Biography Articles – Lives of People of Achievement


Links to online biography articles, about historical or famous people, people with important achievements or who made great contributions. Also some podcasts & videos.

 

Go to Century Past History Resources for a directory of all pages.

10 of Benjamin Franklin’s Lesser-Known Feats of Awesomeness

He was such an excellent swimmer, one of the careers he considered was running a swimming school of his own. He also invented his own swim fins. His printing company printed all of the paper money for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Beginning in 1929, his face would grace the front of the $100 bill and people would call them’Benjamins’ in his honor. (And 8 more feats)

Jamie Spatola, MF 2018

See our Biography Page for free online biographies of many historical figures.

14 Surprising Facts About Aaron Burr

Did you know that he basically invented modern campaign organizing? Or that he helped Tennessee join the union? Or that he had a remarkably progressive outlook on women’s rights for a man of his time? (And 14 more facts)

Mark Mancini, MF 2018

Doria Shafik, Who Led Egypt’s Women’s Liberation Movement

Her hunger strikes and demonstrations made her one of the most influential women in the history of the Arab world. Yet few Egyptians today know her name.

David Kirkpatrick, NY Times 2018

The Importance of Being Ordinary

Gwendolyn Brooks’s life and work asserted the humanity of black people in America.

Lovia Gyarkye, New Republic 2017

Meet Jenny Lind, one of America’s first female celebrities

Long before Hollywood actresses such as Marilyn Monroe and Katharine Hepburn became iconic stars, popular female opera singers of the early to mid-19th century were among the first American celebrities. One of those early American stars was Jenny Lind, nicknamed the “Swedish Nightingale.”

Regan Shrumm, National Museum of American History 2016

Overlooked No More: Julia de Burgos, a Poet Who Helped Shape Puerto Rico’s Identity

De Burgos, a literary foremother of the Nuyorican movement, defied societal norms and advocated for the island’s independence.

Maira Garcia, NY Times 2018

Harriott Daley, the Capitol’s First Telephone Operator

Daley, who became a switchboard operator in 1898, made sure members of Congress were just a phone call away from their constituents.

Alexandra Jacobs, NY Times 2018

How Betsy Ross Became Famous

For scholars, the story of how Betsy Ross made the first American flag is about as credible as Parson Weems’s fable about little George Washington cutting down the cherry tree. Yet for more than a century, it has been an established part of American education.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Common Place 2007

5 fascinating facts about Alexander Graham Bell that aren’t about the telephone

Bell’s contributions to telephony are so great that they tend to overshadow his work in other fields of scientific inquiry. Bell’s interest in studying sound came from teaching those with hearing and speech impediments. He came from a family of speech teachers, and his mother and his wife were both deaf.

Leslie Poster, Smithsonian Museum of American History Blog 2015

5 Questions: Restoring Grant to Greatness

Ron Chernow’s new biography, Grant upsets a century and half of historiography, illuminating Ulysses S. Grant as a flawed but just man who, despite his drinking problem, won the Civil War and, though scandals marred his presidency, should be remembered as one of our major chief executives. An interview with the author.

Nancy Tappan, HistoryNet 2018

Laura Ingalls Wilder: Truth from Fiction – An Interview with Michelle McClellan

They are among the most beloved children’s books in American history. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s fictionalized memoirs of her experience growing up on the American frontier in the late nineteenth century—the famous Little House books—have been read and re-read by countless generations of children both here in the United States and abroad.

The Ultimate History Project

Hiding in Plain Sight: Hell-Roaring Mike

Captain Michael Healy (1839-1904) was the Coast Guard’s first African American captain.

James M. O’Toole, We’re History 2015

My Memories of Winston Churchill

Ike’s son, historian John Eisenhower, recalls attending meetings with the British wartime leader and reflects on his character and accomplishments.

John D. Eisenhower, American Heritage 2017

The Infamous Story Of Patty Hearst And The Symbionese Liberation Army

How Patty Hearst went from wealthy heiress to gun-toting, bank-robbing, radical militant of the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Richard Stockton, ATI 2019

Leon Ray Livingston, America’s Most Famous Hobo

Jay Serafino, Mental Floss 2018

Overlooked No More: Leticia Ramos Shahani, a Philippine Women’s Rights Pioneer

Shahani, who died in 2017, worked to advance women’s causes in her native Philippines and around the world.

Jennifer Jett, NY Times 2018

Abigail Adams: Revolutionary Speculator – Podcast

Woody Holton, a Professor of History and author of Abigail Adams: A Life, helps us explore a different, largely unknown aspect of the Adams’ life: Her financial investments.

Woody Holton, Ben Franklin’s World Episode 150

Paul Robeson, Black Dockworkers, and Labor-Left Pan-Africanism

Paul Robeson was one of the greatest black internationalists of the twentieth century. A gifted actor and singer, he was also an unabashed leftist and union supporter. This resulted in his bitter persecution, destroying his career and causing, to a surprising degree, his disappearance from popular–if not academic–memory.

Peter Cole, Black Perspectives 2016

The Many Lives of Pauli Murray

She was an architect of the civil-rights struggle—and the women’s movement. Why haven’t you heard of her?

Kathryn Schulz 2017

President Chester A. Arthur

Chester A. Arthur, twenty-first President of the United States, who held office from 1881-85. He was a little-known Vice President when President Garfield was assassinated.

Todd Arrington, We’re History 2016

Abigail Adams’ Last Act of Defiance

The author of ‘Abigail Adams and Unruly Americans’ describes how the First Lady defied American laws that prevented women from owning property or controlling and dispensing with their own money.

Woody Holton, HistoryNet 2018

Adam Shatz reviews Écrits sur l’aliénation et la liberté by Frantz Fanon

Book review and biographical article about Frantz Fanon, spokesman for the Algerian Revolution and author of ‘The Wretched of the Earth., the’bible’ of decolonisation; and inspiration to Third World revolutionaries.

Adam Shatz, London Review of Books 2017

Ruby Payne-Scott, Who Explored Space With Radio Waves

Payne-Scott helped establish the field of radio astronomy by using radio waves to detect solar bursts, but she was forced to resign after she got married.

Rebecca Halleck, NY Times 2018

Sex, scandals and betrayals: Charles II and his court

It is said to have been one of the most hedonistic courts in English history – a sexual merry-go-round of flirtation, seductions and infidelities. RE Pritchard explores the sexual liaisons of Charles II and the men and women at his court…

R.E. Pritchard, History Extra 2015

Overlooked No More: Lillias Campbell Davidson, an Early Advocate for Women’s Cycling

Davidson encouraged women to bicycle at a time when they were told they were “by nature physically unfit.”

Amanda Hess, NY Times 2018

See our collected books on History of Japan

Lucrezia Borgia, Predator or Pawn?

The illegitimate daughter of a pope and his mistress, Lucrezia Borgia was a famous beauty, notorious for the suspicious deaths and political intrigue that swirled around her and her family. But how much of the scandalous reputation was true, and how much was sheer invention?

Josep Palau I Orta, National Geographic History 2017

She Followed a Trail to Wyoming. Then She Blazed One.

The Western territory made history in 1869 by giving women the right to vote. When Esther Morris became justice of the peace a few months later, she made history as well.

Jessica Anderson, NY Times 2018

Someone’s Finally Making a Movie About Ida Tarbell

Ida Tarbell was a groundbreaking investigative journalist in the golden age of muckraking, best known for her multipart exposé of John D. Rockefeller and the Standard Oil Company which ran in McClure’s magazine from 1902 to 1904 before being collected in a book, ‘The History of the Standard Oil Company.’

Matthew Dessem, Slate 2016

The 19th-Century Woman Journalist Who Made Congress Bow Down in Fear

A new book examines the life and legacy of Anne Royall, whose literal witch trial made headlines across the country.

Jeff Biggers, Smithsonian 2017

Mary Baker Eddy

Unschooled and uncompromising, she founded her own faith

Dr. Julius Silberger, Jr., American Heritage 1980

Alexander Hamilton, immigrant and statesman, dies at 47 — or 49

Alexander Hamilton, a founding father and the first secretary of the treasury of the United States, died 214 years ago today from a gunshot wound. He was of indeterminate age.

Erin B. Logan, Washington Post Retropolis 2018

The Adventurous Writer Who Brought Nancy Drew To Life

Mildred Wirt Benson helped invent the fictional teen sleuth who became a generational role model

Jennifer Fisher, Smithsonian 2018

The lost Kennedy: the tragic life of JFK’s sister Rosemary

The sister of American president John F Kennedy and US senators Robert and Ted Kennedy, Rosemary Kennedy was born into one of 20th-century America’s most prominent political families. Presented to elite British society in the 1930s and deemed beautiful and charming by the press, the eldest Kennedy daughter would disappear from society at the age of 23, following a tragic decision taken by her father…

Marius Gabriel , History Extra 2019

The Taming of Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali was reborn at least twice. The first rebirth was his conversion, in the 1960s, to Islam (initially through the heterodoxy of the Nation of Islam; then through Sunni Islam, a more universal version of the faith). Another rebirth of sorts occurred in the 1980s and 90s, when the aging champion, increasingly enfeebled by Parkinson’s, was reclaimed by white America and the corporate establishment.

Russell Rickford, Black Perspectives 2016

Alison Hargreaves, Who Conquered Everest Solo and Without Bottled Oxygen

Hargreaves sent her children a message from the apex: “I am on the highest point of the world, and I love you dearly.” She perished months later while descending Earth’s second-highest peak, K2.

Maya Salam, NY Times Overlooked No More 2018

Amazing Grace Hopper, the Tiny Old Lady Who Changed Our Lives

In 1946, the U.S. Navy considered Grace Hopper too old to be an officer. Thirty-seven years later, President Ronald Reagan promoted her to rear admiral because of her pioneering work in computers.

New England Historical Society

The young Elizabeth II: life before she was Queen

At the time of her birth, Elizabeth II was a princess who was never expected to succeed the throne. So how did she become queen? From her unconventional childhood to the crisis that made her a monarch, Kate Williams charts Elizabeth II’s life within the royal family before she was crowned…

Kate Williams, History Extra 2019

Vladimir Putin: ‘the godfather of a mafia clan’

The Moscow journalist Masha Gessen pulls no punches in her biography of ‘Vladimir Putin, The Man Without a Face’.

Mick Brown, Telegraph 2012

Mary Katharine Goddard, the Woman who Signed the Declaration of Independence

Likely the United States’ first woman employee, this newspaper publisher was a key figure in promoting the ideas that fomented the Revolution

Erick Trickey, Smithsonian 2018

Meet Mansa Musa I of Mali – the richest human being in all history

A new study has produced an inflation-adjusted list of the richest people of all time

John Hall, Independent 2012

Nelson Mandela: His Written Legacy

Read excerpts from letters, speeches and memoirs reflecting on each stage of his life—from the innocence of a tribal village boy to the triumphs and pressures of being South Africa’s first black president.

David Roos, History 2019

American Robber Barons business powerhouses

Very brief biographical profiles of Vanderbilt, Astor, Jay Cooke, Duke etc.

Elena Holodny, Business Insider 2016

Aristotle: The Man Who Needs No Introduction

Brief description of Aristotle’s life and work.

Dr. Sophia Protopapa, Ancient Origins 2017

Overlooked No More: Pandita Ramabai, Indian Scholar, Feminist and Educator

Ramabai traveled around India in the 19th century to give lectures on women’s emancipation and established one of the country’s first women’s shelters and schools.

Aisha Khan, NY Times 2018

Remembering Gwen Patton, Activist and Theorist

“Ideas are powerful,” Dr. Gwendolyn Patton used to say when she talked to the younger generation about civil rights and political organizing. This simple but powerful notion undergirded Patton’s incredible activist life, one that spanned much of the late 20th century and many different facets of the Black Freedom Struggle.

Ashley Farmer, Black Perspectives 2017

Beatrice Tinsley, Astronomer Who Saw the Course of the Universe

An insurgent who challenged the academic establishment and became a foremost expert on the aging of galaxies, she was eventually forced to choose between family and career.

Dennis Overbye, NY Times Overlooked No More 2018

Chris Fobare on American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant

Review of Ronald C. White’s ‘American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant’.

Chris Fobare, H-Net Reviews 2017

E.P. Thompson’s Search for a New Popular Front

A book review of ‘E.P. Thompson: A Twentieth-Century Romantic’ by Christos Efstathiou. Thompson was a leading British historian and socialist, and author of ‘The Making of the English Working Class’.

Stefan Collini, Nation 2017

Singer, siren, activist, spy: the extraordinary life of Josephine Baker

Born into poverty, dancer Josephine Baker became an overnight sensation in a vaudeville show, launching a glittering cabaret career that took her across the globe, from Broadway to Paris. Yet Baker was no ordinary performer – she went on to become a Second World War spy, was active in the fight against segregation and even attracted the attentions of the FBI.

Ailsa Ross, History Extra 2017

Charlotte Brontë, Novelist Known for ‘Jane Eyre’

She was fearless — so fearless that she paid to have a volume of poems by her and her younger sisters published under pseudonyms, an unusually ambitious act for a woman of her era.

Susan Dominus, NY Times Overlooked No More 2018

Edmonia Lewis, Sculptor of Worldwide Acclaim

As an artist she transcended constraints, and as a woman of color, she confronted a society that wished to categorize her.

Penelope Green, NY Times Overlooked No More 2018

Emma Gatewood, First Woman to Conquer the Appalachian Trail Alone

What the woman known as Grandma Gatewood accomplished in 1955 was remarkable. So is the untold story of what she overcame before that.

Katharine Q. Seelye, NY Times Overlooked No More 2018

The Most Eminent Victorian – William Gladstone

Adored as “the People’s William” and execrated by “the upper ten thousand,” Gladstone was the great statesman of his age.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, The Atlantic 1997

Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald?

“Frontline” Video Documentary (1 hr 53 min) about the man who assassinated President John F. Kennedy

PBS, Frontline 2013

See our collected books on History & Culture of China

Women We Overlooked: Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells was an investigative reporter who exposed the systematic lynching of black men in the South. Her work made her the most famous black woman in the country.

Podcast, NY Times 2018

Edward I: man of principle or grasping opportunist?

The author is a biographer of English King Edward I (reign: 1272-1307). This article provides a biographical profile and addresses key issues about his rule.

Caroline Burt, History Extra 2018

Eugenie, the Tragic Empress

The story of the wife of Napoleon III, Empress of France.

Victorian Paris 2017

Overlooked No More: Yu Gwan-sun, a Korean Independence Activist Who Defied Japanese Rule

When a call for peaceful protests came in spring 1919, a schoolgirl became the face of a nation’s collective yearning for freedom.

Inyoung Kang, NY Times 2018

Fannie Farmer, Modern Cookery’s Pioneer

She brought a scientific approach to cooking, taught countless women marketable skills and wrote a cookbook that defined American food for the 20th century.

Julia Moskin, NY Times Overlooked No More 2018

From Enemy to Icon: The Life of Emma Goldman

While alive, Emma Goldman was considered an enemy of the state. In death, she became a celebrated American icon.

Matthew Wills, JSTOR Daily 2016

He made ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody the world’s first reality star

But he died a pauper buried in an unmarked grave.

Steve Hendrix, Washington Post Retropolis 2017

J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973), author and creator of ‘Lord of the Rings’ – Podcast

The life of Oxford scholar and author J.R.R. Tolkien.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2016

Madame Muckraker – Ida Tarbell

At the turn of the 20th century Tarbell was a leading investigative journalist, authoring a ground-breaking expose of the biggest company of the day, the Standard Oil Company.

Kathleen Brady, American Experience

Pioneer Life of Job Archer and Family

Description by Job Archer’s daughter of her childhood on the frontier in southern Michigan in the 1840s.

Pioneer history of Ingham County, Michigan

Ray Stannard Baker

A native of Lansing, MI, Baker became a journalist and a leader in the Muckraking movement at the turn of the 20th century. He was a progressive and friend of Woodrow Wilson, and wrote a Pulitzer prize-winning bio of Wilson.

American Experience, PBS

Hedy Lamarr’s Forgotten, Frustrated Career as a Wartime Inventor

Description

Leslie Camhi, New Yorker 2017

Statement by Alexander Hamilton on Impending Duel with Aaron Burr

Letter written by Hamilton 28 June – 10 July 1804. He was mortally wounded by Aaron Burr on 11 July 1804.

Today’s Document, National Archives

Directory at Century Past History Resources

 

Your comments and feedback are welcome!