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Ames, Fisher (09 April 1758–04 July 1808), Federalist party leader, member of Congress, essayist, and renowned orator, was born in Dedham, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel Ames, Sr., a physician, tavern keeper, and almanac writer, and Deborah Fisher. Intellectually honed, Ames was admitted to Harvard at twelve. Steeped in the classics, he excelled in elocution and participated in a debating club, the Institute of 1770. Graduating in 1774, he served with the Dedham militia at the time of the battle of Bunker Hill but did not see combat. At home he pursued his scholarly interests, reading widely in classical literature and history. He also occasionally taught school. Under the tutelage of the prominent ...

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Angelou, Maya (4 Apr. 1928–28 May 2014), writer, performer, and activist, was born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, the second child of Bailey Johnson, Sr., a doorman and Navy dietitian, and Vivian Baxter, a registered nurse, cocktail hostess, and Merchant Marine. Her brother, Bailey, Jr., nicknamed her Maya, and the name stuck. After their parents’ divorce, the two young children were sent alone on a train from San Francisco to Stamps, Arkansas, to be met and raised by their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, and their father’s brother, Uncle Willie, who was disabled. Grandmother Henderson had managed to build and own a general store with living quarters in the back, and it was also a safe black community gathering place in the segregated town. Uncle Willie provided a steady stream of good reading and high scholastic expectations, and their grandmother, “Momma,” taught them no-nonsense life skills, took them to church, and loved them....

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Berger, Victor Louis (28 February 1860–07 August 1929), a founder and leader of the Socialist Party of America and a U.S. congressman, was born in the Nieder-Rehbach region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (now Romania) to Ignatz Berger and his wife, Julia (maiden name unknown), innkeepers. Berger attended the Universities of Vienna and Budapest for two years. His family suffered economic reversals and in 1878 emigrated to Bridgeport, Connecticut. In 1881 Berger settled in Milwaukee, where he taught school. In the heavily Germanic city he emerged as a leader, initially through the ...

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Berrigan, Philip (05 October 1923–06 December 2002), political activist, was born Philip Francis Berrigan in Two Harbors, Minnesota, the youngest of six sons of Thomas W. Berrigan, a railroad engineer and union organizer who espoused radical politics, and Frida Fromhart Berrigan. Frida Berrigan, an immigrant from Germany, saw to it that her children were raised as strict Catholics; her husband, a second‐generation Irish Catholic, was less observant, preferring to write poetry rather than attend church. When Philip was a child his father was fired from the railroad, allegedly because of his politics. The family resettled on a small farm near Syracuse, New York, where Thomas Berrigan found work at a power plant and organized a local branch of the Electrical Workers Union....

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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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Cass, Lewis (09 October 1782–17 June 1866), political leader and presidential candidate, was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, the oldest child of Jonathan Cass, a skilled craftsman, revolutionary war veteran, soldier, and landowner, and Mary Gilman, daughter of a wealthy merchant. Both parents’ families had emigrated to New England in the seventeenth century. Cass was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy between 1792 and 1799, briefly taught school in Delaware, and then moved to Marietta in the Ohio territory, where his family had gone while his father served in the army on the frontier. Cass studied law in a local law office and established a practice in Zanesville, Ohio, where he married Elizabeth Spencer, a doctor’s daughter, in 1806. The family grew to include four daughters and one son....

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Cummings, Homer Stillé (30 April 1870–10 September 1956), attorney, Democratic party leader, and attorney general of the United States, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Uriah C. Cummings, a businessman, and Audie Schuyler Stillé. Educated at the Heathcote School in upstate New York, the Sheffield School of Engineering of Yale University, and the Yale Law School, from which he graduated in 1893, Cummings opened a legal practice in Stamford, Connecticut, soon thereafter and formed a partnership with Charles D. Lockwood that lasted until he joined the ...

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Dorr, Thomas Wilson (05 November 1805–27 December 1854), political and social reformer, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Sullivan Dorr, a wealthy merchant and business leader, and Lydia Allen, a prominent socialite and sister of noted inventor Zechariah Allen and Rhode Island governor and U.S. senator ...

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Douglas, Helen Gahagan (25 November 1900–28 June 1980), actress and politician, was born in Boonton, New Jersey, the daughter of Walter Hamer Gahagan, a civil and contracting engineer, and Lillian Rose Mussen. In 1905 the family moved to an exclusive neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Helen’s authoritarian father made all the family decisions; her mother stressed education and the religious values of the Episcopal church. She also had a penchant for the opera and took Helen to every performance of the Metropolitan Opera. As a child Helen often staged dramatic presentations atop her father’s billiard table for siblings and friends. Although bright, she was a poor student and dreamed of being an actress, a career choice neither parent found acceptable....

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Du Bois, W. E. B. (23 February 1868–27 August 1963), African-American activist, historian, and sociologist, was born William Edward Burghardt Du Bois in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the son of Mary Silvina Burghardt, a domestic worker, and Alfred Du Bois, a barber and itinerant laborer. In later life Du Bois made a close study of his family origins, weaving them rhetorically and conceptually—if not always accurately—into almost everything he wrote. Born in Haiti and descended from Bahamian mulatto slaves, Alfred Du Bois enlisted during the Civil War as a private in a New York regiment of the Union army but appears to have deserted shortly afterward. He also deserted the family less than two years after his son’s birth, leaving him to be reared by his mother and the extended Burghardt kin. Long resident in New England, the Burghardts descended from a freedman of Dutch slave origin who had fought briefly in the American Revolution. Under the care of his mother and her relatives, young Will Du Bois spent his entire childhood in that small western Massachusetts town, where probably fewer than two-score of the 4,000 inhabitants were African American. He received a classical, college preparatory education in Great Barrington’s racially integrated high school, from whence, in June 1884, he became the first African-American graduate. A precocious youth, Du Bois not only excelled in his high school studies but contributed numerous articles to two regional newspapers, the Springfield ...

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Edge, Walter Evans (20 November 1873–29 October 1956), New Jersey businessman and political leader, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of William Edge, a railroad manager, and Mary Elizabeth Evans. In 1877 his family moved to Pleasantville, New Jersey, and in 1887 he took a job as a printer’s devil for the ...

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Edwards, India (16 June 1895–14 January 1990), politician and women's advocate, politician and women’s advocate, was born India Walker in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Archibald Walker and India Thomas Walker. Her father left home when she was four, and her mother married John A. Gillespie, a Canadian, whom India considered to be her real father. She attended public schools in Chicago, Nashville, and St. Louis....

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Farley, James Aloysius (30 May 1888–09 June 1976), chairman of the Democratic National Committee and postmaster general of the United States in the first two administrations of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, chairman of the Democratic National Committee and postmaster general of the United States in the first two administrations of ...

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Fletcher, Henry Prather (10 April 1873–10 July 1959), diplomat and Republican party leader, was born in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, the son of Lewis Henry Clay Fletcher, a bank cashier, and Martha Ellen Rowe. Fletcher’s mother died prematurely in 1882, leaving his father to raise eight children alone. Two years later his father accepted an auditor’s position with the Cumberland Railroad, and the family moved to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. After graduating from a nearby private academy, Fletcher served as district court reporter and read law with his uncle, D. Watson Rowe. He passed the bar examination in 1894 and subsequently formed a law partnership with his uncle and became active in the local Republican party. Later, Fletcher would perceive his lack of a college education as a personal shortcoming, despite receiving honorary law degrees from several institutions....

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Foster, Judith Ellen Horton Avery (03 November 1840–11 August 1910), lawyer, temperance activist, and Republican party leader, was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, the daughter of Jotham Horton, a blacksmith and a Methodist minister, and Judith Delano. Both parents died when she was young, and Judith moved to Boston to live with her older married sister. She then lived with a relative in Lima, New York, where she attended the Genessee Wesleyan Seminary. After graduation she taught school until her first marriage to Addison Avery in 1860. They had two children, one of whom died in childhood. The marriage ended about 1866, and she moved to Chicago, supporting herself and her child by teaching music in a mission school. In Chicago she met Elijah Caleb Foster, a native of Canada and a recent graduate of the University of Michigan Law School. After their marriage in 1869, they moved to Clinton, Iowa. They had two children; one died at the age of five....

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Graham, Shirley (11 November 1896–27 March 1977), musical composer and director, author, and political activist, also known as Shirley Graham Du Bois, was born Lola Bell Graham in Indianapolis, Indiana, the daughter of the Reverend David A. Graham, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, and Etta Bell. She accompanied them when her father held pastorates in New Orleans, Colorado Springs, and Spokane. He delighted her with stories about important blacks in American history. In his churches, she learned to play the piano and the pipe organ and to conduct choirs. In 1914 she graduated from high school in Spokane, took business school courses, and worked in government offices in Spokane and Seattle. After she married Shadrach T. McCanns in 1921, she gave private music lessons and played the organ in white movie theaters, hidden backstage. She had two sons, Robert and David, and was either widowed in 1924 or obtained a divorce in 1929. (In many respects, biographical data concerning Graham are in dispute.)...

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Gwathmey, Robert (03 January 1903–21 September 1988), artist and activist, was born near Richmond, Virginia, an eighth-generation native of Welsh descent, to Robert Gwathmey, a railroad engineer, and Eva Harrison Gwathmey. Following brief stints at North Carolina State College (1922–1923) and Maryland Institute of Design (1925–1926) and at sea on a commercial freighter, he attended the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA, 1926–1930), where he was awarded several prize fellowships and met his future wife, also an aspiring artist, Rosalie Hook of Charlotte, North Carolina. They married in 1935 and had one son, Charles Gwathmey, who became one of the most prominent architects of his generation. When Charles was born, Rosalie Gwathmey took up photography, acquired professional skills, and later earned public recognition for her work. Beginning in the 1940s Robert Gwathmey often asked Rosalie to photograph rural scenes in their native South and used those images as the basis for some of his most striking paintings. Despite that collaboration Gwathmey was typical of his generation in regarding photography as an inferior art form....

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Harper, Frances Ellen Watkins (1825–20 February 1911), political activist and author, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the only child of free parents. She was orphaned at an early age and raised by an aunt. She attended a school for free blacks, which was run by her uncle, the Reverend William Watkins. Her formal education ended at age thirteen. Harper became a nursemaid and found additional employment as a seamstress, needlecraft teacher, and traveling abolitionist lecturer. She also lectured in support of woman suffrage. She later became a schoolteacher in Ohio and Pennsylvania....

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Herndon, Angelo Braxton (06 May 1913–09 December 1997), Communist Party activist and labor organizer, was born in Wyoming, Ohio, the fifth of seven children of Paul Herndon, a coal miner, and Harriet Herndon. The family was impoverished after the death of his father when Angelo was nine years old. The maid work that Harriet did after Paul's death was not sufficient to keep everyone fed, so Angelo and his older brother Leo left home to work in coal mines in Lexington, Kentucky, and in Birmingham, Alabama. It was in Birmingham that Angelo became a Communist. Like many blacks, he was inspired by the Communist Party's emphasis on interracial organizing and its public stance against Jim Crow and its accompanying violence. While in Birmingham, he organized protests for the Scottsboro Boys case, in which nine black teenage boys were falsely accused of raping two white women on a railroad boxcar in Alabama in 1931....

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Kennedy, Edward Moore (Ted) (22 February 1932–25 August 2009), U.S. senator and advocate for liberal reform, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the ninth and last child of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy and Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Sr., a banker, investor, and American ambassador to Great Britain. His dynasty-building father held high expectations for his children and established trust funds that would provide them with the financial security and freedom to pursue public service. As the baby brother, Kennedy spent his childhood catching up with his siblings in a highly competitive, politically oriented Irish Catholic family that turned everything into a contest, whether it was sailing, playing touch football, or getting attention at the dinner table. Kennedy later attributed his habit of copious research and preparation for legislation as a senator to the standards his father set for table talk....