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Autodidactic Hall of Fame
Self-educated People Who've Made a Difference

Millions of people pay a king's ransom for college tuition to learn what is free for the taking when motivated by a compelling desire to learn. In the movie Good Will Hunting, Will (played by Matt Damon) chides an arrogant Ivy League student for paying a fortune for an education that would be free but for the price of a library card. Although this is absolutely valid, very few people believe it. Instead they are convinced the knowledge they could acquire on their own is secondary to paying a lot of money to an institution which will attest that they have, even if they cheated their way through the process.

Credentialism has existed for centuries in one form or another as groups with an information or knowledge advantage have tried to maintain their position of superiority with everything from guilds and associations to secret societies and esoteric languages. And even though teachers and educators have noble intentions, their position in our economy, by design is dependent upon a psychology of the scarcity of knowledge.

Whole categories of attributes from self-help to self-directed inquiry have been coined to disguise and set apart individual learning as an aberration so as not to displace the hierarchical power of educators. And yet, throughout history self-educated men and women from all walks of life and social stations have risen to the occasion of the challenges facing them. In so doing, they have set new standards for learning, which without question have raised the bar of achievement for their respective societies. But only in the latter half of the twentieth-century has the insidious notion that one must have the blessing of an institution to function in society been generally accepted without protest.

We need colleges and universities just as we need teachers and people who are enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge with others. But the idea that the only learning respectable enough for economic compensation comes from institutions, which treat it as a scarce resource, is patently absurd. The people named in the following list demonstrate this beyond doubt.

If you know of additional names that belong on this list please let us know via e-mail.
 

 

Abigail Adams (1744-1818)

Clearly one of the most literate Americans of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, wife of the second president of the United States and mother of the sixth, Abigail Adams never attended school. She was tutored by her maternal grandmother and encouraged to read. Her letter correspondence with her husband, John Adams, chronicles an important part of American history and stands out as unambiguous testimony to the power and development of intellect that can be achieved simply by desiring to do so.

Ansel Adams (1902-1984)

Ansel Adams became on of America�s most celebrated landscape photographers. He was taken out of school at an early age because he despised the mind-numbing routine. Through continuous self-study and technical innovation, Adams made photography into a fine art. In 1981 Harvard University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree. The last time I used his name in an Internet search engine I found nearly 4000 references. There are many examples of his work on-line.

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Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)

Daughter of philosopher Bronson Alcott, Louisa was educated at home with guidance from the hotbed of nineteenth-century transcendentalism. She wrote her first novel at age 17.  Her classic novel Little Women has remained popular for generations and is still widely read today.

Paul Allen

College dropout turned billionaire who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates. He left Microsoft in 1983 but still serves on the board of directors. Allen invests in high technology companies and owns 80 percent of TicketMaster.

Woody Allen (1935- )

Born Allen Konigsberg, he changed his name to Woody Allen in 1955.  He dropped out of college before completing his first year and went on to become one of America's most celebrated movie producers.

 Wally Amos

Armed with a GED and enthusiasm a mile wide, Wally Amos became a winning show business agent for the William Morris Agency and the most successful chocolate chip cookie entrepreneur in America.

Hans Christian Anderson (1805-1875)

One of Denmark's most famous authors, Anderson was self-educated, encouraged by his self-taught father, who died young.  His stories are reborn with each generation. Remember The Emperor's New Clothes, The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid?

Tadao Ando

Self-taught and world renown builder and  Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate

Maya Angelou (1928-)

Maya Angelou is a poet, an actress, a historian, a playwright, a producer-director and a civil-rights activist. She has written ten best-selling books including I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. Although she didn't finish college she has a list of honorary doctorates too numerous to list.

Jane Austen (1775-1817)

With very limited formal schooling, English novelist Jane Austen authored such classics as Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma. Her novels are famous for getting at the nub of the human condition in ways that often seem to surpass psychological efforts to do the same.

Richard Avedon (1923-)

A high school dropout who taught himself photography, Richard Avedon's self-education enabled him to become one of the leading fashion photographers of the twentieth century. Sometimes referred to as a "modernist" Avendon's distinctive style of eliminating context for the details of what can actually be seen in a photograph is considered controversial and unique.

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James Baldwin (1924-1987)

Born into poverty in Harlem, James Baldwin made it through high school, after which he set out on a voracious enterprise of self-education. He became a celebrated novelist, essayist, playwright, and an important figure in the civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s. James Baldwin was author of The Fire Next Time, Giovanni's Room, and Go Tell It On the Mountain.

Hubert Howe Bancroft (1832-1918)

Hubert Howe Bancroft dropped out of school at the age of 16 to become a historian and the biggest bookseller in the American West. He published a 39-volume History of the Pacific States, which is still used by historians today. In 1905 the University of California at Berkeley acquired his personal library which consisted of over 60,000 volumes.

Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806)

 A self taught scientist, astronomer, inventor and writer. He is often referred to as the first African-American intellectual.  

John Bartlett (1820-1905)

At the age of 16, John Bartlett went to work as a clerk at the Harvard University bookstore. He became so knowledgeable about great literature through his own self-education that he became a voice in campus activities. In 1855 he published Familiar Quotations, which is today called Bartlett's Quotations.

Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922)

Self-taught inventor of the telephone and telegraph. His college experience consisted only of attending a few lectures.

David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973)

Schooled by his father till age 18, he became a voracious reader, studying philosophy and ancient Greek in order to read philosophy texts in their original form. He was a chief architect for the state of Israel and became its first Prime Minister in 1948.

Wilson Bentley (1865-1931)

He was best known as "Snowflake Bentley," the first person to photograph a snowflake, and he is credited with the discovery that no two snowflakes are alike. His work was featured in Scientific American and National Geographic.

Carl Bernstein (1944-)

Co-reporter on the Watergate break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters in 1972. He is one of the most famous newspaper reporters of the 20th century and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, among many other awards. His story with co-reporter Bob Woodward is featured in the movie All the Presidents Men.  Bernstein attended the University of Maryland, but dropped out.

William Blake (1757-1827)

Home schooled and largely self-taught, the English poet and artist William Blake brought a profound sense of originality to the arts in the late eighteenth century. Many examples of his work can be found on the Internet.

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Ray Bradbury (1920- 2012)

One of the world's most prolific science fiction writers, Bradbury graduated from high school but achieved his advanced education through reading. He has written more than thirty books and has published more than 500 works. He is the author of The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and Fahrenheit 451.

 Rick Bragg (1959-)

Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and college dropout, Bragg is author of All Over But the Shoutin', a work about growing up poor in the South.

Richard Branson (1950-)

Flamboyant British billionaire Branson chose business instead of college. He is the owner of Virgin Records, and Atlantic Airways among others.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning  (1806-1861)

This celebrated English poet was a precocious reader, who educated herself by reading classic literature and studying Shakespearian plays.

John Moses Browning (1855-1926)

One of the most accomplished firearms inventors in American history, Browning had only a grade-school education. He made his first gun at age 13.

Robert Browning (1812-1889)

Victorian poet, husband of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and architect of the long poem narrative, Browning read voraciously and preferred self-education over the university.

Art Buchwald (1925-)

Political humorist and newspaper columnist Buchwald joined the Marines at age 16. After his service he enrolled in college but dropped out. His column is carried in more than 500 newspapers.

Robert Burns (1759-1796)

Often referred to as Scotland's National Bard, poet and songwriter Robert Burns educated himself principally through reading.

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John Cage (1912- 1992)

He was a composer, philosopher, an artist and a poet.  He enrolled in college only to be dismayed that college offered very little to those who aspired to arts and letters.

James Cameron (1954-)

Canadian-born screenplay writer and movie director, Cameron dropped out of college to work in the movie business. His work includes such movies as The Terminator, The Abyss, True Lies, Alien and the Oscar-winning Titanic.

Joseph Campbell (1904-1987)

 Joseph Campbell was college educated although he acquired his knowledge of myth for which he became famous by self-study. So many people have brought this to our attention that we were compelled to add him to the roster.

Truman Capote (1924-1984)

He taught himself to read before attending school.  His formal schooling ended at age 17, when he landed a job at The New Yorker Magazine. Capote wrote both fiction and nonfiction and is best known for In Cold Blood published in 1965.

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919)

An icon of the era of American industrialization and at one time the richest man in the world, Andrew Carnegie said "no man becomes rich unless he enriches others."  He received his education not through school but through work and became one of the world's greatest philanthropists.

Raymond Chandler (1888-1959)

Chandler attended college but did not finish. He wrote short stories, screenplays and crime novels. Remember Philip Marlow?

Octave Chanute (1832-1910)

Self-taught engineer, remembered as the first aero historian. 

John Cheever (1912-1982)

Accomplished magazine writer and master of the short story, Cheever won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1978. His formal education ended at age 17.

Agatha Christie (1890-1976)

Master of the mystery novel and creator of some of our most memorable detectives in the genre (Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple), Agatha Christie was educated at home.

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Arthur C. Clarke (1917-)

Arthur C. Clarke is one of America's most celebrated science fiction writers. Too poor to go to college, he educated himself by reading magazines. He has written more than 60 books, with 50 million in print. These include 2001: A Space Odyssey, and 2010: Odyssey Two.

John Henrik Clarke (1915-1998)

A self-taught scholar born of a sharecropping family in Alabama, Clarke became an authority on African history, a lecturer at Hunter College, and an advocate for Black Studies.

Henry Clay (1777-1852)

A self-educated Kentuckian, Clay was elected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1811 and is still regarded as one of the most colorful and persuasive individuals to have ever filled the post.

Samuel Clemens (1835-1910)

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) left school at the age of 13 for a journey of learning which included stints as a delivery boy, grocery clerk, blacksmith's helper, typesetter, and river boat pilot. He became one of the most famous writers in American history. Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are American classics.

Grover Cleveland (1837-1908)

Grover Cleveland was the 22nd and 24th president of the United States. His parents taught him at home until the age of 11 when he began to attend school in a one-room schoolhouse. His father's death prevented him from going to college, so he became a teacher instead. Prior to becoming president he was a sheriff, mayor of Buffalo, New York, and governor of New York.

William Cobbett  (1763-1835) 

A writer and political activist, Cobbett was known as the poor man's friend. His tireless efforts at exposing corruption laid the groundwork for political reform in England in the 19th century.

Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)

Bored with school and too argumentative for a tutor, Joseph Conrad turned to the sea for his education. He served 16 years in the British navy and went on to become a master storyteller. His novel Heart of Darkness remains critical literature in the story of good versus evil.

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Peter Cooper (1791-1883)

A self-taught inventor and noted philanthropist and a former presidential candidate, Cooper is credited with coming up with the ingredients that made Jell-O possible.

Ezra Cornell (1746-1888)

Self-taught engineer, entrepreneur, and founder of Cornell University.

Judy Crichton

Emmy award-winning Judy Crichton retired as producer and founder of Public Television's American Experience in 1996. She offers a classic example of the power of learning on the job.

Walter Cronkite (1916-)

One of America's most celebrated journalists and longtime CBS news anchor, Cronkite dropped out of college to work for the Houston Post in 1935.

Humphrey Davy (1778-1829)

Humphrey Davy was a self-educated chemist who discovered potassium and sodium in 1807.

Shirley A. DeLibero

Infamous manager of the Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority, and former CEO of New Jersey Transit, who was caught in October 2000 as having lied on her resume about having two associates degrees. In October 1996, she received the American Public Transit Assocation's Jesse L. Haugh award as the Transit Manager of the Year. She still has her job, although she was suspended without pay for a month for lying about her credentials.

Michael Dell

College dropout turned richest man in Texas. Dell left college after one semester to sell computers. Today Dell is considered one of the most dynamic computer companies in America. Would you hire this dropout at your high tech company or would you require an MBA?

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Thought by many scholars to be the greatest English novelist of all times Charles Dickens had his childhood schooling cut short in favor of factory labor while his father served time in debtor's prison. With his formal education over at the age of 15 he furthered his learning in the courts as a clerk and as a newspaper journalist. Charles Dickens' works are too numerous to mention, but a few you'll likely recognize are David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Bleakhouse, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and Little Dorrit.

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Walt Disney (1901-1966)

Co-founder of the Walt Disney Media Empire, Walt Disney taught himself the art of cartooning with the help of correspondence schools. You know the rest of the story.

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895)

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery and forbidden an education by law. Taught to read by an abolitionist sympathizer, he furthered his education at every opportunity reading what he could and talking to people more knowledgeable than himself. He escaped slavery in 1838 and became a great writer, orator, and leader in the abolitionist movement.

Matt Drudge

People either love or hate this guy, but the notoriety of the Drudge Report has made Matt Drudge one of the most successful cyberspace gossip columnists on the Internet. He is a high school graduate with no formal training in the journalism trade.

Bob Dylan (1941-)

He understandably referred to himself as a song and dance man. He enrolled in only one semester of college, forsaking classroom attendance to immerse himself in the Minneapolis folk scene. He is arguably the most influential musician of the past half century. 

James Buchanan Eads (1820-1887)

Self-taught engineer and master builder.

Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931)

Thought by some of his teachers to be too stupid for school, Thomas Edison was taught at home by his mother in his early years. Eventually this self-taught scientist would himself become the big bang of technology, holding more than 1000 patents and pioneering such technology as the electric light and the phonograph.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

It is common knowledge that Albert Einstein dropped out of school, but he did eventually go back and finish his formal education. In every sense, though, he was a self-educated man. (We've had so many requests to add his name to this list that we felt it would save time to do so.)

Lawrence Ellison (1944-)

Chairman co-founder and chief executive office of Oracle the second largest software company in the world. Ellison attended college but did not graduate.

Michael Faraday (1791-1867)

Faraday was a self-taught scientist whose work paved the way for the development of electro-technology.

Philo T. Farnsworth (1906-1971)

Self-educated inventor who, at age 14, sketched his idea for electronic video (making television possible) on the blackboard at school. His teacher would later testify to that fact at a trial over the patent.  Farnsworth dropped out of college when his father died but went on to hold more than 300 patents at the time of his death.

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Howard Fast (1914-)

Howard Fast learned what he needed to know about novels in the public library. He has written more than 40 books including Spartacus, Citizen Tom Paine, Freedom Road, April Morning, and The Last Frontier.

William Faulkner (1897-1962)

One of America's most distinguished men of letters, William Faulkner won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949. A nice accomplishment for a high school drop out who would later attend three semesters of college where he received a D in English.

Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866-1932)

A pioneer in radio broadcasting and a self-taught inventor.  Fessenden built the first power generating system at Niagara Falls.

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

Fitzgerald dropped out of college to pursue a writing career.  His novel The Great Gatsby is considered by many critics to be one of the best books ever written by an American.

Shelby Foote (1916-)

Author of the acclaimed three volumes The Civil War series. Foote often express pride in his amateur standing as a historian who completed only a couple of years of college.

Henry Ford (1863-1947)

Henry Ford attended school until the age of 15. He satisfied his curiosity about mechanics by repairing watches. A self-taught engineer he founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903, and the rest is history.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

An American statesman like no other, Benjamin Franklin abandoned formal education at the age of 10. He became an inventor, a distinguished public servant, an author and publisher, and he helped write The Declaration of Independence.

Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Often referred to as one of America's greatest poets, Robert Frost was largely self-educated. He attended but did not finish college. Frost won the Pulitzer Prize four times.

R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)

An inventor and the archetype for "out of the box" thinking, Fuller, known as "Bucky" to his friends, was twice kicked out of Harvard. He held innumerable patents, one of which is for the geodesic dome. A list of the honorary degrees bestowed on him would fill an entire page.

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Bill Gates

If he's not the most famous college dropout in American history, he is for sure the wealthiest. Bill Gates as if you didn't know is co-founder of Microsoft and easily the richest man in the world.

David Geffen (1943-

A co-founder of DreamWorks SKG Hollywood studio and entertainment company and former creator of Geffen Records, which he sold for a half- billion dollars in 1989.  Geffen dropped out of college to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.

Henry George (1839-1897)

Henry George dropped out of school in the seventh grade to become a cabin boy on a sailing vessel. He would later become a printer with an interest in economics. He studied the works of John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer, David Ricardo, and Adam Smith. He wrote a book titled Progress and Poverty which brought him international fame as an original social philosopher. He advocated a single tax and the abolition of all others. In his day, his popularity was surpassed only by the likes of Thomas Edison and Mark Twain.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935)

Gilman was a self-educated novelist and early pioneer of the feminist movement. She is perhaps best remembered as the author of The Yellow Wallpaper.

Emma Goldman (1869-1940)

Emma Goldman grew up in a Russian Jewish ghetto. Her family was too poor to keep her in school, so after only a few months of formal education she quit to work in a factory. History reveals her to be a revolutionary, a radical, and indeed an anarchist. Deported from the United States in 1919 for conspiring to obstruct the draft she was allowed to reenter in 1934 for a lecture tour. She was a champion of personal freedom, birth control, decent wages, and women's rights decades before these ideas captured popular support.

Jane Goodall (1934-

Few people would be surprised to learn that primatologist Jane Goodall holds a doctorate degree in her field. But you might be amazed to discover that she accomplished the very work that made her famous without college. In fact, anthropologist Louis Leaky selected her to study primates in the wild because of her lack of formal training, so that academic bias would not influence the research findings.

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Richard Grasso

Chairman and CEO of the New York Stock Exchange, Grasso attended but did not finish college. He became interested in the market when he was a boy and at age 13 bought his first stock, which he had to register in his mother's name because of his age.

Horace Greeley (1811-1872)

Greeley was a distinguished American journalist and founder of The New Yorker and the New York Tribune. He left school at age 14 and read his way to the top of the trade.

Kendall Hailey

Author of "The Day I Became an Autodidact." She finished high school a year early to learn on her own.

Alex Palmer Haley (1925-1992)

Alex Haley joined the Coast Guard during World War II as a mess hall worker. He spent the next twenty years learning the craft of writing. In 1976 the miniseries Roots, based on his book of the same name, became one of the most successful television series in history.

Pamela Harriman (1920-1997)

Pamela Harriman lived an extraordinary life. Her skills for diplomacy, which she developed as a socialite, culminated in her appointment as Ambassador to France.

Joel Chandler Harris (1848-1908)

Harris was a folklorist, a novelist, and a poet. He is best known as the creator of the songs and stories of Uncle Remus.

John Harrison (1693-1776)

John Harrison was the son of a carpenter who became a self-taught mechanic. He invented the marine chronometer enabling navigators at sea to determine their longitude with precision. Because he was self-educated and less credentialed than his peers he had to enlist the aid of the king to gain credit and recognition for his accomplishments.

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Bret Harte (1836-1902)

A self-educated miner and schoolteacher turned journalist. Harte became the first editor of the Overland Monthly and is best remembered for his stories and poems about the west.

Oliver Heaviside (1850-1925)

Oliver Heaviside dropped out of school at age 16 and through his own efforts at self-education came to be considered one of the greatest living scientists of his time.

 Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

He was one of America's most celebrated literary giants. Author of For Whom the Bells Toll, The Sun Also Rises, and the Old Man and the Sea among others he decided to skip college in order to learn from the experience of living. In 1954, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Hazel Henderson

A self-educated economist, she once referred to the economics taught by traditional economists as a kind of "brain damage." Her works include The Politics of the Solar Age, Creating Alternative Futures, Paradigms in Progress, and Building a Win-Win World.

Patrick Henry (1736-1799)

Patrick Henry is the civil libertarian whose words "Give me liberty or give me death" have become synonymous with the very notion of patriotism. Henry had little experience with formal education, he was tutored by his father but was largely self-educated. Patrick Henry was the architect of the Bill of Rights and was a major player in the American Revolution.

Milton Hershey (1857-1945)

Founder of the giant chocolate company bearing his name, Hershey attended school only through the fourth grade.

Eric Hoffer (1902-1983)

Eric Hoffer was a self-educated--self-taught--philosopher who was virtually without formal education. He was often called the working man's philosopher. He developed an uncanny sense of the human condition in his understanding of the nature of beliefs. In 1951 he published The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, which is today considered a classic in that genre.

Soichiro Honda (1906-1991)

The stories of Soichiro Honda's entrepreneurial tenacity are legendary, as was his self-driven thirst for knowledge. He founded the Japanese company that makes some of the world's best automobiles.

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Elias Howe (1819-1867)

Elias Howe was the self-taught inventor of the sewing machine.

Catherine Elizabeth Hughes (1947-)

A radio personality and executive, Hughes' success in radio station management enabled her to become the first African American woman to head a publicly traded stock on the stock exchange.

Robert Hughes

In the spring of 1997, a special issue of Time Magazine, a PBS special, and a book all titled American Visions, made their debut. This work represented the efforts of self-educated author, and art critic Robert Hughes. Hughes has become one of the most respected art critics in American and yet he has acquired his knowledge of art outside and far removed from academia.

Wayne Huizenga (1937-)

A college dropout, known for his Midas touch in business, Huizenga founded Blockbuster Video.

Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895)

Huxley had barely two years of formal education but is remembered as an author, and philosopher.  In his time, he was a most eloquent defender of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species.

Washington Irving (1783-1859)

Irving was a self-taught biographer, a novelist, essayist, poet and columnist perhaps best known for his Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle.

Peter Jennings (1938-)

The late ABC news anchor was a high school dropout. 

John Bloomfield Jervis (1795-1885)

Considered one of the most important engineers of the nineteenth-century, Jervis was self-educated.

Steven Jobs

Co-founder of Apple Computer, Inc., co-designer of the Apple II, owner of Pixar Animation Studios, CEO of NEXT Computer Inc., current acting CEO of Apple Computer, and oh, yes, college dropout worth millions.

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Andrew Johnson (1808-1875)

The seventeenth president of the United States never attended school. He was born into extreme poverty and often recalled going to bed hungry. Johnson taught himself to read and was tutored in basic subjects by his wife whom he married when she was only 16 years old. Prior to becoming president, Johnson served as a Tennessee state senator, a U.S. representative, governor of Tennessee, U.S. senator, and vice president. He remains the only ex-president ever to serve as a U.S. senator after completing his presidency.

Dean Kamen (1951-)

A multimillionaire and self-taught engineer and technological pioneer, Kamen invented the iBot wheelchair, the Segway Human Transporter and many medical devices, including a portable kidney dialysis machine.

Kevin Kelly (1952-)

Kelly, a renascence man extraordinaire is a writer, photographer, publisher, and a founding executive editor of Wired Magazine.  He attended the University of Rhode Island for one year.

 Bernard Kerik

A high school dropout, Bernard Kerik was a former police commissioner for the City of New York.

Kirk Kerkorian (1917-)

Las Vegas hotel mogul who dropped out of school in the eighth grade and went on to become one of the richest men in the world.

Ray Kroc (1902-1984)

Founder of McDonald's Corporation, Kroc lied about his age at 15 to drive an ambulance during World War II. He founded the McDonald's hamburger chain at age 52.

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999)

One of America's most celebrated film directors, Stanley Kubrick had such poor grades in high school that colleges couldn't admit him. So he enrolled as a non-credit student and monitored classes he found interesting. His films include Spartacus, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut.

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Jimmy Lai (1949-)

A Hong Kong mogul, Jimmy Lai has been characterized by Business Week magazine as a self-taught intellectual and an extraordinary entrepreneur. He dropped out of school in the fifth grade. He created the Giordano clothing line.

Louis L'Amour (1908-1988)

One of America's most celebrated and widely read authors of Westerns dropped out of school at age 15. L'Amour wrote 400 short stories and 116 novels, more than 30 of which were made into movies. In 1972, Jamestown College awarded him an honorary doctorate in literature. In 1982, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, and in 1984, the Medal of Freedom.

Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968)

The daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose was also a writer who chose to learn the trade writing for magazines instead of going to college.

Jaron Lanier

A musician, composer, artist, author, speaker, lead scientist of the National Tele-immersion Initiative, and the person who coined the term "virtual reality," Jaron Lanier dropped out of school at age 14, but was allowed to take college courses in advanced mathematics.

Estee Lauder (1908-2001)

Founder of a cosmetic dynasty. Estee Lauder's persistence in selling is legendary.

Ralph Lauren (1939-)

A college dropout, Ralph Lauren has one of the most successful clothing lines in the fashion business.

Richard E. Leakey (1944-)

Son of Louis and Mary Leaky, Richard is a paleoanthropolgist who chose an education in the field over that of a traditional university.

William Lear (1902-1978)

An inventor and the founder of Motorola and Lear Jet, William Lear dropped out of school after the eighth grade to join the U.S. Navy.

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Fran Lebowitz (1950-)

Fran Lebowitz is a self-educated author and humorist who is often quoted on the world wide web.

Doris Lessing (1919-)

Doris Lessing is a self-educated novelist and intellectual who dropped out of school at age 13. In 1995, she was awarded an honorary degree by Harvard University.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

Abraham Lincoln failed twice in business before he was 25 years old, had a nervous breakdown and failed in seeking public office eight times before becoming the sixteenth president of the United States. Lincoln was a self-educated lawyer with less than a year of formal schooling. He is said to have walked for miles in pursuit of books, and, although he wasn't a voracious reader, he set out to thoroughly understand everything he did read.

Jack London (1876-1916)

Jack London dropped out of school at the age of 14 and educated himself at public libraries reading magazines and literature. He enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley but left after a short time to join the Klondike gold rush of 1897. He became a great writer of adventure stories. His novel Call of the Wild was based in part on that experience. (This book read aloud by my fourth grade teacher in Irving, Texas, in the early 50s, is in large part the reason I live in Alaska today.)

Clare Boothe Luce (1903-1987)

She was a playwright, a magazine editor, a congresswoman and Ambassador to Italy. Educated at private schools, she chose work over college.

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John Major (1943-)

Former British Prime Minister John Major had to leave school at age 16 to help support his family. Major replaced Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister in 1990 and was himself replaced in 1997 by Tony Blair.

Malcolm X (1925-1965)

Arguably one of the most influential African American voices of the twentieth century, Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1925. He dropped out of school after completing the eighth grade. After converting to Islam while in prison, he self-studied his way into becoming an articulate intellectual force in America.

Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937)

Marconi was an inventor without much formal education, but he is often referred to as the father of radio.

Cyrus Hall McCormick (1809-1884)

Self-educated inventor of the first grain reaper, the McCormick Harvester.

William McKinley (1843-1901)

William McKinley, the 25th president of the United States has the strange distinction of dropping out of college after less than a year because of exhaustion from studying too hard. He received a battlefield commission for valor at the battle of Antietam in 1862. Prior to his election as president, he served as U.S. representative, and governor of Ohio. He was assassinated in 1901.

Herman Melville (1819-1891)

One of the most famous American writers in history and author of the classic novel Moby-Dick, Melville was educated largely through reading. His formal education ended in his early teens.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)

H.L. Mencken was one of the most imposing intellectual figures of the early twentieth century. He learned his trade on the job as a newspaper columnist, editor and social critic.

Tom Monaghan

Self-educated entrepreneur and founder of Domino's Pizza.

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James Monroe (1758-1831)

The fifth president of the United States, James Monroe was a college dropout. He entered the College of William and Mary at the age of 16 but the Revolution filled him with patriotism. He dropped out of college after one year to join the Continental army in 1776. He became a member of the Virginia Assembly, an elected member of the Continental Congress, a U.S. senator, minister to France, minister to Great Britain, governor of Virginia, secretary of state, and secretary of war prior to becoming president. In 1826, he became a regent of the University of Virginia.

Arthur Ernest Morgan (1878-19)

Arthur E. Morgan was self-educated, and a self-taught engineer who would later become a college president. Morgan pioneered methods for flood control and dam construction. He became president of Antioch College and was the first director of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Late in his life he said he regretted having spent so much time in an enterprise as narrow as that of academia.

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)

Self-educated and tutored by her father, Florence Nightingale went on to become a pioneer in nursing and hospital care. Ironically she is credited with providing the training structure necessary to earn the status of professional to nursing.

Sean O'Casey (1880-1964)

Self-educated Irish dramatist. His works include Juno and the Paycock and The Plough and the Stars.

Adolph Ochs (1858-1935)

Ochs began work as a newsboy. In 1896, he acquired the New York Times and built it into one of the most powerful newspapers in the world.

Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849)

On of America's most revered literary figures, Poe is often credited with inventing the detective story. His gothic poetry has had a profound effect on American literature. He attended college for one year.

Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

A renowned poet who abandoned formal education at age 12 and educated himself.

Gene Stratton Porter (1863-1924) 

She was a self-taught, feminist, environmentalist, photographer, and author whose books sales by the time of her death totaled more than ten million copies.

William S. Porter -- "O. Henry" (1862-1910)

Porter had very little formal education but taught himself to write through reading. He got into trouble and served time in prison, prompting him to sign his work with the alias O. Henry. He is a celebrated master of the short story.

Beatrix Potter (1866-1943)

Self-taught scientist, children's book author and creator of Peter Rabbit. She never attended school.

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Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920)

S. Ramanujan was a mathematical genius who made significant contributions to number theory after acquiring a math textbook at the age of 15. He secured a university scholarship but lost it because he refused to study anything but mathematics.

John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937)

Rockefeller spent three months in college and went on to found the Standard Oil Company.

John Romero

Co-founder and former programmer of id Software (creators of the popular games Doom and Quake), and now Ion Storm. The Doom cheat code "iddqd", which makes the player invulnerable to damage from enemies, prints the words "degreelessness mode" on the screen. "iddqd" stands for Delta-Q-Delta, a fake fraternity which emphasizes getting "Q" grades in college (i.e. quitting).

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)

One of the most active and influential First Ladies in American history. She attended a finishing school in England but did not attend college.

 Bill Rosenberg

Bill Rosenberg dropped out of school in the eighth grade.  In 1948, he founded Dunkin' Donuts.

Harold Wallace Ross (1892-1951)

A high school dropout who became an extraordinary magazine editor and founder of The New Yorker.

Karl Rove

George W. Bush's chief strategist, Rove is thought by his supports to be a political genius.  While his detractors beg to differ, no one doubts his power and influence.  Rove attended college but did not graduate.

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J.D. Salinger (1919-)

J.D. Salinger attended college but did not finish. He is best known as a novelist and short story writer. His Catcher in the Rye is considered a classic.

 Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

A two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and poet, Sandburg dropped out of school at age 13 to help support his family.

Colonel Harland Sanders (1890-1980)

Sanders dropped out of school in the sixth grade. At age 65 he founded the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise.

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966)

Founder of the American birth control movement, Planned Parenthood, Sanger attended college but did not finish.

Jose Saramago (1922-)

A Portuguese writer who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998, Saramago was forced to quit school in order to earn a living. After working at many jobs he began supporting himself by translating the works of others.  Among his novels are Cadernos De Lanzarote and The Tale of the Unknown Island.

David Sarnoff (1891-1971)

David Sarnoff was a titian of American radio and television and an archetype of self-education.

Anna Sewell (1820-1878)

Anna Sewell was the author of Black Beauty.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

Awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1925, playwright George Bernard Shaw had little formal education. He educated himself through intensive reading, lecturing and participation in debates. His witticisms and often-caustic social comments are still quoted by contemporary writers.

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Muriel Siebert

The first woman to have a brokerage firm of the New York Stock exchange.  Siebert did not finish college, but she has received several honorary doctorates.

Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961)

Self-educated poet and master of fantasy.

Daniel M. Snyder (1965-)

Media entrepreneur Daniel M. Snyder, owner of Snyder Communication, whose recent acquisitions have included the purchase of the NFL's Washington Redskins, is a college dropout.

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)

Herbert Spencer was a self-taught philosopher who became an avid defender of the theory of evolution. He declined a free education at Cambridge because of the implied religious strings he felt his benefactor assumed. His greatest work which he began in 1860 and took 36 years to complete was titled The Synthetic Philosophy.

Steven Spielberg

Instead of going to college, Steven Spielberg set up shop at Universal Studios where the self-educated director brought such noteworthy productions to the screen as Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Close Encounters, and Schindler's List.

Dawn Steel (1946-2001)

She worked her way up from the bottom to become the first woman to head a major movie studio.

Edward Durrell Stone (1902-1978)

Stone was one of America's most accomplished architects. He attended but did not finish college.

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Quentin Tarantino (1963-)

A movie director who dropped out of high school and is said to have received his education in film- making from working in a video store. Among his films are Pulp Fiction, From Dusk Till Dawn, Jackie Brown, and Kill Bill.

Jeff Taylor

The chairman and chief executive officer of Monster and TMP Interactive, Taylor has lots of college, but no degree because, he says, he was into learning but not by traditional methods.

Zachary Taylor (1784-1850)

Zachary Taylor, the twelfth president of the United States was self-educated. His formal education has been described by historians as minimal at best. Prior to becoming president he was a career military officer for nearly 40 years, attaining the rank of major general. He never voted and had no interest in politics at all, until he ran for the presidency at age 62.

Nikola Tesla (1856-1943)

He was an extraordinary inventor in both electrical and radio technology. He attended college but left to pursue his own studies. His polyphase system of alternating current won out over that of his rival Thomas Edison.

R. David Thomas (1932-2002)

Thomas was the founder and chairman of the Wendy's hamburger chain. He worked his way to the top taking jobs with fast food franchises.

Vivian Thomas (1910-1985)

 A medical technician and research pioneer in cardiac surgery.  Thomas' life was the subject of the recent HBO movie Something the Lord Made. 

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)

Author of War and Peace, Tolstoy is celebrated as one of the world's greatest novelists. He attended a university but was a poor student and did not graduate.

Harry Truman (1884-1972)

Harry Truman was the thirty third president of the United States. Some historians would argue that he was one of the best presidents in the twentieth century. Taught to read at the age of five by his mother, Truman graduated from high school but elected to work instead of going to college. He spent a year attending law school in Kansas City before going into politics. Imagine the controversy that would ensue if today a Harry Truman or an Abraham Lincoln were to attempt to run for president without a college degree.

Ted Turner (1938-)

Media mogul, billionaire and philanthropist are just a few of the descriptors for Ted Turner.  He attended but did not finish college.

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Peter Ustinov (1921-2004)

Stage and screen actor, writer and director and spokesman for UNICEF. Knighted in 1990.

Martin Van Buren (1782-1862)

The eighth president on the United States, Martin Van Buren's formal education ended at age 13. His parents were poor and poorly educated. He studied law as an apprentice at a law firm and was arguing cases before a jury at age 16. His lifelong ambition was to become president of the U. S. Before his election to that office Van Buren would serve as a state senator, U.S. senator governor of New York, secretary of state and vice president.

Gore Vidal (1925-)

A prolific American essayist, playwright, and novelist celebrated as a great literary stylist and as a political activist.  His novels include Williwaw (published when he was 19), The City and the Pillar, Lincoln, and The Golden Age.

George Washington (1732-1799)

It's surprising how so few people seem to be aware that George Washington, the first president of the United States and the commander in chief of the Continental army, was a self-educated man with little if any formal education. He had a voracious appetite for mathematics, which led to his occupation as a surveyor after going on a surveying trip with his cousin. Following the revolutionary war, Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention for four months before being unanimously elected president. He served two terms and refused to seek a third.

Thomas J. Watson (1874-1956)

Watson became a bookkeeper at age 18, then a sewing machine salesman. He would later found International Business Machines, IBM.

George Westinghouse (1846-1914)

George Westinghouse was an inventor who attended college for three months and went on to found the Westinghouse Electric Company.

Edith Wharton (1862-1937)

An American novelist who educated herself by reading in her father's library. Her best known works include: House of Mirth, Ethan Frome, and The Age of Innocence.

Walt Whitman (1818-1892)

A self-taught and voracious reader, Walt Whitman remains one of America's most revered poets. He self-published Leaves of Grass in 1855.

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

Whittier was a self-educated poet whose poems featured Quaker themes.

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Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957)

Laura Ingalls Wilder did not attend college but obtained a teaching certificate at age 15. She is remembered for her novels about the hardships of homesteading in the nineteenth century. Her works inspired the television series Little House on the Prairie in the 1970s.

August Wilson (1945-)

One of America's most celebrated playwrights, Wilson dropped out of school in the ninth grade and sought his education in libraries.

Nancy Woodhull

She was a college dropout who became a founding editor of USA Today and its first managing editor of news. She had a stellar career in journalism that lasted 33 years.

Steve Wozniak

College dropout and co-founder of Apple Computer with his friend Steven Jobs.

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)

Frank Lloyd Wright, America's most famous architect, developed his own methods himself before the field of architecture became a formal discipline. He designed over 800 buildings of which over 300 were actually built. His style, which he called "organic architecture," is still the object of study today.

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Orville Wright (1871-1948)

Self-taught inventor and co-founder of the field of aviation. He and his brother Wilbur achieved the first sustained flight of an airplane in 1903.

Wilbur Wright (1867-1912)

Self-taught inventor and co-founder of the field of aviation. He and his brother Orville achieved the first sustained flight of an airplane in 1903.

Chuck Yeager (1923-)

Chuck Yeager is arguably the most famous test pilot of all time, and yet, he went to war instead of to college. He shot down 13 enemy aircraft in WW II and became the first pilot to break the sound barrier in 1947. In 1968, he was promoted to brigadier general; in 1976 he became the only American ever to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor during peacetime.

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AUTODIDACTIC PRESS TITLES:

Existential Aspirations

Find out more:  Existential Aspirations

September University: Summoning Passion for an Unfinished Life

Find out more:  September University
 

The Rapture of Maturity: A Legacy of Lifelong Learning

Find out more:  The Rapture of Maturity
 

Portals in a Northern Sky...a novel

Find Out More>
 

Beyond the American Dream

Find Out More>
 

Training Yourself: The 21st Century Credential

Find Out More>
 

Proving You're Qualified

Find Out More>
 

Self-University

Find Out More>
 

Famous Autodidacts -
Self-educated People Who've Made a Difference

 

Self-University Week:
September 1-7

 

September University
An Online Lifelong Learning Campus for People Age 50 and Over

 



Sign up for FREE subscription to Self-University Newsletter,
for timely reflections and news about self-education.  (You will be notified via Yahoo e-mail services each time a new issue is posted.)


 

AUTODIDACTIC PRESS TITLES:

Existential Aspirations

Find out more:  Existential Aspirations

September University: Summoning Passion for an Unfinished Life

Find out more:  September University
 

The Rapture of Maturity: A Legacy of Lifelong Learning

Find out more:  The Rapture of Maturity
 

Portals in a Northern Sky...a novel

Find Out More>
 

Beyond the American Dream

Find Out More>
 

Training Yourself: The 21st Century Credential

Find Out More>
 

Proving You're Qualified

Find Out More>
 

Self-University

Find Out More>
 

Famous Autodidacts -
Self-educated People Who've Made a Difference

 

Self-University Week:
September 1-7

 

September University
An Online Lifelong Learning Campus for People Age 50 and Over

 



Sign up for FREE subscription to Self-University Newsletter,
for timely reflections and news about self-education.  (You will be notified via Yahoo e-mail services each time a new issue is posted.)


 

AUTODIDACTIC PRESS TITLES:

Existential Aspirations

Find out more:  Existential Aspirations

September University: Summoning Passion for an Unfinished Life

Find out more:  September University
 

The Rapture of Maturity: A Legacy of Lifelong Learning

Find out more:  The Rapture of Maturity
 

Portals in a Northern Sky...a novel

Find Out More>
 

Beyond the American Dream

Find Out More>
 

Training Yourself: The 21st Century Credential

Find Out More>
 

Proving You're Qualified

Find Out More>
 

Self-University

Find Out More>
 

Famous Autodidacts -
Self-educated People Who've Made a Difference

 

Self-University Week:
September 1-7

 

September University
An Online Lifelong Learning Campus for People Age 50 and Over

 



Sign up for FREE subscription to Self-University Newsletter,
for timely reflections and news about self-education.  (You will be notified via Yahoo e-mail services each time a new issue is posted.)


 

AUTODIDACTIC PRESS TITLES:

Existential Aspirations

Find out more:  Existential Aspirations

September University: Summoning Passion for an Unfinished Life

Find out more:  September University
 

The Rapture of Maturity: A Legacy of Lifelong Learning

Find out more:  The Rapture of Maturity
 

Portals in a Northern Sky...a novel

Find Out More>
 

Beyond the American Dream

Find Out More>
 

Training Yourself: The 21st Century Credential

Find Out More>
 

Proving You're Qualified

Find Out More>
 

Self-University

Find Out More>
 

Famous Autodidacts -
Self-educated People Who've Made a Difference

 

Self-University Week:
September 1-7

 

September University
An Online Lifelong Learning Campus for People Age 50 and Over

 



Sign up for FREE subscription to Self-University Newsletter,
for timely reflections and news about self-education.  (You will be notified via Yahoo e-mail services each time a new issue is posted.)


 

AUTODIDACTIC PRESS TITLES:

Existential Aspirations

Find out more:  Existential Aspirations

September University: Summoning Passion for an Unfinished Life

Find out more:  September University
 

The Rapture of Maturity: A Legacy of Lifelong Learning

Find out more:  The Rapture of Maturity
 

Portals in a Northern Sky...a novel

Find Out More>
 

Beyond the American Dream

Find Out More>
 

Training Yourself: The 21st Century Credential

Find Out More>
 

Proving You're Qualified

Find Out More>
 

Self-University

Find Out More>
 

Famous Autodidacts -
Self-educated People Who've Made a Difference

 

Self-University Week:
September 1-7

 

September University
An Online Lifelong Learning Campus for People Age 50 and Over

 



Sign up for FREE subscription to Self-University Newsletter,
for timely reflections and news about self-education.  (You will be notified via Yahoo e-mail services each time a new issue is posted.)


 

AUTODIDACTIC PRESS TITLES:

Existential Aspirations

Find out more:  Existential Aspirations

September University: Summoning Passion for an Unfinished Life

Find out more:  September University
 

The Rapture of Maturity: A Legacy of Lifelong Learning

Find out more:  The Rapture of Maturity
 

Portals in a Northern Sky...a novel

Find Out More>
 

Beyond the American Dream

Find Out More>
 

Training Yourself: The 21st Century Credential

Find Out More>
 

Proving You're Qualified

Find Out More>
 

Self-University

Find Out More>
 

Famous Autodidacts -
Self-educated People Who've Made a Difference

 

Self-University Week:
September 1-7

 

September University
An Online Lifelong Learning Campus for People Age 50 and Over

 



Sign up for FREE subscription to Self-University Newsletter,
for timely reflections and news about self-education.  (You will be notified via Yahoo e-mail services each time a new issue is posted.)


 

AUTODIDACTIC PRESS TITLES:

Existential Aspirations

Find out more:  Existential Aspirations

September University: Summoning Passion for an Unfinished Life

Find out more:  September University
 

The Rapture of Maturity: A Legacy of Lifelong Learning

Find out more:  The Rapture of Maturity
 

Portals in a Northern Sky...a novel

Find Out More>
 

Beyond the American Dream

Find Out More>
 

Training Yourself: The 21st Century Credential

Find Out More>
 

Proving You're Qualified

Find Out More>
 

Self-University

Find Out More>
 

Famous Autodidacts -
Self-educated People Who've Made a Difference

 

Self-University Week:
September 1-7

 

September University
An Online Lifelong Learning Campus for People Age 50 and Over

 



Sign up for FREE subscription to Self-University Newsletter,
for timely reflections and news about self-education.  (You will be notified via Yahoo e-mail services each time a new issue is posted.)


 

AUTODIDACTIC PRESS TITLES:

Existential Aspirations

Find out more:  Existential Aspirations

September University: Summoning Passion for an Unfinished Life

Find out more:  September University
 

The Rapture of Maturity: A Legacy of Lifelong Learning

Find out more:  The Rapture of Maturity
 

Portals in a Northern Sky...a novel

Find Out More>
 

Beyond the American Dream

Find Out More>
 

Training Yourself: The 21st Century Credential

Find Out More>
 

Proving You're Qualified

Find Out More>
 

Self-University

Find Out More>
 

Famous Autodidacts -
Self-educated People Who've Made a Difference

 

Self-University Week:
September 1-7

 

September University
An Online Lifelong Learning Campus for People Age 50 and Over

 



Sign up for FREE subscription to Self-University Newsletter,
for timely reflections and news about self-education.  (You will be notified via Yahoo e-mail services each time a new issue is posted.)

 

 

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