O’Connor, Flannery (1925–1964) Born and raised in Georgia, O’Connor wrote highly imaginative novels and short stories set in the rural South and peopled by dark characters who are both deeply alienated from humanity and obsessed with God and religion. Her fiction is idiosyncratic in the extreme, yet firmly based in southern regionalism and always philosophically provocative.
O’Connor, Sandra Day (1930– ) Raised on an Arizona ranch, O’Connor practiced as an attorney, served in the Arizona Senate, then as a superior court judge (1974–1979) and an appeals judge (1979–1981). Nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan, she was sworn in on September 25, 1981. O’Connor served until she retired in 2006 (when she was succeeded by Samuel Alito) and was known for her moderate conservative orientation.
Odets, Clifford (1906–1963) Born in Philadelphia, Odets was a stage actor during most of the 1920s and began writing plays in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. Leftist, even socialist in orientation, Odets’s plays made for high drama while appealing to the social consciousness of the audience. Their great strength was that their political orientation never overshadowed their humanity, as in his masterpiece, Awake and Sing (1935), which endures as a moving portrait of a family.
Oglethorpe, James (1691–1785) A professional British soldier, Oglethorpe entered Parliament in 1722 and, in 1729, chaired a committee on prison reform. This inspired him to found a North American colony that would offer the poor a new start and an alternative to debtor’s prison. It would also serve as a haven for persecuted Protestant sects and would be founded on generally utopian principles, including relative equality of wealth (no one would be permitted to own more than 100 acres) and the prohibition of rum as well as slavery. Georgia (as he called his utopia) was chartered in 1732 and founded the following year. The utopian provisions were quickly renounced by settlers, however, and Oglethorpe, disillusioned, returned to England in 1734.
Oglivy, David (1911–1999) Dubbed in the 1970s “the Father of Advertising,” Oglivy was certainly among the most influential and creative practitioners of the art and business of commercial persuasion. He had been born in England, falling into advertising through an early career in sales. He came to the United States just before World War II and, in 1949, founded his own agency. His early campaigns—especially those for Hathaway shirts and Schweppes beverages—made a permanent impression on American popular culture and changed the advertising industry forever.
O’Keeffe, Georgia (1887–1886) During her long career, O'Keeffe combined bold abstraction with images from nature to produce powerfully expressive paintings of great beauty, suggestive of erotic and emotional depths. She is most closely associated with imagery drawn from the desert of the American Southwest, but her works are universal rather than regional in appeal, a fusion of an organic vision with a modernist aesthetic.
Oliver, Joseph “King” (1885–1938) Oliver grew up on a Louisiana plantation and began playing the cornet in New Orleans in 1907. He was a bandleader by 1915 and moved to Chicago in 1916. The music he played was the earliest style of jazz, and in 1920 he hired young Louis Armstrong, who grew to his early maturity as a cornetist with Oliver. Oliver and his band are considered the foundation on which jazz was subsequently built by Armstrong and others.
Olmsted, Frederick Law (1822–1903) Olmsted was trained as an engineer, but earned his fame as a landscape architect with his design for New York’s Central Park in 1857. Universally acclaimed for this work—which combined an unerring urban aesthetic with the preservation of a genuinely wild element—Olmsted was hired to design city parks throughout the United States. His work gave rise to the “city beautiful” movement and was a welcome antidote to the blight of industrialization and urban sprawl that threatened the nation during the second half of the 19th century.
Oñate, Don Juan de (1550?–1630) A conquistador, Oñate established the Spanish colony of New Mexico in 1598 and served as its royal governor. He was a despot, obsessed (as many early Spanish explorers and settlers were) with finding the legendary Seven Cities of Gold in the New World. His explorations failed to find gold, but did chart vast regions of the American Southwest. Oñate’s harsh treatment of Indians and Spanish settlers alike resulted in his expulsion from his own colony. His sentence was subsequently reversed, but he was never restored to the office of governor.
O’Neill, Eugene (1888–1953) O’Neill was the son of an actor and a frail, opium-addicted mother. His unstable but emotionally rich upbringing would prove a rich source of dramatic material when he started to write for the stage, beginning with an early masterpiece of 1916, Bound East for Cardiff. By the time of his death in 1953, O’Neill had created some of the greatest plays of the 20th century, including Beyond the Horizon (1920), Anna Christie (1922), Strange Interlude (1928), Ah! Wilderness (1933), The Iceman Cometh (1946), and epic Long Day’s Journey into Night (produced posthumously 1956). His work is characterized by a lyrical, intensely personal vision that is nevertheless universal in application, dealing with remorse, forgiveness, betrayal, and faith. O’Neill was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1936.
Oppenheimer, J. Robert (1904–1967) A brilliant and charismatic theoretical physicist, Oppenheimer was tapped as director of the Los Alamos laboratory during World War II. His mission was to lead a large team of scientists in the Manhattan Project, which built the atomic bomb. The effort was a success—two bombs dropped on Japan ended the war—and Oppenheimer went on to direct the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton from 1947 to 1966. His opposition to the development of the hydrogen bomb (much more powerful than the atomic bomb) after the war led to accusations of disloyalty and his removal as adviser to the highest levels of government.
Osceola (1804–1838) Osceola was a Seminole chief and war leader who led the resistance to the removal of the Seminoles and closely allied Creeks from the Southeast to “Indian Territory” west of the Mississippi. His unifying leadership during the early part of the Second Seminole War (1835–1842) was both brilliant and highly effective. Despite a flag of truce, he was seized and imprisoned in 1837 and died in captivity.
O’Sullivan, John L. (1813–1895) In May 1845, New York Post editor O’Sullivan wrote an article in the United States Magazine and Democratic Review proposing annexation of the Republic of Texas. He declared: “It is our manifest destiny to overspread and possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.” The phrase “manifest destiny” electrified the nation and was instantly seized upon as a justification for United States’ possession of territory from the Atlantic to the Pacific—even if acquiring the land meant war. Most immediately, “manifest destiny” became a justification for the U.S.-Mexican War of 1846–1848.
Oswald, Lee Harvey (1939–1963) A disaffected U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Soviet sympathizer, and pro-Castro activist, Oswald was employed by the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas. From the sixth floor of the depository on November 22, 1963, at 12:30 p.m., he shot President John F. Kennedy and Texas governor John Connally as their motorcade passed below his window. The president died within a half hour; the governor recovered. In an escape attempt, Oswald shot and killed Dallas police officer J. D. Tippet and was himself shot to death on November 24, while in police custody, by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby. Both Oswald’s role in the assassination and Ruby’s killing of Oswald instantly drew the speculation of conspiracy and remain controversial to this day.
Otis, Elisha Graves (1811–1861) In 1852, this mechanic and inventor designed a “safety hoist” to aid in the installation of heavy machinery. The hoist had an automatic brake, which would prevent the load from falling if a cable broke. In 1853, he adapted this to passenger elevators, which he began manufacturing. The Otis elevator made practical the skyscraper, which, later in the century, would become the iconic feature of the American urban landscape.
Otis, James (1725–1783) A Massachusetts attorney and early advocate of American independence, Otis resigned as Boston’s chief enforcer of British taxes and duties, explaining his resignation in a speech of February 24, 1761, by declaring that “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” This phrase electrified and defined the American independence movement.
Outcault, Richard (1863–1928) Outcault was a popular illustrator who contributed to humor magazines in the late 19th century. When Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World debuted its color-reproduction press, Outcault’s drawing of a street urchin clad in a nightshirt was selected as the first color subject on February 16, 1896. The bright yellow nightshirt made such a sensation that the character was dubbed the “Yellow Kid” and became the basis of the first comic strip—soon a staple feature of American newspapers. Pulitzer’s rival, William Randolph Hearst, hired Outcault away from the World, initiating a bidding war for the cartoonist’s services. This highly publicized contest gave rise to the phrase “yellow journalism” to describe the sensational publishing practices of great rival papers vying for subscribers.
Owen, Robert Dale (1801–1877) The son of the English Utopian reformer and philosopher Robert Owen, Robert Dale Owen grew up in New Lanark, Scotland, his father’s model industrial/utopian community. In 1825, he immigrated to the United States with his father and was instrumental in founding New Harmony, Indiana, the nation’s most famous experiment in utopian living.
Owens, Jesse (1913–1980) Owens set a world record in the running broad jump that remained unbroken for a quarter century. An African American, he won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, each victory a stunning blow to Adolf Hitler’s contention of the superiority of the “Aryan race.”