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Astor, William Waldorf (31 March 1848–18 October 1919), businessman and philanthropist, was born in New York City, the son of John Jacob Astor, a businessman, and Charlotte Gibbes. Astor received his education at home under private tutors and studied law at Columbia University. He worked at law for a short while but found his first real calling in Republican politics. He served a term as a New York State assemblyman beginning in 1877, and two years later he was elected to the state senate. Twice he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, but he was defeated each time. The press and his political enemies found Astor’s inherited wealth an easy target for excoriation, and the public humiliation he suffered at their hands was the first step on the path toward his alienation from everything American. By all accounts Astor was extremely sensitive and simply could not endure criticism. Nor did he find satisfaction in his 1878 marriage to Mary Dahlgren Paul, although the union produced four children. The marriage suffered as shy Mary Astor was forced into a contest with her husband’s Aunt Caroline for the position of most important society matron in New York’s upper crust—the famous “Four Hundred Families.” In addition, the Astors were concerned for the safety of their children, whom they feared might become victims of a kidnapping for ransom....

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Barton, Clara (25 December 1821–12 April 1912), philanthropist, was born Clarissa Harlowe Barton in North Oxford, Massachusetts, the daughter of Stephen Barton, a farmer and local politician, and Sarah Stone. The childhood nickname “Clara” stuck, and throughout her life she was known to the world as Clara Barton. Her family had lived in New England for generations, and Barton grew up hearing stories of her ancestors’ escapades during the American Revolution. Despite her family’s comfortable position and local renown, however, her childhood was not happy. Her parents’ troubled marriage and erratic behavior, the insanity and early death of her favorite sister, and the questionable business dealings of her brothers made for an unstable home life. When in later life she recalled her childhood, she wrote, “I remember nothing but fear.”...

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Bok, Edward William (09 October 1863–09 January 1930), editor, philanthropist, and peace advocate, was born in den Helder, Holland, the son of William John Hidde Bok and Sieke Gertrude van Herwerden, who, having lost their inherited fortune through unwise investments, immigrated to the United States in 1870. They settled in Brooklyn, where Bok and his older brother learned English in public school. With his father at first unable to find steady employment, Bok delivered newspapers, worked in a bakery, and wrote up childrens’ parties for the ...

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Booth, Evangeline Cory (25 December 1865–17 July 1950), fourth general and first female general of the Salvation Army, was born Eveline Cory Booth in South Hackney, London, England, the seventh of eight children of Catherine Mumford and William Booth, a Methodist minister. Earlier that year the Booths left the church and formed the East London Christian Mission, committing to a more evangelical, "for the people" style of missionary work than they felt Methodism allowed. In 1878 the newly dubbed "General" William Booth renamed their group the Salvation Army. His daughter received no formal education but was a devoted participant in her parents' evangelical organization and from a young age considered herself specially anointed to work with the needy. Growing up, she was called Eva after a character in ...

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Brown, Margaret Tobin (18 July 1867–26 October 1932), social rights activist, philanthropist, actress, and Titanic survivor, social rights activist, philanthropist, actress, and Titanic survivor, popularly known as Molly Brown, was born Margaret Tobin in Hannibal, Missouri, the daughter of Irish immigrants. The real life of Margaret Tobin Brown has little to do with the myth of Molly Brown, a story created in the 1930s and 1940s that culminated in the 1960 Broadway hit ...

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Bundy, McGeorge (30 March 1919–16 September 1996), presidential foreign affairs adviser and philanthropist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Harvey Hollister Bundy, a highly successful lawyer who served as a special assistant to Secretary of War Henry Stimson during World War II, and Katherine Putnam Bundy, who was related to several of Boston's most socially prominent families. He grew up in a noisy, high-spirited household where he and his siblings were encouraged to join their elders in debate about history and politics around the dinner table. (His older brother, ...

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Carnegie, Andrew (25 November 1835–11 August 1919), industrialist and philanthropist, was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, the son of William Carnegie, a handloom weaver, and Margaret Morrison. William Carnegie was sufficiently prosperous to have four looms in his shop and to employ three apprentices. Although shunning political activism, he was an enthusiastic supporter of the political views of his wife’s father, Thomas Morrison, Sr., an early leader of the Chartist movement and a friend of William Cobbett to whose journal, ...

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Cooper, Peter (12 February 1791–04 April 1883), inventor, manufacturer, and civic benefactor, was born in New York City, the son of John Cooper and Margaret Campbell. His father was a struggling merchant who moved the family successively to Peekskill, Catskill, and finally Newburgh, New York, in search of financial success. Assisting his father in a series of occupations (hatter, brewer, shopkeeper, and brickmaker), Cooper obtained valuable practical work experience. Given his family’s relative poverty and constant movement, Cooper was only able to obtain a year’s worth of formal schooling; this deficiency in his formal education haunted him throughout his life....

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Corcoran, William Wilson (27 December 1798–24 February 1888), banker, investor, and philanthropist, was born in Georgetown, District of Columbia, the son of Thomas Corcoran, an Irish-born merchant, real estate seller, and local politician, and Hannah Lemmon. Corcoran, who is usually referred to as “W. W.” rather than William, was educated in local Georgetown schools and spent one year at Georgetown College (now Georgetown University). In 1815 he left college to go into the business of operating a dry goods store with his two older brothers, James and Thomas, Jr. In 1817 Corcoran opened a branch store, and by 1820, the three brothers expanded their interests to include an auction and commission house. After the company went bankrupt in a financial panic in 1823, Corcoran worked until 1847 to pay off all their creditors in full, an act that demonstrated his views regarding honor....

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Eastman, George (12 July 1854–14 March 1932), inventor, businessman, and philanthropist, was born in Waterville, New York, the son of George Washington Eastman, a nurseryman and educator, and Maria Kilbourn. His father’s pioneering work in establishing Eastman Mercantile (or Commercial) College in Rochester in 1842, a prototype for later business schools, perhaps inspired Eastman to be a trailblazer in another field. His father died when George was seven, two years after the family moved to Rochester, and his mother took in boarders. Eastman attended public and private schools until age thirteen, when he became an office boy in a real estate firm to help support his mother and two older sisters. A year later Eastman transferred to an insurance office and in 1874 he became a bookkeeper for the Rochester Savings Bank....

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Field, Marshall, III (28 September 1893–08 November 1956), investor, newspaper publisher, and philanthropist, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Marshall Field II and Albertine Huck. Being the grandson of the first Marshall Field, the Chicago multimillionaire merchant and real-estate developer, meant that Field would be heir to fabulous wealth—all the sooner when his father, unhappy and passive in his active father’s shadow, committed suicide in 1905 and then when his beloved grandfather died of pneumonia two months later. Field’s mother, who had lived in England with her husband and their children and who disliked Chicago, returned to England. The grandfather’s will provided well for Albertine and gave Field and his younger brother a $75 million trust together. Field attended Eton (1907–1912) and then Trinity College, Cambridge (1912–1914), studying mostly history and vacationing with the horsy set. He returned to the United States in 1914 and married Evelyn Marshall the following year; the couple had three children, including Marshall Field IV. He also studied high finance and played polo. In April 1917 he volunteered as a private, despite his earlier rheumatic fever, in the First Illinois Cavalry (quickly converted to artillery service). He was soon commissioned and promoted, saw action in France as a captain with the Thirty-third Division, and was decorated for gallantry at Saint-Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne....

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Graham, Isabella (29 July 1742–27 July 1814), educator and philanthropist, was born Isabella Marshall in Lanarkshire, Scotland, the daughter of John Marshall and Janet Hamilton. She grew up in Elderslie, near Paisley, where she was educated in schools conducted by Rev. John Witherspoon...

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Grinnell, Henry (13 February 1799–30 June 1874), merchant and patron of exploration, was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the son of Cornelius Grinnell, a sea captain, and Sylvia Howland. The seaport of New Bedford was a center of the New England whaling industry, and young Henry took an early interest in the sea. After graduating from New Bedford Academy, Grinnell became a clerk at a shipping company, H. D. and E. B. Sewell, in New York City, and over the next seven years learned the shipping business. In 1814 his older brother, Joseph, had become a partner in another New York shipping firm, Fish & Grinnell. In 1825, after the retirement of Joseph Grinnell’s partner, Preserved Fish, the three Grinnell brothers—Henry, Joseph, and Moses Hicks—joined together to continue the firm under the name Fish, Grinnell & Company....

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Guggenheim, Daniel (09 July 1856–28 September 1930), industrialist and philanthropist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Meyer Guggenheim, a merchant, and Barbara Meyer. At age seventeen Daniel Guggenheim ended his formal education and joined the family lace business. For the next eleven years he worked as a lace buyer in Switzerland, the nation from which his father and grandfather had emigrated a quarter-century earlier. By the time Guggenheim returned to the United States, his father had begun to invest in lead and silver mines in Leadville, Colorado. Although initially leery of shifting the focus of their business to mining, the younger Guggenheim soon committed himself fully to the new venture and eventually assumed a leadership role among his brothers. The family firm, M. Guggenheim’s Sons, expanded its interests beyond mining, building the largest smelter in the world in Pueblo, Colorado. The shift in emphasis from extraction to the more technologically advanced smelting industry typified Daniel Guggenheim’s increasing commitment to technological innovation as a fundamental corporate strategy. International diversification became a second part of that plan, as the family interests spread beyond the borders of the United States....

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Hammer, Armand (21 May 1898–10 December 1990), entrepreneur and philanthropist, was born on the Lower East Side of New York City, the son of Russian-born Julius Hammer, a pharmacist and physician, and Rose Robinson. Hammer’s childhood economic circumstances were better than those of many of his immigrant contemporaries. When he was still a child, his family moved to the Bronx, where his father balanced a quest for a medical degree with the demands of his drugstores. Hammer attended Morris High School and in 1917 registered at Columbia Heights Premedical School. Two years later he enrolled at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, from which he graduated in June 1921....

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Hearst, Phoebe Elizabeth Apperson (03 December 1842–13 April 1919), philanthropist, was born in Franklin County, Missouri, the daughter of Randolph Walker Apperson and Drucilla Whitmire, farmers. She was educated by her parents and in a rude common school near what is now St. Clair, Missouri, southwest of St. Louis. At age seventeen she spent a year with cousins in St. James where she studied French and began the wider reading that became a lifelong occupation. She taught for a year in the Reedville or Ironworks (District 93) School near Sullivan but reportedly was nursing the family neighbor for whom she was named—Elizabeth Collins Hearst—when ...

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Hoover, Herbert Clark (10 August 1874–20 October 1964), engineer, philanthropist, and thirty-first president of the United States, was born in West Branch, Iowa, the son of Jesse Clark Hoover and Hulda[h] Minthorn, farmers. Orphaned at the age of nine, he lived with a variety of relatives in Iowa and finally spent his teenage years in Newberg and Salem, Oregon. Although his parents belonged to a “progressive” branch of Quakers who permitted some organ music and gospel hymns at their meeting house, Hoover’s religious training was quite rigorous under the tutelage of his mother, an ordained Quaker minister....

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Huntington, Anna Vaughn Hyatt (10 March 1876–04 October 1973), sculptor and philanthropist, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the daughter of Alpheus Hyatt II, a professor of zoology and paleontology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at Boston University, and Audella Beebe, an amateur landscape painter. She attended private schools in Cambridge, but at about age seventeen, she began to show an interest in sculpture. This was encouraged by her family, especially by her older sister, Harriet R. Hyatt, who began sculpting in the 1880s. Anna may have accompanied her sister to the Cowles School in Boston to study drawing with ...

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Kearsley, John (1684–11 January 1772), physician, politician, and philanthropist, was baptized in the village of Greatham, County Durham, England. His father was John Kearsley, an Anglican minister; his mother’s name is unknown. Kearsley’s father provided two of his sons with a medical education; young John studied in London without earning a degree. For a time he practiced medicine in England, but in 1711 he emigrated and settled in Philadelphia....

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McCarty, Oseola (07 March 1908–26 September 1999), philanthropist, was born near Shubuta, Mississippi, the daughter of Lucy McCarty and an unnamed father. Largely raised on a small farm by her maternal grandmother, Oseola was taken as a child to visit her mother in various turpentine-processing camps, where her mother was following her stepfather. In 1916 her mother relocated the family to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where Oseola would spend the rest of her life....