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Buck, Pearl S. (26 June 1892–06 March 1973), author and humanitarian, was born Pearl Sydenstricker in Hillsboro, West Virginia, the daughter of Absalom Sydenstricker and Caroline Stulting, missionaries who were on furlough from their Presbyterian missionary activities in China when Pearl, their first daughter, was born in the United States. Three months later the infant was taken to China when her parents returned to their duties. Educated by her mother at home and then by a Chinese tutor, Buck later attributed much of her knowledge to the influence of her Chinese amah who, together with Chinese playmates, gave her many insights into her exotic surroundings and developed imaginative outlets. Indeed Buck claimed that in her early years she was more fluent in Chinese than in English. She received additional training at a mission school and in 1909 was sent to board for a year at Miss Jewell’s School in Shanghai. Her parents insisted that she attend college in the United States, so in 1910 she enrolled in Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she won several academic honors and graduated four years later with a bachelor of arts degree. She received a teaching assistantship at Randolph-Macon, but upon learning that her mother was seriously ill she returned to China to care for her....

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Cleaver, Eldridge (31 August 1935–01 May 1998), social activist and writer, was born Leroy Eldridge Cleaver in Wabbaseka, Arkansas, the son of Leroy Cleaver, a waiter and nightclub piano player, and Thelma Hattie Robinson Cleaver, an elementary school teacher. When Cleaver was ten the family moved to Phoenix, Arizona; three years later, they moved again, this time to Los Angeles, California. Soon after, his parents separated. At this time, Cleaver became involved in criminal activities. In 1949 he was arrested for stealing a bicycle and was sent to reform school. In 1952 he was arrested for selling marijuana and was sent back to reform school. In 1954, a few days after his release, Cleaver was again arrested for marijuana possession and was sent to Soledad State Prison for a term of two and a half years....

Article

Equiano, Olaudah (1745–31 March 1797), sailor, abolitionist, and writer, also known as Gustavus Vassa, was born in eastern Nigeria, the son of an Ibo village chief. When he was eleven, people from another Ibo village captured Equiano and his sister, beginning a six-month period during which he was separated from his sister and sold from one master to another until he reached the coast. There Equiano’s African masters sold him to white slave traders headed for Barbados. From Barbados he traveled to Virginia, where he was bought by Henry Pascal, the captain of a British trading vessel. During the spring 1757 voyage to England, Pascal gave Equiano the name Gustavus Vassa, which he used throughout his life, yet Equiano still included his African name on the title page of his autobiography....

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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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Martin, Anne Henrietta (30 September 1875–15 April 1951), suffragist and feminist essayist, was born in Empire City, Nevada, the daughter of William O’Hara Martin, a state senator, merchant, and Reno bank president, and Louise Stadtmuller. She attended Bishop Whitaker’s School for Girls in Reno, then the University of Nevada (1892–1894), where she received a B.A. in history. After a second B.A. in 1896 and an M.A. in history in 1897, both from Stanford University, she founded the history department at the University of Nevada and headed it until 1899. From 1899 to 1901 she continued her studies at Chase School of Art, Columbia University, and the Universities of Leipzig and London; she then lectured in art history at Nevada until 1903....

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Mencken, H. L. (12 September 1880–29 January 1956), author, editor, and journalist, was born Henry Louis Mencken in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of August Mencken, a cigar manufacturer, and Anna Abhau. Having emigrated from Germany during the mid-nineteenth century, the Menckens and Abhaus had quickly adapted to life in the United States, and they provided a home more Victorian than German-American for their four children. Henry Mencken, the eldest, did attend a private German school for his earliest education, but he completed his formal education at Baltimore Polytechnic, a high school primarily responsible for producing engineers and technicians....

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Moody, Anne (15 Sept. 1940–5 Feb. 2015), civil rights activist and author, was born Essie Mae Moody in Centreville, Mississippi; before starting high school, she discovered her name had originally been recorded as “Annie Mae Moody,” which she preferred. She was the eldest child of Fred Moody and Elmira (Williams) Moody, and the first of her mother’s ten children. Her parents worked as sharecroppers in Wilkinson County, near the Mississippi–Louisiana border....

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Murray, Pauli (20 November 1910–01 July 1985), lawyer, writer, and minister, was born Anna Pauline Murray in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of William Henry Murray, a public school teacher, and Agnes Fitzgerald, a nurse. Triracial, she had African, European, and Native American ancestry. Her parents both died when she was a child (her mother had a cerebral hemorrhage in March 1914; her father was murdered in a state hospital in June 1923), and she grew up from age three in North Carolina with her maternal grandparents and her mother’s oldest sister, Pauline Fitzgerald Dame, a public school teacher who adopted her....

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Smith, Lillian Eugenia (12 December 1897–28 September 1966), essayist, novelist, and social critic, was born in Jasper, Florida, the daughter of Anne Hester Simpson and Calvin Warren Smith, a prominent businessman and civic leader. The relative economic and social security of her childhood, richly re-created in her ...