Public Program- Debby Applegate

Lectures and Performances
Tuesday, April 24, 2007 - 7:30pm

The Most Famous Man in America: Henry Ward Beecher
by Debby Applegate

The Most Famous Man in America
Today he is remembered as the baby brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the blockbuster novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, but in his lifetime Henry Ward Beecher was praised by great men such as Mark Twain, Ralph Waldo Emerson and President Abraham Lincoln as "the most influential man in America." The charismatic Beecher found international fame by shedding his father's fire-and-brimstone theology and instead preaching a gospel of unconditional love and healing, becoming one of the founding fathers of modern American Christianity. Beecher inserted himself into nearly every important drama of the era -- among them the antislavery and women's suffrage movements. And then it all fell apart. In 1872 Beecher was accused of adultery with one of his most pious parishioners and the salacious legal trial that followed became the most widely covered event of the century, garnering more newspaper headlines than the entire Civil War. Beecher survived, but his reputation and his causes suffered devastating setbacks that echo to this day.

Debby Applegate is the author of The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher (2006) on which this lecture is based. This book won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for biography and was chosen as one of the 100 notable books of 2006 by the New York Times. Applegate's writing has won her numerous prizes and fellowships and has appeared in publications ranging from the Journal of American History to the New York Times. She has taught at Yale and Wesleyan universities. Commenting upon her upcoming lecture, Applegate said, "It is especially fitting to speak here on the heels of winning this prize since the generosity of the Antiquarian Society has been so important to my book. For a historian the Antiquarian Society is like Aladdin's cave; here I discovered Henry Ward Beecher's college essays, a picture of his long-burned-down high school, and one-hundred-and-fifty year-old gossip magazines, just the kind of details that make a biography come alive. Frankly, it wouldn't have been much of a book without the AAS."

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