February Nominees

February 1: Langston Hughes, one of America’s most talented poets and writers, and the only one equally adept writing about himself, entire communities, racial and historical issues, the more humorous and human side of relationships, music, and America’s most defining ideas and identities (among other things).

February 2: Solomon Guggenheim, the son of Swiss immigrants and very successful businessman whose love for and relationships to the world of modern art led him both to contribute to the creation of some of the 20th century’s most innovative museums and to start a hugely influential and ongoing foundation for art and education.
February 4: A tie between Betty Friedan, the scholar, author, and activist whose book The Feminine Mystique (1963) is one of the 20th century’s most significant works, and whose efforts in founding the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (Naral), and the National Women’s Political Caucus transformed every aspect of American society and life in the 1970s and beyond; and Rosa Parks!
February 5: James Otis, the lawyer and firebrand whose eloquent and impassioned opposition to both the Sugar Act and writs of assistance in the early 1760s helped set the stage for the American Revolution; even though a 1769 fight with an angered royal customs commissioner left Otis disabled and unable to take full part in the Revolution itself, his words and arguments were instrumental to every stage of colonial resistance and independence.
February 6: Aaron Burr, certainly a controversial choice—I don’t anticipate any other nominees having been tried for treason or having killed another prominent American in a duel—but a voice and perspective that can, as Gore Vidal so brilliantly recognized, shed a very different and crucially important light on the Revolutionary and Early Republic era, on the Founders and their legacies, and on America’s origins and meanings.
February 7: Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose “Little House on the Prairie” books (and the subsequent TV series) defined the frontier and childhood and family for many generations of young Americans, and whose own complicated and multi-stage life and identity can help us understand not only those themes, but also America itself in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
February 8: Kate Chopin, the late 19th century regionalist and realist author whose over 100 short stories and two novels helped take American literature and culture in significant new directions: from the ironic feminism of “The Story of an Hour” to the shocking sexuality of the unpublished “The Storm” to her masterpiece The Awakening, quite simply one of the greatest American novels.
February 9: Tom Paine, the Anglo-American immigrant whose political pamphlets Common Sense and the multi-volume The Crisis complemented, strengthened, and extended the efforts of the Declaration of Independence and early Revolutionary battles, and whose broader political and spiritual philosophizing in The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason provided bracingly radical and democratic visions for a rebellious age.
February 11: Lydia Maria Child, about the many facets of whose justified status as “The First Woman in the Republic” I wrote at length in that linked post—and for further details of which I cannot recommend highly enough Carolyn Karcher’s comprehensive cultural biography with that title.
February 15: Susan B. Anthony, one of a handful of American reformers whose efforts (centrally on behalf of suffrage, but also for numerous other causes including abolitionism, temperance, labor, and education reform) transcended their era and established her as a model for impassioned, effective, and meaningful activism.
February 16: Henry Adams, who built on the legacy of his uber-American family to become one of our most inspiring Renaissance Americans: from his novels, non-fiction, and unique and powerful memoir to his pioneering identity as a transnational, cosmopolitan traveler and thinker. 
February 17: Huey Newton, the co-founder of the Black Panther Party whose complex and influential 20th century American life also included community social programs and activism in Oakland, publishing the memoir Revolutionary Suicide (1973), and receiving a PhD in social philosophy from UC Santa Cruz (all before it was tragically cut short by a senseless street killing when Newton was just 47).
February 18: Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist and scholar whose best novel, one amazing short story, and pioneering work of literary criticism might all be better than her (still plenty great) best-known novel.
February 19: A tie between Karen Silkwood, the nuclear power plant worker and activist whose inspiring life and mysterious death made her an ideal subject for one of the 1980s most interesting American Studies films; and Amy Tan, whose multigenerational, transnational American novels and non-fiction pieces on family, heritage, and identity I’d put right there with Morrison’s and every other 20th century great’s.
February 22: James Russell Lowell, who while not as talented a versifier as his New England peers, nor as innovative as Whitman, enjoyed a significantly more wide-ranging and multi-faceted career than any other 19th century America poet: from his unique and vital satires (such as “The Biglow Papers”) to his insightful literary criticism; his analyses of communal and political life to his philosophical and poetic embraces of American and human ideals; and his exemplary public scholarship, combining a Harvard professorship with his long tenure editing The Atlantic Monthly.
February 23: W.E.B. Du Bois, who was the subject of my (sadly lost) introductory blog post for many reasons that can be boiled down to this one: I believe him to be the single most impressive and inspiring American. Let’s just make it official: from now on my Hall will be known as the Du Bois Hall of American Inspiration.
February 24: Winslow Homer, whose pioneering artistic career began during the Civil War, ended in the early 20th century, and along the way exemplified new, realistic, and deeply human engagements with social and natural places, worlds, and experiences.
February 25: Chauncey Allen Goodrich, Professor of Rhetoric and Theology at Yale, benefactor and supporter of the university and of liberal education in America more generally, author of influential works on language and grammar, and, most significantly, Noah Webster’s son-in-law and the editor of Webster’s dictionary who helped extend and deepen that hugely important work.
February 28: Frank Gehry, the award-winning and hugely influential Canadian American architect who radically redefined the concept of home and whose Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is perhaps the late 20th century’s single most famous architectural achievement.
February 29: Dee Brown, whose best-selling, tragic, and completely compelling Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (1970) exemplifies the very best that revisionist history, narrative history, and quite simply American history writing, scholarship, and study can be.

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