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Agassiz, Louis (26 May 1807–14 December 1873), zoologist and geologist, was born Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz in Motier, Switzerland, the son of Rodolphe Agassiz, a Protestant pastor, and Rose Mayor. Louis early in life spurned family pressure to become a businessman and planned to devote himself to the professional study of nature. At the age of twenty-one he predicted he would become “the first naturalist of his time, a good citizen and a good son… . I feel within myself the strength of a whole generation to work toward this end” (Lurie [1960], p. 31)....

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Allen, Joel Asaph (19 July 1838–29 August 1921), zoologist and museum official, was born near Springfield, Massachusetts, the son of Joel Allen, a carpenter, housebuilder, and later a farmer, and Harriet Trumbull, a former schoolteacher. Allen attended the local public schools in the wintertime, but his father, a rigidly puritanical Congregationalist, insisted that he work on the family farm during good weather. From the age of about fourteen, as Allen’s interest in natural history, particularly birds, increased, his interest in farming diminished. He nevertheless worked long hours for his father in a spirit of filial loyalty, possibly laying the foundation for the serious bouts of ill health that would plague him in later years. Whenever possible, he prepared study specimens of birds and animals for his own private collection. From 1858 to 1862 Allen’s father supported his intermittent attendance at nearby Wilbraham Academy....

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Cassin, John (06 September 1813–10 January 1869), ornithologist and printing company executive, was born near the present site of Media, Pennsylvania, the son of Thomas Cassin, a Quaker farmer, and Rachel Sharpless. Cassin attended a Quaker School in Westtown, Pennsylvania, and studied under private tutors. His interest in natural history developed as the result of the emphasis placed on the subject by Quaker schools at that time; this proved decisive in Cassin’s choice of avocation. He began observing and identifying birds on the family property in his mid-teens, and as an adult he regretted that he had not gotten out into the field more often to go birdwatching. At age twenty-one he went to Philadelphia, where he worked first in merchandising and then at the U.S. Customs House. When J. T. Bowen, an engraver and lithographer, died, Cassin assumed the management of Bowen’s firm and continued to supply illustrations for various scientific books and periodicals and for federal government publications....

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Chapman, Frank Michler (12 June 1864–15 November 1945), ornithologist and museum curator, was born in Englewood Township, New Jersey, the son of Lebbeus Chapman, Jr., a partner in a New York City law firm, and Mary Augusta Parkhurst. His father died when his son was eleven. In addition to possessing a strong ornithological interest from the age of eight, Chapman inherited a musical ear from his mother, and his daughter-in-law, ...

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Dana, James Dwight (12 February 1813–14 April 1895), geologist, zoologist, and teacher, was born in Utica, New York, the son of James Dana, a businessman, and Harriet Dwight. His father was a descendant of Richard Dana who settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1640. Dana, a studious scholar, was educated in the Utica High School, where his interest in science appeared early and developed through hard work, talent, and intelligence, despite his father’s disparagement of science as a career. Attracted to Yale College by ...

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Henshaw, Henry Wetherbee (03 March 1850–01 August 1930), ornithologist, ethnologist, and government official, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of William Henshaw and Sarah Holden Wetherbee. His interest in natural history was demonstrated from early childhood, and he began focusing has attention on birds. He completed his primary and secondary education in the local public schools, but poor health compelled him to defer plans to take the entrance examination at Harvard in 1869. While in high school, Henshaw met ...

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Kinsey, Alfred Charles (23 June 1894–25 August 1956), entomologist and sex researcher, was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, the son of Alfred Seguine Kinsey, instructor of mechanical arts at Stevens Institute of Technology, and Sarah Ann Charles. His father, a domineering and relentlessly pious patriarch, intimidated Sarah and the children. Alfred was a frail boy who contracted rheumatic and typhoid fever. Perhaps as compensation for his early confinement to the home, in adolescence Alfred acquired a passionate interest in nature and resolved to become a biologist. He was valedictorian of the Columbia High School class of 1912....

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Mearns, Edgar Alexander (11 September 1856–01 November 1916), ornithologist, mammalogist, and army surgeon, was born in Highland Falls, New York, the son of Alexander Mearns and Nancy Carswell. He attended Donald Highland Institute in Highland Falls. When still very young, he grew interested in local plants and animals and planned a book on the natural history of the area, which he was unable to complete at the time. Many years later, in 1898, he did publish a fifty-page account of some of his conclusions as “A Study of the Vertebrate Fauna of the Hudson Highlands, with observations on the Mollusca, Crustacea, Lepidoptera, and the Flora of the Region” in the ...

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Merriam, Clinton Hart (05 December 1855–19 March 1942), zoologist and government official, was born in New York City, the son of Clinton Levi Merriam, a businessman, banker, and two-term Republican U.S. congressman, and Caroline Hart. A younger sister, Florence ( Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey...

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Peterson, Roger Tory (28 August 1908–28 July 1996), ornithologist and artist, was born in Jamestown, New York, to Charles G. Peterson and Henrietta Bader Peterson. Both his parents had emigrated to America from Europe: his father had been born in Sweden, his mother in Germany to parents of Slavic descent. His father, an intensely practical man, worked for a company that made office furniture. Though he admired the artistic talent his son exhibited at an early age, he was also skeptical of Roger's dreamy absorption in nature and feared that the boy would not come to a good end. From earliest childhood Roger Tory Peterson enjoyed being alone in the woods and countryside, observing animals and especially birds. He began to sketch what he saw, and at the age of fourteen won a prize for a drawing of a butterfly. His active membership in a Junior Audubon Club from the age of eleven onward gave a focus to his life that the activities of other children his age did not, and in old age he remembered himself when young as a rebellious loner for whom nature provided salvation....

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Ridgway, Robert (02 July 1850–25 March 1929), ornithologist and museum curator, was born in Mount Carmel, Illinois, the son of David Ridgway, a pharmacist, and Henrietta Janes Reed. The eldest of ten children, he was educated in the local school and by his parents, who encouraged his interests in natural history. At the early age of ten Ridgway demonstrated considerable ability in collecting birds and other animals near his home and in painting them with watercolors he mixed himself at his father’s pharmacy....