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Bancroft, Frederic A. (30 October 1860–22 February 1945), historian, librarian, and philanthropist, was born Frederic Austin Bancroft in Galesburg, Illinois, the son of Addison Newton Bancroft, a businessman, and Catherine Blair. Bancroft, raised in abolitionist surroundings, attended school at Knox Academy, Knox College (1878–1881), transferred to Amherst College in 1881, and graduated a year later. He entered Columbia University’s School of Political Science in 1882 to study southern history with ...

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John Shaw Billings. Courtesy of the Clendening History of Medicine Library and Museum, University of Kansas Medical Center.

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Billings, John Shaw (12 April 1838–11 March 1913), army medical officer, library organizer, and public health activist, was born near Allensville, Indiana, the son of James Billings, a farmer and storekeeper, and Abby Shaw. Despite spotty secondary schooling, he ultimately went to Miami College (Ohio), where he earned his B.A. in 1857. He was awarded the M.D. by the Medical College of Ohio in 1860. Billings remained with the latter institution for a year as an anatomical demonstrator, but after the outbreak of the Civil War he joined the U.S. Army as a contract surgeon. In 1862 he was commissioned first lieutenant and assistant surgeon and went on to make army service his career. Also in 1862 he married Katharine Mary Stevens; they had five children....

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Marvin, Cornelia (26 December 1873–13 February 1957), librarian and social reformer, was born in Monticello, Iowa, the daughter of Charles Elwell Marvin and Cornelia Moody. Her father’s business failure and her mother’s tuberculosis led the family to relocate in Tacoma, Washington, where she completed her secondary education in 1891. In 1893, a year after her mother’s death, Marvin moved to Chicago and became a “mother’s helper” while she took extension courses through the University of Chicago. A motivated student, Marvin confided to her sister: “I am afraid I worship ‘culture’—and ‘knowledge’ combined as much as some do money.” Although she dreamed of becoming a literary critic or dramatist, Marvin, who “resolved to be a bachelor so I won’t have a family to rear,” felt obliged to assist her siblings while they attended college. By September 1894, Marvin had persuaded her father to provide the $500 she needed to attend the recently established Library School at the Armour Institute of Technology. She envisioned library school as a way to enter the work force quickly, earn money to help her siblings, and then pay for her own college education....

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Meigs, Return Jonathan (14 April 1801–19 October 1891), lawyer, abolitionist, and state librarian of Tennessee, was born near Winchester, Clark County, Kentucky, the son of John Meigs and Parthenia Clendinen. After the death of his father in 1807, he lived part of the time with his uncle James Lemme in Bourbon County, where he studied the classics under the tutelage of George Wilson. Subsequently he studied law and was admitted to the bar in Frankfort, Kentucky, in 1822....

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Vaughan, John (15 January 1756–30 December 1841), wine merchant, librarian, and philanthropist, was born in London, England, the son of Samuel Vaughan, a merchant in the Jamaica trade, and Sarah Hallowell of Boston, Massachusetts. The family were Whigs in politics, dissenters in religion, and lovers of science, humanity, and America. Destined by his father for a mercantile career, young Vaughan spent the year 1776–1777 in Jamaica and in 1778 was sent to France to learn French and gain further business experience, with a view to settling eventually in America. In France, where he was attached to a merchant firm in Bordeaux, he became intimate with ...

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Wesley, Dorothy Porter (25 May 1905–17 December 1995), librarian and African-American historiographer, was born Dorothy Louise Burnett in Warrenton, Virginia, the daughter of Hayes J. Burnett, a physician, and Bertha (Ball) Burnett, a tennis player who was instrumental in the establishment of the New Jersey Tennis Association. She grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood in Montclair, New Jersey, where she attended racially mixed public schools. Upon completing high school she enrolled at Miner Normal School (later Miner Teachers College, which became part of the University of the District of Columbia) in 1923. While there a developing love of books led her away from a teaching career toward her ultimate life's work, beginning with a yearlong stint filling in for a librarian on sick leave at Miner in 1925. Realizing that she needed a college degree, she enrolled at nearby Howard University and earned a B.A. in 1928....