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Abbey, Edward (29 January 1927–14 March 1989), essayist, novelist, and radical ecologist, was born in Home, Pennsylvania, the son of Paul Revere Abbey, a farmer, and Mildred Postlewaite, a public schoolteacher. He was raised, with four siblings, on a hardscrabble farm. A turning point in late adolescence came out of some months of hitchhiking around the western United States, with which he ever after fervently identified himself....

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Andrews, Eliza Frances (10 August 1840–21 January 1931), author and educator, was born at Haywood Plantation near Washington, Georgia, the daughter of Garnett Andrews, a judge and planter, and Annulet Ball. After attending the Ladies’ Seminary in Washington, Georgia, Andrews, often known as “Fanny,” was, in 1857, one of the first students to receive an A.B. degree at LaGrange Female College in LaGrange, Georgia....

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Isaac Asimov Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-115121).

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Asimov, Isaac (02 January 1920–06 April 1992), writer, was born in Petrovichi, USSR, the son of Judah Asimov, a merchant, and Anna Rachel Berman. Asimov’s Russian-Jewish father and mother emigrated to New York City in 1923. After a number of years working odd jobs, they bought a candy store in Brooklyn in 1926, the first of many in that borough that Asimov would help run until he was twenty-two years old. Working long hours in the candy store left Asimov’s parents with little time to raise their children. His mother was especially hard on him, frequently hitting him when she lost her temper and reminding him that he was responsible for their hand-to-mouth existence. Asimov was a precocious child who taught himself to read before he was five, and he read omnivorously thereafter. At seven he taught his younger sister to read, “somewhat against her will,” he confesses in his memoir, ...

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Coolidge, Dane (24 March 1873–08 August 1940), novelist, naturalist, and photographer, was born in Natick, Massachusetts, the son of Francis Coolidge, a corporal in the Civil War and, later, an orange grower in California, and Sophia Upham Whittemore. He moved with his family in 1877 to Los Angeles, where he roamed the fields and mountains around that still-small town and grew up a Republican and a Unitarian. Coolidge graduated from Stanford University in 1898, then studied biology at Harvard University from 1898 to 1899 before returning to the West....

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Djerassi, Carl (29 Oct. 1923–30 Jan. 2015), organic chemist, novelist, and playwright, was born in Vienna, Austria, the only child of the Samuel Djerassi (Bulgarian) and Alice Friedmann (Austrian), both assimilated Jews. Samuel was a physician who specialized in the treatment of venereal diseases, calling himself a dermatologist to protect his wealthy clients’ reputations. Alice was a dentist and physician. Djerassi lived in Sofia, Bulgaria until he was five and then moved to Vienna with his mother following his parents’ divorce. He went to the same Viennese school formerly attended by Sigmund Freud. Every summer Djerassi returned to his father in Bulgaria....

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Krause, Herbert Arthur (25 May 1905–22 September 1976), novelist, English professor, poet, and naturalist, was born near Friberg, Minnesota, the son of Arthur Krause, a farmer and blacksmith, and Bertha Peters. Krause’s parents were first-generation descendants of devout German immigrants who settled as farmers in the hill country north of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Their folkways and fundamentalist Lutheran religion were important concerns in his first two novels....

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McMahon, Thomas A. (21 April 1943–14 February 1999), writer and educator, was born in Dayton, Ohio, the son of Howard Oldford McMahon, a physical chemist, and Lucille Nelson McMahon, a scientist. He grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, in a house his parents designed and built. After earning a B.S. from Cornell University in 1965, he entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he earned an M.S. in 1967 and completed his Ph.D. (with a focus on fluid mechanics) in 1970. He married Carol Ehlers on 20 June 1965; the couple had two children....

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Shecut, John Linnaeus Edward Whitridge (04 December 1770–01 June 1836), botanist, medical practitioner, and author, was born in Beaufort, South Carolina, the son of Abraham Shecut and Marie Barbary. His Huguenot forebears had left France and settled in Switzerland, but his parents had come to America about 1768 and settled in Beaufort. They moved to Charleston before Shecut was ten years old. At sixteen he studied medicine under ...

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Smith, Francis Hopkinson (23 October 1838–07 April 1915), mechanical engineer, writer, and artist, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Francis Smith, a musician, mathematician, and philosopher, and Susan Teakle. Smith was reared in the genteel society of old Baltimore, where he studied for entrance to Princeton University. Smith’s family suffered economic ruin, however, and he never attended college. Before the Civil War he held jobs in a hardware store and an ironworks. Around 1858 he moved to New York City, where, after some training with a partner named James Symington, he set up an engineering firm. Over the years he increasingly complemented this enterprise with his work in the fine arts and as a speaker. He was usually thought of, and perhaps thought of himself, as a southern gentleman. In 1866 Smith married Josephine Van Deventer of Astoria, New York. They had two children....

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Storm, Hans Otto (29 July 1895–11 December 1941), writer and radio telegraph engineer, was born in Bloomington, California, the son of Joachim Otto Storm, a bank teller, and Marie Rehwoldt. His parents both came from Germany and met in the United States. Storm grew up in Anaheim, California. After graduating from public high school, he worked for a year in the electrician’s trade. In 1917 he was conscripted into the army, but he spent most of the war in hospitals on account of illness. Afterward Storm was frequently ill, and he was never robust....

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Stratton-Porter, Gene (17 August 1863–06 December 1924), novelist and nature writer, was born in Wabash County, Indiana, the daughter of Mark Stratton, a prosperous farmer and licensed Methodist minister, and Mary Shallenberger. Christened Geneva Grace Stratton, she later changed her name to Gene. At an early age and with her father’s encouragement, she developed an interest in nature and roamed in the woods, collecting Indian artifacts and gathering bird feathers, moths, and butterflies. When she was not quite twelve, her mother died. Gene was taught to read and write by her older siblings (she was the last of twelve children), and she attended rural schools until age eleven....

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Webber, Charles Wilkins (29 May 1819–11 April 1856), author and adventurer, was born in Russellville, Kentucky, the son of Augustine Webber, physician, and Agnes Maria Tannehill. Educated at home, Webber left Kentucky in 1838 after his mother’s death. Traveling south and west, he spent time with John Coffee Hays and the Texas Rangers and met ...