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Alger, William Rounseville (28 December 1822–07 February 1905), author and religious leader, was born in Freetown, Massachusetts, the son of Catherine Sampson Rounseville and Nahum Alger, a teacher. Apprenticed at seven to a New Hampshire farmer, Alger worked at a variety of menial jobs during his hardscrabble boyhood. He earned a ministerial diploma from the Harvard Divinity School in 1847 and became pastor of All Souls’ Unitarian Church in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The same year, he married Ann Langdon Lodge; they had seven children. In 1855 Alger moved to the Bulfinch Street Church in Boston, where he gained a reputation as an orator. The next year, he published ...

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Bishop, John Peale (21 May 1891–04 April 1944), writer, was born in Charles Town, West Virginia, the son of Jonathan Peale Bishop, a physician and druggist, and Margaret Miller Cochran. His grandfather, a Yale graduate, had moved south from New York after the Civil War. Bishop considered himself a southerner, but he nevertheless maintained a high regard for his northern roots. When Bishop was ten his father died, and his mother remarried in 1906. His mother and stepfather moved to Hagerstown, Maryland, and Bishop entered Washington County High School. His health had not been robust during childhood, and in his senior year he had trouble with his eyesight; he was not able to attend school from 1910 to 1913. During these years his mother and sister read aloud to him, and he developed a fondness for poetry. Bishop published a poem, “To a Woodland Pool,” in ...

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Cassady, Neal (08 February 1926–04 February 1968), laborer and source of inspiration to two American subcultures, was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, the son of Neal Cassady, Sr., a barber, and Maude Scheuer Daly. At the time of his birth, Cassady’s father was moving the family from Des Moines, Iowa, to Hollywood. The family later completed its move to California and opened a barbershop. His alcoholic father struggled in the new environment, however, and the sale of the shop and a relocation to Denver, Colorado, in 1928 did not improve the family fortunes. During the depression, the business failed completely....

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Buffalo Bill Cody. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111880).

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Cody, William Frederick (26 February 1846–10 January 1917), frontiersman and entertainer, better known as “Buffalo Bill,” was born in Scott County, Iowa, the son of Isaac Cody and Mary Ann Bonsell Laycock. Cody’s father managed several farms and operated a state business in Iowa. In 1854 the family moved to the Salt Creek Valley in Kansas, where Cody’s father received a government contract to provide hay to Fort Leavenworth. After his father died in 1857, Cody went to work as an ox-team driver for fifty cents a day. Shortly thereafter, the firm of Majors and Russell hired him as an express boy. Cody attended school periodically, although his formal education ended in 1859 when he joined a party heading to Denver to search for gold. He prospected for two months without any luck. He arrived back in Kansas in March 1860 after a trapping expedition. He rode for a time for the Pony Express during its short lifetime (Apr. 1860–Nov. 1861). After the start of the Civil War he joined a group of antislavery guerrillas based in Kansas. Later the Ninth Kansas Volunteers hired him as a scout and guide. On 16 February 1864 Cody enlisted into Company F of the Seventh Kansas Volunteer Cavalry. He saw quite a bit of action in Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas during his one year and seven months of duty. He was mustered out of the army as a private on 29 September 1865....

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Falkner, William Clark (06 July 1825–06 November 1889), writer and great-grandfather of novelist William Faulkner, writer and great-grandfather of novelist William Faulkner, was born in Knox County, Tennessee, the son of Joseph Falkner, an immigrant from Scotland, and Caroline Word. Joseph and Caroline Falkner had just embarked on a move from Haywood County, North Carolina, to St. Genevieve, Missouri, when Caroline gave birth to William Clark in Knox County. Once Caroline had recovered, the Falkners settled in St. Genevieve. Joseph’s occupation there is unknown....

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Gardiner, Sir Christopher (1596– February 1662), early settler of Massachusetts, was born in England, the son of Christopher Gardyner and Judith Sackville, members of the English gentry. The family was related to Bishop Stephen Gardiner, who persecuted Protestants at the behest of Queen Mary (1553–1558). Christopher Gardiner entered Cambridge University in 1613 but abandoned the school by the next year. He then pursued a legal education at the Inner Temple. Abandoning that potential career as well, in 1615 he received official permission to travel in Europe. After Gardiner’s return to England, he married Elizabeth Onslow about the year 1620; they had three children....

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Gein, Edward (27 August 1906–26 July 1984), basis for Alfred Hitchcock's classic terror film Psycho, whose ghoulish crimes became the basis for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic terror film Psycho, was born in La Crosse, Wisconsin, the son of George Gein and Augusta Loehrke, farmers. In 1913 the family (which also included Gein’s older brother, Henry) moved to a small dairy farm near Camp Douglas, forty miles east of La Crosse. Less than one year later, they relocated again—this time permanently—to a 195-acre farm six miles west of Plainfield, a remote, tiny village in the south central part of the state....

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Glass, Hugh (?–1833), fur trapper., was a Few facts are known for certain about his early life. His place of birth is unknown. According to the historian and novelist James Hall, who published an account of Glass in Port Folio (Mar. 1825), Glass was of Irish ancestry. The fine literary quality of the only known communication from his pen, written in 1823, permits the conclusion that he was reasonably well educated. His early years have become the stuff of legend. According to reminiscences of a fellow fur trapper named ...

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Josiah Henson. Illustration from Harper's Weekly, 1877. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-31848).

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Henson, Josiah (15 June 1789–05 May 1883), escaped slave and preacher, was born in Charles County, Maryland, on a farm owned by Francis Newman. As a child, Henson frequently saw his parents abused and severely beaten. On one occasion, as a punishment for defending his wife, Henson’s father was sentenced to a physical mutilation that left him permanently scarred. Although he was raised without religion, Henson was immediately converted to Christianity after his first exposure to it at a revivalist camp meeting. As a young boy, he was sold to Isaac Riley....

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Loeb, Jacques (07 April 1859–11 February 1924), biologist, was born Isaak Loeb in Mayen, a town in the Prussian Rhineland, the son of Benedict (Baruch) Loeb, a merchant, and Barbara Isay. Loeb’s parents, observant Jews who were intellectually and politically liberal, both died when he was an adolescent, leaving him financially independent but not wealthy. In 1876 Loeb joined relatives of his mother in Berlin, where he completed secondary school, took the name Jacques, and began the study of medicine, first at the universities of Berlin and Munich, and from 1881 to 1885 at the University of Strassburg. His first scientific research, under the tutelage of the Strassburg physiologist Friedrich Goltz, concerned the psychological characteristics of brain-damaged dogs. He continued to explore problems of psychophysiology at the Berlin Agricultural College in 1885–1886 as an assistant to Nathan Zuntz and from 1886 to 1888 at the University of Wurzburg, where he worked under Adolf Fick....

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Perle Mesta Right, with U. S. Senate candidate Marjorie Bell Hinrichs at the Democratic party jubilee in Chicago. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92423).

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Mesta, Perle (12 Oct. 1889 or 1891–16 March 1975), political activist, businesswoman, diplomat, and hostess, was born Pearl Skirvin in Sturgis, Michigan, the daughter of William Balser Skirvin, a salesman, and Harriet Reid. The actual year of her birth was one of her best-kept secrets. Early in the twentieth century her father left Michigan for the oil fields of South Texas, where he made a fortune in the famed Spindletop field. The feisty “Billy” Skirvin moved to Oklahoma City, where he founded the American Oil and Refinery Company and built the luxurious fourteen-floor Skirvin Hotel. Pearl was educated in private schools in Galveston and studied voice and piano at the Sherwood School of Music in Chicago. In 1917 she married 54-year-old George Mesta, founder and president of the Mesta Machine Company located in Pittsburgh. During her years living in the nation’s steel capital she changed her name to the distinctive “Perle.”...

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Murphy, Gerald Cleary (26 March 1888–17 October 1964), painter, businessman, and friend to artists and writers, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Patrick Francis Murphy, the owner of an upper-scale leather goods store, and Anna Elizabeth Ryan. Patrick Murphy moved his business, the Mark Cross Company, and his family to New York City in 1892. Gerald’s father was a strict disciplinarian who expected his son to receive a sound education and join the family business. His mother was such a devout Catholic that she changed Gerald’s birthdate from 26 March to 25 March, the Feast of the Annunciation. Murphy resisted his parents’ business and religious pressures, although he temporarily joined Mark Cross after graduating from Yale in 1912....

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Brenda Scott Royce

Oberon, Merle (19 February 1911–23 November 1979), actress, was born Estelle Merle O’Brien Thompson in Bombay, India, the daughter of Arthur Terrence O’Brien Thompson, a railway engineer, and Charlotte Constance Selby, a nurse’s assistant. The truth about Oberon’s origins and early life was not revealed until after her death. Throughout her lifetime, she steadfastly claimed to have been born into an aristocratic family in Tasmania. Ashamed of her dark-skinned mother and her poverty-stricken beginnings, she invented her own history when entering show business. She feared that the social prejudices of the day would have prevented her from becoming a star if it was known that she was half-caste. Michael Korda said in 1985, “Although I understand and sympathize with Merle, the childhood she really had must have been infinitely more interesting than the one she invented” ( ...

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Revere, Paul ( December 1734–10 May 1818), craftsman, patriot, and businessman, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Paul Revere, a goldsmith, and Deborah Hichborn (or Hitchborn). Revere’s father, born Apollos Rivoire, emigrated from France to Boston in 1715 at the age of thirteen and apprenticed with John Coney, a prominent local gold/silversmith. Shortly before his marriage he changed his name, first to Paul Rivoire and then to Paul Revere. The son’s birth date has long been the source of confusion since only his baptismal date, 22 December 1734 OS and 1 January 1735 NS, is recorded. Revere’s early life, fairly typical of boys of his day and economic status, included basic schooling at the North Writing School. During his teens he entered into a formal agreement with fellow North End youths to ring the bells at Christ Church for a fee. Revere’s own words, “My Father was a Goldsmith. … I learned the trade of him,” confirm that as the eldest surviving son, he apprenticed with his father, thus beginning his most enduring occupation. Though overshadowed by the fame of his son, the elder Revere’s skill as a gold/silversmith may actually have equaled that of his son. The younger Revere noted that his father died “in the year 1754, he left no estate, but he left a good name.” Just nineteen years old, Revere ran the shop with the help of his mother. In 1756 he received a commission as a second lieutenant of artillery and spent the better part of a year on an unsuccessful expedition to capture the French fort at Crown Point on Lake Champlain....

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Paul Revere. Drawing by Charles Févret de Saint-Mémin. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-7407).

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Rezanov, Nikolai Petrovich (28 March 1764–01 March 1807), colonial administrator, was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, the son of Petr Gavrilovich Rezanov, a judge; his mother’s name is unknown. He received his primary education at home. After short service in the army and civil duties of little significance, Rezanov became chief clerk in the office of Count Ivan G. Chernyshev, vice president of the Admiralty College. After his family friend Gavriil R. Derzhavin was appointed secretary for senate reports, Rezanov became chief clerk in Derzhavin’s office. For some time Rezanov served also in the office of Empress Catherine’s favorite prince, Platon A. Zubov, and carried out several special assignments for the empress....

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Rogers, Robert (07 November 1731–18 May 1795), soldier, was born in Methuen, Massachusetts, the son of James Rogers and Mary (maiden name unknown), farmers. Soon after his birth, his father, an Irish settler, moved the family to Dunbarton, New Hampshire, then the frontier, where he was raised. Rogers grew to be a skilled trader and frontiersman and became a colonial scout in the third French and Indian War, “King George’s War.” In 1755 he worked as a recruiter for Massachusetts colonial governor ...