Heroes of American History
The U.S. Department of the Interior, the Administrator of General Services, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation were selected to serve on the Task Force for Building and Rebuilding Monuments to American Heroes. This project seeks to commemorate historically significant Americans and inform the American public about their lives and legacies. This page provides access to NEH-funded films, magazine articles, digitized collections of presidential papers, and educational materials on these outstanding Americans.
Founding Father George Washington (1732-1799) commanded the Continental Army against the British during the Revolutionary War. General Washington went on to become America’s first president, serving from 1789 to 1797. He established precedents in foreign relations, presidential responsibilities and powers, government services, presidential terms, and more that are still upheld to this day. In a eulogy for George Washington, he was praised as being “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” Learn more about George Washington’s presidency with the EDSITEment lesson plan George Washington: The Precedent President. NEH’s Humanities magazine article, “How to Be Presidential,” provides an overview of Washington’s approach to leadership and life. The NEH has also funded the University of Virginia’s The Papers of George Washington project.
Founding Father John Adams (1735-1826) was a leading voice for American independence, writing pamphlets, making speeches, and arguing on the floor of the Continental Congress. After America declared its independence, Adams became a diplomat and helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris in 1783. He served as the first Vice President of the United States (1789-1797) and the second U.S. President (1797-1801). The Adams Presidency included the XYZ Affair and the Alien and Sedition Acts, and ended with the controversial election of 1800. EDSITEment’s Like Father, Like Son: Presidential Families provides resources for learning about President John Adams and his son, President John Quincy Adams. Go deeper into the life of John Adams with the NEH-funded The Adams Papers Digital Edition.
Before becoming President, Founding Father Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was a lawyer, farmer, politician, the first U.S. Secretary of State (1790-1793) and the nation's second Vice President (1797-1801). He is most famous for writing the Declaration of Independence, earning the title “Father of the Declaration of Independence.” Jefferson served as U.S. President from 1801 to 1809, and his most significant accomplishment was the Louisiana Purchase, which nearly doubled the size of the United States. Besides writing the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wanted to be remembered for writing the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom and establishing the University of Virginia. The EDSITEment lesson plan, The Declaration of Independence: “An Expression of the American Mind” provides insight into Thomas Jefferson’s thinking during the writing of the document and reflections on its lasting legacy. Scholars and the public will find the NEH-funded The Papers of Thomas Jefferson available at Princeton University to be a remarkable resource for learning about Jefferson and his time.
James Madison (1751-1836) is most famous for his work on the United States Constitution and its first ten amendments, The Bill of Rights. Called the “Father of the Constitution,” Madison helped shape a stronger federal government under a system of checks and balances and establish important freedoms for people in America. Along with Thomas Jefferson, Madison founded the first opposition party in U.S. history: the Democratic-Republican party. He went on to serve as U.S. President from 1809 to 1817, leading the U.S. during the War of 1812 against Great Britain. Learn more about Madison’s significant role as a Founding Father and U.S. President in EDSITEment’s curriculum James Madison: From Father of the Constitution to President, along with the NEH-funded The Papers of James Madison project available at the University of Virginia.
James Monroe (1758-1831) served as U.S. President from 1817 to 1825, during the Era of Good Feelings. Monroe oversaw major westward expansion of the U.S. He is also known for strengthening American foreign policy in 1823 with the Monroe Doctrine, which set an important precedent for future presidents. Learn more about James Monroe’s diplomatic roles before his presidency and how they influenced the creation of the Monroe Doctrine in EDSITEment’s lesson plan, The Monroe Doctrine: Early American Foreign Policy. A rich collection of Monroe’s papers are available through the NEH-funded The Papers of James Monroe project at the University of Mary Washington.
Humbly born, self-taught, and ambitious, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) seized the opportunities of an expansive society to rise to the country’s highest office. Lincoln served as U.S. president from 1861 to 1865, a momentous time period in America’s history. Determined to save the Union, Lincoln undertook significant decisions that transformed the nation, most notably issuing the Emancipation Proclamation that took effect on January 1, 1863. His strong principles, timeless rhetoric, and resolute leadership have contributed to his status as a globally recognized figure. Examine Lincoln’s role as a wartime president in the EDSITEment lesson plan, Abraham Lincoln and Wartime Politics. EDSITEment’s Closer Reading Commentary, Lincoln's Enduring Legacy, culls some of the best NEH-funded resources to guide research into Lincoln’s life, assassination, and legacy. The words, letters, and other records of Lincoln’s life are available through the NEH-funded The Papers of Abraham Lincoln Digital Library.
Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) was a radio sports announcer, Hollywood movie star, and Governor of California before becoming the 40th President of the United States. During Reagan’s time as President of the Screen Actors Guild (1947-51, 1959), controversies about communism infiltrated the film industry, motivating him to become more involved in politics. From 1967-1975, Reagan served two terms as Governor of California and mounted his first campaign for the presidency in 1976. Though he lost his party’s primary race, he won the general election in 1980 and went on to serve two terms from 1981 to 1989. As President, Reagan pledged to restore “the great, confident roar of American progress and growth and optimism.” Known as the “Great Communicator,” Reagan is remembered as one of the most influential voices of modern conservatism. The NEH has provided funding for increased access to television biographies of seven twentieth-century presidents, including Ronald Reagan. The EDSITEment lesson plan, The House Un-American Activities Committee, provides context for Reagan’s relation with anticommunism in post-WWII America.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) earned the title “The First American” for his early and tireless campaigning for colonial unity. He served as an ambassador for Congress to enlist France’s vital help with the Revolutionary War. Moreover, he was a multitalented “Renaissance Man” who excelled in many areas, leaving a fascinating legacy of political and scientific achievements including his investigations into electricity and drafting all three documents that freed America from Britain. The EDSITEment student activity, Benjamin Franklin’s Virtues, delves into his autobiography, an account of his life which seems intended to serve as a model for every American, then and now. Learn more about the cosmopolitan Benjamin Franklin with the Humanities magazine article, “Impertinent Questions with Alan Houston,” and explore the NEH-funded The Papers of Benjamin Franklin project available at Yale University.
Alexander Hamilton (1755 or 1757-1804) is recognized as one of America’s most influential Founding Fathers. Hamilton not only served as General George Washington’s aide-de-camp, he also became a Revolutionary War hero when he helped lead a successful attack at the Battle of Yorktown. After American independence, Hamilton championed a strong federal government, and played a key role in defending and ratifying the U.S. Constitution as the principal author of the Federalist Papers. President George Washington appointed Hamilton to be the first Secretary of the Treasury, thus shaping the country’s economic structure, including the creation of America’s first national bank. Learn more about the Federalist Papers in the EDSITEment lesson plan, Chief Executives Compared: The Federalist Papers. Another EDSITEment lesson plan, The Constitutional Convention: Four Founding Fathers You May Never Have Met, introduces students to Alexander Hamilton and other key, but lesser-known contributors to the U.S. Constitution. You can also read more about Hamilton’s life and views in the Humanities article, “The Many Alexander Hamiltons.”
The Minutemen were colonial militiamen who stood ready to fight “at a minute’s notice.” Independently organized, these civilian colonists were generally younger men self-trained in weaponry, tactics, and military strategies who led resistance campaigns against British forces during the American Revolutionary War. The first unit of Minutemen formed in Worcester, Massachusetts, and units all over Massachusetts soon formed to take part in the earliest battles of the Revolution. When Paul Revere made his midnight ride through the Massachusetts countryside on April 18, 1775 to warn the minutemen that the British troops were coming, the Minutemen were at the front of the military campaign known as the Battle of Lexington and Concord. EDSITEment offers a series of lessons on the American Revolutionary War, including our Voices of the American Revolution and the American War for Independence: Interactive Map that provides primary sources and digital media resources. Learn more with the NEH-funded The Coming of the American Revolution: 1765-1776 available through the Massachusetts Historical Society.
Betsy Ross (1752-1836) grew up with a Quaker background and eloped with apprentice John Ross in 1773. Unfortunately, the American Revolutionary War cut their union short as her husband passed away and left Betsy at the age of 24 to support herself. She continued to run her upholstery business and earned extra income by making flags for the Continental Army. It is believed that Betsy Ross created the first U.S. flag and although the evidence is compelling, it is not conclusive. The story that has been handed down across generations is that George Washington visited Ross to inquire about designing a flag for the new nation and it was Ross who finalized the design. Learn more about the history of the flag and the importance of symbols in the EDSITEment lesson plan, Stars and Stripes Forever: Flag Facts for Flag Day. More information on the life of Betsy Ross is available through the National Women's History Museum.
Sons of Liberty
The Sons of Liberty was a secret political organization in the American Colonies that protested against British taxes and laws. First forming out of a number smaller protest groups in response to the Stamp Act of 1765, the Sons of Liberty eventually expanded to have chapters in all thirteen colonies. Among the members were many well-known patriots, such as Samuel Adams, John Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere. Based on the philosophy of “no taxation without representation,” the Sons of Liberty protested and organized demonstrations that eventually led the British government to repeal the Stamp Act in 1766. The organization continued to protest British rule and their actions were a catalyst for the American Revolution. The EDSITEment lesson plan, Revolutionary Tea Parties and the Reasons for Revolution, explores the Boston Tea Party protest of 1773, the most famous action of the Sons of Liberty. You can go deeper with NEH-funded The Coming of the American Revolution that provides a collection of resources pertaining to the end of British rule in the American colonies.
Daniel Boone (1734-1820) was born in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Proving to be a talented woodsman and hunter from a young age, Boone shot his first bear when most children his age were too frightened. In 1769, he led his own expedition and blazed a trail to the far west through the Cumberland Gap, thereby providing access to America’s western frontier. Although he attempted to create a settlement in Kentucky called Boonesborough, local Shawnee and Cherokee resistance forced him to relocate to West Virginia. In 1784, the widely read book Discovery, Settlement, and Present State of Kentucke featured an account of Boone’s adventures, which helped establish him as one of the nation’s first folk heroes. EDSITEment’s Investigating Local History Teacher’s Guide includes state encyclopedias for Kentucky and West Virginia where you can learn more about the life of Daniel Boone. The Library of Congress also provides a synopsis of Daniel Boone that includes links to his book, adventures, and maps.
Although Henry Clay was an unsuccessful presidential candidate multiple times, he was an influential attorney and statesman who shaped some of America’s most important domestic policies. Called the “Great Compromiser,” Clay formulated three landmark compromises: the Missouri Compromise of 1820, Tariff Compromise of 1833, and the Compromise of 1850. As the leader of the Whig Party, he proposed an integrated economic program, the “American System.” Although the Whig party disappeared after his death and his attempts to avoid a civil war failed, Clay’s economic and political vision continued to shape American politics. Learn about Henry Clay’s first presidential run in 1824 and the this election’s importance in American politics in the EDSITEment lesson plan, The Election Is in the House: 1824: The Candidates and the Issues.
Born in Tennessee, Davy Crockett became a famous frontiersman and a legend of the Old West with his skills in hunting and storytelling. He was also U.S. Representative from Tennessee. Although he initially set off for Texas for opportunity, he gained interest in joining the Texas Revolution. After he was killed in the Battle of the Alamo, Crockett continued to be credited with acts of mythical proportion. He became one of the best-known American folk heroes and his achievements and fictional exploits have remained in the American imagination. Explore why Davy Crockett became an important figure in American frontier history in the EDSITEment lesson plan, Davy Crockett, Tall Tales, and History.
Antonin Scalia (1936-2016) was a lawyer and served as a judge on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia before being confirmed as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1986. As a Supreme Court Justice, Scalia adhered to the judicial philosophy of originalism, meaning that interpretations of the U.S. Constitution should be based on the understandings of the writers or people at the time of its ratification. During his thirty year tenure, Scalia also held teaching posts at the University of Virginia Law School and University of Chicago Law School. EDSITEment provides resources on the Supreme Court, including an opportunity for students to participate in a mock trial simulation as part of our Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!: Simulating the Supreme Court lesson. You can learn more about Justice Scalia with the NEH-funded PBS documentary The Italian Americans.
Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) was an abolitionist, civil rights activist, and skilled writer. After escaping enslavement in 1838, Douglass became one of the most powerful speakers for abolitionism, courageously sharing his experiences as a slave. In addition to speaking out for emancipation, Douglass supported the women’s suffrage movement. He fought for the right of Black soldiers during the Civil War and advised President Lincoln. Douglass left a legacy of fighting for the equal rights of all people, and his legacy lives on through his writings. The EDSITEment curriculum,
From Courage to Freedom: Frederick Douglass’s 1845 Autobiography, explores the first of his three autobiographies. You can also read the Humanities article, “Frederick Douglass Lived Another Fifty Years After Publishing His First Autobiography,” to learn more about the complexities of Frederick Douglass’s life.
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Author Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) is best known for writing the anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She said the heartache of losing a child was one inspiration for her novel, giving her empathy for enslaved mothers separated from their children. Stowe was a prolific writer, writing some thirty other books and many more magazine articles in a career that spanned five decades. Her work was significant for its breadth and its influence on public opinion, an unusual feat for a woman of her time. Besides championing abolition, Stowe supported education and literacy efforts, and promoted the status and legal rights of women. The Humanities article, “Parlor Politics,” delves into Stowe’ activist legacy. Read more about the impressive popularity of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and how reception to it changed over time in the Humanities article, “The First Great American Novel.” The EDSITEment lesson plan, Slavery’s Opponents and Defenders, contextualizes the debate over slavery during that time.
Harriet Tubman (c.1822-1913) was born enslaved, but escaped to freedom in the North in 1849. Risking her life to lead hundreds of slaves from the plantation system to freedom through the Underground Railroad system, Harriet Tubman became one of the most famous “conductors.” Besides being a leading abolitionist before the Civil War, Tubman became the first woman to lead an armed expedition during the war by guiding the Combahee River Raid. After her death, Tubman became an American icon and continues to inspire generations of Americans struggling for civil rights. The EDSITEment lesson plan, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, introduces students to the Underground Railroad and accomplishments of Harriet Tubman. This story map of Harriet Tubman monuments across the United States, created as part of an NEH-funded research project, illustrates her lasting legacy.
Booker T. Washington
Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) was a prominent African American educator and orator who was born enslaved. Washington eventually became the first leader of Tuskegee Institute, an educational institute in Alabama, and his work in the field of education helped open opportunities for thousands of African Americans. He believed that education was the key to African American’s gradual social and economic rise and acceptance in the United States. Despite causing an uproar among white Americans, Washington became the first African American to be invited to the White House in 1901 and went on to advise Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Learn about Booker T. Washington’s life and legacy in the EDSITEment lesson plan, Martin Puryear’s Ladder for Booker T. Washington. You can also read about Washington’s influence in the Rosenwald School building program in the Humanities article, “Schools for the South” and learn more about the relationships between President Hayes, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. Du Bois in the Humanities article, “Letters to a Former President.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) was a prominent civil rights activist and leader in the 1950s and 60s. He first got involved in advancing the civil rights movement when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Following the boycott, Dr. King served as the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Under King’s guidance, the SCLC peacefully organized mass protest campaigns, sit-ins, and voter registration drives. Despite arrests, bombings, and beatings, King showed incredible resilience. He delivered the famous "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. in August 1963 and went on to be the youngest person awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Dr. King's life ended tragically when he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968. EDSITEment’s Closer Readings Commentary on I Have a Dream: The Vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. provides resources to learn about this famous speech. The EDSITEment lesson plan, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nonviolent Resistance, explores his famous essay, “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” to evaluate his arguments for nonviolent resistance and its impact on other civil rights movements. Still more can be uncovered about the civil rights icon with the NEH-funded Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project available at Stanford University.
From humble beginnings, Jackie Robinson (1919-1972) excelled early at all sports, which paved the way for him to break down barriers. At UCLA, Robinson became the first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football and track. In 1947, he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers and became the first African American baseball player to break the Major League Baseball’s color barrier. Racial segregation in professional baseball had relegated Black players to separate leagues since the 1880s. Thus, Robinson courageously challenged deeply rooted racial segregation in America. He continued contributing to the civil rights movement and inspiring others to stand for racial equality. A successful baseball player, Robinson was eventually inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. Learn about other athletes who fought for equality both on and off the playing field from EDSITEment’s media resource, BackStory: Making the Team: Sports and Equality in American History.
Billy Graham (1918-2018) was one of the leading Christian evangelists of the 20th century. As the first full-time staff member of Youth for Christ, a nondenominational evangelistic organization focused on youth and military personnel, Graham preached at public rallies throughout the United States and Europe. The popularity of his preaching in 1949 vaulted him into the public eye, enabling him to conduct preaching Crusades all over the world. Graham pioneered using new technologies to preach the Gospel, from radio and television to films and the internet. He was also a prolific writer, authoring more than 30 books, many of which stayed on the best-seller lists for months. His counsel was sought by presidents, celebrities, and others of influence, and his recognitions included the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal (shared with this wife), and the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. EDSITEment offers resources on the history of Christianity in the United States with our Christianity in the 18th Century lesson plan. You can learn more about Billy Graham with this 2018 Smithsonian magazine article.
Dolley Madison (1768-1849) was First Lady of the United States from 1809 to 1817, defining the roles of a President’s wife and in the process, changing the face of the American presidency. Her precedents as the first lady include working with local charities and organizations on social issues important to her and overseeing the decoration of the executive mansion to reflect the importance of the presidency. Although a woman’s involvement in political affairs was not looked upon favorably, Dolley Madison played an integral role in rallying support for her husband to be president. Dolley Madison earned a reputation as a skillful diplomat, humanitarian, style icon, and politically savvy hostess. Learn more about her life and politics in the NEH-funded PBS documentary, Dolley Madison, and in the Humanities article, “The Politics of Love.” In addition, EDSITEment’s lesson plan, Remember the Ladies: First Ladies, explores the ways in which First Ladies were able to shape the world while dealing with societal expectations.
Susan B. Anthony
Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) began her work for equality as part of the Quaker movement for the abolition of slavery. Her abolitionist work set the stage for a life dedicated to ensuring a woman's right to vote. Along with Lucretia Mott, Anthony organized the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, the first Women’s Rights Convention in the United States. Anthony would later help merge the two largest suffrage associations into one, the National American Women’s Suffrage Association, and led the group until 1900. EDSITEment’s Closer Readings Commentary on The Declaration of Sentiments by the Seneca Falls Conference (1848) delves into this seminal document which Mott helped co-write. The EDSITEment lesson plan Voting Rights for Women: Pro- and Anti-Suffrage will help students better understand the historical context of Anthony, Mott, and other suffragists’ activism. You can also read the Humanities magazine article, “Winning the Vote,” to learn about the complicated history of the women’s suffrage movement.
The first group ever to protest in front of the White House, the Silent Sentinels were suffragists organized by Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party. Their primary purpose for organizing was to convince President Woodrow Wilson to publicly support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would guarantee a woman’s right to vote. They were called Silent Sentinels because they protested without speaking a word, holding banners demanding the right to vote for American women. Despite being arrested, jailed, beaten, and going on hunger strikes, nearly 2,000 women picketed from 1917 to 1919. Their persistent and courageous efforts gained results when on August 18, 1920, the 19th amendment gave women the right to vote. Watch the dramatic story of the hard-fought campaign waged by American women for the right to vote with the NEH-funded PBS films, The Vote and UnladyLike2020. EDSITEment’s lesson plan, Chronicling and Mapping the Women’s Suffrage Movement, explores where the women’s suffrage movement took place in the United States and the impact of the 19th Amendment.
Characterized as self-directed and compassionate, Clara Barton (1821-1912) was a pioneering nurse who modeled good will for all Americans. She was the first person to start a public high school in Hightstown, NJ, growing it from 6 to almost 600 students. During the American Civil War, she took supplies to wounded soldiers and provided self-taught nursing care, earning the title “Angel of the Battlefield.” After the war, she lobbied for the United States to participate in the global Red Cross network, and founded the American Red Cross in 1881. She expanded the scope of the Red Cross, and her legacy of service to humanity lives on with the continued efforts of the American Red Cross. Learn more about her positive impact on humanitarian efforts from the Humanities article, “Letters from Robert E. Lee.”
Despite facing disapproval and doubt as a female aviator in a predominantly male field, Amelia Earhart (1897-1937) became the first woman and the second person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. As it was believed that such a flight was too dangerous for a woman to conduct herself, this feat made Earhart an international hero. She also became the first person to fly over both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Other achievements include writing best-selling books about her flying experiences and becoming the first president of the Ninety-Nines, an organization of female pilots who sought to advance the cause of women in aviation. Learn more about how Earhart shattered the aviation glass ceiling with EDSITEment’s media resource, Backstory: Shattering the Glass Ceiling.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Sharon Christa McAuliffe (née Corrigan) (1948-1986) was a junior high and high school teacher of American history, civics, and economics courses in Maryland and New Hampshire. In 1984, she became one of over 11,000 educators who applied to be part of NASA’s new “Teacher in Space Project.” On July 1, 1985, after a rigorous, year-long application process that included travel to Washington, D.C. and the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, it was announced that Christa McAuliffe had been selected. Just six months later, on January 28, 1986, McAuliffe joined six other astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger that launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Shortly after launching, the Challenger malfunctioned and everyone onboard was killed in the explosion. In 2004, McAuliffe and the 13 astronauts who died during the Challenger and Columbia tragedies were posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. Her legacy of courage and life-long learning continues through the NEH-supported McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center. NASA makes it possible to view the lessons McAuliffe had planned to lead for students from abroad the Challenger. You can also learn about important women who worked for NASA with EDSITEment’s media resource Backstory: Hidden Figures – The People Behind the Story You Know.
The Army Organization Act of 1866 led to the formation of the all-Black 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments whose members came to be called Buffalo Soldiers. These Black soldiers were charged with protecting U.S. government interests in the Western frontier following the American Civil War. These orders resulted in confrontations with American Indians who had been placed on reservations by the U.S. government. It is believed that the name “buffalo soldier” was used by some American Indians to describe the Black soldiers and the name was thereafter adopted. Additionally, Buffalo Soldiers were responsible for protecting newly created national parks and members of these regiments would later serve in the Spanish-American War, WWI, and WWII before being formally deactivated in 1944. EDSITEment’s African-American Soldiers in World War I: The 92nd and 93rd Divisions lesson looks at the legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers of the U.S. Civil War through the lens of The Great War. Learn more about the Buffalo Soldiers with Researching African Americans in the U.S. Army, 1866-1890 collection available through the National Archives.
The Rough Riders were members of the 1st Volunteer Calvary and became the most famous unit to fight in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Recruited by Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Riders included an eclectic group of volunteer cowboys, miners, college students, American Indians, and law enforcement officials. The Rough Riders were trained and supplied so well at their camp in San Antonio, Texas that unlike other volunteer companies, they were mobilized into action. Their colorful exploits received extensive publicity in the American press, especially their uphill charge in the Battle of San Juan Hill on July 1, 1898, which helped lead to a crucial victory. EDSITEment offers a student activity on the Spanish-American War and you can learn more about the Rough Riders with the National Archives’ selected military service records of Spanish-American War Volunteers.
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (1828-1914) was a professor of languages and rhetoric at Bowdoin College before joining the Union army during the Civil War. Chamberlain became famous for commanding his regiment in the Battle of Gettysburg to execute a bayonet charge down Little Round Top. His actions were pivotal to the Union winning that crucial battle, and Congress awarded Chamberlain the Medal of Honor for his heroism at Gettysburg. He also played a pivotal role in the Appomattox Campaign where he received the Confederate surrender of arms on April 12, 1865. After the war, Chamberlain served four terms as Maine’s Governor and later served as President of Bowdoin College. He was also a prolific writer, and his memoir of the Appomattox Campaign, The Passing of the Armies, was published after his death in 1914. EDSITEment’s The Battles of the Civil War is a lesson plan that includes resources on the Battle of Gettysburg. You can learn more about Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain at the Bowdoin College Library’s page of suggested archives and reading list.
The Tuskegee Airmen refers to all those who were involved in the 1941-1948 Army Air Crops program that primarily trained African-Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft. The Tuskegee program trained over 1,000 pilots, nearly 14,000 navigators, along with bombardiers, instructors, mechanics, and other maintenance and support staff. In addition to the risks that come with active military service, Tuskegee Airmen—also known as the “Red Tails” —encountered prejudicial assumptions that African-Americans would be unqualified for combat duty. Despite segregation and discrimination in the U.S. military and the country, the Tuskegee Airmen earned more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses for their service during WWII. EDSITEment offers resources on the experiences of African American soldiers before and after WWI in our African-American Soldiers After World War I: Had Race Relations Changed? lesson plan. You can also learn more about the Tuskegee Airmen with our Smithsonian Learning Lab collection on Race, Gender, and the U.S. Military. The NEH has also funded the Tuskegee Airmen Wives Tell their Stories oral history project that documents the lives and experiences of the wives of these courageous soldiers.
Born into a family with a strong military history, Douglas MacArthur fought in World War I and served as the commander of Allied forces in the Pacific in World War II. At the end of the war in 1945, MacArthur served as supreme Allied commander and oversaw the occupation forces in Japan and the country’s rebuilding. He led the newly created United Nations forces in the Korean War, but was relieved of his command in April 1951. Despite the end of his military career, he continued to meet with presidents to advise them on military matters. Learn more about the World War II military campaigns of the Pacific theater that Douglas MacArthur led in the EDSITEment lesson plan, Victory in the Pacific, 1943-1945. Additionally, the NEH has also funded the PBS documentary, MacArthur, which delves into complexities of his life and legacy.
George S. Patton, Jr.
George Smith Patton Jr.’s family had a history of military service, and he followed their footsteps to become a high-ranking general of the United Sates Army during World War II. He is most well known for his integral role as a strategist and leader who helped American forces defeat Germany. Learn more about the military strategies pursued by the Americans and their British allies in World War II in Europe in the EDSITEment lesson plans Turning the Tide in Europe, 1942-1944 and Victory in Europe, 1944-1945.
Audie Leon Murphy (1925-1971) was the son of sharecroppers and left school as a fifth grader to support his family by picking cotton. Motivated to serve his country following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Murphy enlisted with the U.S. Army at the age of sixteen. His service during WWII began in 1943 as part of the invasion of Sicily before being sent to France. During a battle in eastern France in January of 1945, Murphy commandeered a burning tank to single-handedly hold off advancing German soldiers for more than one hour. Though injured during this fight, he led a successful counterattack that forced the enemy to retreat. Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor for this courageous act and earned a total of 28 medals—including three from France and one from Belgium—making him one of the most decorated war veterans in U.S. history. Murphy went on to become an actor, starring in more than 40 Hollywood films before becoming a rancher in Arizona and California. Tragically, Murphy died in a plane crash on May 28, 1971 and was interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. You can learn more about this war hero and actor with resources provided by the National World War II Museum and Arlington National Cemetery.
Orville and Wilbur Wright
Orville (1871-1948) and Wilbur Wright (1867-1912) were American inventors and pioneers of aviation. The brothers started their own newspaper and opened a bike shop in their hometown of Dayton, Ohio before beginning their experiments with flight. Observing birds’ wings for flight, they developed a concept called “wing warping” and were able to achieve the first powered, sustained and controlled airplane flight on December 17, 1903 just south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The Wright Brothers would continue to refine and fly their Wright Flyers before ultimately selling their patents to open the Wright Company in Dayton in 1909. It is an understatement to note that the Wright Brothers transformed transportation, culture, and war forever. EDSITEment’s Smithsonian Learning Lab collection Innovation and Industry includes artifacts and other resources on the Wright Brothers. You can also explore the Wilbur and Orville Wright Papers available at the Library of Congress.