Ralph Waldo Emerson, On Heroism: The interest these fine stories have for us, the power of a romance over the boy who grasps the forbodden book under his bench at school, our delight in the hero, is the main fact to our purpose. All these and trandscendent properties are ours. … Let us find room for this great guest in our small houses.
Even Though it has only four letters, “HERO” is a big word, overflowing with connotations of GREEK warriors, Roman gods, medieval saints, revoltionary leaders, and larger-than-life individuals performing extraordinary deeds or acts of courage. Every culture, inevery age, has had its heroes-men (and, less frequently, women) who lead by example and uplift us all ub the process. Many of htese heroes become deeply embedded in national mythology. What (where) would America be without George Washington, Sacagawea, Danial Boone, Abraham Lincoln, Sojourner Truth, Jane Addams, Babe Ruth, Charles Lindbergh, Douglas MacArther, and there are many others? Historians have sometimes created heroes by well-wrought phrases and carefully chosen stories, but more often of late, scholars and writers have seemed intent on picking apart the reputations of once-revered Americans. The late twentieth century has been especially unkind to the celebration of national heroes. This debunking has even reached the general public. Who today can talk of Thomas Jefferson without mentioning slaves, or John F. Kennedy without speaking of his extramarital affairs? And yet our thirst for heores continues unabated. The reasos aare not hard to see. In May Satton’s memorable phrase, “One must think like a heore to behave like a merely decent human being.” And as a sports-minded commentator put it once, “History is meaningless without heroes; there is no score before they come to bat.” This article is to remind and educate the children of 2000s about our forgotten heroes of America with the attempt to enlarge and uplift our past rather thean just to question it. Anyone who studies the past, whether a professional historian or a casual reader, knows the happy serendipity of discovering an unknown or little-understood character. Here, thirty-five of America’s leading and myself a writer, the thirty-five are all members of the Society of American Historians. I am posting the facts of our past and believe we need to educate our children around the world of our history here in America and around the world. , we are sharing our favorite stories of the individuals the school books don’t talk about that has made a differece to their times and whose lives still stand as compelling models of heroism. Some of the characters were well knmown at the time and later forgotten; many never found popular recognition during their lifetimes. All have either dropped from sketchy presences; all deserve far wider recognition than they have received. Covering the entire panorama of the American past, from serrlement to hte twentieth century, their stories offer a freash way of thinking about America and its heroes, forgotten otherwise. At times it seems as if there are as many definitions of hero as there are heroic figures themselves. There are military heroes, political heroes, cultural heroes, folk heroes, and athletic heroes, and that doesn’t begin to exhaust the list. A hero exercises moral, ethical, or political building or rescuing comrades in battle. A hero “is a great human being.” A hero represents what a society considers its best qualities at a given time, a model of behavior and character to which we aspire: “a jack-to loife people above where they would be without the model.” As Dixon Wecter put it in an influential 1941 book, The Hero in America: A Chronicle of Hero-Worship, “The hero is he whom every American should wish to be. His legend is the mirror of the folk soul.” Why do heroes emerge when they do? The most often repeated truism is that heroes are created by popular need. Those that are hero don’t expect to be called a hero. In this view, the reception that greeted Charles Lindbergh after his 1927 transatlantic solo or the adulation that surrounded Babe Ruth reflected the needs and aspirations of 1920s America. Similarly, the elevation of George Washington to mythic stature spoke to the values and needs of the early years of AMerican Republic, with a little help from Parson Weems, author of those legends like Washington’s throwing the silver dollar across the Rapahonnock and his cutting and manipulated by needy public? Clearly there is something more at work. In contrast to celebrities, who are merely famous (in Daniel Boorstin’s deft formulation, “well-known for their well-knownness”), heroes have substance. They can be just as inspiring long after they have lived. We can peel away myths ans still admire them. I pray these articles some if not all of these heroes will inspire everyone in America. Ask yourselves if the same could be said of other well-known figures of hte past. There are many famous people in our history books but they fail to talk about the those people who has helped them get there. Who were famous but not necessarily heroic. Heroes have a special kind of staying power. As a general rule, it has proved easier to locate heroes in the past than to agree on who among contemporary figures is truly heroic. This is not to say that there is a lack of contemporary heroes. In fact, just the opposite is the case: there are too many. Perhaps out of an impulse to make people feel good about themselves, we anoint heroes constantly: (and that is a mistake. God is th only true Hero. He came to earth to save the humanrace from eternal death), the marine who eats bugs to stay alive for six days, the volunteer firefighter who rescues the child from the bottom of a well, the gymnast who ignores a painfully injured ankle to make the final vault for the gold medal. These are easy to spot but fleeting. Only rarely do leaders such as Vachlav Havel and Nelson Mandela so dominate their times that hteir stature as contemporary heroes seems destinate their times that their stature as contemporary heroes seems destined to be confirmed posthumously by history. The task of figuring out those lives among us are worth valorizing for the long haul is made even harder when an oversaturation of media images threatens to make us all candidates for our proverbial fifteen minutes of fame. As we bestow the designatinn “HERO” indiscrminately, the term threatens to become cheapened, almost debased. This turn feeds into the often-heard lament that “heroes just aren’t what they used to be.” But it is wrong to pin thismood solely on our cynical times. Americans were saying the very same thing in the complacent 1950s, the debunking 1920s (which nonetheless had little trouble in instantly recongnizing Charles Lindbergh as a hero), and the war-torn 1860s. As Dixon Wecter put it, “Today seems always less heroic than yesterday.” Many definitions of heroism set such high standards that only a tiny group of individuals could possibly meet them. (Abraham Lincoln comes to mind.) This book proposes a slighty more populist definition of an American hero, locating heroism and significance not just in political leadership or battlefield bravery (which are nevertheless well represented in the book) but also in the livers of ordinary individuals who made a difference to their times and our national history. That these contributions often went unrecognized does not diminish their heroic nature or significance. In a 1943 book, The Hero in History, philosopher Sidney Hook surveyed the various meanings and manifestations of heroism over the ages. In an attempt to sort through the verbiage on the subject, Hook drew a distinction between the eventful man and the event-making man. (This beingthe 1940s, those were the terms he used.) The proverbial eventful man is the boy who puts his finger in the dike and saves Holland from the flood. It doesn’t really matter so much whose finger it is: any number of Dutch citizens could have played the same role. The character is nonetheless eventful, for the action did change the course of future events. The event-making man, by contrast, takes a more active role in defining jis place in history, and his contributions are more dependent on his specific kind of character, whose individual actions are the result of superior intelligence, will, and character. Through his unique talents, he leaves a large imprint on subsequent event. This post will be full of event-making human beings, with a few eventful ones that changed America for good measure. Having categorized heroes in that way, Hook warns against recognoizing onlhy a narrow range of excellence, if only because elevating so few so high makes the great mass of individuals appear as a “dual, gray average.” He then proceeds to offer a formulations of heores on history that comes closest to the spirit of God in their lives: “If, however, we extend social opportunities so that each person’s specific talents have a stimulus to development and expression, we increase the range of possibility of distinctively significant work. From this point of view, a hero is any individual who does his work well and makes a unique contribution to the public good [emphasis added].” Without going to far as to declare “Every Man a Hero,” in this post we will talk about heroism is acts of individual courage. We find it acts of insiring excellence. We find it in individuals whose politicalm cultural, or soical actions truly did make a difference to their society at large. One prominent category of forgotten heroes in thhis colection is individuals who took a principled stand, no matter what the consequences. These acts of conscience or deeply held belief varied widely, depending on the person and the historical moment. Sometimes the motivations were religigious or ethical, such as Quaker Mary Dyer’s defiance of Putitan authorities in 1660 or actor Lew Ayre’s declaration of conscientious-objector staus during World War II. Other times the motives remain lost to history, such as what made an obscure drummer in New Haven named Robert Basset speak out for his politicasl rights in the 1650s. Often a specific event or moment in history called forth these principled stands, such as James Bayard’s brokering of the 1800 electoral stalemate, Nicholasa Trist’s defiant negotiation of the treaty that ended the Mexican War in 1847, and John McLuckie’s courageous stand in the homestead strike of 1892. During the repressive climate of World War I, Margaret Anderson risked jail to publish portions of James Joyce’s masterpiece, Ulysses; in the 1950s a crusading newspapaer editor, Hazel Brannon Smith, supported the emerging civil rights movement even though it made her an outcast among her white Mississippi peers. Performed in vastly different historical periods and with very different results, each of these individual stands was in its own way heroic, then and now. A somewhat overlapping category is what can best be called heroic or up lifting lives: that is, heroism that is not restricted to a single moment or act but resides in a lifelong commitment to an ideal. President John Quincy Adams lived such a heroic or exemplary life, althrough he has been over shadowed by other members of his illustrious family; so did John Chapman, better known as the legendary Johnny Appleseed. The daily heroic struggles of African Americans for respect and dignity are well represented by former slaves Thomas Peters and Susie King Taylor, and sharecropper Ned Cobb. William Chandler Bagley never let criticism stop him from promoting his controversial views on American education; Samuel Seabury’s devotion to public service culminated investigations that brought down Tammany Hall in the early 1930s. Anarchist Carlo Tresca spoke out against fascism and communism; reformers Florence Kelley, Caroline Ware, and Pauli Murray dedicated their lives to social justice. So did New Dealer Edward Prichard (with one notable lapse). We learn from these heroic lives about the rewards (and costs) of single-minded devotion to a cause ro a belief, of obstacles faced and not always overcome. These models of engaed commitment are compelling.At first glance another group of characters included in this post may appear neither event-making nor eventful, but merely exemplary. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are properly celebrated as American heroes, but what about some of the lesser-known men with the expedition? In the case of George Drouillard, he was probably though of as heroic only by the few who knew him. Or, to take Stephen Jay Gould’s touching example, what about Dummy Hoy, an early deaf baseball player of exceptional but overlooked talent? By traditional definition, he would not qualify as a hero since the sportswriters of the day chose not to elevate him to that status. But in these cases and others, such as librarian J.C.M. Hanson and southern record Sam Phillips, the contributors to this post put forth their own arguments for a previouly unrecognized heroism that emerges when these characters are plucked from obscurity and their lives valued for qualities seen most clearly in retrospect or from distance. Then there is the category of female trailblazers and pioneers. While not all the women profiled in my post saw themselves as advancing the cause of women, they all had to buck or defy established gender definitions and expectations to do their lifer’s work, which adds a heroic dimension to their successes and struggles. Myra Bradwell was a pioneering lawyer who saved Mary Todd Lincoln from incarceration in a mental institution, Victoria Woodhull spoke out for free love in 1870s when such asubject was not considered fit for public discussion, and Emmeline Wells combined her devout Mormonism with support for woman suffrage and other reforms. In the early teentieth century, labor organizer O. Delight Smith battled the bosses while waging her own private battle for personal liberation, while Gerturde Ederle became a national hero swimming the English Channel. Prison administrator Miriam Van Wateers courageously defended her views when critics tried to dismiss her, and feminist Alice Paul soldiered on for the Equal Rights Amendment for more than five decades. These lives, along with the other women included in the book, confirm that an equal opportunity definition of heroism has much to offer. Finally there is the category of military hero. The Revolutionary War contributed Henry Knox, the Spanish-American War George Dewey ans Frederick Funston, and World War II the decorated combat veteran, Marine Sergeant John Basilone. Each served this country in time of war, won honor and recognition, but failed to maintain a hold on the collective national memory. These military heros remind us to pay attention to the other part of out title: Who gets forgotten, and why? Several of the stories present a fairly straightforward trajectory ofthe forgotten hero: sudden rise to fame and heroic stature, public acclaim and adulation, a cult of followers and fans, followed, sooner or later, by a falling out of piblic favor or disappearance from the public eye. The muddled attempts of Admiral George Dewey, hero of Manila Bay in the Spanish-American War in 1898, to translate his military fame into a political career led to the dramatic collapse of his popular following, to say nothing of his historical reputation. Gertrude Ederle came home in 1926 to a wildly enthusiastic ticker-tape parade but lived the rest of her life in obscurity. And the story of home-grown military hero Colonel Frederick Funston reminds us that some popularly acclaimed heros whose reputations fall into eclipse are perhaps best left forgotten. For the most part, though, the characters in our post were not kknown in their times, nor are they in ours. In many respects, thye are unsung or unrecognized heros as much as forgotten ones. The reasons for their absence form the historical reacords vary. Some were margibalized in history because they were on the losing side or were pushed aside by better-known comtemporaries; others were so controversial that they self-destucted and dropped from view. More to the point, until recently entire groups, such as women or African Americans, were not considered worthy of public acclaim except in highly exceptional situations. Tastes in heros change, and we cannot escape the fact the historians’ anointing of heroes, just as the public’s in general, is linked to the period in which we live A prime example is the large representation of women in this article more than a third of history is because some fourteen in all are women and other races are recoreded helping in our freedom and need to be written about. This is a start to show the participation in any comparable collection of heroes, a field whose very definitions and standards until recently were all male. In and odd twist, without hthese female heroes the men of our history of America may not of happened. It may be easier today to forget about the heros of yesterday because our schools do not talk about them. Women herosesare forgotten because women were so unfairlyexcluded from consideration in the first place. Recent trends in of writing about our women of war. Notably the rise of social history, of how women and other integrating ethnic and other American minorities, helped make expansive heroism possible. The contemporary approach, sometimes called “history from the bottom up,” actually dates to the 1920’s (cultural historian Caroline Ware, the subject of a chapter, was one of its early practitioners), but it found an especially receptive climate in the 1960s and 1970s. Social history is one, but by no means the dominant, branch of history included in this article. More traditional approaches, including a strong emphasis on political and diplomtic history, are also well represented. Politicains, diplomats, and military heros remain respected parts of our national heritage. They are joined in this article by a wider cast of characters who are true heros of our country. Heroism is all its diversity and heteogeneity over the centuries – old heroes and new, side by side, with neither supplanting the other. Every culture has its heros in our America history there are many collections of distinctively and wonderful heroes who built and risked their lives. It is hard to imagine such an eclectic mix coming out of our past wars with Germany’s past and China’s, or India’s. America is a constantly shifting, striving land of opportunitiies and second chances; the country’s deep-seated tradition of individualism has supplied fertile ground for soloists to buck the tide and heroes to rise above the crowd. While it is sometimes said that democracies have trouble choosing heroes, the American tradition of celebrating the self-made man (and, later, the self-created woman) gives lie to this. The individuals in this post made things happen;things that just didi’t happen to them. They made a difference. America has always looked up to these kinds of heroes, the movers and shakers, the doers and do-gooders. Let’s hope we always will.