Considered by many to be America's greatest poet, Walt Whitman inspired the public with his writings on democracy and freedom, even as he drew controversy and condemnation for writing in overtly sexual language. Nicknamed "The Good Gray Poet", Whitman invited questions of intrigue and scandal through his writing, as several of his contemporaries suspected he had sexual relationships with other men. Whitman lived out his later life in solitude after suffering a severe stroke, but fascination about his life continued long after his death and his work remains prominent to this day. He is celebrated for his accessible language, defense of democracy, and frank discussion of sexuality, but he also has come to be criticized for his racist language and early opposition to abolition before later joining the anti-slavery movement. Read more about it!
The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.
The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.
|May 31, 1819||Walt Whitman is born in Long Island, NY.|
|March 14 - April 18, 1852||Foreshadowing his magnum opus "Leaves of Grass," Whitman publishes a six part novel, "Life and Adventures of Jack Engle," under a pseudonym in the New York Sunday Dispatch.|
|1855||Whitman publishes "Leaves of Grass".|
|1865||Whitman is fired from his government post by the Secretary of the Interior James Harlan on accusations of indecency, but he is hired to another post by his friend William Douglas O'Connor, who publishes a remarkable defense of him titled "Good Gray Poet".|
|March 1882||The District Attorney of Boston places interdict on "Leaves of Grass" on the grounds that it contains obscenities.|
|April 14, 1887||Whitman gives a lecture on President Lincoln at Madison Square Theatre, famously eulogizing him with the words "O Captain! My Captain!"|
|October 21, 1890||Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll gives a lecture at Horticultural Hall in Philadelphia on “Liberty and Literature” for the benefit of Whitman.|
|January 1892||Whitman publishes the final edition of "Leaves of Grass."|
|March 26, 1892||Walt Whitman dies and is buried in Camden, NJ.|