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Arthur, Timothy Shay (06 June 1809–06 March 1885), editor, temperance crusader, and novelist, was born in Orange County, New York, the son of William Arthur and Anna Shay, occupations unknown. He was named for his maternal grandfather, Timothy Shay, an officer in the revolutionary war. By his mid-twenties, Arthur had yet to identify a profession or receive an education. In the 1830s, however, he began an intense program of self-education as well as a writing career as a journalist in Baltimore, where he quickly became a well-known and articulate champion of numerous social causes including temperance, Swedenborgianism, feminism, and socialism. In 1836 he married Eliza Alden; they had seven children....

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Bacheller, Irving (26 September 1859–24 February 1950), novelist and publishing executive, was born Addison Irving Bacheller in Pierrepont, St. Lawrence County, New York, the son of Sanford Paul Bacheller and Achsah Ann Buckland, farmers. Irving attended local schools in Pierrepont, then switched to an academy in Canton, New York, after his family moved there. His secondary education at Clinton Academy was sporadic, however, as he spent long periods during his teenage years working at various jobs—telegraph operator, laborer, post office clerk, bookkeeper, salesman, teacher—to help support the family....

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Louis Bromfield Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1933. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103721).

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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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Charles Brockden Brown. Watercolor on ivory, 1806, by William Dunlap. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; given in loving memory of Katharine Lea Hancock by her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

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Brown, Charles Brockden (17 January 1771–22 February 1810), novelist, historian, and editor, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Elijah Brown, a merchant and land conveyancer, and Mary Armitt. The fifth of six children in a prosperous Quaker family in the nation’s most cosmopolitan city and first capital, Brown was shaped in his early years by his Quaker background and the era’s tumultuous revolutionary politics. From 1781 to 1786 he received a classics-oriented secondary education under Robert Proud at the Friends’ Latin School of Philadelphia and displayed an enthusiasm for literary composition. Although his earliest work is lost, he composed derivative poetry in the “primitive” vein, based on the Psalms and Ossian and planned but never completed verse epics on the exploits of Columbus, Pizarro, and Cortez. The period’s political and ideological conflicts touched Brown’s family directly when revolutionary authorities exiled his father to Virginia for several months, deeming the father’s Quaker position of principled neutrality an aid to the British. While Brown’s Quaker background facilitated his early exposure to progressive British dissenting writers such as William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, who would become crucial influences, it left him outside the period’s Congregationalist and Presbyterian cultural elite and predisposed him to his lifelong stance of reasoned skepticism of utopian or perfectionist notions for political change. That is, Brown’s background and early years helped shape his career-long concern with the violent ideological controversies of the early republic, as well as his characteristic tendency to see both the destructive and productive aspects of the period’s far-reaching political upheavals....

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Cain, James M. (01 July 1892–27 October 1977), novelist and journalist, was born James Mallahan Cain in Annapolis, Maryland, the son of James William Cain, an English professor and college president, and Rose Mallahan, an opera singer. He graduated from Washington College in Chesterton, Maryland, at age seventeen in 1910. Cain held odd jobs and studied singing briefly in hopes of pursuing an opera career before he decided to become a writer in 1914. He returned to Washington College to teach English and math and earn a master’s degree in drama (1917), while he tried unsuccessfully to publish short stories in magazines. He began his journalism career, which was to span six decades, in 1918 at the ...

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Coffin, Charles Carleton (26 July 1823–02 March 1896), novelist, journalist, and lecturer, was born in Boscawen, New Hampshire, the son of Thomas Coffin and Hannah Kilburn, farmers. He grew up on the family farm, attended the village school, and studied for a year at the local academy. Coffin, after his marriage to Sallie Russell Farmer in 1846, earned his living by farming and surveying, a skill he had taught himself. The couple had no children. In 1852, with his brother-in-law ...

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Comfort, Will Levington (17 January 1878–02 November 1932), newspaperman, war correspondent, and novelist, was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the son of Silas Hopkins Comfort, a Civil War veteran, and Jane Levington. He was raised in Detroit. Comfort later claimed (perhaps falsely) that he was educated at home and “on the street,” that he grew up too fast and too hard. He bragged that he had begun writing at age six and drinking at age sixteen. In his autobiographical ...

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Clyde Brion Davis Photograph by Leja Gorska, 1947. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-117684).

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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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John Dos Passos. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-117477).

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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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Fanny Fern. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90648).

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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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Ford, Paul Leicester (23 March 1865–08 May 1902), historian and novelist, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Gordon Lester Ford, a businessman and political figure, and Emily Ellsworth Fowler, a poet. As a baby Ford suffered a tragic fall that left him with a severely deformed spine, the pain from which would plague him all his life. Moreover, the nature of the injury dictated that Ford wear a special harness as a child. As a result he received very little formal schooling; instead, he was tutored at home and allowed the free run of his father’s private library of more than 50,000 volumes, including perhaps the largest private collection of Americana in the world. At age eleven he acquired a small printing press, with which he began publishing compilations of historical material gleaned from his father’s library....

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Frederic, Harold (19 August 1856–19 October 1898), journalist and novelist, was born Harold Henry Frederick in Utica, New York, the son of Henry De Motte Frederick, a freight conductor on the New York Central Railway, and Frances Ramsdell, a boardinghouse proprietor. His father died in 1858, and in 1860 his mother married William De Motte, a cousin. He was educated in local schools between 1861 and 1871. From 1871 to 1875 he held numerous jobs in Utica and Boston, mainly in photography studios. In 1875, after a period of ill health forced him to leave Boston for Utica, he began to work as a proofreader for the ...

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Gellhorn, Martha (08 November 1908–15 February 1998), journalist, war correspondent, and novelist, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the third of four children and only daughter of Dr. George Gellhorn, a European-trained obstetrician-gynecologist, and Edna Fischel, a social reformer and suffragist. Her father emigrated from Germany in order to escape anti-Semitism and settled in St. Louis in 1900; her mother was also half Jewish. Though she would travel and live all over the world, Martha’s relationship with her mother remained strong throughout her life. Dr. Gellhorn encouraged all his children to think independently and critically, and he had exacting standards for his offspring. Martha was forbidden to follow the flapper style of dress popular in the early 1920s, and the children were required to exercise on a regular basis. Physical discipline would remain a priority even in Martha Gellhorn’s old age....

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Herbst, Josephine Frey (05 March 1892–28 January 1969), novelist, biographer, and radical journalist, was born in Sioux City, Iowa, the daughter of William Benton Herbst, a salesman of farm equipment, and Mary Frey. Herbst graduated from high school in 1910 and earned her own college tuition. Alternating schooling with stints as a teacher, secretary, and clerk, she attended classes at Morningside College, the University of Iowa, and the University of Washington before completing her B.A. in English at the University of California, Berkeley. Her first poems were published in an undergraduate magazine at Berkeley....

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Howard, Blanche Willis (21 July 1847–07 October 1898), novelist, journalist, and editor, was born in Bangor, Maine, the daughter of Daniel Mosely Howard, an insurance broker, and Eliza Anne Hudson. She graduated from the local high school and later attended a boarding school in New York City. Her first novel ...