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Fields, Annie Adams (06 June 1834–05 January 1915), literary hostess, author, and social reformer, was born Ann West Adams in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Zabdiel Boylston Adams and Sarah May Holland, both descended from prominent early Massachusetts settlers. Her father was a Boston physician who also taught at Harvard Medical School and served on the Boston school board. Annie’s childhood pleasures included easy access to books and Sunday visits to such distinguished relatives as the Adamses of Braintree. At ...

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Hone, Philip (25 October 1780–05 May 1851), diarist and socialite, was born in New York City, the son of a German-born joiner. Of humble origins, Hone determined to raise himself socially to the point where he would be able to mingle with the affluent on equal terms. Although the young Hone had little formal education, at the age of sixteen he began working at his elder brother John’s auction house. Three years later he became a partner. A hard worker, Hone helped make his brother’s business one of the most successful auction firms in the city. Over a period of nearly twenty years Hone amassed over half a million dollars and, in May 1821, at the age of forty, retired from business, toured Europe, and began collecting books and pictures. When he returned to New York, he and his wife, Catharine Dunscomb, whom he had married in 1801, and their six children settled in his home at 235 Broadway....

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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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Smith, Margaret Bayard (20 February 1778–07 June 1844), author and society leader, was born on a farm near Swede’s Ford on the Schuylkill River in Pennsylvania, the daughter of John Bubenheim Bayard, a merchant, and Margaret Hodge. The family had moved from Philadelphia just before the city was occupied by the British. A revolutionary war leader, Bayard had commanded a regiment in the battles of Princeton, Brandywine, and Germantown and spent part of the winter of 1777–1778 with ...

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Gertrude Stein Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1935. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103680).

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Stein, Gertrude (03 February 1874–27 July 1946), author, was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Daniel Stein, a businessman, and Amelia Keyser. Stein spent her early years in Europe, where her parents were traveling; the family returned to America in 1879, settling the following year in Oakland, California, where Stein spent the rest of her youth. Of Oakland she was later to remark, “There is no there there.” She countered the bland, suburban surroundings by reading voraciously: Shakespeare, Scott, Richardson, Fielding, Wordsworth....