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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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Bierce, Ambrose Gwinnett (24 June 1842–1914?), author and journalist, was born in the Horse Cave settlement in Meigs County, Ohio, the son of Marcus Aurelius Bierce and Laura Sherwood, farmers. The family was poor and moved several times, eventually settling in Elkhart, Indiana. His parents were strongly evangelical Protestant, but Bierce early resented his religious indoctrination and moved toward agnosticism. He briefly attended the Kentucky Military Institute in 1859. He enlisted at once in the Union army when the Civil War began in 1861 and was soon appointed a sergeant. He was later commissioned a second lieutenant and had risen to first lieutenant when invalided out of the army because of wounds in January 1865. He was brevetted major by President ...

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Bromfield, Louis (27 December 1896–18 March 1956), novelist, experimental farmer, and newspaper columnist, was born in Mansfield, Ohio, the son of Charles Bromfield, a banker and local Democratic office holder, and Annette Marie Coulter. His father was from an old New England family, and his mother was the daughter of a pioneer family of Richland County, Ohio; both ancestries would influence his later fiction. Bromfield attended Mansfield public schools, spending summers on his mother’s family’s farm. In 1914–1915 he studied agriculture at Cornell University and then briefly attended Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio. He then studied journalism at Columbia University until his enlistment in the U.S. Army Ambulance Service in June 1917. He served with Section 577, attached to the French army, from December 1917 to February 1919. He participated in seven major battles during World War I and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. He was discharged in June 1919 while still in France....

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Cable, George Washington (12 October 1844–31 January 1925), author, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of businessman George Washington Cable, Sr., and Rebecca Boardman. His parents were originally northerners, and this fact contributed ultimately to accusations in the southern press that Cable did not present the South accurately in his writings. In fact, Cable was deeply immersed in both the contemporary life and the rich history of Louisiana, and he was particularly sensitive to the complex interactions of race, gender, and economics in the Deep South....

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Davis, Clyde Brion (22 May 1894–19 July 1962), journalist and novelist, was born in Unadilla, Nebraska, the son of Charles N. Davis and Isabel Brion, shopkeepers. When Clyde was one year old the family moved to Chillicothe, Missouri, where Clyde’s father operated a saw mill. Clyde attended high school in Kansas City, excelling in gymnastics and drawing. He dropped out of school at fourteen and worked for a time as a printer’s apprentice, attending the Kansas City Art Institute at night. Eventually he got a job in the art department of the ...

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Davis, Richard Harding (18 April 1864–11 April 1916), foreign correspondent and author, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Rebecca Harding Davis, a novelist, and Lemuel Clarke Davis, a newspaper editor. Davis’s mother, once a promising writer, had turned to churning out potboilers to support her family, and Richard carried from childhood the burden of her frustrated ambitions....

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Dos Passos, John (14 January 1896–28 September 1970), writer, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of John Randolph Dos Passos, a lawyer, and Lucy Addison Sprigg Madison. His parents were married in 1910, when his father’s first wife died, and in 1912 the boy took his father’s name of Dos Passos; before that he was known as John Roderigo Madison. As an illegitimate child he had lived a rootless life, traveling much in Europe with his mother. She died in 1915. The necessary secrecy of his boyhood, the mixture of admiration and fear Dos Passos felt toward his powerful father—who was both an important corporate lawyer and the author of books on trusts and the stock market—and his dependence on his beautiful, often unhappy southern mother affected him deeply. A timid boy, Dos Passos found excitement in reading, studying languages, and observing the art of the time; he discovered his greatest joy in writing. His early poems, with those of ...

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Fern, Fanny (09 July 1811–10 October 1872), newspaper columnist and novelist, was born Sarah Payson Willis in Portland, Maine, the daughter of Hannah Parker and Nathaniel Willis, a printer and founder of the first periodical for children.

Although the beautiful and high-spirited Fern rebelled against her father’s grim Calvinistic creed, she was passionately attached to her mother, who she believed had imbued her with talent. At a time when colleges were not open to women, Fern received as close to a college education as was available from the Hartford Female Seminary. In May 1837 Fern married Charles Harrington Eldredge, a cashier at the Merchant’s Bank of Boston. They had three children....

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Gallico, Paul William (26 July 1897–15 July 1976), writer, was born in New York City, the son of Paolo Gallico, an Italian concert pianist and music teacher, and Hortense Erlich, an Austrian. Although he was educated in New York City’s public school system, Gallico spent much of his childhood accompanying his parents while his father toured the United States and Europe giving concerts. Gallico grew to be a large, athletic man, standing 6′ 3″. His interest in sport, an enthusiasm his European father did not understand, developed along with his interest in writing. Gallico wrote his first story in Brussels at the age of ten. Though his father prevented him from playing high school football, Gallico lettered four years in crew at Columbia University, serving as captain his senior year....

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Hale, Edward Everett (03 April 1822–10 June 1909), author, reformer, and Unitarian minister, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Nathan Hale, a journalist, and Sarah Preston Everett. His father was a nephew of revolutionary war hero Captain Nathan Hale, and his maternal uncle and namesake was the orator and statesman ...

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Hemingway, Ernest (21 July 1899–02 July 1961), writer, was born Ernest Miller Hemingway in Oak Park, Illinois, the son of Clarence Edmonds Hemingway, a doctor, and Grace Hall, a musician and voice teacher. Oak Park sits foursquare on the Illinois prairie, eight miles west of downtown Chicago, where it was developed to hold at bay the corruption of the city. With its insistence on constant vigil against corrupting forces, the Village of Oak Park, as it called itself, put tremendous pressures on its sons and daughters. In the village of his youth, Hemingway was theoretically protected by city ordinances from uncensored movies, boxing matches, any information on venereal disease or birth control, all forms of gambling and prostitution, and all consumption of alcohol. Until he turned eighteen, Hemingway could not legally buy cigarettes, play billiards, drive a car, or own a cap gun within the village limits. Unless accompanied by a parent or responsible adult, young Hemingway, governed by the village curfew, could not be out of the house after 8:00 ...

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Hoffman, Charles Fenno (07 February 1806–07 June 1884), writer and editor, was born in New York City, the son of Josiah Ogden Hoffman, a prominent judge, and his second wife, Maria Fenno. At the age of eleven, Hoffman was seriously injured in an accident along the New York docks, resulting in the amputation of his right leg above the knee. In spite of the accident, he was an avid athlete and outdoorsman. In 1821 he entered Columbia College, where he was active in student life but never rose above the bottom fifth of his class. He left Columbia after two years, and in 1823 he began to study law in the Albany office of Harmanus Bleeker. Admitted to the bar in 1827, he returned to New York and began to practice law. Soon after, he began contributing essays, reviews, and poems to the ...

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Holland, Josiah Gilbert (24 July 1819–12 October 1881), editor and writer, was born in Belchertown, Massachusetts, the son of Harrison Holland, a hardworking but unsuccessful mechanic and inventor, and Anna Gilbert Holland. The father's jobs took the family to Heath, South Hadley, Granby, and Northampton, and elsewhere in central and western Massachusetts. During his early years, Holland worked in small factories and attended district schools irregularly and Northampton High School briefly, leaving because of illness. While a teenager, he taught school, taught penmanship, and made daguerreotypes. After studying the rudiments of medicine with two physicians in Northampton beginning in 1840, Holland attended the Berkshire Medical College in Pittsfield, graduated in 1844, but was unable in the following three years to develop a practice in Springfield. He married Elizabeth Luna Chapin in 1845; the couple had three children. He tried his hand sporadically at writing and founded a short-lived weekly magazine in 1847. He was a school superintendent briefly in Richmond, Virginia (1848), and then in Vicksburg, Mississippi (1848–1850)....

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Kelland, Clarence Budington (11 July 1881–18 February 1964), journalist and author, was born in Portland, Michigan, the son of Thomas Kelland, an English weaver who came to the United States just before the Civil War, and Margaret Budington, a millinery shop proprietor. Growing up in the small town of Portland, Kelland was left with a firm belief in the value of industry, frugality, honesty, and a strong sense of community spirit that when combined contributed to an idealistic view of the American experiment he never lost. When he was ten, the family moved to Detroit, where Kelland attended private schools. He received an LL.B. degree from Detroit College of Law in 1902. After a brief try at law, he began working for the ...

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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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London, Jack (12 January 1876–22 November 1916), writer, war correspondent, and agronomist, was born in San Francisco, California, the son of Flora Wellman and, allegedly, William Henry Chaney, a reformer and professor of astrology. Chaney separated from his common-law wife when he learned of her pregnancy, angrily denying his paternity and later insisting (in two 1897 letters written in response to London’s inquiries) that he had been impotent at the time of the child’s conception. Wellman nevertheless named her son “John Griffith Chaney” on his birth certificate....

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Mathews, Cornelius (28 October 1817?–25 March 1889), author and editor, was born in Port Chester, New York, the son of Abijah Mathews, a cabinetmaker, and Catherine Van Cott. Little is known about Mathews’s childhood. No diaries, letters, or articles exist before the mid-1830s. However, according to Trows New York Directory, his family moved from Westchester County to Manhattan, and Mathews resided for the rest of his life in various locations in lower Manhattan. He attended Columbia University from 1830 to 1832. In 1833 he transferred to the College of the City of New York, now known as New York University. The Reverend James Mathews, a relative of the family, was the chancellor of the newly established college. Cornelius Mathews received his A.B. degree in the first graduating class of 1834, and, at the commencement ceremony held at the Middle Dutch Church of New York, he gave a speech titled “Females of the American Revolution.” Mathews was admitted to the bar in 1837 and practiced law for a short time. He became the first president of the university’s alumni association in 1846. For a Eucleian Society meeting he presented his speech “Americanism—What Is It?” (1845), later published in the ...

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McKay, Claude (15 September 1890–22 May 1948), poet, novelist, and journalist, was born Festus Claudius McKay in Sunny Ville, Clarendon Parish, Jamaica, the son of Thomas Francis McKay and Hannah Ann Elizabeth Edwards, farmers. The youngest of eleven children, McKay was sent at an early age to live with his oldest brother, a schoolteacher, so that he could be given the best education available. An avid reader, McKay began to write poetry at the age of ten. In 1906 he decided to enter a trade school, but when the school was destroyed by an earthquake he became apprenticed to a carriage and cabinetmaker; a brief period in the constabulary followed. In 1907 McKay came to the attention of Walter Jekyll, an English gentleman residing in Jamaica who became his mentor, encouraging him to write dialect verse. Jekyll later set some of McKay’s verse to music. By the time he immigrated to the United States in 1912, McKay had established himself as a poet, publishing two volumes of dialect verse, ...

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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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Phillips, David Graham (31 October 1867–24 January 1911), journalist and novelist, was born in Madison, Indiana, the son of David Graham Phillips, Sr., a bank cashier and local politician, and Margaret Lee. Raised in a prosperous family, Phillips spent his childhood in an atmosphere of middle-class comfort. With the aid of tutors and his father’s extensive private library, he was able to graduate from Madison High School in 1882. Shortly before his fifteenth birthday he entered Asbury College (now DePauw University, in Greencastle, Ind.) as the youngest member of the freshman class. Phillips began a lifelong friendship at Asbury with his classmate ...