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Abbey, Edward (29 January 1927–14 March 1989), essayist, novelist, and radical ecologist, was born in Home, Pennsylvania, the son of Paul Revere Abbey, a farmer, and Mildred Postlewaite, a public schoolteacher. He was raised, with four siblings, on a hardscrabble farm. A turning point in late adolescence came out of some months of hitchhiking around the western United States, with which he ever after fervently identified himself....

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Fisher Ames. Oil on wood, c. 1807, by Gilbert Stuart. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of George Cabot Lodge.

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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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Andrews, Eliza Frances (10 August 1840–21 January 1931), author and educator, was born at Haywood Plantation near Washington, Georgia, the daughter of Garnett Andrews, a judge and planter, and Annulet Ball. After attending the Ladies’ Seminary in Washington, Georgia, Andrews, often known as “Fanny,” was, in 1857, one of the first students to receive an A.B. degree at LaGrange Female College in LaGrange, Georgia....

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Anzaldua, Gloria E. (26 September 1942–15 May 2004), author, cultural theorist, and feminist philosopher, was born in the south Texas town of Raymondville, the oldest of four children of Urbano and Amalia (García) Anzaldúa, sixth-generation Mexican-American rancher-farmers. Gloria was diagnosed in infancy with a rare hormonal disorder that triggered premature puberty, including monthly menses from the age of six. This hormonal condition marked Gloria as physiologically different from her peers, fostering in her a lifelong empathy for other outsiders, which motivated her social justice work and her desire to use the written word to create new forms of inclusionary communities....

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Applegate, Jesse (05 July 1811–22 April 1888), Oregon pioneer and publicist, was born in Kentucky, the son of Daniel Applegate, a veteran of the revolutionary war, and Rachel Lindsay. When he was ten his family moved to Missouri, where his father was the village schoolmaster and deputy surveyor general. In 1827 and 1828 Applegate attended Rock Spring Seminary in Shiloh, Illinois, where he showed talent in mathematics and surveying. Later he continued private study of these subjects while teaching school. He then secured a position clerking for the surveyor general’s office in St. Louis and was promoted quickly to deputy surveyor general; he spent much of his time surveying in the western part of Missouri. In 1832 he married Cynthia Parker and settled on a farm in Osage Valley, where the couple lived for twelve years and had several children....

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Appleton, Thomas Gold (31 March 1812–17 April 1884), writer and artist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Nathan Appleton, a merchant, and Maria Theresa Gold. Nathan Appleton, whose family had settled in New England in 1635, helped develop Lowell, Massachusetts, into an industrial center and amassed a fortune that made it possible for Thomas to pursue his interests freely. After a year at the Boston Latin School and three at the Round Hill School conducted by Joseph Green Cogswell and ...

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Bacon, Leonard Woolsey (01 January 1830–12 May 1907), minister and author, was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of Leonard Bacon, a minister, and Lucy Johnson. Bacon graduated from Yale College in 1850. Beginning in September of that year he accompanied his father on a year-long tour of Europe and the East. When he returned to the United States, Bacon spent two years at Andover Theological Seminary and one year at Yale Divinity School, graduating from the latter in 1854. He turned next to medical study and received a degree from Yale Medical School in 1856....

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James Baldwin Photograph by Carl Van Vechten. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-42481).

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Baldwin, James (02 August 1924–30 November 1987), author, was born James Arthur Baldwin in Harlem, in New York City, the illegitimate son of Emma Berdis Jones, who married the author’s stepfather, David Baldwin, in 1927. David Baldwin was a laborer and weekend storefront preacher who had an enormous influence on the author’s childhood; his mother was a domestic who had eight more children after he was born. Baldwin was singled out early in school for his intelligence, and at least one white teacher, Orrin Miller, took a special interest in him. At PS 139, Frederick Douglass Junior High School, Baldwin met black poet ...

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Barzun, Jacques (30 November 1907–25 October 2012), historian, essayist, and cultural critic, was born Jacques-Henri-Louis-Roger Barzun in Créteil, near Paris, France, to Henri-Martin and Anne Rose Barzun. His father was a poet who, with other aspiring young writers, had founded a colony of artists called L’Abbaye after the dilapidated house they occupied in the small Parisian suburb. After moving to the nearby town of Passy, the Barzun family hosted a diverse group of musicians, painters, sculptors, and poets—...

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Behrman, S. N. (09 June 1893–09 September 1973), playwright and essayist, was born Samuel Nathaniel Behrman in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of Joseph Behrman, a teacher of Hebrew, and Zelda Feingold, soon after their immigration from Lithuania. Because no birth record survived, Behrman selected his own birthdate. Living in a tenement in a Yiddish-speaking neighborhood, Joseph Behrman studied the Talmud relentlessly and instructed children in Hebrew. In 1903, at about ten years of age, his son Samuel Nathaniel chanced to hear a presidential campaign address by Socialist Laborite candidate ...

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Benson, Eugene (01 November 1839–28 February 1908), art critic, painter, and essayist, was born in Hyde Park, New York, the son of Benjamin Benson. His mother’s name is not known. He went to New York City in 1856 to study painting at the National Academy of Design; he also learned portraiture in the studio of J. H. Wright. Taking up residence at the New York University Building, he formed close friendships with several other artists who lived there, most notably ...

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Bissell, Emily Perkins (31 May 1861–08 March 1948), volunteer social worker and author, was born in Wilmington, Delaware, the daughter of Champion Aristarcus Bissell, a lawyer and banker, and Josephine Wales. Her forebears settled in Connecticut where her father, a Yale graduate, was reared. Her maternal grandfather, John Wales, served as a U.S. senator from Delaware from 1849 to 1851. Bissell was educated in Wilmington and at Miss Charlier’s School in New York City....

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Dorothy McLeod MacInerney

Blake, Mary Elizabeth (01 September 1840–26 February 1907), author, was born Mary Elizabeth McGrath in Dungarven, Ireland, the daughter of Patrick McGrath, an artisan in marble, and Mary Murphy. Mary’s family immigrated to Quincy, Massachusetts, when she was ten. Her father’s trade prospered, enabling him to provide his children with good educations. Mary attended Quincy High School from 1855 to 1859, Emerson’s Private School in Boston from 1859 to 1861, and the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Manhattanville from 1861 to 1863. Her major interests in school were music and modern languages. Upon graduating, Mary began teaching and writing poems, which were published in local newspapers. In 1865 she married John G. Blake, a prominent Boston physician; they had eleven children....

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Bonner, Marita Odette (16 June 1898–06 December 1971), educator and author, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Joseph Bonner, a machinist and laborer, and Mary A. Nowell. Educated in the Brookline, Massachusetts, public schools, she applied to Radcliffe College at the urging of her high school faculty adviser and was one of the few African-American students accepted for admission. She majored in English and comparative literature and founded the Radcliffe chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, a black sorority. A gifted pianist and student of musical composition, she won the Radcliffe song competition in 1918 and 1922. Bonner also studied German, a language in which she became fluent. During her last year in college she taught English at a Cambridge high school. After graduating with a B.A. in 1922, she taught at the Bluefield Colored Institute in Bluefield, Virginia, until 1924 and at Armstrong High School in Washington, D.C., from 1924 to 1930, when she married William Almy Occomy, a Brown graduate. The couple moved to Chicago, where they raised three children....

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Bonner, Sherwood (26 February 1849–22 July 1883), author, was born Katherine Sherwood Bonner in Holly Springs, Mississippi, the daughter of Charles Bonner, a physician, and Mary Wilson, daughter of a southern plantation owner. Although the Bonners were among the most wealthy and aristocratic families of Holly Springs, and although many of her contemporaries went to colleges and universities throughout the South, practically all of Bonner’s formal instruction was received in local schools. She did attend the Holly Springs Female Institute for two years, but the Civil War and her early marriage at age twenty-one put an end to her formal education....

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Joseph Brodsky. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Brodsky, Joseph (24 May 1940–28 January 1996), poet, was born Iosif Alexandrovich Brodsky in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Russia, the son of Alexander I. Brodsky, a commercial photographer, and Maria M. Volpert Brodsky, both of whom were secular Jews. As an adult he anglicized his first given name. Maria Brodsky worked as a language teacher and translator and provided most of the family's income. Although he grew up in a nonreligious household, young Brodsky was acutely conscious of being Jewish because of prevailing anti-Semitism, a factor he later blamed for his father's abrupt dismissal from the navy and his subsequent lack of success, and which made the son feel like an outsider from an early age....

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Brown, Sterling Allen (01 May 1901–13 January 1989), professor of English, poet, and essayist, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Sterling Nelson Brown, a minister and divinity school professor, and Adelaide Allen. After graduating as valedictorian from Dunbar High School in 1918, Brown matriculated at Williams College, where he studied French and English literature and won the Graves Prize for an essay on Molière and Shakespeare. He was graduated from Williams in 1922 with Phi Beta Kappa honors and a Clark fellowship for graduate studies in English at Harvard University. Once at Harvard, Brown studied with Bliss Perry and notably with ...