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Hale, Susan (05 December 1833–17 September 1910), writer and painter, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Nathan Hale, owner and editor of the Boston Daily Advertiser, and Sarah Preston Everett, a linguist, writer, and the sister of statesman Edward Everett. Susan Hale grew up in a literary and intellectual environment that served as the major educational force of her early years. She studied with private tutors until she was sixteen and then attended ...

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Frederick Law Olmsted. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-36895).

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Olmsted, Frederick Law (26 April 1822–23 August 1903), landscape architect and travel writer, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the son of John Olmsted, a dry goods merchant, and Charlotte Hull. Olmsted’s mother died when he was three, and between the ages of seven and fifteen he received most of his schooling from ministers and private academies outside Hartford. In 1837, when he was about to enter Yale College, severe sumac poisoning weakened his eyes, leading to a decade of desultory education at the hands of a civil engineer and several farmers, interspersed with seven months with a dry goods firm in New York City, a year-long voyage to China, and a semester at Yale. In 1848 his father bought him a farm on Staten Island, where he lived for the next eight years, practicing scientific agriculture with special interest in tile drainage of soils. He read widely in these years, being especially influenced by ...

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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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Van Braam Houckgeest, Andreas Everardus (01 November 1739–08 July 1801), diplomat, art collector, and author of the first book about China by an American, was born in the province of Utrecht in the Netherlands, the son of François Thomas van Braam and Evardina Catherina van Nijmegen. After a brief term in the Dutch navy, he entered the service of the Dutch East India Company in December 1758 on a voyage to China. In 1763 he married Catharina C. G. van Reede van Oudtshoorn, a resident of Cape Town, South Africa, adding at that time Houckgeest to his name in honor of a line of artists on his mother’s side. Apart from two short voyages to Europe, he remained in Canton and Macao until 1773, when he returned to the Netherlands and established himself as a gentleman farmer in the province of Gelderland....

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Vincent, Frank (02 April 1848–19 June 1916), world traveler, author, and collector, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Frank Vincent, a wealthy dry goods merchant, and Harriet Barns. Vincent grew up on the family estate at Tarrytown-on-the-Hudson and attended Peekskill Military Academy. In 1866 he entered Yale College and completed two terms before having to leave because of health problems. He returned the following year, but ill health again forced him to discontinue his studies. While at Yale, he vowed to see the world and to write about its more obscure regions. He subsequently spent more than forty years fulfilling that vow....