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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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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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Gillette, King Camp (05 January 1855–09 July 1932), inventor and social theorist, was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, the son of George Wolcott Gillette, a hardware wholesaler, and Fanny Lemira Camp, later the author of the bestselling White House Cookbook. Shortly before the Civil War the family moved to Chicago, where he graduated from high school. Gillette clerked in a hardware store and then became a traveling salesman. Like his father and two older brothers, he delighted in inventive tinkering, and in 1879 he was granted his first patent, for a water-faucet component. In 1890 he married Atlanta Ella Gaines; they had one son....

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Benjamin Rush. Engraving by James Barton Longacreof a painting by Thomas Sully. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-97104 ).

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Rush, Benjamin (04 January 1746–19 April 1813), physician, professor of chemistry and of medicine, and social reformer, was born in Byberry Township, Pennsylvania, thirteen miles northeast of Philadelphia, the son of John Rush, a farmer and gunsmith, and Susanna Hall Harvey. John Rush died when Benjamin was five years old. His mother ran a grocery store to support the family. She sent Benjamin at age eight to live with an uncle by marriage, the Reverend Dr. ...

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Scopes, John Thomas (03 August 1900–21 October 1970), high school science teacher, was born in Paducah, Kentucky, the son of Thomas Scopes, a railroad machinist who had immigrated from England, and Mary Alva Brown. When the family moved from Paducah to Danville, Illinois, Scopes and his sisters experienced bigotry firsthand. They were ostracized as southerners who sounded different. They and two African-American students were seated separately from the rest of their class during school assemblies....

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Swope, Gerard (01 December 1872–20 November 1957), corporation president, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Isaac Swope, a watchcase manufacturer who had emigrated from Saxony, now Germany, and Ida Cohn. His brother Herbert Bayard Swope was to become one of the nation’s leading newspapermen, as a reporter on the ...

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Benjamin Thompson. Courtesy of the Clendening History of Medicine Library, University of Kansas Medical Center.

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Thompson, Benjamin (26 March 1753–21 August 1814), physicist and social reformer, known as Count Rumford, was born in Woburn, Massachusetts, the son of Benjamin Thompson and Ruth Simonds, farmers. His father died before Thompson was four, and limited resources prevented him from receiving more than a grammar school education. He was essentially self-educated in the sciences. He was apprenticed in 1766 to John Appleton, a Salem merchant and importer....

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Turner, Thomas Wyatt (16 March 1877–21 April 1978), educator and civil rights advocate, was born in Hughesville, Maryland, the son of Eli Turner and Linnie Gross, farmers. The fifth of nine children born into a family of black Catholic sharecroppers, Turner spent eight years in the racially segregated public schools of Hughes County before entering an Episcopalian school for African Americans at Charlotte Hall in adjacent St. Mary’s County. In his two years at Charlotte Hall (1892–1894), Turner fell under the sway of two missionary educators who persuaded him that learning was next to godliness and that teaching was a noble profession. From 1895 to 1901 he attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. (the first two years in preparatory school), receiving an A.B. in biology in 1901. After teaching at Tuskegee Institute in 1901–1902, he taught in a Baltimore, Maryland, high school for the next decade. While there, Turner earned an M.A. at Howard in 1905. In 1907 he married Laura Miller of Hampton, Virginia. He next pursued doctoral work at the University of Rochester, Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, and Cornell University, completing a Ph.D. at Cornell in 1921. In 1913 Turner accepted a position as professor of biology at Howard University, a position that he held until 1924. His next assignment took him to Hampton Institute, from which he retired in 1945....

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Warren, Josiah (c. 1798–14 April 1874), social reformer, inventor, musician, and America's first philosophical anarchist, was born in Boston. The names of his parents are not known, although accounts indicate that he was a distant relative to James Warren, husband of Mercy Otis Warren...