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Adams, Abigail (11 November 1744–28 October 1818), first lady and woman of intellect, was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, the daughter of William Smith, a Congregational minister, and Elizabeth Quincy. Abigail grew up in a prominent and wealthy family, descended from Puritan leaders and successful merchants. She had no formal schooling, both because of her recurrent illnesses and the limited options available to girls. Yet neither obstacle prevented her from achieving a remarkably broad and sophisticated education. She enjoyed the family’s well-stocked library, the stimulating company of educated relatives and parsonage visitors, and the attentive tutelage of her grandmother. Her studies ranged from Shakespeare to Locke, from Plato to French. She also began two lifelong habits: letter-writing to distant relatives and friends, and the practice of a deep Congregational faith....

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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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Bentley, Elizabeth Terrill (01 January 1908–03 December 1963), Communist party activist and government witness, was born in New Milford, Connecticut, the daughter of Charles Prentiss Bentley, a newspaper editor and department store manager, and Mary Burrill, a schoolteacher. After growing up in small towns in Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania, Bentley enrolled in Vassar College and in 1930 received an undergraduate degree in English. While at Vassar, she became involved in a variety of Socialist causes but did not demonstrate any interest in more radical left-wing ideas. For two years following graduation, she taught languages at the Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia, but left in 1932 for Columbia University, where she earned her M.A. in Italian in 1935. While working on her graduate degree, she accepted a fellowship that took her to the University of Florence for the 1933–1934 academic year....

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Dickinson, John (08 November 1732–14 February 1808), statesman and political pamphleteer, was born in Talbot County, Maryland, the son of Samuel Dickinson, a plantation owner and merchant, and his second wife, Mary Cadwalader. Owners of extensive properties in Delaware as well as Maryland, the family moved in John’s youth to Kent, near Dover, Delaware. He was tutored at home until the age of eighteen when he began the study of law in the office of John Moland. Three years later he left for London for further legal training at the Middle Temple, the Inns of Court, and Westminster. After completing his studies in 1757, he returned to Philadelphia to open a law office. His extensive knowledge of legal history and precedent as well as his skills in writing and presentation soon earned him an outstanding reputation....

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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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Lincoln, Evelyn (25 June 1904–11 May 1995), secretary and author, was born Evelyn Maurine Norton in Polk County, Nebraska, the daughter of John N. Norton, a farmer and congressman, and Selma Josephine Floodman Norton. She moved with her family to Washington, D.C., when her father was elected as a Democrat to the seventieth Congress in 1927. She graduated from the University of Nebraska with a Bachelor of Arts in 1926. She attended George Washington University from 1933 to 1940; she took law courses but left before she received a degree. While in college, she met Harold W. “Abe” Lincoln, a fellow student at the university, whom she married. There is disagreement among sources as to the year of their marriage, but it appears to have been 1930, based on references in her obituaries to her husband of sixty-four years; they had no children. After they married, the couple moved to Albuquerque, where Harold Lincoln taught at the University of New Mexico. They then went to New York City when he was offered a teaching position at New York University. When he accepted a staff position with one of the committees of the U.S. House of Representatives, they returned to Washington....

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Lowell, James Russell (22 February 1819–12 August 1891), author and diplomat, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of Charles Lowell, a liberal Congregational minister, and Harriet Brackett Spence. Among New Englanders who were apt to take ancestry seriously, the Lowell family was already firmly established in the region’s ecclesiastical and legal annals. During the nineteenth century the Lowell name became synonymous with manufacturing wealth and State Street trusts, but Charles Lowell’s descendants benefited little from this tradition. Their area of prominence was in literature; both James Russell Lowell’s sister Mary Lowell Putnam and brother ...

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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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Paine, Thomas (29 January 1737–08 June 1809), author of political pamphlets of the Age of Revolution, was born Thomas Pain in Thetford, England, the son of Joseph Pain, a Quaker corset maker, and Frances Cocke, an Anglican. Enrolled by his parents in 1743 at the Thetford Grammar School, Paine left school seven years later to begin an apprenticeship in his father’s shop. In 1756 he ran away to enlist on the privateer ...

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Parks, Lillian Rogers (01 February 1897–06 November 1997), White House seamstress and author, was born Lillian Adele Rogers, the daughter of Emmett E. Rogers, Sr., a waiter, and Margaret “Maggie” Williams Rogers. Source information is sketchy regarding her early years, but her godchild, Peggy Holly, believes that Lillian Parks was born in the District of Columbia and as a child spent summers with relatives in Virginia. Her father—by Parks's account an alcoholic unable to hold a job—left his family when she was a child; in 1909 her mother took a job at the White House at the beginning of ...