Social reformer and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass was a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York. Born into slavery, he had a difficult early life. Eventually, he managed to escape and dedicated the rest of his life to promoting the cause of abolition. He was a great orator and writer.
W. E. B. Du Bois was an American civil rights activist, sociologist, and Pan-Africanist. Du Bois played an instrumental role in fighting for full civil rights for people of color around the world. A co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Du Bois also played an important role as the leader of the Niagara Movement.
Henry David Thoreau was an American philosopher, essayist, poet, and naturalist. He is credited with popularizing transcendentalism and simple living. His philosophy of civil disobedience, which was detailed in his essay of the same name, later influenced world-renowned personalities like Leo Tolstoy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American philosopher who led the transcendentalist movement that developed in the eastern United States in the 1820s and 1830s. He is credited with popularizing individualism through his numerous lectures and essays. Emerson influenced many thinkers and writers that followed him; he mentored Henry David Thoreau, who went on to become a leading transcendentalist.
Mary Seacole was a British-Jamaican nurse, businesswoman, and healer. She played a major role during the Crimean War, providing aid for wounded servicemen and nursing them back to health. In 1991, Seacole was posthumously honored with the Jamaican Order of Merit. In 2004, she was named the greatest black Briton for her contribution during the war.
German philosopher, cultural critic, composer, and poet Friedrich Nietzsche has had a profound influence on modern intellectual history. He held the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel. His work spanned philosophical polemics, poetry, cultural criticism, and fiction. He suffered from numerous health problems from a young age and died at the age of 55.
The leading English art critic of the Victorian era, John Ruskin was a hugely influential figure in the latter half of the 19th century. Also a philosopher and prominent social thinker, he wrote on varied subjects like geology, architecture, education, botany, myth, ornithology, literature, and political economy. He founded the charitable trust Guild of St George.
William Morris was a British poet, novelist, textile designer, translator, and socialist activist. He played a major role in reviving the traditional British textile arts and the various methods of production. As a novelist and poet, Morris helped establish the fantasy genre, which is prevalent today. He is counted among the most important cultural figures of the Victorian era.
Born into a wealthy English family, Gertrude Bell was an explorer at heart and went down in history for her journeys across the Middle East and for helping establish the Hāshimite dynasty in Iraq. Though she graduated in history from Oxford, being a woman, she wasn’t awarded a degree.
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was an Indian politician and independence activist. He formulated the Hindu nationalist philosophy of Hindutva and was a leading figure in the Hindu Mahasabha. He was known for his strong oratory skills and was an eloquent writer. He was initially charged as a co-conspirator in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi but was later acquitted.
Friedrich Engels was a German philosopher, political scientist, and revolutionary socialist. Along with Karl Marx, Engels helped develop Marxism, which has had a profound impact on fields like philosophy and anthropology. Engels is credited with helping Marx publish Das Kapital, a foundational theoretical work in politics, economics, and materialist philosophy. He also co-authored influential political documents like The Communist Manifesto.
Marcelo H. del Pilar was a Filipino lawyer, writer, freemason, and journalist. Along with Graciano López Jaena and José Rizal, Del Pilar became known in Spain as the leaders of the Reform Movement. He is considered the Father of Philippine Journalism for his 66 editorials and 150 essays. He is also regarded as the Father of Philippine Masonry.
Renowned meteorologist and aeronaut James Glaisher was a pioneer of balloon flights and had penned the iconic book Travels in the Air. He had also contributed to the formation of the Meteorological Society and the Aeronautical Society of Britain. The 2019 movie The Aeronauts depicts his exploits as a balloonist.
Part of the legendary folklorist duo known as the Brothers Grimm, Jacob Grimm gave to the world Grimm’s Fairy Tales, along with his younger brother, Wilhelm Grimm. The son of a lawyer, he, too, had initially studied law. He also contributed immensely to Germanic linguistics, with his Grimm's law.
David Unaipon was an Aboriginal Australian preacher, author, and inventor. He is best remembered for his significant contribution to Australian society, which helped break several stereotypes about Aboriginal Australians. Apart from establishing a couple of awards in his honor, the Australian government has also featured Unaipon on the Australian fifty-dollar note.
Landscape architect Gertrude Jekyll was born into an affluent family and grew up in a refined environment, learning music and traveling. Initially interested in painting, she gave it up to focus on gardening when she developed eyesight problems. She built around 400 gardens and also collaborated with Sir Edwin Lutyens.
Hudson Taylor was one of the most popular Christian missionaries in China. His 51-year stint in China witnessed him baptizing over 50,000 people. Apart from converting people, he also mingled with the Chinese at a personal level, adopting their clothing habits, contrary to what other missionaries practiced.
Alexander Berkman was a Russian-American anarchist and author. He was famous for both his political activism and his writing and was a leading member of the anarchist movement in the early 20th century. He served as the editor of fellow anarchist Emma Goldman's anarchist journal, Mother Earth. He suffered from ill-health in his later years and died by suicide.
Luther Burbank was an American horticulturist and botanist. A pioneer in agricultural science, Luther Burbank developed over 800 varieties of plants and strains in an illustrious career that spanned 55 years. He is also credited with developing a spineless cactus that served as cattle feed. In 1986, Luther Burbank was made an inductee of the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Best known for developing the Langevin dynamics and the Langevin equation, physicist Paul Langevin was also a staunch Communist. Having worked on his doctoral thesis under Pierre Curie, he had formed a connection with Curie’s wife, Marie Curie, which developed into a full-blown love affair after Pierre’s death.
Ernest Thompson Seton was a wildlife artist and author. He is credited with founding a youth program called the Woodcraft Indians in 1902. A pioneer of the Boy Scouts of America, Seton also had a huge influence on the founder of the Scout Movement, Lord Baden-Powell. His life and career inspired several works of art like TV series and literature.
Ernest Renan was a French Semitic and Orientalist scholar. A multi-talented personality, Renan was also an expert of Semitic civilizations and languages, philologist, philosopher, historian of religion, critic, and biblical scholar. Ernest Renan is credited with writing pioneering and influential works on the origins of Christianity. Ernest Renan is also credited with writing the extremely popular book, Life of Jesus.
Then first Black to have graduated from West Point’s Military Academy, Henry Ossian Flipper was born to slave parents. He also became the first African-American to command US Army troops. He was dismissed unjustly on embezzlement charges and later worked as a civil engineer. His name was cleared posthumously.
Legendary Russian author Leo Tolstoy was one of the greatest novelists of the world. Best known for his realistic fiction and cult novels such as War and Peace and Anna Karenina, he had also penned plays such as The Power of Darkness and was nominated for the Nobel Prize multiple times.
William Graham Sumner was an American social scientist who held America's first professorship in sociology; he served as a professor of social sciences at Yale. Sumner, who wrote several essays and books on American history, political theory, sociology, and economic history, was one of the most popular and influential teachers at Yale. He also had an influence on American conservatism.
Anna Julia Cooper was an American author, sociologist, educator, Black liberation activist, and speaker. She was one of the most important African-American scholars in US history. In 1924, Anna Julia Cooper earned her PhD from the University of Paris, becoming only the fourth African-American woman to receive a doctoral degree.
Alexander Herzen was a Russian thinker and writer. Regarded as the father of Russian socialism, Herzen played an influential role in the political set up of the 19th and 20th century. He also influenced personalities like Isaiah Berlin, who regarded Herzen as his hero. Herzen's book My Past and Thoughts is considered one of the best autobiographies in Russian literature.
Alexandra David-Néel was a Belgian–French explorer, anarchist, spiritualist, Buddhist, writer, and opera singer. She is best remembered for traveling to important spiritual centers, including Lhasa, Tibet in 1924, when foreigners were forbidden from entering Lhasa. Alexandra David-Néel wrote more than 30 books and her teachings influenced people like Allen Ginsberg, Benjamin Crème, Jack Kerouac, Ram Dass, and Alan Watts.
One of the most influential 19th-century classicists, Theodor Mommsen donned many hats and was at the same time a historian, a philologist, a legal scholar, and an archaeologist. His legendary A History of Rome won him a Nobel Prize in Literature. He had also fathered 16 children.
Part of the Young Germany movement, German dramatist and author Georg Büchner was a revolutionary and a master of Expressionist plays. Born to an army doctor, he studied medicine but also simultaneously participated in pamphleteering for social issues. He is remembered for works such as Danton’s Death and Woyzeck.
John Humphrey Noyes was an American preacher, religious philosopher, and utopian socialist. He was the founder of the Putney, Oneida, and Wallingford Communities. He decided to devote his life to religion at a young age and studied at the Yale Theological Seminary. He was also involved in political activism and helped organize an anti-slavery society in the United States.