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Angelou, Maya (4 Apr. 1928–28 May 2014), writer, performer, and activist, was born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, the second child of Bailey Johnson, Sr., a doorman and Navy dietitian, and Vivian Baxter, a registered nurse, cocktail hostess, and Merchant Marine. Her brother, Bailey, Jr., nicknamed her Maya, and the name stuck. After their parents’ divorce, the two young children were sent alone on a train from San Francisco to Stamps, Arkansas, to be met and raised by their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, and their father’s brother, Uncle Willie, who was disabled. Grandmother Henderson had managed to build and own a general store with living quarters in the back, and it was also a safe black community gathering place in the segregated town. Uncle Willie provided a steady stream of good reading and high scholastic expectations, and their grandmother, “Momma,” taught them no-nonsense life skills, took them to church, and loved them....

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Ashe, Arthur (10 July 1943–06 February 1993), tennis player, author, and political activist, was born Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr., in Richmond, Virginia, the son of Arthur Ashe, Sr., a police officer, and Mattie Cunningham. Tall and slim as a young boy, Ashe was forbidden by his father from playing football; he took up tennis instead on the segregated playground courts at Brookfield Park, near his home. By the time he was ten he came under the tutelage of a local tennis fan and physician from Lynchburg, Walter Johnson. Johnson had previously nurtured Althea Gibson, who would become the first African American to win Wimbeldon, in 1957 and 1958, and his second protégé would prove no less successful....

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Amanda Khiterman and Michal R. Belknap

Dennis, Peggy (01 January 1909–25 September 1993), communist Party activist and journalist, was born Regina Karasick in New York City to Meyer and Berta Karasick, Jewish-Russian revolutionaries who in 1904 had traded the confines of czarist oppression for the capitalist society they despised. Determined never to assimilate once they settled in America, the Karasick family remained active in the socialist movement, even after the failed Russian Revolution of 1905, which dashed their hopes of returning home....

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Faulk, John Henry (21 August 1913–09 April 1990), humorist, liberal political activist, and writer, was born in Austin, Texas, the son of Judge Henry Faulk, a successful trial lawyer, and Martha Miner. His father embraced a series of leftist causes, supporting Eugene Debs...

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Gill, Brendan (04 October 1914–27 December 1997), writer and preservationist, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the son of Michael Gill, a physician, and Elizabeth Duffy Gill. (His parents did not give him a middle name, but he later took the middle name “Michael” in honor of his father.) Although his mother died when he was seven years old, he later recalled that he had a happy childhood in a prosperous Irish-Catholic household: “My father … had not the slightest idea what to do with us children, except to supply us with houses, servants, money, trips to Europe, extravagant gifts, admiration, and love” ( ...

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Graydon, Alexander (10 April 1752–02 May 1818), author and public official, was born in Bristol, Pennsylvania, the son of Alexander Graydon, who had emigrated from Ireland in 1730 and become a Philadelphia merchant and lawyer, and his second wife, Rachel Marks. When her husband died in 1761, Rachel Graydon and her children moved from the family home in Bristol to Philadelphia, where to augment her slender means she took in boarders. Young Alexander dropped out of the College and Academy of Philadelphia at age fourteen to read law with an uncle but seems equally to have been studying his mother’s boarders, among whom were sophisticated British officers and theater people. His somewhat reckless social life (recalled with evident pleasure in his ...

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Grayson, William John (12 November 1788–04 October 1863), politician and author, was born in Beaufort, South Carolina, the son of William John Grayson, a sheriff of the Beaufort District, and Susannah Greene. His father, who had been an officer during the American Revolution, died in 1797 at the age of thirty-seven; eleven months later Susannah Grayson married William Joyner, a widower and wealthy planter of the Beaufort District. Young Grayson early developed an insatiable desire for learning. From 1801 to 1803 he attended private academies in the North in preparation for admission to either Yale or Harvard. Accustomed to the gentility and hospitality of the South, he chose instead the new South Carolina College (now University of South Carolina)....

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Holbrook, James (1812–28 April 1864), postal official and journalist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of unknown parents. Holbrook grew up in Boston, where he was apprenticed to a printer. In 1833, he moved to Connecticut, where he worked as a newspaper editor and in that year married Mary Baker Tyler. He and Tyler had four children. He edited the ...

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Keckley, Elizabeth Hobbs (1820?–26 May 1907), White House dressmaker during the Lincoln administration and author, was born in Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia, the daughter of George Pleasant and Agnes Hobbs, slaves. Her birth date is variously given from 1818 to 1824 based on different documents that report her age. The identity of her father is also uncertain; in later life Keckley reportedly claimed that her father was her master, Colonel A. Burwell. George Pleasant, who was owned by a different master, was allowed to visit only twice a year and was eventually taken west....

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Evelyn Lincoln Photograph by the Associated Press, c. 1962. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Lincoln, Evelyn (25 June 1904–11 May 1995), secretary and author, was born Evelyn Maurine Norton in Polk County, Nebraska, the daughter of John N. Norton, a farmer and congressman, and Selma Josephine Floodman Norton. She moved with her family to Washington, D.C., when her father was elected as a Democrat to the seventieth Congress in 1927. She graduated from the University of Nebraska with a Bachelor of Arts in 1926. She attended George Washington University from 1933 to 1940; she took law courses but left before she received a degree. While in college, she met Harold W. “Abe” Lincoln, a fellow student at the university, whom she married. There is disagreement among sources as to the year of their marriage, but it appears to have been 1930, based on references in her obituaries to her husband of sixty-four years; they had no children. After they married, the couple moved to Albuquerque, where Harold Lincoln taught at the University of New Mexico. They then went to New York City when he was offered a teaching position at New York University. When he accepted a staff position with one of the committees of the U.S. House of Representatives, they returned to Washington....

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Otero-Warren, Nina (23 October 1882–03 January 1965), suffragist, politician, and author, was born María Adelina Isabel Emilia Otero in Los Lunas, New Mexico, the daughter of Eloisa Luna and Manuel B. Otero, ranchers. Nina grew up within one of the oldest and most traditional New Mexican households. Women were expected to learn the domestic arts and eventually marry well in order to run households of their own. Her family, on both her mother’s and her father’s side, was composed of the most prominent citizens, politicians, and ranchers of the territory; they claimed to be descendants of the original Spanish settlers of New Mexico. Nina’s traditional Hispano and Catholic upbringing proscribed a life of domesticity akin to the life her mother and grandmother had known....

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Lillian Parks. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Parks, Lillian Rogers (01 February 1897–06 November 1997), White House seamstress and author, was born Lillian Adele Rogers, the daughter of Emmett E. Rogers, Sr., a waiter, and Margaret “Maggie” Williams Rogers. Source information is sketchy regarding her early years, but her godchild, Peggy Holly, believes that Lillian Parks was born in the District of Columbia and as a child spent summers with relatives in Virginia. Her father—by Parks's account an alcoholic unable to hold a job—left his family when she was a child; in 1909 her mother took a job at the White House at the beginning of ...

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Pember, Phoebe Yates Levy (18 August 1823–04 March 1913), hospital administrator and writer, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the daughter of Jacob Levy, a businessman, and Fanny Yates. Pember was the fourth of seven children in a prosperous Jewish family. Nothing is known of her schooling, although she was evidently well educated and widely read. Sometime in the 1850s, the family moved to Savannah, Georgia; sometime before the Civil War, Phoebe married Thomas Pember of Boston. After her husband died of tuberculosis in July 1861 in Aiken, South Carolina, the childless Pember returned to her parents in Savannah. Dangers associated with the Civil War led the family to seek refuge in Marietta, Georgia, around 1862....

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Robinson, Harriet Jane Hanson (08 February 1825–22 December 1911), textile mill worker, suffragist, and author, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of William Hanson, a carpenter, and Harriet Browne. When Harriet was six, her father died. Her mother then ran a boarding house in Industrial Lowell, Massachusetts, with the help of her children....

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Roerich, Nicholas (09 October 1874–13 December 1947), artist, author, humanitarian, was born Nicholas Konstantinovich Roerich in St. Petersburg, Russia, the son of Konstantin Roerich, a lawyer and notary, and Maria Kalashnikova Roerich. He was raised in the comfortable environment of an upper-middle-class Russian family and enjoyed contact with the writers, artists, and scientists who often came to visit. At an early age he showed a curiosity and talent for archeology, paleontology, botany, and geology. The young Roerich also showed a particular aptitude for drawing, and at the age of sixteen he began to think about pursuing a career as an artist. In 1893, to satisfy his father, who did not consider painting to be a fit vocation for a responsible member of society, Nicholas enrolled in both the Academy of Art and St. Petersburg University, where he studied law....

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Wolcott, Roger (04 January 1679–17 May 1767), colonial governor and literary figure, was born in Windsor, Connecticut, the son of Simon Wolcott and Martha Pitkin, merchants and farmers. The youngest of nine children, Wolcott was educated at home by his mother, then apprenticed to a clothing shop in 1694. He established his own clothier enterprise at age twenty. In 1702 he married Sarah Drake. They had fifteen children before her death on 21 January 1748. Wolcott purchased a large estate in Windsor in 1702 where, following the eighteenth-century pattern of Hartford-area merchant-farmers, he established both a clothing manufactory and a farm....