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Adler, Polly (16 April 1900?–09 June 1962), prostitution madam and author, was born Pearl Adler in Yanow, Russia, the daughter of Morris Adler, a tailor, and Gertrude Koval (called “Isidore” and “Sarah” in her autobiography). Later in life Adler also used several aliases, including Joan Martin and Pearl Davis. When Adler was twelve, her family arranged for her to be tutored by the local rabbi in the hope that she would receive a scholarship to study at a Gymnasium in Pinsk. A year later, before learning the results of the scholarship competition, Adler’s father sent his daughter to live in the United States. Traveling alone, thirteen-year-old Adler arrived in New York in December 1913....

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E. D. Lloyd-Kimbrel

Fisher, M. F. K. (03 July 1908–22 June 1992), writer, was born Mary Frances Kennedy in Albion, Michigan, the daughter of Rex Brenton Kennedy, a newspaper editor, and Edith Oliver Holbrook, a real estate broker. When Fisher was three years old, the family moved to the Quaker community of Whittier, California, where her father took over the editorship of the local newspaper. The Kennedys were Episcopal and somewhat “outside the faith” in their new home. Rex Kennedy continued as editor of 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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Larpenteur, Charles (08 May 1807–15 November 1872), fur trader and writer, was born five miles from Fontainebleau, France. His father, a Bonapartist, settled in the United States in 1818 and engaged in farming near Baltimore; he may have been one of the two Lewis Larpenteurs listed in the 1840 federal census for Maryland. Charles apparently received only a limited education. He went west when he was twenty-one. At St. Louis he worked as an overseer for retired Indian agent ...

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Leonard, Zenas (19 March 1809–14 July 1857), trapper, was born in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, the son of Abraham Leonard and Elizabeth Armstrong, farmers. Leonard’s formal education was limited to grade school, and by the time he was twenty-one, he had rejected life as a farmer and set out for Pittsburgh to work in his uncle’s store. Eager for adventure, Leonard quickly moved on to St. Louis, then the center of the western fur trade, and eventually signed on as clerk for the trading company of Gantt and Blackwell....

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Love, Nat ( June 1854–1921), cowboy and author, was born in Davidson County, Tennessee, the son of Sampson Love and a mother whose name is unknown. Both were slaves owned by Robert Love, whom Nat described as a “kind and indulgent Master.” Nat Love’s father was a foreman over other slaves; his mother, a cook. The family remained with Robert Love after the end of the Civil War....

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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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Riley, James (27 October 1777–18 March 1840), mariner, slave, and author, was born in Middletown, Connecticut, the son of Asher Riley, a farmer of reduced means, and Rebecca Sage, the daughter of an old Wethersfield family. Riley received a limited education, and from the age of eight he had to earn his keep helping local farmers. When he was fifteen, “tall and stout for my age,” Riley went to sea, working his way up until he gained command of his own ship at the age of twenty and subsequently acquired responsibility for trading the cargoes. Sailing mainly from New York, he made “voyages in all climates usually visited by American ships” and gained “a fair share of prosperity” ( ...

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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....