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Borlaug, Norman Ernest (25 March 1914–12 September 2009), biologist, agronomist, and humanitarian, was born in Saude, Iowa, to grandchildren of Norwegian immigrants. He grew up on his family’s working farm, where he learned to fish, hunt, raise corn and oats, and tend livestock. His grandfather encouraged him to pursue education, so Norman left the family farm in 1933 to enroll in the University of Minnesota. His college years coincided with the depths of the Great Depression. To earn money, Borlaug left school in 1935 and found employment with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). In the CCC he saw the effect of starvation first hand, and this experience affected him deeply. Long before “food security” became a common phrase, Borlaug knew its significance. In 1937 he graduated with a B.S. in forestry from the College of Agriculture and secured a job with the United States Forest Service. In 1938 he married former classmate Margaret Gibson. The couple had three children....

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Caras, Roger (24 May 1928–18 February 2001), animal rights activist, Hollywood executive, and naturalist, was born in Methuen, a rural Massachusetts town around thirty miles north of Boston, the son of Jacob Caras, an insurance salesman, and Bessie Caras, an accountant. His affection for animals developed at an early age. At home he was exposed to dogs, cats, and canaries, and in the woods surrounding his house were raccoons, deer, opossums, and skunks. "Methuen was a wonderful place in which to learn and to explore," he recalled in his autobiography, ...

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Commoner, Barry (28 May 1917–30 September 2012), scientist-activist, biologist, and environmentalist, was born Barry Commoner in Brooklyn, New York, to Isaac (Isador) and Gussie Commoner, Russian immigrants. His uncle, the Slavonic scholar Avrahm Yarmolinsky, recommended the family adopt a more anglicized spelling of their last name. Commoner attended Brooklyn’s James Madison High School, where he discovered his passion for biology. Assisted by his wife, the poet ...

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Gabrielson, Ira Noel (27 September 1889–07 September 1977), wildlife biologist and first director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was born in Sioux Rapids, Iowa, the son of Frank August Gabrielson, a partner in a hardware store and later a farmer, and Ida Jansen. During a boyhood spent hunting, fishing, and exploring the countryside, Gabrielson developed a love of nature, photographed and studied birds, and became particularly interested in waterfowl. He graduated from Morningside College, Sioux City, Iowa, with a B.A. in biology in 1912 and spent the next three years teaching high school biology in Marshalltown, Iowa. Just as he was about to enter the University of Iowa on a graduate fellowship, he was offered and accepted a position he had coveted with the Bureau of Biological Survey....

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William Temple Hornaday Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102416).

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Hornaday, William Temple (01 December 1854–06 March 1937), conservationist and naturalist, was born near Plainfield, Indiana, the son of William Hornaday and Martha Varner Miller, farmers. When he was three, his family moved to Knoxville, Iowa. Although lacking a high school education, he enrolled at Oskaloosa College in 1870 for a program of preparatory studies. In the spring of 1872 he became a freshman at Iowa State Agricultural College. After working in the museum at Iowa State, Hornaday became committed to becoming a taxidermist, a program of study that was not offered by this college. In November 1873 he obtained a position at the nation’s center for the practice of taxidermy at ...

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Koplik, Henry (28 October 1858–30 April 1927), pediatrician, educator, and microbiologist, was born in New York City, the son of Abraham S. Koplik and Rosalie K. Prager. Koplik received his undergraduate education at the City College of New York, where he obtained his bachelor of arts degree in 1878. In 1881 Koplik completed his medical school studies at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in the City of New York. The following year, 1882, he served his internship at the Bellevue Hospital of New York City....

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Leopold, A. Starker (22 October 1913–23 August 1983), wildlife biologist, conservationist, and educator, was born Aldo Starker Leopold, Jr., in Burlington, Iowa, the son of Aldo Leopold, a forester, naturalist, and ecologist, and Estella Bergere. His achievements as a scientist and conservationist paralleled those of his father, a dominant figure in the development of scientific wildlife management....

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Morris, John McLean (01 September 1914–08 April 1993), reproductive biologist and physician, was born in Kuling, China, the son of DuBois Morris, a Presbyterian missionary and pastor of Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, and Alice Buell. The suffering and cruelty Morris witnessed in China as a child had a lasting influence on his life. He later spoke of seeing people stepping over the bodies of the dead and dying in the streets. His interest in women’s health and reproductive issues stemmed from the widespread infanticide of baby girls he saw in China....

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John Muir Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-52000).

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Muir, John (21 April 1838–24 December 1914), naturalist, conservationist, and writer, was born in Dunbar, Scotland, the son of Daniel Muir and Anne Gilrye, farmers. He was educated in Dunbar’s common school and by his father’s insistence that he memorize a Bible chapter every day. With his father and two siblings, John migrated to Wisconsin in 1849; the rest of the family soon followed. On the family’s homestead near Portage, Daniel worked John, just entering his teens, as if he were an adult field hand, inflicting corporal punishment; John Muir later believed that this hard farm labor stunted his growth. The boy’s escape was to devour every book that he came across, and when his father forbade his reading at night, he devised a sort of wooden alarm clock attached to his bed. This “early-rising machine” awakened him very early in the morning, and he would read until it was time for his exhausting chores....

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Osborn, Fairfield (15 January 1887–16 September 1969), naturalist and leader in conservation, was born Henry Fairfield Osborn, Jr., in Princeton, New Jersey, the son of Henry Fairfield Osborn, a professor of comparative anatomy at Princeton University, and Lucretia Perry. When the boy was four, his father became professor of biology at Columbia University, and the family moved to New York City. In his room in the family’s brownstone he “gave vent to these very great inner longings to be surrounded by animals” (...

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Osborn, Henry Fairfield (08 August 1857–06 November 1935), paleontologist and science administrator, was born in Fairfield, Connecticut, the son of William Henry Osborn, a businessman, and Virginia Reed Sturges. The Osborn and Sturges families belonged to New York’s mercantile elite, and Henry Fairfield Osborn grew up in a household that was wealthy and well connected to powerful political and financial figures in nineteenth-century New York. Osborn’s parents were devout Presbyterians, and the emphasis on reconciling religion and science would have an important bearing on Osborn’s work....

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Poindexter, Hildrus Augustus (10 May 1901–20 April 1987), physician, microbiologist, and public health specialist, was born on a farm near Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Fred Poindexter and Luvenia Gilberta Clarke, tenant farmers. After attending the normal (teacher training) department of Swift Memorial College, a Presbyterian school for blacks in Rogersville, Tennessee (1916–1920), he entered Lincoln University (Pa.) and graduated with an A.B. cum laude in 1924. Also in 1924 he married Ruth Viola Grier, with whom he would have one child, a daughter. He attended Dartmouth Medical School for two years before earning an M.D. at Harvard University in 1929, an A.M. in bacteriology at Columbia University in 1930, a Ph.D. in bacteriology and parasitology at Columbia in 1932, and an M.P.H. from Columbia in 1937....

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Winslow, Charles-Edward Amory (04 February 1877–08 January 1957), biologist and public health pioneer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Erving Winslow, a merchant and publicist, and Catherine Mary Reingolds, an English actress. Hoping to pursue a career in medicine, Winslow began his undergraduate work in biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1894. There he studied under ...

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Mabel Osgood Wright. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102414).

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Wright, Mabel Osgood (26 January 1859–16 July 1934), naturalist and author, was born in New York City, the daughter of Samuel Osgood, a Unitarian minister, and Ellen Haswell Murdock. Her father, a member of William Cullen Bryant’s literary circle, was the pastor of the Church of the Messiah in New York City from 1849 to 1869, after which he entered the Episcopal ministry. ...