What It Means to Be American
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Engagements

How the Suffragists Used a Few Good Men to Help Get the Vote

Lampooned as Hen-Pecked Wimps, Male Supporters of Crusading Women Reinvented Themselves as Dashing Trophy Spouses

An anti-suffrage postcard. Image courtesy of the Catherine H. Palczewski Postcard Archive, University of Northern Iowa.

By Brooke Kroeger
March 5, 2018

The early rap on men who found themselves married to hard-working, hard-core suffragists must have been downright humiliating. Cartoonists portrayed them as gents in tie-and-starched-collared misery, shirtsleeves up, infants in tow, forced to scrub clothes at a washtub or toe-rock a cradle while they flattened dough with a rolling pin. That changed completely in the 1910s, as American men who had been roped to the votes-for-women movement by wedlock reinvented themselves with dashing post-chivalrous aplomb.

Gone were the hen-pecked, emasculated …

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The Jewish Immigrant Philanthropist Who Didn’t Like the Word “Charity”

Julius Rosenwald Made Sears a Retail Giant and Used His Wealth to Give the Poor Tools for Upward Mobility

Philanthropist Julius Rosenwald in 1918.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

By Hasia Diner
February 2, 2018

The biography of Julius Rosenwald, one of the most thoughtful and transformative philanthropists in American history, parallels the life experiences of many Jewish immigrant families of the mid-19th century—women and men who left German-speaking lands, relied heavily on family and community networks, and arrived in America with commercial skills that served them well.

Enjoying the benefits of whiteness, they arrived just in time for the physical expansion of the United States across the continent, referred to by patriotic orators as …

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The Humble but Hardy Leaf That Defines Our National Character

The Collard Green, Born of Trans-Atlantic Trading, Embodies the Mix of European and African Cultures

A truck farmer selling collards in Wadesboro, North Carolina. Photo courtesy of Edward H. Davis.

By Edward H. Davis
January 25, 2018

Driving the Deep South’s back roads in late fall or winter offers glimpses of a shade of green bluer and darker than most of the vegetation you’ll see, arranged in garden rows with hints of purple and yellow. The untrained viewer—just trying to keep eyes on the road, for goodness’ sake—may not realize that these verdant patches are in fact a unique marker of American history: the beloved, if at times belittled, collard green.

Collards are unknown in most of the …

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When the Great War Reached Wisconsin, Free Speech Was the First Casualty

President Wilson's Government Criminalized Dissenters, Socialists, and German Immigrants as Traitors

Detail of a U.S. Army World War I recruitment poster. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

By Richard L. Pifer
January 18, 2018

Woodrow Wilson did not want to go to war. On two different occasions during the weeks leading to the 1917 declaration of war that brought the United States into World War I, the president expressed reservations regarding the course he was contemplating.

Because war is autocratic, he feared that free speech and other rights would be endangered. The President told Frank Cobb of the New York World: “Once lead this people into war, and they’ll forget there ever was such …

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Can a Corrupt Politician Become a Good President?

A Mysterious Woman’s Letters Made Chester Arthur Fit for the White House

A Puck magazine cartoon expresses the fear that with Chester Arthur as president, U.S. Senator Roscoe Conkling, the all-powerful boss of the New York Republican machine, would be running the country. Art courtesy of Library of Congress.

By Scott S. Greenberger
November 16, 2017

“Who you are, what you are, it doesn’t change after you occupy the Oval Office,” President Barack Obama said during the 2016 election campaign. “It magnifies who you are. It shines a spotlight on who you are.”

But at least one man was transformed by the presidency: Chester Alan Arthur. Arthur’s redemption is all the more remarkable because it was spurred, at least in part, by a mysterious young woman who implored him to rediscover his better self.

Arthur, the country’s …

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For the Female Phone Operators of World War I, a Woman’s Place Was on the Front Lines

By Making the World Safe for Democracy, the "Hello Girls" Boosted Suffrage Back Home

L-R: Berthe Hunt, Esther “Tootsie” Fresnel, and Grace Banker run Gen. John Pershing’s switchboard at First Army headquarters. Note the helmets and gas masks hanging from their chairs. Photo courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.

By Elizabeth Cobbs
June 1, 2017

In 1917, U.S. Secretary of War Newton Baker disliked the idea of female workers on Army bases so intensely that he didn’t even want to build toilets for them. They might tarry. Females did not belong in the Army, Baker thought, though the more forward-thinking U.S. Navy already had welcomed women into its ranks to replace men in landlubber assignments.

Many adventurous and patriotic young women longed to defend their country during the Great War. They discovered that if they wanted …

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The Immigrant Activist Who Loved America’s Ideals, If Not Its Actions

Ernestine Rose Championed Abolition and Women’s Rights in Her Adopted Land

A photograph of Ernestine Rose, probably dating to the 1850s. Rose, who is not familiar to many Americans today, was famous in her time. Image courtesy of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

By Bonnie S. Anderson
April 28, 2017

On May 22, 1869, at age 59, the famous activist and orator Ernestine Rose became an American citizen in her own right.

Her decision to do so, at such a late stage of her life, was paradoxical. Rose had long admired the United States, working ardently to make it a better place whenever it fell short of its promise. Legally, she had been a citizen since the 1840s, when her husband, the English silversmith William Rose, became an American: Throughout …

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A Half Century Later, the Cuban Missile Crisis Haunts My Dreams

But as a Child My Fighter Pilot Dad Was My Nuclear Bomb-Smashing Superman

The author and her family when they lived at Homestead Air Force Base, two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis. The author is on the right. Courtesy of Karen Bjorneby.

By Karen Bjorneby
February 13, 2017

On a Tuesday morning in mid-October 1962, my father received a phone call ordering him to fly from where we lived, Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base outside Kansas City, Missouri, to Grand Island, Nebraska. He had to leave immediately. He couldn’t tell my mother why, but he did tell her that the president would speak later that night on television, and that she should listen.

My mother didn’t need to hear anything more. As soon as he left, she bundled my sister …

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How Bikes Helped Invent American Highways

Urban Elites With a Fancy Hobby Teamed up With Rural Farmers in a Movement That Transformed the Country

Guroff on bikes LEAD

By Margaret Guroff
September 6, 2016

Before there were cars, America’s country roads were unpaved, and they were abysmal. Back then, roads were so unreliable for travelers that most state maps didn’t even show them. This all started to change when early cyclists came together to transform some U.S. travel routes, and lay the groundwork for the interstate highways we use today.

Through the 1880s, spring and fall rains routinely turned dirt lanes into impassable mud pits that brought rural life to a standstill, stranding farmers …

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The New Deal Origins of Homeland Security

During FDR’s Administration, the First Lady and the Mayor of New York Clashed Over Guns, Butter, and American Liberalism

Tony Garcci of Richmond, Va., determined to plant a Victory Garden despite the shortages of farmhands and horsepower, works the plow being pulled by his pickup truck, driven by Joe Garcci, April 1, 1943.  The job was completed in a few hours' time.  (AP Photo)

By Matthew Dallek
August 25, 2016

Ever since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans have faced a set of seemingly unprecedented national security challenges and anxieties. Our society has been consumed with debates about government surveillance programs, overseas counter-terrorism campaigns, border security, and extreme proposals to bar foreign Muslims from America—debates that are all, at bottom, focused on finding the proper balance between keeping people safe versus protecting civil liberties.

This debate is not a new one in American history. Even before the Cold War …

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