A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Henry Commager received a Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago in 1928. For the next sixty-six years Commager would be employed as a college professor, first at New York University (1926-1938), then at Columbia University (1938-1956), and then finally at Amherst College (1956-1994). Commager's career is probably most noteworthy for the extraordinary amount of material he published and the extent to which he used history as a means of informing public discourse.
A strong believer in informed political activism, Commager worked hard to transcend the traditional barrier that separated scholars from the public at large. He lectured extensively, wrote hundreds of articles and columns, and frequently campaigned for political candidates whom he supported. In the early 1950s, Commager railed against the erosion of civil liberties in the name of anti-communism, making him a popular target for Senator Joseph McCarthy and others. Later he would steadfastly oppose the Vietnam War, further earning him the enmity of the political right who labeled him a socialist radical. Notwithstanding these attempts to misrepresent his views, Commager continued to support vocally causes and candidates in which he believed. In 1960 Commager joined with his colleague, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., to swing the support of the so-called "liberal elite" behind John F. Kennedy's candidacy. Remaining an active writer and educator almost until his death, Commager only retired from the Amherst faculty in 1994. He died four years later, at the age of 96. Commager's notable publications include Freedom, Loyalty, Dissent (1954) and Freedom and Order (1966).
Sources: "Henry Steele Commager: American Public Intellectual, 1902-1998." Harvard Square Library. Internet on-line. Available From http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/unitarians/commager.html; American National Biography Online. Internet on-line. Available From http://www.anb.org.
Recommended citation: Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and the Election of 1960: A Project of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, ed. by Allida Black, June Hopkins, John Sears, Christopher Alhambra, Mary Jo Binker, Christopher Brick, John S. Emrich, Eugenia Gusev, Kristen E. Gwinn, and Bryan D. Peery (Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 2003). Electronic version based on unpublished letters. .
For more information, visit The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers home page at https://erpapers.columbian.gwu.edu/.
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