From the Editor
An Introduction to the October 2015 update
A favorite song by folksinger Cheryl Wheeler called “When Fall Comes to New England” talks of chipmunks running on old stone walls and trees the color of Irish Setter red. For American National Biography, Fall means the chance to share our latest crop of essays, which for this update number fifty-nine. The list contains a strong representation of boldface names, led by Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the Moon. Maurice Sendak and Tom Clancy reached readers young and old with their dark tales of intrigue and mystery, while Mouseketeer Annette Funicello and bandleader Dick Clark strike a nostalgic chord with aging Baby Boomers. Lena Horne and Pete Seeger demonstrated how performers could move far beyond song to act as agents for social change. Boxer Joe Frazier, his career forever intertwined with that of Muhammed Ali, suggests how athletes became dominant figures in popular culture, while George McGovern (the inspiration of the famous Watergate-era bumper sticker, “Don’t Blame Me: I’m from Massachusetts”) captures a moment of 20th century political history. Individually and collectively these portraits enrich our understanding of American life.
Lives don’t have to be boldface to be included in the ANB, and three from this update stand out as especially compelling. The first is Dorothy Height, a longtime activist on behalf of African Americans and women, especially through the YWCA, the National Council of Negro Women, and the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. Height helped plan the 1963 March on Washington, but was not one of the invited speakers. Luckily she is visible in photos of the stage, confirming her role – and by extension, the roles of other black women – in the history of the civil rights movement.
Then there is urban planner Edward Logue, who began his career in New Haven in the 1950s and went on to play major roles in the redevelopment of Boston and New York City in the next two decades. Although postwar urban renewal is not popular today because of its tendency to put economic revitalization ahead of the needs of city residents, Logue was committed to a vision of affordable housing, job creation, and mixed-income communities that is still relevant today.
Finally, there is Maria Tallchief, the first American-born ballerina to achieve international prominence. Her life and career were intimately connected with choreographer George Balanchine, to whom she was briefly married. More importantly, she served as Balanchine’s muse. Besides her incredible grace and talent as a dancer, Tallchief also was Native American, born to an Osage father and Scots-Irish mother in Oklahoma.
Lives such as Dorothy Height, Ed Logue, and Maria Tallchief suggest how even short biographical essays can provide windows on the larger political and social movements of their times. These three characters, indeed all the lives included in this update, had fascinating and wide-ranging careers, which is why the ANB is not just an indispensable research tool but also such great fun to read.
A pioneer in the field of women's history and a leading feminist biographer, Susan Ware is the author and editor of numerous books on twentieth-century U.S. history. She is currently the Senior Advisor of the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.