March 2: Theodore Seuss Geisel, the son and grandson of Springfield (Mass.) brewers whose The Cat in the Hat (1957) remains perhaps the single most influential children’s book of all time, and whose long and complex American career began with World War II propaganda cartoons and culminated in a gently satirical work about aging in America.
March 3: Beatrice Wood, the artist, sculptor and craftsperson, and writer who came to be known as the “Mama of Dada” for her profound influences on modern art and 20th century culture.
March 4: A tie between Rebecca Gratz, whose late 18th and 19th century cultural and philanthropic contributions to Philadelphia and American society rival Ben Franklin’s; and Myrtilla Miner, the abolitionist and educator whose 1858 Washington, DC Colored Girls School represented a pioneering and powerfully influential American advance.
March 5: Michael Sandel, one of the most influential 20th and 21st century American philosophers, and one whose course “Justice” has made philosophical issues applicable and relevant to everyday issues and conversations for decades.
March 6: Ring Lardner, the pioneering American journalist, humorist, and novelist whose innovations in vernacular voice and a concise style predated and influenced modernists like Hemingway and late 20th century minimalists like Raymond Carver.
March 7: A tie between Henry Draper, the 19th-century physician and socialite who followed in his father’s footsteps to become a pioneering amateur astronomer and astronomical photographer, receiving a Congressional medal for directing the 1874 expedition to photograph the transit of Venus and obtaining (in 1880) the first recorded photograph of a nebula; and reader suggestion Dr. Susan Smith McKinney (Steward).
March 8: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr, the Civil War veteran and eloquent legal philosopher and writer who became one of the most articulate and influential Supreme Court Justices, advocating (often in dissent) for significant early 20th century causes such as workers’ rights.
March 9: David Davis, the Illinois legislator and judge who had a strong influence on a trio of crucial American moments: as Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 campaign manager; as the Supreme Court justice who authored one of the strongest defenses of civil liberties, the post-Civil War Ex Parte Milligan (1866) decision; and as a complex political player in the contested and controversial 1876 presidential election.
March 10: Harriet Tubman, whom I hope needs no introduction, and is I’m sure better remembered than most of my nominees; but I can’t imagine an American who better deserves her own day of remembrance, so Harriet Tubman Day it is!
March 11: Ezra Jack Keats, about whose amazing life and hugely unique and influential works and legacy I wrote in the Tribute Post linked at his name.
March 12: Andrew Young, the Civil Rights leader, pioneering African American Congressman and Mayor, Ambassador to the UN, and civic and economic activist, without whose presence and contributions Atlanta, Georgia, and America would have been profoundly lessened.
March 13: David Swinson “Doc” Maynard, who followed the Oregon Trail to the western edge of the continent and there settled and helped found the city of Seattle, which he named after his friend Chief Seattle (for whose tribe and rights he consistently advocated).
March 14: Casey Jones, the railroad engineer whose heroic and self-sacrificing response to a train crash might or might not have happened in that way, but has in any case become an enduring national myth and the subject of numerous American Studies texts and moments--the first of which was produced by an African American fellow railroad worker.
March 15: Sui Sin Far!
March 16: James Madison, whose work on the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and the “Virginia Resolution” in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts establishes him as perhaps the preeminent political and legal mind among the Framers, and whose choice of a spouse was just as inspiring.
March 17: Bayard Rustin, perhaps the only American who can be described as a Communist labor organizer, a pacifist and conscientious objector to the draft, a vital Civil Rights leader, and a gay rights icon.
March 18: John Updike, whose pitch-perfect stories capture much of the essence of 20th century American life and identity, whose creative craft was as serious as it was nearly invisible, and whose Rabbit series is perhaps the defining modern American epic.
March 19: William Jennings Bryan, who came down on the wrong side of the law and of history in the Scopes “Monkey” trial, but whose most significant legacy is a long career of speeches, political campaigns, public service, and advocacy on behalf of the American people (hence his nickname “The Great Commoner”).
March 20: A tie between B.F. Skinner, the scientist whose theories of behavioral psychology remain controversial but certainly advanced our conversations about human interactions and identities, and whose Walden Two (1948) does full philosophical and social justice to its titular predecessor; and Fred Rogers, the children’s television host and educator whose long-running PBS show became the gentle and guiding soundtrack to multiple generations of American kids, and whose advocacy for early childhood education and for public television in its early stages were crucially important to shaping late 20th century America.
March 21: Eddie James “Son” House, the Mississippi preacher and convict turned blues musician whose 1930s recordings are among the most influential American musical works, who directly inspired Robert Johnson (among many other subsequent greats), and who formed an integral part of Alan Lomax’s 1941-2 Library of Congress recording sessions of the Delta Blues.
March 22: Greta Kempton, the Austrian Jewish immigrant whose compelling portraits of Harry Truman and his family, among many other prominent and iconic Americans, led her to be known as “America’s Court Painter,” and contributed some of the more lasting images of American political and social life in the late 20th century.
March 23: Bette Nesmith Graham, the Texas high school dropout, single mother, and long-time bank secretary who invented Liquid Paper, became one of the 20th century’s most successful inventors and entrepreneurs, and mothered one of the Monkees; if there’s a more distinctly American story than that one, I’ve yet to hear it!
March 24: John Wesley Powell, the Civil War veteran, college professor, and Western explorer whose contributions to our national awareness of and respect for our natural treasures and resources were second only to his profound respect for Native Americans and what they meant to American identity and life, a perspective which led him to push for the creation of a federal Bureau of Ethnology.
March 25: A tie between Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Peace Prize winning scientist and humanitarian whose work in Mexico, India, and around the world changed the possibilities of modern agriculture, sustainability, and human existence; and two of the 20th century's most influential and impressive cultural icons, Toni Cade Bambara and Aretha Franklin.
March 26: A tie between three hugely talented, unique, and significant 20th century American writers: Robert Frost; Tennessee Williams; and Vine Deloria, Jr.
March 27: Patty Smith Hill, who built on her striking Reconstruction-era Kentucky childhood and became one of America’s and the world’s foremost educational reformers and advocates for early childhood education and kindergarten (and who wrote the lyrics to “Happy Birthday”
Nelson Algren, the Jewish American novelist and essayist whose representations of his beloved and troubled Chicago and nation are as radical as they are realistic, as cynical as they are clear-eyed about America’s ideals and realities.
March 29: Enea Bossi, Sr., the Italian American immigrant and aviation engineer who co-founded the American Aeronautical Corporation (AAC), built the first stainless steel airplane (the BB-1) in 1931, and invented the pedal glider, among other significant achievements.
March 30: A tie between Mary Whiton Calkins, the pioneering psychologist and women’s rights activist whose concept of “self-psychology” fundamentally altered the study of human identities; and Countee Cullen, the hugely talented Harlem Renaissance poet (and W.E.B. Du Bois’s son-in-law!).March 31: César Chávez, the Mexican American activist and labor leader whose efforts on behalf of farm workers and migrant laborers changed the face of American politics, society, and community in the 20th century and beyond.