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Miriam Hopkins' family had a rich history in America. On her maternal side an ancestor signed the Declaration of Independence (presumably Arthur Middleton of South Carolina). Of greater impact to Miriam herself, (according to George Eels' Ginger, Loretta, and Irene Who?) her great-grandfather joined his plantation with two other's to form the city of Bainbridge, Georgia, Miriam's future hometown.

Miriam was born Ellen Miriam Hopkins on October 18, 1902 in Savannah, Georgia. Her mother was Ellen Cutter Hopkins and her father Homer A. Hopkins. Beautiful little blond-haired, blue-eyed Miriam had one other sibling, a sister named Ruby, born in 1900. Miriam's parents' marriage was not a very happy one and Mother Ellen would frequently take her two girls off to Bainbridge, where Ellen was born, for short stays. However, at the age of seven Miriam left Savannah for good. She would never see her father again. By all accounts, Miriam's years in Bainbridge were happy ones. She recalled writing, directing and acting in plays with a few of her friends out in the woods, foreshadowing her future as an actress. When Miriam was thirteen Ellen Hopkins moved the children again, this time to New York, where Ellen's twin brother John had accumulated a great deal of money and wanted to support the family.

In New York Miriam enrolled in public school, and in her junior year had an attack of appendicits, making surgery necessary. Miriam attended her senior year at Goddard Seminary in Barre, Vermont, where she caused a scandal by being the first at her school to bob her hair. At Goddard, Miriam took extra lessons in piano as well as singing lessons. She was very involved in extra-curricular activities, such as public-speaking, and especially drama, in which she won plum parts in plays.

In many of Miriam's biographies, it was said that she attended Syracuse University after graduating from the seminary. However, Ginger, Loretta, and Irene Who? says that the registrar has no record of her having ever attended college there, even though her Uncle Tom was head of the university's geology department. Instead, she took a number of jobs after high school, though none lasted long, as she was quickly fired. It was obvious that Miriam was special and she was soon to find her place in the world. During this time a relative, Dixie Hines, frequently invited Ruby and Miriam to his home for dinners and parties. Hines was a well-known Broadway press agent, who arranged for Miriam to take acting and diction lessons. Ruby and Miriam also studied at a Russian ballet school. However, when, in 1920, Miriam announced she would audition for a Broadway play, Dixie Hines told the girls the stage was no place for ladies. Despite his warning, Miriam did try out for several plays, but had little luck until she used her Southern charm to get a role as one of the "Eight Silver Notes" in Irving Berlin's "Music Box Revue".

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