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Adams, Harriet Chalmers (22 October 1875–17 July 1937), explorer, lecturer, and writer, was born Harriet Chalmers in Stockton, California. Her father, Alexander Chalmers, Canadian via Scotland, came to California in 1864 to try his luck mining; he later ran a dry goods store with his brother before becoming a mine superintendent and part-owner. Her mother, Frances Wilkins, had grown up in the Sierra Nevada foothills. From the age of eleven Harriet and her sister Anna had private tutors. Her mother encouraged Harriet’s love of reading, while travels with her father developed her interest in the natural world as well as the Native American and Spanish-speaking cultures in the region. At thirteen Harriet and her father spent more than six months meandering the length of the Sierras from Oregon to Mexico, cementing her lifelong love of adventure. As a young woman Harriet continued her indoor and outdoor studies and had an active social life. She was fluent in Spanish and spoke Portuguese, French, Italian, and German as well....

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Atherton, Gertrude Franklin (30 October 1857–14 June 1948), author, biographer, and historian, was born Gertrude Franklin Horn in San Francisco, California, the daughter of Thomas Horn, a businessman, and Gertrude Franklin. Her maternal grandfather, a grandnephew of Benjamin Franklin, was a banker and editor of one of San Francisco’s first newspapers. Gertrude lived with him when her parents were divorced after three years of marriage. Although she was well read, her formal education was sporadic—while she was attending the Sayre Institute in Lexington, Kentucky, she contracted tuberculosis. After twice becoming engaged, she eventually eloped in 1876 with George H. Bowen Atherton, a former suitor of her mother’s. They had a daughter and a son who died at the age of six....

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Boyle, Kay (19 February 1902–27 December 1992), writer, educator, and political activist, was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, the daughter of Howard Peterson Boyle, a lawyer, and Katherine Evans, a literary and social activist. Her grandfather had founded the West Publishing Company, and the financial security afforded by this background allowed the Boyle family to travel extensively. Boyle’s education was sporadic, culminating in two years of architecture classes at the Ohio Mechanics’ Institute (1917–1919). In 1922 Boyle joined her sister Joan in New York City, where she began to work for ...

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Chase, Mary Ellen (24 February 1887–28 July 1973), writer and educator, was born in Blue Hill, Maine, the daughter of Edward Everett Chase, a lawyer, and Edith Lord, a teacher of Latin. Religion, education, and reading were basic to the Chase family’s way of life, as described by Chase herself in three autobiographical volumes: ...

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Emerson, Ralph Waldo (25 May 1803–27 April 1882), lecturer and author, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of William Emerson, a Congregational minister, and Ruth Haskins. Ralph was one of eight children. His father was a liberal, Concord-born minister of the First Church in Boston and active in the city’s intellectual and social life, being an editor of the ...

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Fisher, Dorothy F. Canfield (17 February 1879–09 November 1958), author and educational leader, was born Dorothea Frances Canfield in Lawrence, Kansas, the daughter of James Hulme Canfield, a professor of economics and sociology at the University of Kansas, and Flavia A. Camp, an artist. As a child Dorothy summered with relatives in Arlington, Vermont. In 1890 she went to Paris with her mother, visited her mother’s studio in the Latin Quarter, and attended a convent school....

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Ginsberg, Allen (03 June 1926–06 April 1997), poet, was born in Newark, New Jersey, the younger son of Louis Ginsberg, a high school English teacher and and Naomi Levy Ginsberg. Ginsberg grew up with his older brother Eugene in a household shadowed by his mother's mental illness; she suffered from recurrent epileptic seizures and paranoia. An active member of the Communist Party–USA, Naomi Ginsberg took her sons to meetings of the radical left dedicated to the cause of international Communism during the Great Depression of the 1930s....

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Hayden, Robert Earl (04 August 1913–25 February 1980), poet and teacher, was born Asa Bundy Sheffey in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Asa Sheffey, a steel-mill worker, and Gladys Ruth Finn. Early in his childhood, his parents separated and he was given to neighbors William and Sue Ellen Hayden, who also were black, and who reared and renamed him. Hayden grew up in a poor, racially mixed neighborhood. Extremely nearsighted, unathletic, and introverted, he spent much of his youth indoors reading and writing. When he was eighteen, he published his first poem. Hayden attended Detroit City College from 1932 to 1936; worked for the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) from 1936 to 1938; published his first volume of poetry, ...

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Heco, Joseph (1837–1897), government interpreter, merchant, and publisher, was born Hamada Hikozō in the village of Komiya, near Kobe, Japan, on the eastern shore of the Inland Sea, the second son of a well-to-do farmer. After his father’s death his mother remarried, to a sea captain who adopted him. While on what should have been a brief internal voyage in late 1850, his ship was blown into the Pacific. He and sixteen other persons, after drifting for fifty-two days, were picked up by a U.S. ship that landed at San Francisco in February 1851. The American authorities, planning for Commodore ...

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Holt, Hamilton Bowen (19 August 1872–26 April 1951), editor, reformer, and college president, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of George Chandler Holt, an attorney and judge, and Mary Louisa Bowen. Holt grew up in Spuyten Duyvil, New York, attending several private schools and graduating from Columbia Grammar School in 1890. After receiving his A.B. from Yale in 1894, he studied sociology and economics for three years at Columbia University. In 1899 he married Alexina Crawford Smith; they had four children. In his prime Holt was a large, broad-shouldered man who possessed a warm personality and great energy....

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Hurston, Zora Neale (07 January 1891?–28 January 1960), writer and anthropologist, was born in Eatonville, Florida, the daughter of John Hurston, a Baptist minister and carpenter, and Lucy Ann Potts. John Hurston’s family had been Alabama tenant farmers until he moved to Eatonville, the first African-American town incorporated in the United States. He served three terms as its mayor and is said to have written Eatonville’s ordinances. Zora Neale Hurston studied at its Hungerford School, where followers of ...

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Jackson, John Brinckerhoff (25 September 1909–28 August 1996), essayist, cultural geographer, and interpreter of the American-built environment, was born in Dinard, France, the son of William Brinckerhoff Jackson, an independently wealthy attorney, and Alice Richardson Jackson, who later became an antiques buyer for Bonwit Teller department store in New York City. John's parents lived near Washington, D.C., and traveled widely. They divorced when he was four, and he then lived in Europe and the New York area with his mother and two siblings by her previous marriage. John's father paid for him to attend the best private boarding schools in the United States and Europe, including drawing classes near Fontainbleau and two years at Le Rosey in Switzerland. John also spent several summers on his uncle Percy Jackson's ranch in Wagon Mound, New Mexico. By his teenage years, John was fluent in French, German, and Spanish, and was adept at sketching as a method of recording built environments....

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Johnson, Alvin Saunders (18 December 1874–07 June 1971), economist, educator, and journalist, was born near Homer, Dakota County, Nebraska, the son of John Johnson and Edel Maria Katrina Bille, farmers. Johnson’s father emigrated from Denmark to the United States in 1849 with the name Jens Jensen Deyrup; the immigration officer gave him the name John Johnson. Johnson’s mother emigrated from Denmark in 1867. By the time she arrived in Nebraska, John had fought in the Civil War and outlived two other wives, who had left him with five children. Johnson’s parents subsequently had three more children....

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Josephson, Matthew (15 February 1899–13 March 1978), writer, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Julius Josephson, a banker, and Sarah Kasindorf. A child of Jewish immigrants from Romania and Russia, Josephson graduated from Columbia University in 1920. That same year he married Hannah Geffen, a nineteen-year-old reporter for the ...

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Keller, Helen (27 June 1880–01 June 1968), author, reformer, and symbol of personal courage, was born Helen Adams Keller in Tuscumbia, Alabama, the daughter of former Confederate captain Arthur H. Keller, a publisher and business entrepreneur, and Kate Adams. She was an unexceptional child until struck in her nineteenth month by an illness that was, possibly, scarlet fever. The event, she later recalled, “closed my eyes and ears and plunged me into the unconsciousness of a newborn baby.” Profoundly and permanently deaf and blind, she was to carve out a life that astonished nearly everyone....

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La Farge, Oliver Hazard Perry (19 December 1901–02 August 1963), anthropologist, author, and advocate of American Indian reform and welfare, was born in New York City, the son of Christopher Grant La Farge, an architect, and Florence Bayard Lockwood. A descendant and namesake of ...

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Lane, Rose Wilder (05 December 1886–30 October 1968), a popular magazine writer, novelist, children's author, and noted libertarian thinker, was born near De Smet in the Dakota Territory (later South Dakota), the only surviving child of the homesteaders Laura Ingalls Wilder and Almanzo Wilder. During Rose's early childhood the family struggled to make a living as pioneers, traveling in a covered wagon throughout the Midwest before finally settling in Mansfield, Missouri, when Rose was eight. Rose's childhood was marked by poverty and the uncertainty of frontier life. She was ostracized by classmates for her shabby clothes and her worn shoes, and she worried constantly about burdening her parents. Among her most charged and symbolic early memories was a house fire that destroyed the family's home and possessions. Young Rose had started the fire to assist her ailing mother on her sickbed, and she would blame herself for the tragedy well into adulthood. Despite these difficulties Lane would later valorize the pioneer experience as a source of fundamental American values—including hard work, stoicism, and mutual aid—that were threatened by the modern welfare state....

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Lattimore, Owen (29 July 1900–31 May 1989), columnist and Asia expert, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of David Lattimore, a professor of modern languages, and Margaret Barnes. In 1901 the family moved to Shanghai, where Lattimore’s father taught in Chinese government schools. In 1912 Lattimore’s mother took the children to study in Switzerland. When World War I broke out, Lattimore went to school in England for five years but failed to win a scholarship to Oxford....

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Leech, Margaret Kernochan (07 November 1893–24 February 1974), historian and novelist, was born in Newburgh, New York, the daughter of William Kernochan Leech, a milkman, and Rebecca Taggert (or Taggart). Leech grew up in the adult world of Newburgh’s Palatine Hotel, where, she later recalled, “we were rather nice hotel children” (Nichols, p. 8). After graduating from nearby Vassar College in 1915, Leech went to New York City, where she answered the complaints of subscribers to ...

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Lin Yutang (10 October 1895–26 March 1976), novelist, linguist, and philosopher, was born Lin Ho-lok in Amoy, Fukien Province, China, the son of Lin Chi-shing, a Presbyterian minister, and Young Shun-min. At age seventeen, he changed his given name, meaning peaceful and happy, to Yutang, meaning elegant language, and came to be known as Lin Yutang. Lin attended English-language schools and graduated from St. John’s University, a private western-oriented institution in Shanghai, in 1916. In the same year he became a teacher at Tsing Hua College in Peking. In January 1919 he married Liu Tsui-fung, a wealthy classmate of his sister; eventually the union produced three children. In the fall of 1919 he embarked with his wife to study comparative literature at Harvard....