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Ames, Blanche Ames (18 February 1878–01 March 1969), artist and women's rights activist, artist and women’s rights activist, was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, the daughter of Adelbert Ames, a Civil War general and governor of Mississippi during Reconstruction, and Blanche Butler, whose father was a general and governor of Massachusetts. The younger Blanche graduated from Smith College in 1899 with diplomas from both the College and the School of Art....

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Babson, Roger Ward (06 July 1875–05 March 1967), businessman, author, and philanthropist, was born in Gloucester, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel Babson, a dry-goods merchant and wholesaler, and Ellen Stearns. As a child, Babson spent his summers in Gloucester on his paternal grandfather’s farm, an experience that later prompted him to write that he “owed more to that farm than any educational institution.” Off the farm, the young Babson, who was a rowdy albeit “nervous” boy, worried his mother by associating not with other middle-class Yankee children but with the “Gould Courters,” an Irish street gang....

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Bascom, Florence (14 July 1862–18 June 1945), geologist and educator, was born in Williamstown, Massachusetts, the daughter of suffragist Emma Curtiss and John Bascom, a professor at Williams College. Her mother, as an officer of the National Suffrage Association wrote, “While the ballot is withheld from women and given to all other classes of citizens except idiots and criminals, it puts on womanhood an inescapable badge, and an inescapable fact, of inferiority” (quoted in Smith, p. 17). Her father advocated for coeducation and unsuccessfully raised the issue at Williams. Both parents profoundly affected the way Florence Bascom saw the world. She became the first woman in the United States to enter fully the profession of geology....

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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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Carr, Marjorie H. (26 Mar. 1915–10 Oct. 1997), environmental activist and zoologist, was born Marjorie Harris in Boston, Massachusetts, to Charles Ellsworth Harris, a teacher, and Clara Louise Haynes. The couple wintered in Florida, eventually relocating in 1918 to a ten-acre orange grove south of Bonita Springs. Marjorie reveled in the natural beauty of rural southwest Florida, enjoying the nearby rivers and beaches while riding her beloved pony. In ...

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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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Coolidge, Albert Sprague (23 January 1894–31 August 1977), chemical physicist, political activist, and civil libertarian, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Frederic Shurtleff Coolidge, an orthopedic surgeon, and Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. His mother was the daughter of Albert Arnold Sprague, a pioneer merchant of Chicago, which made it possible for Sprague Coolidge to be financially independent. He was directly descended from John Coolidge of Watertown, Massachusetts, who emigrated from England in 1630 and whose farm occupied almost all of what is now Cambridge, Massachusetts. His college preparatory education was at the Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. He graduated summa cum laude with an A.B. from Harvard College in 1915. That year he married Margaret Stewart Coit. They had five children....

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Peter Cooper. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-11083).

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Cooper, Peter (12 February 1791–04 April 1883), inventor, manufacturer, and civic benefactor, was born in New York City, the son of John Cooper and Margaret Campbell. His father was a struggling merchant who moved the family successively to Peekskill, Catskill, and finally Newburgh, New York, in search of financial success. Assisting his father in a series of occupations (hatter, brewer, shopkeeper, and brickmaker), Cooper obtained valuable practical work experience. Given his family’s relative poverty and constant movement, Cooper was only able to obtain a year’s worth of formal schooling; this deficiency in his formal education haunted him throughout his life....

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Creighton, Edward (31 August 1820–05 November 1874), pioneer telegraph builder, banker, and philanthropist, was born in Belmont County, Ohio (near the present town of Barnesville), the son of James Creighton and Bridget Hughes, farmers. Creighton’s father had emigrated in 1805 from County Dungannon, Ireland, to the United States. In 1830 the Creighton family moved to a farm in Licking County, Ohio. Edward Creighton began full-time employment on the family farm and as a wagoner at the age of fourteen. In these early years he worked on the pike roads of Ohio with the young ...

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Douglas, Marjory Stoneman (07 April 1890–14 May 1998), author and environmentalist, was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the daughter of Florence Lillian Trefethen Stoneman, who went by the name of Lillian, and Frank Bryant Stoneman, a businessman and newspaper editor. When Marjory was three her father's business failed, and the family moved to Providence, Rhode Island. Further business reverses took a toll on Lillian Stoneman's mental health and resulted in a nervous breakdown. Not long thereafter, Lillian separated from her husband and, with her six-year-old daughter, traveled to Taunton, Massachusetts, to live with her parents and unmarried sister....

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George Eastman. Courtesy of the Clendening History of Medicine Library, University of Kansas Medical Center.

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Eastman, George (12 July 1854–14 March 1932), inventor, businessman, and philanthropist, was born in Waterville, New York, the son of George Washington Eastman, a nurseryman and educator, and Maria Kilbourn. His father’s pioneering work in establishing Eastman Mercantile (or Commercial) College in Rochester in 1842, a prototype for later business schools, perhaps inspired Eastman to be a trailblazer in another field. His father died when George was seven, two years after the family moved to Rochester, and his mother took in boarders. Eastman attended public and private schools until age thirteen, when he became an office boy in a real estate firm to help support his mother and two older sisters. A year later Eastman transferred to an insurance office and in 1874 he became a bookkeeper for the Rochester Savings Bank....

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Flick, Lawrence Francis (10 August 1856–07 July 1938), physician, historian, and early leader in the campaign against tuberculosis, was born in Carroll Township, Cambria County, Pennsylvania, the son of John Flick, a mill owner and farmer, and Elizabeth Schabacher (changed to Sharbaugh). Flick grew up on the family farm, but poor health excused him from the usual chores. A bookish boy and a devout Roman Catholic, he first attended local schools. For most of his teenage years, he studied at St. Vincent’s, a Benedictine college in Beatty (now Latrobe), Pennsylvania, but symptoms suggesting tuberculosis cut short his classwork, and he returned home. After a period of indecision and various jobs, he entered Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and graduated in 1879. He then completed an internship at Philadelphia Hospital and opened an office for the practice of medicine. His persisting illness, however, was finally diagnosed as tuberculosis and, following his physicians’ advice, he traveled to the West for his health. By 1883, improvement allowed him to resume his practice, which soon included increasing numbers of patients with tuberculosis. “When I recovered from tuberculosis as a young man,” he wrote, “I consecrated my life to the welfare of those afflicted with the disease and to the protection of those who had not yet contracted it” ( ...

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Forbush, Edward Howe (24 April 1858–08 March 1929), ornithologist and conservationist, was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, the son of Leander Pomeroy Forbush, a school principal, and Ruth Hudson Carr. Soon after their son’s birth, the parents moved their family to West Roxbury, Massachusetts, while Forbush’s father went into business in nearby Worcester. In early childhood, Forbush developed a strong interest in birds, mammals, and nature in general; in his early teens, he taught himself to be a competent taxidermist. Forbush attended the public schools in West Roxbury and Worcester, but he left at age fifteen, to help his father in his business, and never graduated. All thought of college was soon abandoned. He assisted his father as a laborer, mechanic, and farmer for seven years, and studied natural history in such spare time as he could find. At age sixteen he became a member of the Worcester Natural History Society, and served as volunteer curator of ornithology for its museum. At age nineteen he became president of the society, and with like-minded friends, worked hard to develop local interest in the organization and in the nature study programs it offered. For several years he enjoyed the luxury of pursuing his natural history avocation with little thought for earning any independent income....

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Freeman, Harriet Elizabeth (13 March 1847–30 December 1930), botanist, geologist, conservationist, and letter writer, was born in the North End neighborhood of Boston to William Frederick Freeman and Caroline Crosby Lewis. Her father, who was in partnership with his brother-in-law in Caribbean shipping and trading, founded the Aetna Mills on the Charles River. After moving to Boston’s South End in 1861, the Freemans joined the South Congregational Church, a Unitarian church whose minister was ...

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R. Buckminster Fuller. Oil on canvas, c. 1981, by Ruth Munson. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Fuller, R. Buckminster (12 July 1895–01 July 1983), inventor, designer, and environmentalist, often referred to as “Bucky,” was born Richard Buckminster Fuller, Jr., in Milton, Massachusetts, the son of Richard Buckminster Fuller, an importer of leather and tea, who died in 1910, and Caroline Wolcott Andrews. He was the grandnephew of author and literary critic ...

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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....