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Ammons, A. R. (18 Feb. 1926–2 Feb. 2001), poet, was born on his family’s tobacco farm near Whiteville, North Carolina, the son of Willie M. and Lucy Delia McKee Ammons. The main family book was the Bible. Archie Randolph Ammons spent his formative childhood years working on the farm and as a result always felt close to nature and the vicissitudes of weather. After graduating from Whiteville High School in ...

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Baumgartner, Leona (18 Aug. 1902–15 Jan. 1991), public health official, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the only child of Olga Leisy and William J. Baumgartner. Her family was of Swiss Mennonite descent. She spent her childhood in Lawrence, Kansas, where her father was a professor of zoology at the University of Kansas. Growing up, Leona was immersed in science and accompanied her father on summer research trips. So it was not unexpected that after graduating from Lawrence High School in ...

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Bee, Frederick Alonzo (9 Sept. 1825–26 May 1892), telegraph and railroad entrepreneur and vice-consul of the Chinese consulate in San Francisco, was born in Clinton, New York, the son of John Bee and Mary Wilson. The couple emigrated from Northumberland, England to Clinton, New York in ...

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Boyle, Sarah Patton (9 May 1906–20 Feb. 1994), civil rights activist and writer, was born Sarah Lindsay Patton in Lindsay, Virginia, to Janie Stringfellow Patton and Robert Williams Patton, both descendants of the Virginian slaveholding elite. Her father, an Episcopal minister, was a racial moderate by the standards of his time, but the young Patty, as Sarah was always referred to, was more influenced by her mother’s segregationist views. Patty, who had undiagnosed dyslexia, was educated at home before studying painting at the Corcoran School of Art, in Washington, D.C., from ...

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Burdick, Eugene Leonard (12 Dec. 1918–26 July 1965), novelist and political scientist, was born in Sheldon, Iowa, to John J. Burdick, an Irish immigrant house painter, and Marie Ellerbroek Burdick. His father died when he was four, and two years later his mother, of Dutch descent, married Fritz Gaillard, an émigré cellist from the Netherlands. The family moved to Los Angeles, where Gaillard played with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. From childhood onward, Burdick excelled in both academics and sports. After attending classes at Santa Monica and Santa Barbara junior colleges, he enrolled as a scholarship student at Stanford University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in psychology in ...

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Cabrera, Lydia (20 May 1900–19 Sept. 1991), Cuban writer and anthropologist, was born in Havana, Cuba. (Even though 1899 is sometimes listed as her birth year, Cabrera always gave the date listed here). Her parents were Raimundo Cabrera Bosch, a lawyer, jurist, writer, and politician, and Elisa Marcaida Casanova. Lydia Cabrera was the youngest of eight siblings. Her interaction with her family’s Afro-Cuban servants (especially her nanny and her seamstress) and the stories she heard as a child are often cited as the foundation for her future career as a writer and transcriber of Afro-Cuban folk tales....

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Caesar, Sid (8 Sept. 1922–12 Feb. 2014), television comedy star, was born Isaac Sidney Caesar in Yonkers, New York, the youngest of three surviving sons of Max Ziser, a Jew who emigrated from Austria, and his Russian-born wife, Ida Raphael Ziser. As a young boy Sid amused factory workers in his father’s greasy spoon, the St. Claire Buffet and Luncheonette, with Italian, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, and Lithuanian double talk. At eleven, Sid learned to play the saxophone, and he made six dollars a week playing in Mike Cifficello’s Swingtime Six while a student at Yonkers High School....

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Carpenter, Scott (1 May 1925–10 Oct. 2013), astronaut, was born Malcolm Scott Carpenter in Boulder, Colorado, to Marion Scott Carpenter, a post-doctoral student in chemistry, and Florence Kelso (Noxon) Carpenter.

When his mother became ill with tuberculosis and his father abandoned them, “Buddy” was raised in Boulder by his grandparents, Victor Irwin Noxon, Progressive publisher of the ...

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Carr, Marjorie H. (26 Mar. 1915–10 Oct. 1997), environmental activist and zoologist, was born Marjorie Harris in Boston, Massachusetts, to Charles Ellsworth Harris, a teacher, and Clara Louise Haynes. The couple wintered in Florida, eventually relocating in 1918 to a ten-acre orange grove south of Bonita Springs. Marjorie reveled in the natural beauty of rural southwest Florida, enjoying the nearby rivers and beaches while riding her beloved pony. In ...

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Charren, Peggy (9 Mar. 1928–21 July 2015), children’s television activist, was born Peggy Sandelle Walzer in New York City. Her grandparents were Jews from Germany and Russia. Her father, Maxwell Walzer, was a furrier, and her mother, the former Ruth Rosenthal, a pianist until she married. Growing up on Madison Avenue, Peggy was raised with the characteristic liberal values of a middle-class Jewish family of the time. After attending Hunter College High School from ...

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Cordero, Ana Livia (4 July 1931–21 Feb. 1992), political activist, physician, and public health advocate, was born Ana Livia Cordero Garcés in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the elder of two daughters of Rafael de J. Cordero and Ana Livia Garcés. Rafael de J. Cordero was an economist and University of Puerto Rico professor who served as auditor and then comptroller of Puerto Rico under governors ...

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Coston, Martha J. (1829–12 Jan, 1904), inventor and businesswoman, was born Martha Jane Hunt in Baltimore, Maryland (parents unknown). She moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as a child with her widowed mother and siblings. By her own account she had a happy childhood, was a studious child, and enjoyed the constant companionship of her mother as well as a lively household filled with her brothers and sisters....

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Craven, Wesley Earl (2 Aug. 1939–30 Aug. 2015), director, writer, and producer of prominent American horror films, was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. Craven described his mother, Caroline, as a religiously devout Baptist who took her children to church virtually every Wednesday and Sunday. His father, Paul, was a more distant and intimidating figure. Perhaps because of his strict upbringing, with prohibitions on activities like dancing, parties, or going to the movies, Craven was a strong student and went on to receive a B.A. in English from Wheaton College in ...

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Crouch, Paul Michael (24 June 1903–18 Nov. 1955), communist and later anticommunist informant for the United States government, was born in Moravian Falls, North Carolina. He was the first child from the 1899 union of Isaac Milas Crouch, a Baptist minister, and Emma Brewer. As a child Crouch enjoyed little formal schooling but read widely and enjoyed telling stories....

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Dee, Ruby (27 Oct. 1922–11 June 2014), actor, author, and civil rights activist, was born Ruby Anne Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio, to Edward Nathaniel Wallace, who held various positions with the Pennsylvania Railroad, and Gladys Hightower. When the unstable Gladys left the family, her father married Emma Amelia Benson, a former teacher....

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Portrait of Ruby Dee. Van Vechten, Carl, 1880-1964, photographer

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection, (LC-USZ62-102155)

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Dennis, Sandy (27 Apr. 1937–2 Mar. 1992), actress, was born Sandra Dale Dennis in Hastings, Nebraska, to Jack Dennis, a salesman and postal clerk, and Yvonne Hudson Dennis, a secretary. She grew up in Lincoln, where she attended public schools and developed a lifelong love of literature, including poetry. She also enjoyed watching plays on television, at a time when that medium was a showcase for outstanding drama. One in particular, Horton Foote’s ...

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Divine (19 Oct. 1945–7 March 1988), film actor, stage performer, and singer, was born Harris Glenn Milstead in Baltimore, Maryland, to Harris Bernard Milstead and Frances Vukovich Milstead. Milstead was educated in the public schools in suburban Baltimore and graduated from Towson High School in ...

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Engelbart, Douglas Carl (30 Jan. 1925–2 July 2013), engineer and inventor, was born in Portland, Oregon, the middle son of Carl Louis Engelbart and Gladys Charlotte Amelia Munson Engelbart. His father, an electrical engineer, was born in Spokane, Washington, and was of German descent. His mother also born in the state of Washington, was of Swedish and Norwegian descent. A gifted student, Douglas Engelbart graduated from Franklin High School in Portland in ...

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Fisher, Carrie (21 Oct. 1956–27 Dec. 2016), actress and writer, was born Carrie Frances Fisher in Beverly Hills, California, to Eddie Fisher, a popular singer and the grandson of Russian-Jewish immigrants, and Debbie Reynolds, a Hollywood actress whose forebears were Anglo-Saxon Protestants of modest means. At the time of Carrie’s birth, Fisher and Reynolds, who had married to great fanfare a year earlier, were a celebrated young couple, labeled “America’s sweethearts” by the media. The public doted on newspaper and magazine coverage as well as film footage of the seemingly perfect couple and their adorable little daughter. The arrival little more than a year later of a son, Todd, only enhanced their image....