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Edward Spencer Beesly (1831–1915) by Barraud © National Portrait Gallery, London

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Beesly, Edward Spencer (1831–1915), positivist and historian, was born on 23 January 1831 in Feckenham, Worcestershire, the eldest son of the Revd James Beesly (1781–1855) and his wife, Emily Fitzgerald (1798–1868), of Queen's county, Ireland. After reading Latin and Greek with his father, in the autumn of 1846 he was sent to ...

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Annie Besant (1847–1933) by Hayman Selig Mendelssohn © National Portrait Gallery, London

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Besant [née Wood], Annie (1847–1933), theosophist and politician in India, was born at 2 Fish Street Hill in the City of London on 1 October 1847, the only daughter of William Persse Wood (d. 1852), underwriter, and his wife, Emily Roche Morris (...

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Charles Bradlaugh (1833–1891) by Walter Sickert, exh. New English Art Club 1890 © Estate of Walter R. Sickert. All rights reserved, DACS 2010; National Liberal Club; © reserved in the photograph

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Bradlaugh, Charles (1833–1891), politician and freethinker, was born on 26 September 1833 at home at 31 Bacchus Walk, Hoxton, London, the eldest of seven children born to Charles Bradlaugh, a solicitor's clerk, and his wife, Elizabeth Trimby, a former nursemaid. He was baptized at ...

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Bridges, John Henry (1832–1906), positivist and medical administrator, was born on 11 October 1832 at the vicarage, Old Newton, Suffolk. Slight, fair-haired, and fine-featured, he was the third of five children of the Revd Charles Bridges (1794–1869), a well-known evangelical, and his wife, ...

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Carlile, Elizabeth Sharples (1803–1852), freethought lecturer and advocate of women's rights, was one of six children born to Ann and Richard Sharples, a counterpane manufacturer, in Bolton, Lancashire, probably late in 1803. The family was pious and prosperous, the children received a good education, and ...

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Cheyne, Thomas Kelly (1841–1915), biblical scholar, was born on 18 September 1841 in London, the youngest son of the Revd Charles Cheyne (d. 1867), second master at Christ's Hospital, and his wife, Sarah Anne, whose father was Thomas Hartwell Horne, editor of the popular ...

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Codd, Clara Margaret (1876–1971), suffragette and theosophist, was born on 10 October 1876 at Pill House, Bishops Tawton, Barnstaple, north Devon, the eldest of ten children of Henry Frederick Codd (d. 1899) and his wife, Clara Virginia, née Botto (1853–1927). She was educated at home by governesses, and at fifteen rejected Christianity and declared herself an atheist. When she was twenty-three her father, a school inspector, died and the family moved to ...

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Collins, Anthony (1676–1729), philosopher and freethinker, was born on 21 June 1676 at Isleworth, Middlesex, the eldest child of Henry Collins (1646/7–1705), lawyer, and Mary Dineley. He was educated at Eton College and then at King's College, Cambridge, from 1693 to 1696, but did not take a degree. At ...

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Congreve, Richard (1818–1899), positivist, was born at Leamington Hastings, Warwickshire, on 4 September 1818, the third son of Thomas Congreve, a farmer, and his wife, Julia. After attending the school run by his uncle Walter Bury in Boulogne, he spent five years (1832–7) at ...

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Cotton, Sir Henry John Stedman (1845–1915), administrator in India and positivist, was born in Kumbakonam, Madras presidency, south India, on 13 September 1845, the first of two sons of Joseph John Cotton (1813–1867), East India Company servant, and his wife, Jessie Minchin, daughter of a ...

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Crompton, Henry (1836–1904), barrister and positivist, was born at Liverpool on 27 August 1836, the second of five sons and three daughters of Sir Charles John Crompton (1797–1865), judge of the queen's bench, and his wife, Caroline Fletcher. The eldest son, Charles Crompton (1833–1890), QC...

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John Sholto Douglas, ninth marquess of Queensberry (1844–1900) by Richard William Thomas, pubd 1896 Horsham Museum (Horsham District Council); photograph National Portrait Gallery, London

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Douglas, John Sholto, ninth marquess of Queensberry (1844–1900), sportsman and controversialist, was born in Florence on 20 July 1844, the first son of Archibald William Douglas, eighth marquess (1818–1858), and Caroline Margaret (1821–1904), daughter of Lieutenant-General Sir William Clayton of Harleyford, Buckinghamshire. He was the brother of the author and traveller ...

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Edalji, Shapurji (1841/2–1918), Church of England clergyman and victim of racial harassment, was born in Bombay, in late 1841 or early 1842, son of Doralji Edalji, a Parsi merchant. Educated at Elphinstone College, he was converted to Christianity in 1856, aged fourteen, by the ...

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Florence Beatrice Farr (1860–1917) by unknown photographer, c. 1905 [with her Dolmetsch psaltery] courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

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Farr [married name Emery], Florence Beatrice [performing name Mary Lester] (1860–1917), author and mystic, was born on 7 July 1860 at Southlands, Bromley, Kent, the last of the eight children of William Farr (1807–1883), medical statistician, honorary MD, and FRS, and his second wife, ...

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Foote, George William (1850–1915), radical journalist and secularist, was born at 2 How Street Cottages, Plymouth, on 11 January 1850, the son of William Thomas Foot, customs officer, who died when he was about four. He was brought up an Anglican by his mother, ...