100 Heroes: Walt Whitman

The gay man who became one of the most influential American poets.

100 Heroes: Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman was an American poet, essayist, and journalist.

A humanist, he was a part of the transition between transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works.

Whitman is among the most influential poets in the American canon, often called the father of free verse. His work was controversial in its time, particularly his poetry collection Leaves of Grass, which was described as obscene for its overt sensuality. Whitman’s own life came under scrutiny because of his homosexuality.

Early life

Walt Whitman was born in 1819 in Long Island, and he grew up in Brooklyn.

Whitman left school at age eleven, and began working at a newspaper.

Early career

In 1835, at the age of 18, Whitman moved to Long Island. After an unsuccessful attempt at being a teacher, Whitman established his own newspaper, which he subsequently sold.

He continued to work in newspapers – becoming editor of newspapers such as the Aurora, and the Brooklyn Eagle – while also writing fiction and poetry.


In 1855, Leaves of Grass was published. This was a collection of poems by Whitman, and has become one of his milestone works.

During the Civil War, Whitman volunteered as a nurse in the army hospitals. He wrote extensively about the experience.

Final years

Whitman died in 1892. The cause of death were complications from tuberculosis.

Personal life

Whitman had intense friendships with many men and boys throughout his life.

Significant relationships included Peter Doyle, Bill Duckett, and Harry Stafford.

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