Wainwright, Jonathan (1883–1953) Wainwright was second in command to Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines at the outbreak of World War II. After MacArthur was ordered to evacuate, Wainwright was in command of the desperate defense of the island against overwhelming Japanese invasion forces. He held out as long as possible, making the invasion far more costly than the Japanese had anticipated, but finally surrendered on May 6, 1942. He and his command were held as prisoners of war under the cruelest of conditions until 1945. Wainwright received the Medal of Honor.
Wald, Lillian (1867–1940) In 1893, this American nurse and social worker founded the Henry Street Settlement in New York City’s Lower East Side to serve the health needs of impoverished immigrants. In the process, she singlehandedly created the profession of public health nursing. Her work with children’s health also prompted Congress to create the U.S. Children’s Bureau in 1912 to oversee and maintain national standards of child welfare.
Walker, Alice (1944– ) Walker grew up in a family of Georgia sharecroppers, began writing as a child, attended Spelman College and Sarah Lawrence, then, during the 1960s, became active in the civil rights movement. She also worked as a teacher and started writing for publication. She is a poet and essayist, but her best-known work is her fiction, including The Color Purple (1982), about a black woman’s coming of age in Georgia. The book won a Pulitzer Prize and was made into a highly successful film by Steven Spielberg.
Wallace, George C. (1919–1998) Wallace was elected Alabama’s governor in 1962 largely on his pledge to maintain racial segregation in his state. He served four terms, during which he became a national symbol of southern racism during the Civil Rights movement. In 1968, he ran for president on the American Independent Party ticket, and in 1972, while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, he was shot and paralyzed below the waist. In the 1980s, Wallace not only renounced segregation, but sought reconciliation with the black community.
Wallace, Henry A. (1888–1965) Wallace was an Iowa agricultural editor and expert, who, switching from the Republican to the Democratic Party, delivered predominantly Republican Iowa to Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential elections. Wallace served as FDR’s secretary of agriculture from 1933 to 1940, successfully formulating and administering bold New Deal initiatives in an agricultural economy devastated by the Depression. Wallace became vice-president during FDR’s third term (1941–1945), but Democratic conservatives (and others) objected to what they regarded as his increasingly leftist orientation. Harry S. Truman replaced him as vice president in FDR’s fourth term. When Truman became president after FDR’s death, he appointed Wallace secretary of commerce, but Wallace left the administration in protest of Truman’s hard-line anti-Soviet stance.
Walters, Barbara (1931– ) Walters began writing for NBC’s morning talk show, Today, in 1961 and was promoted in 1964 to the “Today Girl,” a decorative role she amplified into one of substance. From 1974 to 1978, she co-hosted Today, then signed a $1 million contract with ABC to co-anchor the news. This made her the highest-paid journalist of the time. From 1979 to 2004 she co-hosted the TV “magazine” 20/20 and became famous for her penetrating interviews with most of the world’s notables, ranging from film stars to world leaders. She enjoyed great success in obtaining interviews even with the most elusive figures.
Ward, Montgomery (1844–1913) In 1872, Ward, a prominent Chicago merchant, began distributing a 280-page catalog throughout the rural Midwest, seeking to expand his market to farmers unable to get into the city. The success of Ward’s mail-order retailing model inspired Richard W. Sears and A. C. Roebuck to begin their own catalog-based mail-order business in 1889, which became the giant of the new mail-order industry, transforming American retailing—and introducing “urban” goods throughout the country.
Warhol, Andy (1928?–1987) Warhol was born Andrew Warhola, probably in Pittsburgh. He became a commercial artist, an experience that inspired him to create works generally recognized as the first instances of the Pop Art movement. In 1962, he exhibited paintings of Campbell’s soup cans, Coca-Cola bottles, and wooden sculptures of Brillo soap pad boxes—all icons of everyday American life. The following year, he added the dimension of mass production to art through silk-screen printing. Warhol challenged the definition of art versus everyday banality by bringing the one to the other. He transformed himself into a Pop culture figure, as his New York studio became the gathering place for a variety of “underground” celebrities.
Warren, Earl (1891–1974) Warren, a California Republican, was nominated as chief justice of the Supreme Court by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953. Eisenhower assumed that Warren would bring a conservative cast to the court, but during his tenure—1953 to 1969—the high court introduced epoch-making social changes of a liberal nature, beginning with Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), which declared public school segregation unconstitutional and including the 1964 Reynolds v. Sims,which pegged representation in state legislatures to population, not geographical area, and the 1966 Miranda v. State of Arizona, which ruled that police officers, before questioning a suspect, must inform him of his right to remain silent and to have an attorney present. Warren also presided over the controversial Warren Commission in 1963–1964, which investigated the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Warren, Mercy Otis (1728–1814) Sister of James Otis, an early advocate of American independence, and married to James Warren, a Massachusetts political figure, Mercy Warren was a self-taught writer who drew on her proximity to events and personalities to write plays and poems about the American Revolution—while it was happening. Later, in 1805, she wrote the three-volume History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution, which remains valuable because of its intimate perspective on the conflict.
Warren, Robert Penn (1905–1989) Honored by being named the first official poet laureate of the nation in 1986, Warren is better known as a literary critic and novelist. Although most of his work is literary rather than popular in nature, his 1946 novel All the King’s Men, loosely based on the life and career of Louisiana’s Huey Long, became a bestseller, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1947, and was made into an Academy Award-winning film in 1949.
Washington, Booker T. (1856–1915) Born a slave and impoverished after emancipation, Washington nevertheless managed to acquire an education, become a teacher, and, in 1881, gain appointment to head a newly established vocational school for blacks in Alabama. He transformed Tuskegee Institute into the center of black education in the United States. Washington believed that economic opportunity was more important to black progress than social equality, and he was willing to forgo (at least temporarily) the latter to achieve the former. This so-called “accommodationist” position was appealing to many whites, but alienated many younger black activists (most notably W. E. B. du Bois), who refused to settle for less than complete equality. Despite this, Washington was widely regarded as the voice of black America from 1895 until his death.
Washington, George (1732–1799) This Virginia planter turned soldier then national leader richly deserved the title frequently given him: Father of His Country. As a young Virginia militia colonel, Washington fought in the first battles of the French and Indian War, was active in the independence movement, and was chosen by the Continental Congress to lead the newly formed Continental Army. He was overall commander of the American military effort during the revolution. Victorious, he could have become king or dictator, but chose instead to retire to his beloved plantation, Mount Vernon, until he was called on to preside over the Constitutional Convention and then to become first president of the United States under the new Constitution. He served two terms, from 1789 to 1797, in effect creating the office of the chief executive even as he led the nation through its infancy.
Washington, Harold (1922–1987) While in his second term in the U.S. Congress, Washington agreed to run for mayor of Chicago in 1983, defeating in the Democratic primary incumbent Jane Byrne and Richard M. Daley, son of the late long-time mayor, Richard J. Daley. He then went on to defeat the white Republican challenger in the general election, in which voters turned out in record numbers. Washington faced much opposition in the mostly white City Council, but he was nevertheless elected to a second term. He died in office seven months into that term.
Watson, James D. (1928– ) During the early 1950s, this Chicago-born geneticist and biophysicist worked in England with Francis Crick on the puzzle of DNA structure. In 1953, Watson made the breakthrough discovery that the principal DNA components were linked in pairs. This insight led him and Crick to establish the double helix molecular model for DNA, which quickly gave rise to an explanation of how the molecule encodes and transmits genetic information. Watson and Crick (with Maurice Wilkins) shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.
Watson, John B. (1878–1958) In his 1913 essay “Psychology as a Behaviorist Views It,” Watson defined psychology as the science of human behavior, which could and should be studied in the laboratory with scientific rigor—just as one would study the behavior of animals. Watson went on in other works to codify behaviorism as the objective experimental study of the relation between environmental stimuli and human behavior. This approach dominated psychology in America throughout the 1920s and 1930s.
Watson, Thomas J., Sr. (1874–1956) In 1924, Watson, who was president of CTR (Computing Tabulating Recording Company), a maker of tabulating machines, renamed his firm IBM—International Business Machines—and began to lead the company’s rise to the position of world’s leading maker of innovative electromechanical calculating devices, collation and sorting machines, typewriters, and other machines for business. In 1940, IBM participated in the development of the Mark I, considered the first modern programmable computer.
Wayne, “Mad Anthony” (1745–1796) A brilliant American commander during the American Revolution—his boldness suggested by his nickname—Wayne’s military masterpiece came after independence had been won. During 1786–1794, the Shawnee, Miami, Ottawa, and other tribes resisted white settlement of parts of present-day Ohio and Indiana. U.S. Army and militia forces suffered repeated defeat until Wayne formed, trained, and led a new force, winning the Battle of Fallen Timbers (in present-day Ohio) on August 20, 1794. The victory opened the vast Ohio country to settlement.
Wayne, John (1907–1979) Born Marion Michael Morrison in Winterset, Iowa, Wayne first appeared in silent Western films in the late 1920s and, in 1930, first starred as “John Wayne” in The Big Trail, directed by Raoul Walsh. From that time until his death, Wayne played (usually) cowboys and other figures of the American West and, especially during and after World War II, soldiers. For millions of fans, he was the image of the strong, stoic American masculine ideal, a man of deeds rather than words, who lived by an unshakable moral code.
Webster, Daniel (1782–1852) An attorney who argued before the Supreme Court, a U.S. congressman from Massachusetts (1813–1817 and 1823–1827), senator (1827– 1841 and 1845–1850), and secretary of state (1841–1843 and 1850–1852), Webster was celebrated as the greatest orator of his day. During January 19–27, 1830, he engaged Senator Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina in a series of debates on the doctrine of states’ rights. Webster held that the individual states were sovereign only where their power was not qualified by the Constitution and further argued that the Constitution and the federal government were not sovereign over the states, but over the people of the United States. The Webster-Hayne debates established the opposing concepts of government that would lead to the outbreak of the Civil War.
Webster, Noah (1758–1843) The first American lexicographer, Webster wrote books that not only endowed American English with an identity distinct from British English, but advanced the proposition that spelling, grammar, and usage were not absolute, but rather based upon living language as actually spoken at a particular time and in a particular place. Webster democratized the dictionary.
Weems, Mason Locke (1759–1825) Often called Parson Weems, Mason Locke Weems was a traveling book salesman and a writer. In 1800, he published The Life and Memorable Actions of George Washington, inserting into fifth edition (1806) of this extraordinarily popular work the entirely fictitious story of how young George chopped down his father’s favorite cherry tree then owned up to the act because (he said) “Father, I cannot tell a lie.” The story caught on as a parable of the incorruptible character of the future “Father of His Country.”
Weinberger, Caspar (1917–2006) “Cap” Weinberger served as President Reagan’s secretary of state from 1981 until his resignation on November 23, 1987. He presided over an extraordinary expansion of the American military in accordance with Reagan’s hard line against what he called the Soviet “evil empire.” Recent historians believe that Weinberger’s massive military spending program forced the Soviet Union to overspend its faltering economy in an attempt to keep pace. This weakened the Soviet Union, bringing about, first, a thaw in the Cold War and, ultimately, the collapse of Communism. Weinberger ended his tenure as defense secretary embroiled in the Iran-Contra Affair, the major scandal of the Reagan administration. Indicted for his role in Iran-Contra, he was pardoned by Reagan’s successor, George H. W. Bush, before he could be prosecuted.
Welch, Joseph (1890–1960) Welch was a civilian attorney for the U.S. Army when it was under investigation by Joseph McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. On June 9, 1954, the 30th day of the nationally televised “Army-McCarthy Hearings,” McCarthy attempted to smear one of Welch’s junior attorneys, implying that he had Communist ties. Welch squashed the attempt, then rebuked McCarthy: “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” Welch then cut off McCarthy’s bid to renew his attack by demanding that the chairman “call the next witness.” The gallery burst into applause, and the American television audience saw McCarthy for what he was: a reckless bully who built his career on destructive innuendo.
Welles, Orson (1915–1985) At 26, Welles directed—and starred in—Citizen Kane (1941), based loosely on the life and career of media magnate William Randolph Hearst and considered by most critics of film the greatest American movie ever made. In addition to telling a compelling story, the film introduced innovations in narrative, cinematography, lighting, and editing—all of which exerted a profound influence on film. Although Citizen Kane was the apogee of Welles’ career, he had also earned fame—and notoriety—for his radio plays, especially his 1938 adaptation of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, which used the format of a news broadcast, projecting such realism that it caused widespread panic among listeners who believed the earth was being invaded by Martians.
Welty, Eudora (1909–2001) Welty was born, raised, and lived in the Delta town of Jackson, Mississippi, and created a body of fiction focused on this region. Welty’s characters are drawn with realistic precision—she was one of the great writers of regional dialect—but their situations partake of universal aspects of human relationships.
West, Benjamin (1738–1820) One of the most important of early American painters, West reversed the usual situation—in which an American painter studied abroad then returned to America—by getting the bulk of his artistic training in America, supplementing it by study in Italy, then settling in England, where he was celebrated as a painter of historical and mythological subjects. His patron was no less than King George III. West, who was a founder of the Royal Academy in 1768, had an extensive influence on history painting in England.
Westinghouse, George (1846–1914) Westinghouse’s first major invention was the air brake, which he patented in 1869 and which made rail travel safe and comfortable. Toward the end of the 19th century, Westinghouse developed the innovation for which he is best known, alternating current (AC) generation, which (against much opposition, including that of Thomas Edison) he deemed far more practical for commercial power generation than traditional direct current (DC). It is thanks to Westinghouse that the United States soon adopted the AC standard.
Westmoreland, William (1914–2005) A distinguished officer in World War II and a rising star afterward, Westmoreland directed military operations in the Vietnam War from 1964 to 1968, the peak years of the conflict. Repeatedly requesting larger and larger forces, he was a lightning rod for antiwar protest. Under his command, paradoxically, the U.S. Army won every battle in Vietnam, yet nevertheless lost the war to an enemy who, repeatedly beaten, would not accept defeat.
Weston, Edward (1886–1958) Weston started his photographic career making “pictorial” pictures, imitative of Impressionist paintings, but by 1915 he began to make sharply focused, straightforward photographs and, in conjunction with this, formulated an entire aesthetic theory of photography. He developed a style of great purity and directness, always using a large-format camera, never enlarging negatives, and never cropping them. His influence over 20th century American photography was profound.
Weyerhaeuser, Frederick K. (1834–1914) Born in Germany, Weyerhaeuser immigrated to the United States when he was 18. He worked in an Illinois sawmill, which he purchased after its owner was wiped out in the financial panic of 1857. From this beginning, Weyerhaeuser built an empire of lumber forests (some two million acres), sawmills, paper mills, and other wood-products processing facilities.
Wharton, Edith (1862–1937) Born Edith Newbold Jones, Wharton lived among the New York City gentry, which became the focus of her most important novels, including The House of Mirth (1905) and the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Age of Innocence (1920). Within the confines of this select universe, Wharton found boundless emotion to explore as well as the often exquisite tension between the individual and his social milieu.
Wheatley, Phillis (circa 1753–1784) Wheatley was born in West Africa and taken to America as a slave in 1761. She was purchased by a Boston tailor as a servant for his wife. The couple treated her virtually as one of the family and allowed her to learn to read and write. She began to compose poetry at age 14 and was first published in 1770. A collection, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, was issued in London in 1773.
Whistler, James Abbot McNeil (1834–1903) Best known for his Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1: The Artist’s Mother (1871)—familiarly called “Whistler’s Mother”—Whistler was born in America but studied in Paris and then lived most of his adult life in London, where he achieved his greatest fame. His paintings are often titled quite abstractly—“Symphony in White No 1,” and so on—reflecting Whistler’s belief in creating art for art’s sake, without reference to any other intellectual or moral purpose. As influential as his paintings were—they constituted the avant-garde of his time—even more important were his eloquent critical and theoretical writings about art.
White, Theodore (1915–1986) A distinguished journalist and successful novelist, White is best known for his two insider accounts of critical presidential campaigns, The Making of the President, 1960 (1961) and The Making of the President, 1964 (1965). Intimate histories of the Kennedy and Johnson campaigns, they combine the skill of a journalist and the sensibility of a novelist with the understanding of a historian to present the politicians not as abstractions but as people caught in critical moments of history.
White, William Allen (1868–1944) Born and raised in Emporia, Kansas, White was dubbed the “Sage of Emporia” for his journalism, especially his editorials, which appeared in the Emporia Gazette, making this small-town newspaper internationally famous. White embodied the best of small-town America, a mixture of optimism and liberal Republicanism with an outlook that, while parochial, was also enlightened and tolerant. His most famous editorial, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” (August 15, 1896), was a critical attack on populism and was widely credited with helping moderate Republican William McKinley defeat populist Democrat William Jennings Bryan in the presidential election of 1896.
Whitefield, George (1714–1770) Whitefield was an Englishman who came to America in 1738 as a Methodist evangelical missionary. He traveled widely throughout the country, preaching with an emotional eloquence that made him a prime mover of the “Great Awakening,” a major revival movement in the British-American colonies.
Whitman, Marcus and Narcissa (1802–1847; 1808–1847) On September 1, 1836, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, together with another Methodist missionary, H. H. Spaulding, and their families, founded the first American settlement in the Oregon Territory. This was the prelude to a torrent of far-western settlement dubbed “Oregon fever” however, on November 29, 1847, the Whitmans and 12 others were killed by Indians (who blamed them for spreading a deadly measles epidemic). The “Whitman Massacre” drew federal attention and military forces to Oregon, which further hastened its settlement.
Whitman, Walt (1819–1892) Whitman was a mostly self-taught newspaper editor and schoolteacher, whose Leaves of Grass, published in its first version in 1855, is perhaps the most original collection of verse ever written. The poems, whose long, unrhymed lines were inspired by operatic arias, embodied the spirit of democratic America, moving Ralph Waldo Emerson to write to Whitman, “I greet you at the beginning of a great career.” Whitman spent his life continually reshaping, revising, and enlarging Leaves of Grass through several editions until just before his death in 1892.
Whitney, Eli (1765–1825) In 1793, Yale University graduate Eli Whitney, who was working as a tutor at Mulberry Grove, a Georgia plantation, patented the cotton gin, a device he designed to automate the removal of seeds from short-staple cotton, making cotton cultivation extremely efficient and profitable. Whitney’s invention had two profound effects: it made cotton king in the South, and it increased the demand for slave labor to pick cotton, thereby ensuring the continuation of slavery as a southern institution. Whitney realized little profit from the cotton gin—which was widely pirated—but made a fortune selling rifles to the U.S. Army in 1797, producing them with interchangeable parts, so that they could be rapidly assembled by unskilled workmen. It was a prelude to true mass production.
Whittier, John Greenleaf (1807–1892) Whittier was a New Englander, whose early career, from 1826 to 1832, was devoted to journalism and poetry, and whose middle years (1833–1842) were taken up with his work as an abolitionist. Later in life, he returned to poetry, producing his most-beloved work, Snow-Bound in 1866.
Wigglesworth, Michael (1631–1705) Wigglesworth immigrated from England to America in 1638, graduated from Harvard College, and began preaching in Massachusetts in 1653. He wrote rhymed poetry expounding Puritan doctrine, the most famous of which was the book-length ballad The Day of Doom: or a Poetical Description of the Great and Last Judgment (1662), a horrific evocation of Judgment Day, which became a popular sensation in the British-American colonies and was the first American bestseller.
Wilder, Thornton (1897–1975) Wilder focused on small places and specific events to convey universal truths of human existence and human nature. In his 1927 novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey, he used the collapse of an obscure Peruvian bridge in the 18th century to examine the lives of five persons killed in the tragedy. In his most famous work, the play Our Town (1938), Wilder peered into the lives of the inhabitants of a small American town, evoking moving elements of their common humanity.
Wilentz, Sean (1951– ) Since 1979, Wilentz has taught at Princeton, where he is the George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History. Generally regarded as one of the nation’s greatest living historians, he created a sensation with his May 2006 article on President George W. Bush in Rolling Stone magazine titled “The Worst President in History?”
Willard, Frances (1839–1898) In addition to founding the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, Willard was a leader of the national Prohibition Party. Her work helped to create the political climate in which national prohibition was enacted by the 18th Amendment in 1919.
Williams, Bert (circa 1876–1922) Williams was born in the Bahamas and raised in California. He partnered with another black performer, George W. Walker, in 1895 to create an enormously successful comedy team. Williams’s greatest success was in the Ziegfeld Follies, where he played a dim-witted black stereotype character in blackface make-up—because his own complexion was not sufficiently dark for the stereotype. Williams’s performances—especially his dryly fatalistic signature song, “Nobody”—were always charged with a poignancy that reflected the racial bigotry in which he worked.
Williams, Roger (1603?–1683) A radical minister in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Williams broke with orthodox Puritan doctrine by advocating elements of religious tolerance. On September 13, 1635, Bay Colony governor Roger Winthrop banished him, and in June 1636, Williams founded Rhode Island on land he legally purchased from the local Native Americans. He established the colony on principles of the separation of church and state (“Coerced religion stinks in God’s nostrils,” he declared) and as a haven of religious tolerance.
Williams, Tennessee (1911–1983) Despite his sobriquet, Williams was born Thomas Lanier Williams in Columbus, Mississippi—not Tennessee—and he made his Broadway breakthrough in 1944 with The Glass Menagerie, a play about social decay, dreams, and disappointment. His next play, A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), was an even bigger sensation, setting forth the themes that occupied Williams throughout his career: the portrayal of a world of frustrated desire underlying a surface of decayed Southern romance and genteel manners.
Williams, William Carlos (1883–1963) Williams grew up in New Jersey and became a pediatrician, practicing lifelong in Rutherford, New Jersey, while writing a unique body of poems and prose, in which he revealed within the mundane and even the ugly—the detritus of modern civilization—the beauty of vitality and passion. His masterpiece, the five-volume poem Paterson, is a complex vision of this New Jersey industrial city as the embodiment of humankind and of modern man in America.
Wilkie, Wendell (1892–1944) Wilkie left the Democratic Party because he believed President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal brought too many government restraints on business. In 1940, as a Republican, he ran unsuccessfully against FDR, who was bidding for his third term. During World War II, he saw himself in the role of the “loyal opposition” and did much to promote the early war effort. In 1943, he wrote One World, a book advocating postwar international cooperation. Wilkie’s view helped prevent the kind of Republican isolationism that had swept the country after World War I.
Wilmot, David (1814–1868) Although he was a Democrat, this Pennsylvania congressman supported abolition, and proposed on August 8, 1846 a proviso (actually originated by Jacob Brinkerhoff of Ohio, but promoted by Wilmot) to outlaw slavery in any territory acquired from Mexico as a result of the U.S.-Mexican War. Wilmot attempted to attach the proviso to various bills, but it was always defeated. Nevertheless, its introduction gave birth to the Free Soil Party, which led to the founding of the antislavery Republican Party.
Wilson, Woodrow (1856–1924) Thomas Woodrow Wilson abandoned the practice of law to become a professor of American history and political science, was a prolific author on these subjects, and rose to the presidency of Princeton University. He was elected governor of New Jersey in 1910 and proved to be such an effective reformer that he earned the Democratic presidential nomination in 1912. He handily defeated both incumbent Republican William Howard Taft and third-party challenger Theodore Roosevelt. During his first term, Wilson introduced a variety of reform legislation, including the Sixteenth Amendment, which provided for a federal income tax. He also steered America on a resolutely neutral course during World War I (the “Great War”), which had begun in Europe in July 1914. Reelected in 1916, however, he led the country into the war (April 1917), in the belief that U.S. participation would give the country (and him) a strong hand in reshaping the world for a lasting peace. After the armistice, Wilson assumed a major guiding role in shaping the Treaty of Versailles, which included the founding of the League of Nations, an international body intended to resolve all future conflicts peacefully (for which Wilson received the 1919 Nobel Prize for Peace). A Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, however, refused to ratify the treaty or the League, Wilson took his case to the public in a cross-country whistle-stop lecture tour, during which he collapsed from exhaustion. After suffering a massive stroke on October 2, 1919, he was severely disabled, leaving his wife, Edith Gault Wilson, to manage many of the affairs of government for the rest of his second term.
Winchell, Walter (1897–1972) Winchell (who originally spelled his name Winchel) was a vaudeville entertainer who became a part-time gossip columnist in 1927. This quickly evolved into a full-time job as people responded to his rapid-fire, telegraphic style, which embodied the latest slang. By the 1930s, Winchell was nationally syndicated in the papers and, beginning in 1932, had a national radio program as well. He delivered news and gossip, was highly opinionated, and had access to all the nation’s movers and shakers. From the 1930s through the 1950s, he wielded tremendous influence. He crusaded for social justice (as in his campaigns against racism and the rise of Hitler), but by the 1950s he became an arch-conservative and a major apologist for Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Winfrey, Oprah (1954– ) Winfrey was the product of a broken home, but overcame adversity early on to become a TV news anchor at age 19 in Nashville, Tennessee. She rose through jobs in larger television markets, and in 1984 moved to Chicago as host of A.M. Chicago, transforming the failing program into a popular hit. In 1985 it was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show then syndicated nationally the following year. Since then, Winfrey has built a media empire, becoming one of the most popular and influential figures on television—as well as the publisher of a national magazine and the head of a major production company.
Winthrop, John (1588–1649) One of England’s persecuted Puritans, Winthrop joined the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1629 and was elected first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. From the founding of the colony until 1648, he was chosen governor 12 times and was regarded by the colonists as a stern but loving father. Without doubt, his strong hand helped to ensure the survival and prosperity of the colony, but he was also a force for Puritan intolerance and came into conflict with such advocates of liberality and non-orthodoxy as Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson.
Wirt, William (1772–1834) Wirt first came to national prominence as the prosecutor in Aaron Burr’s 1807 trial for treason, and in 1817 President James Monroe named him attorney general. He served for 12 years, through the administration of President John Quincy Adams, and permanently transformed the position into a powerful one by identifying and prosecuting important cases for the government. Wirt was also an author of note, publishing in 1817 The Life and Character of Patrick Henry, which published for the first time many of Henry’s most famous speeches. Some believe that Henry’s ringing “Give me liberty or give me death!” speech was actually invented by Wirt for his book.
Wister, Owen (1860–1938) Although he was an easterner, Wister earned his fame as an author of westerns, most notably the 1902 novel The Virginian, which introduced into American culture the leading elements of the enduring popular picture of the cowboy, including the cowboy’s upright code of ethics, his naïve way with women, and the showdown gun duel.
Wolfe, Thomas (1900–1938) A native of Asheville, North Carolina, Wolfe tried unsuccessfully to become a playwright, then turned to fiction, creating in a very short time four long novels that were based in large part on his own coming of age. Lyrical, rhapsodic, and epic, Wolfe’s fiction deals with time and memory as well as growing up in America. William Faulkner thought him the greatest novelist of his generation—rating himself second.
Wolfe, Tom (1930– ) Wolfe earned instant fame with his first book, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (1964), a collection of essays that reported on (and satirized) American fads and personalities of the early 1960s. This was followed by The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968), a chronicle of the psychedelic drug culture of the later 1960s. These works established Wolfe as a hip, irreverent verbal virtuoso, who applied the techniques of a novelist to journalism, creating what was soon dubbed the “New Journalism.” Wolfe continued to apply this technique The Right Stuff (1979), about the early U.S. manned space program, and he also wrote more conventional novels, which satirized aspects of contemporary culture.
Wood, Grant (1892–1942) Iowa-born Wood depicted not the impressive landscapes of the eastern or western mountains, but the humbler surroundings of his native Midwest, creating an art movement known as Midwestern Regionalism. His approach was highly stylized, even geometric, and slyly satiric, as in his classic American Gothic of 1930, which has become a familiar icon of “middle-American” values and mindset.
Wood, Leonard (1860–1927) Wood began his military career as a civilian contract surgeon, later becoming a medical officer. He served as military governor of Cuba (1899–1902), introducing a host of educational, judicial, and health reforms, then, in 1910, became chief of staff of the army—a remarkable achievement for a medical officer. He bucked the prevailing American isolationism to advocate preparedness after the outbreak of World War I in Europe and set high standards for transforming civilians into soldiers and officers. In 1921, he was named governor general of the Philippine Islands, serving there until 1927.
Woodhull, Victoria Claflin (1838–1927) Born into a family of impoverished eccentrics, Victoria Claflin was part of her family’s traveling medicine and fortune-telling show, continuing in this even after she married Canning Woodhull when she was 15 years old. Moved by a vision of the ancient Greek orator Demosthenes, Victoria Woodhull met shipping and rail mogul Cornelius Vanderbilt, who was deeply interested in spiritualism. Backed by him, Woodhull began publishing a magazine and launched into a variety of reform movements, which made her a national sensation. These included women’s suffrage, free love, and, finally, what she called “mystical socialism.” In 1872, the highly visible Woodhull became the first woman to run for president when the Equal Rights Party nominated her.
Woodward, Bob (1943– ) With Carl Bernstein, Woodward made journalism history—and changed American history—with investigative reporting, in the Washington Post, of the Watergate break-in, which led directly to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon in 1974. With Bernstein, he also coauthored a book on Watergate, All the President’s Men (1974), and an inside account of the collapse of the Nixon presidency, The Final Days (1976). More recently, on his own, Woodward wrote two books on the George W. Bush presidency, Bush at War (2002), about the war in Afghanistan, and Plan of Attack (2004), about the genesis of the U.S. invasion in Iraq. Both contain remarkable “insider” information—a hallmark of Woodward’s work.
Woodward, C. Vann (1908–1999) A professor of American history at Johns Hopkins (1946–1961) and Yale (1961–1977), Woodward was regarded as the most important analyst of the post-Civil War history of the South. His landmark 1955 book, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, demonstrated that legal segregation in the South was not rooted in time-honored Southern custom (as apologists claimed), but was the deliberate product of legislation that followed the defeat of Populism as recently as the 1890s. Woodward’s argument provided a cultural basis for the federal desegregation legislation of the 1950s and 1960s by demonstrating that, historically, integration, not segregation, was the norm—even in the South.
Woolman, John (1720–1772) Woolman and his father, English Quakers, immigrated to New Jersey when young Woolman was 21 in 1741. Three years later, John Woolman began the first organized antislavery campaign in America by preaching against slavery throughout the colonies.
Wright, Frank Lloyd (1867–1959) Wright served an apprenticeship with the great architects Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler and in 1892 designed his first building, the Charnley House, in Chicago. This structure contained elements Wright developed into the “Prairie style”—perhaps best exemplified in Chicago’s magnificent Robey House (1907)—featuring a broad, low roof, strong horizontal lines, and harmonious integration of design elements, inside and out. The Prairie Style became the most influential basis of advanced 20th century residential design in America, and Wright became the nation’s most celebrated architect.
Wright, Orville and Wilbur (1871–1948 and 1867–1912) On December 17, 1903, at Kill Devil Hill, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville Wright flew a 750-pound aircraft he and his brother, Wilbur—partners in a Dayton, Ohio, bicycle shop—designed and built. Its 12-horsepower gasoline engine, which they also designed, propelled the airplane for 12 seconds a few feet above the ground over a distance of 120 feet.
Wright, Richard (1980–1960) Born and raised in Mississippi poverty, the grandson of slaves, Wright moved north during the Depression and began writing under the auspices of the Federal Writers’ Project. His two most famous books, the 1940 novel Native Son (1940) and his 1945 autobiography, Black Boy (1945), were the first books by an African American to embody social protest. They were a prelude to a dominant movement in African American literature after World War II.
Wythe, George (1726–1806) Wythe was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1746 and became active in the independence movement. A delegate to the Continental Congress, he participated in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. As a chancery judge (appointed in 1778), Wythe was an ex officio member of the Virginia supreme court, and, in Commonwealth v. Caton (1782), he was the first U.S. judge to assert that a court could refuse to enforce unconstitutional laws. A great jurist, he was also mentor to great jurists and leaders, including Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and Henry Clay.