Curtis was born in Rhode Island and educated in Massachusetts along with his older brother James, an influential figure in his life. When Curtis was a teenager, the family moved to New York City where he began a clerkship. Due to his growing interest in the Transcendentalist Movement, Curtis, along with his brother, resided for two years in the utopian community at Brook Farm. William Winter claims that Curtis already had the "Brook Farm ideal" in mind when he arrived there: "the ideal of a social existence regulated by absolute justice and adorned by absolute beauty" (Old Friends 228-30).
Charles Desmarais Gardette was born in Philadelphia in 1830 to an aristocratic family and received his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1851 (Rawson). Soon moving from medicine to journalism, he published in the Evening Journal and Record of Philadelphia, as well as the Evening Post of New York. His work includes fiction, poetry, and essays. Like some of his compatriots at Pfaff’s, including Aldrich, Nast, Shanly, and Arnold, Gardette tried his hand at writing for children, publishing the didactic Johnnie Dodge, or, The Freaks and Fortunes of an Idle Boy in 1868.
At his death, Robert Barry Coffin ("Barry Gray") was remembered as a "venerable author and Bohemian" ("Old 'Barry Gray' Dead" 5). He was born in 1826 and was a descendent of the Coffin family and "old Admiral Coffin" of Cape Cod.
Horace Greeley was born in 1811 near Amherst, New Hampshire, to a poor farming family. Though physically feeble, Greeley had an affinity for books and tried for a printing apprenticeship at the age of eleven. He became an apprentice three years later in Vermont, where he learned the business rapidly and sent most of his earnings to his father. Greeley went back to farm life at the age of twenty before going to seek his fortune (Appleton 734). Greeley fostered this rags-to-riches story, claiming to have arrived in New York City in 1831 with only twenty-five dollars in his pocket.
Edward Howard House, also known as “Ned,” was born near Boston and became a musical prodigy under his pianist mother's tutelage. Her early death turned him to his father's trade, that of a bank-note engraver. He gained standing in the world of Boston literati, and eventually moved to New York to work as the drama critic for the Tribune (61). As a contributor to the Saturday Press, House wanted to create a dialogue supporting his anti-slavery beliefs, but Editor Henry Clapp opposed it (Lause 109).
Also known by the alias “Bayard," Franklin J. Ottarson was a successful New York journalist, editor, and civil servant. Born in Watertown, New York, Ottarson learned the trade of the printing business in a Whig newspaper (possibly the Whig or the Tribune Almanac) (Brockway 172). Under the editorship of Horace Greeley, Ottarson was part of the “very strong” Tribune staff of 1854 along with Bayard Taylor (Brockway 141). Ottarson is perhaps best remembered for his editorship, first at the Tribune and later at the New York Times.
Charles Dawson Shanly emigrated to New York City from Ireland via Canada and was working as the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Public Works in 1857. In New York City during the late 1850s and 1860s, Shanly was productive as a journalist and editor at such publications as Vanity Fair, Mrs. Grundy, the New York Leader, the Atlantic Monthly, and the New York Saturday Press.
Born in Connecticut, Stedman’s merchant father died leaving the small child in the care of his mother, maternal grandfather, and lawyer uncle. Stedman’s childhood passed between his grandfather’s New Jersey farm and his uncle’s Connecticut residence. Much of Stedman’s literary education likely came from his mother, who herself was an author of both verse and essay. Stedman’s juvenilia consists of poetry inspired by the Romantics and Tennyson. He attended Yale University but was expelled after a youthful indiscretion.
Richard Henry Stoddard's early years were rather Dickensian. After his sea-captain father was lost at sea, Stoddard endured a life of poverty that led him to move with his mother to New York City in 1835. There he worked at a number of odd jobs before being employed, at age eleven, in an iron foundry. An autodidact who read voraciously in his youth, Stoddard published his first book of poems, Footprints (1849), after befriending Bayard Taylor--who introduced Stoddard to his future wife, Elizabeth Drew Barstow, herself an author of both fiction and poetry.
John Swinton’s family relocated from his native Scotland in 1843, settling in Montreal, Canada, where Swinton worked as an apprentice in the printing industry. Though he briefly entered Williston Seminary in 1853, Swinton’s commitment to journalism led him across the United States; he worked on the Lawrence Republican in Kansas in 1856 as well as the New York Times after he moved to that city.
Younger brother of famous labor activist, journalist, and editor John Swinton, William Swinton enjoyed a varied career as a teacher, would-be minister, war correspondent, professor, and textbook writer. William emigrated with his family from Scotland to Canada in 1843. His schooling took place in Canada and the United States at Knox College and Amherst. He went on to begin his career as a teacher and writer of pieces for magazines.
Born in rural Chester County, Pennsylvania, Bayard Taylor's ancestors were Quakers with ties to William Penn. Taylor began writing poems as a child and served an apprenticeship at the West Chester Village Record. Rufus Wilmot Griswold, editor of Graham's Magazine, encouraged Taylor to publish his first volume of poetry, Ximena (1844). He traveled to Europe soon after; before leaving, he visited New York and met Nathaniel Parker Willis, a frequenter of Pfaff's and an admirer of Edgar Allan Poe.
An editor, poet, journalist, and short story writer, Nathan Dane Urner had a prosperous literary career, serving as the city editor of the New York Tribune (Current Literature 479) as well as publishing poems like “Consolation,” “A Lesson in Skating,” “The Harvest Meeting,” and “The Snow Sprites” in periodicals like The Independent, Scribner’s, The Continent, and The Massachusetts Ploughman.
The unofficial biographer of the Pfaff’s crowd, William Winter was born in coastal Massachusetts, and his mother died when he was young. Winter attended school in Boston; he also went to Harvard Law School but decided not to practice ("William Winter, 19). By 1854 he had already published a collection of verse and worked as a reviewer for the Boston Transcript; he befriended Pfaffian Thomas Bailey Aldrich after reviewing a volume of his poetry. He relocated to New York in 1856 "because he believed [the city] offered the best field for writers" (Levin 153).