Shaping History

Ida Tarbell, portrait c. 1900

Ida Tarbell

Ida Tarbell (1857-1944) WHO SHE WAS: Ida Tarbell was a pioneering investigative journalist, known for her groundbreaking exposés in McClure’s Magazine during the Progressive Era. Her most notable work, “The History of the Standard Oil Company,” unveiled the unscrupulous practices of the oil giant and became a cornerstone of muckraking journalism. WHAT S/HE SAID: Reflecting on the power of investigative journalism, Tarbell stated: “The truth is always an antagonizer of wrong. It looks wrong, sounds wrong, feels wrong, and the closer you get to it the stronger that feeling.” WHY S/HE MATTERED: Ida Tarbell’s fearless pursuit of truth and dedication to exposing corruption had a profound impact on American journalism. Her work shed light on the need for regulation and corporate accountability, influencing public opinion and inspiring subsequent investigative reporters.

Tecumseh, Visionary Leader of the Shawnee


Tecumseh (1768-1813) WHO HE WAS: Tecumseh was a Shawnee chief, warrior, and a staunch defender of Native American lands. He vehemently opposed the United States during the early 19th century and sought to establish an independent Indian nation east of the Mississippi River. He became an iconic figure for his leadership, his efforts to unite Native American tribes, and his role in the War of 1812 against the United States. WHAT HE SAID: “Live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life.” WHY HE MATTERED: Tecumseh’s legacy is that of a visionary leader who understood the threat posed by European-American expansion. His attempts to unite various tribes under a single confederacy demonstrated a forward-thinking approach to resistance

colored drawing of Tenskwatawa, also known as The Prophet

Tenskwatawa: The Prophet

Tenskwatawa: The Prophet (c. 1775-1836) WHO HE WAS: Tenskwatawa, commonly known as “The Prophet,” was a pivotal Shawnee religious leader. The younger brother of the famed Tecumseh, he catalyzed a spiritual and cultural renaissance among Native American tribes during the early 1800s. WHAT HE SAID: “The Great Spirit has made us all. He is for us, and we will not fight against Him.” Tenskwatawa’s teachings underscored the spiritual connection between the Native American people and their environment, acting as a moral compass in times of conflict and change. WHY HE MATTERED: Through his spiritual revival movement, Tenskwatawa laid the groundwork for indigenous unity and resistance against European-American expansion. His teachings fortified cultural preservation efforts and enhanced the resilience of indigenous beliefs, leaving an indelible impact that continues to inspire discussions about Native American history and spirituality.

colored drawing of Tenskwatawa, also known as The Prophet

Tenskwatawa (The Prophet)

Tenskwatawa (The Prophet) (1775-1836) WHO HE WAS: Tenskwatawa, known as “The Prophet,” was a Shawnee religious leader and the brother of the renowned warrior and diplomat Tecumseh. His teachings and visions played a pivotal role in the cultural and political awakening of Native American tribes in the early 19th century. WHAT HE SAID: Reflecting his spiritual and political influence, Tenskwatawa preached: “The Great Spirit has made us all. He is for us, and we will not fight against Him.” WHY HE MATTERED: Tenskwatawa’s spiritual revival movement and call for Native American unity laid the foundation for his brother Tecumseh’s efforts to resist European-American encroachment. His legacy underscores the importance of cultural preservation and the resilience of indigenous beliefs.

William Barret Travis: The Alamo's Defiant Commander

William Travis

William Travis (1809-1836) WHO HE WAS: William Barret Travis was a 19th-century American lawyer and soldier. At the age of 26, he commanded the Texan forces at the Battle of the Alamo during the Texas Revolution, where he perished alongside his men. His leadership and the letter pleading for reinforcements have become symbols of valor and sacrifice for the cause of Texan independence. WHAT HE SAID: “I shall never surrender or retreat… Victory or Death!” WHY HE MATTERED: Travis’s role at the Alamo made him a legendary figure in Texas history. His determination and the stand he took against overwhelming odds became a rallying cry for Texan independence and have been memorialized as examples of heroic resistance.

Sojourner Truth, Icon of Freedom and Equality

Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth (c.1797-1883) WHO SHE WAS: Sojourner Truth was an African American abolitionist and women’s rights activist. Born into slavery as Isabella Baumfree, she escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. After going to court to recover her son, she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man. She changed her name to Sojourner Truth in 1843 and became widely known for her oration skills, advocating for civil and women’s rights. WHAT SHE SAID: “I am not going to die, I’m going home like a shooting star.” WHY SHE MATTERED: Truth is a monumental figure in American history, symbolizing the strength and potential of change within oppressed individuals. Her famous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” delivered in 1851, challenged prevailing notions of racial and gender inferiority and advocated for equality. Her life and work have inspired countless individuals in the fight for

T'zu Hsi


T’Zu Hsi (1835-1908) WHO S/HE WAS: Tsu Hsi was popularly known in China as the West Dowager Empress. She was a powerful and charismatic figure who became the de facto ruler of the Manchu Qing Dynasty, ruling over the Manchu Empire for 48 years from her husband’s death in 1861 to her own death in 1908. WHAT S/HE SAID: The foreigners are like fish in the stew pan. For 40 years I have eaten bitterness because of them. WHY S/HE MATTERED: The Boxer Rebellion of 1900 was a key turning point of Tz’u Hsi’s reign. The Boxers were a secret society called the “Righteous and Harmonious Fists”—poor Chinese who blamed Westerners and their imperialism for their poor standing of living. First organized in 1898, they may have been tacitly supported by Tzu-Hsi’s government. Rising in rebellion in early 1900, the empress and her government both helped and hindered the revolt.

Harriet Tubman, Leader of the Underground Railroad

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman (c.1822-1913) WHO SHE WAS: Harriet Tubman was an American abolitionist, humanitarian, and an armed scout and spy for the United States Army during the American Civil War. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made some thirteen missions to rescue approximately seventy enslaved people using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. WHAT SHE SAID: “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” WHY SHE MATTERED: Tubman is celebrated for her courage, ingenuity, and tenacity. She became an icon of courage and freedom, leading many to safety and fighting tirelessly for women’s suffrage after the Civil War.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

Mark Twain (1835-1910) WHO S/HE WAS: Mark Twain was a famous author, satirist, essayist, newspaper contributor, and lecturer. He wrote about a myriad of topics, ranging from life along the Mississippi River, detailed in famous works such as _The Adventures of Tom Sawyer_ (1872) and _The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_ (1884), to a collection of essays written while abroad, to political essays. Twain was an influential writer of his time and remains so today. WHAT S/HE SAID: There must be two Americas, one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive’s new freedom away. WHY S/HE MATTERED: During the Spanish-American War, Twain became a fervent anti-imperialist, even joining the Anti-Imperialist League. His sentiments about that war and the war in the Phillippines were published nationwide.

President John Tyler, portrait

John Tyler

John Tyler (1790-1862) WHO HE WAS: John Tyler was the tenth President of the United States, who assumed office after the untimely death of President William Henry Harrison. Tyler was the first vice president to become president due to the death of his predecessor, setting a significant constitutional precedent. Known as “His Accidency,” Tyler’s presidency was marked by his firm belief in states’ rights and strict adherence to the Constitution. WHAT HE SAID: “I can never consent to being dictated to.” WHY HE MATTERED: Tyler’s presidency was significant for several reasons, including his annexation of Texas, which contributed to the geopolitical shaping of the United States. His vetoes of various bills also underscored the tensions between the executive branch and Congress, particularly within his own party, setting the stage for the politics of succession and the approach of the Civil War.

Martin Van Buren, the Eighth President of the United States

Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren (1782-1862) WHO SHE WAS: Martin Van Buren was the eighth President of the United States, a key organizer of the Democratic Party, and a principal architect of American political organization during the early 19th century. Before his presidency, he served as the Secretary of State and the Vice President under Andrew Jackson, playing a critical role in establishing the Jacksonian democracy. WHAT HE SAID: “It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn’t.” WHY HE MATTERED: Van Buren was significant for his adeptness at building coalitions and managing the intricacies of political operations. His presidency was marked by the Panic of 1837, an economic crisis whose origins and repercussions highlighted the complexities of the financial systems of the time. Despite his political acumen, his tenure was overshadowed by the financial panic and the subsequent depression.

Pancho Villa

Pancho Villa

Francisco “Pancho” Villa (1878-1923) WHO S/HE WAS: Francisco “Pancho” Villa was a Mexican rebel and one of the most prominent figures of the Mexican Revolution. WHAT S/HE SAID: My sole ambition is to rid Mexico of the class that has oppressed her and given the people a chance to know what real liberty means. And if I could bring that about today by giving up my life, I would do it gladly. WHY S/HE MATTERED: In response to raids on United States interests, President Woodrow Wilson sent 5,000 men of the U.S. Army under the command of General Frederick Funston who oversaw John Pershing as he pursued Villa through Mexico. Employing aircraft and trucks for the first time in U.S. Army history, Pershing’s force chased Villa until February 1917 without success.

George Washington (Lansdowne Portrait), Gilbert Stuart (1796 )

George Washington

George Washington (1732-1799) WHO HE WAS: George Washington served as a statesman, a Founding Father, the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, and notably, as the first President of the United States. His leadership and vision have positioned him as an indelible icon of American history. WHAT HE SAID: “Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.” WHY HE MATTERED: Washington’s significance lies not only in his military achievements but also in his refusal to seize power. His insistence on relinquishing the presidency after two terms set a precedent for the future of the republic. His contributions to establishing a stable and democratic government framework were invaluable in the nation’s formative years.

Valeriano Weyler

Valeriano Weyler

Valeriano Weyler (1838-1930) WHO S/HE WAS: General Valeriano Weyler was a Spanish soldier and commander of Spanish forces in Cuba in the 1890s. WHAT S/HE SAID: The good die young. WHY S/HE MATTERED: Valeriano “The Butcher” Weyler was notorious for his “reconcentration” policies in Cuba which sought to strip Cuban rebels of their abilities to live off the land and camouflage themselves in groups of civilians. The strategy had disastrous consequences. Unlike many concentration camps in the twentieth century, the idea was to keep the Cuban civilians alive and protected until the Spanish were victorious. Unfortunately at least 30% perished from lack of proper food, sanitary conditions, and medicines. The policy generated severe anti-Spanish feeling in the United States which helped propel it into war in 1898.

Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) WHO S/HE WAS: Woodrow Wilson was the twenty-eighth President of the United States, in office 1913-1921. Like Roosevelt before him, Wilson regarded himself as the personal representative of the people. He developed a program of progressive reforms and asserted international leadership in building a new world order. In 1917 he proclaimed American entrance into World War I a crusade to make the world “safe for democracy.” WHAT S/HE SAID: No one but the President seems to be expected … to look out for the general interests of the country. WHY S/HE MATTERED: Woodrow Wilson and his secretary of state, William Jennings Bryan, came into office with little experience in foreign relations but with a determination to base their policy on moral principles rather than the selfish materialism that they believed had animated their predecessors’ programs. Convinced that democracy was gaining strength throughout the world, they were eager


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