lecturer, was born near Union, Iowa, the son of John Devine and Laura Hall, farmers. He attended Cornell College in Iowa where in 1887 he obtained his A.M.

After graduation and until 1890, Devine was a teacher and the principal of public schools in three Iowa towns, and in 1889 he married Harriet Scovel; they had two children. During these years, he met Simon Patten, an original economic theorist, who emphasized that the United States should focus on wealth distribution to alleviate social problems. In 1890 Devine traveled to the University of Pennsylvania to study under Patten, who soon became his mentor and friend. That same year, he journeyed to Halle, Germany, to study economics, as had Patten. By 1893 Devine had earned his Ph.D. and had begun lecturing on economics for the American Society for the Extension of University Teaching. For this organization, which he later served as executive secretary, he taught courses in Oxford, England, Edinburgh, Scotland, and in several American cities....

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R. Buckminster Fuller. Oil on canvas, c. 1981, by Ruth Munson. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Fuller, R. Buckminster (12 July 1895–01 July 1983), inventor, designer, and environmentalist, often referred to as “Bucky,” was born Richard Buckminster Fuller, Jr., in Milton, Massachusetts, the son of Richard Buckminster Fuller, an importer of leather and tea, who died in 1910, and Caroline Wolcott Andrews. He was the grandnephew of author and literary critic ...

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Gram Swing, Betty (16 March 1893–01 September 1969), militant suffragist and women’s rights advocate, was born Myrtle Evelyn Gram in Omaha, Nebraska, the fifth of seven children of Danish immigrants Andreas Peter Gram and Karen Jensen. When their family farm proved unprofitable around 1905, the Grams moved to Portland, Oregon, where Andreas ran a small grocery store and taught Myrtle Danish folk songs that were the foundation of her lifelong love of singing and music....