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Agee, James Rufus (27 November 1909–16 May 1955), writer, was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, the son of Hugh James Agee, a construction company employee, and Laura Whitman Tyler. The father’s family were poorly educated mountain farmers, while the mother’s were solidly middle class. Agee was profoundly affected by his father’s death in a car accident in 1916. He idealized his absent father and struggled against his mother and her genteel and (he felt) cold values. “Agee’s mother wanted him to be clean, chaste, and sober,” the photographer ...

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Anderson, Margaret (24 November 1886–19 October 1973), editor and author, was born Margaret Carolyn Anderson in Indianapolis, Indiana, the daughter of Arthur Aubrey Anderson and Jessie Shortridge. Anderson’s father was a railway executive who provided a comfortable middle-class existence for his wife and three daughters. Anderson, whose chief interest as a young woman was music and literature, was soon regarded as the rebel of the family. After three years at Western College for Women in Ohio, she dropped out and made her way to Chicago, hoping to find work as a writer. After various stints as a bookstore clerk, print assistant, and part-time critic, Anderson decided to start her own literary journal. With little money but a great deal of enthusiasm and support from friends, Anderson founded the avant-garde ...

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Baker, Ray Stannard (17 April 1870–12 July 1946), journalist and author, was born in Lansing, Michigan, the son of Joseph Stannard Baker and Alice Potter. A descendant of pioneering stock, he grew up in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, where his family moved in 1875 and his father worked as a land agent. Baker later boasted that he had been brought up on the “last frontier.” His mother died in 1883, but his father, a Civil War veteran, strongly impressed Baker with his rugged character, integrity, and common sense. He attended the local schools, discovered the world of books in his parents’ library, and in 1885 enrolled at Michigan Agricultural College in East Lansing. In college Baker discovered a special liking for science courses and also edited the school newspaper. After receiving the B.S. degree in 1889, he returned home to work in his father’s land office. In January 1892 Baker entered law school at the University of Michigan but dropped out after a few months. Meanwhile, he became interested in journalism, partly as the result of a seminar at the university. In the summer of 1892 he found a job with the Chicago ...

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Cowley, Malcolm (24 August 1898–28 March 1989), literary critic and editor, was born in a farmhouse near Belsano, Pennsylvania, the son of William Cowley, a homeopathic physician, and Josephine Hutmacher. After attending Pittsburgh public schools, in which he began a lifelong friendship with the critic ...

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De Casseres, Benjamin (1873–06 December 1945), author and journalist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of David De Casseres, a printer, and Charlotte Davis. On his father’s side he was a collateral descendant of Spinoza. De Casseres left high school at thirteen and went to work as a four-dollar-a-week office boy for ...

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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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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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Morley, Christopher Darlington (05 May 1890–28 March 1957), man of letters and editor, was born in Haverford, Pennsylvania, the son of Frank Morley, a mathematics professor at Haverford College, and Lilian Janet Bird, a musician and poet. She taught him to read, and he soon became a voracious reader. The family moved in 1900 to Baltimore, Maryland, where Morley’s father taught at Johns Hopkins University and Morley attended school and frequented the Enoch Pratt Library. He enrolled at Haverford College in 1906, published in the school’s ...

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Welles, Gideon (01 July 1802–11 February 1878), journalist, diarist, and secretary of the navy, was born in Glastonbury, Connecticut, the son of Samuel Welles, a shipbuilder and merchant in the West Indies trade, and Anne Hale. Welles studied law with William W. Ellsworth in Hartford, Connecticut, but never practiced. In 1835 he married his cousin Mary Jane Hale. They had nine children, three of whom survived to adulthood....

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Whiting, Lilian (03 October 1847–30 April 1942), journalist, essayist, and poet, was born Emily Lilian Whiting in Olcott, New York, the daughter of Lorenzo Dow Whiting, an educator and politician, and Lucretia Calista Clement, an educator. Her childhood was spent on a farm near Tiskilwa, Illinois. Both her parents were school principals in the area. Later, her father edited a local paper and served as representative and senator in the Illinois State legislature. Whiting was educated by her parents and tutors. “I do not remember learning to read,” Whiting said, “I was simply steeped, always and naturally as the sunshine, in the literary atmosphere of our quiet country home. The poets were my playmates, so to speak, my companions, my perpetual delight” (Rittenhouse, p. 4). The chief furnishings of her home, she said, were books and periodicals. She called herself a “dreamy and rudimentary girl who perceived the world as reflected through the pages of books rather than from outer realities themselves, and who was prone to regard the land of dreams as the only one worth living in” ( ...