Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
Historian and lecturer Henry Steel Commager was born in Pittsburgh.
Prolific historian Henry Steele Commager was born in Pittsburgh in 1902. He was educated at the University of Chicago and did field research at Copenhagen. He became renowned for his writings and lectures on democracy and civil liberties, and also known for his readable style. He died in 1998.
Henry Commager was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on October 25, 1902. His parents were James Williams Commager and Anna Elizabeth Commager. In 1928, Commager married Evan Carroll and had three children: Henry Steel, Nellie Thomas McColl, and Elizabeth Carroll. In 1979, Commager was married again to Mary E. Powlesland.
Commager attended the University of Chicago, where he received a PhB in 1923, a MA in 1924, and a PhD in 1928. Commager also attended the University of Copenhagen and received an MA from Cambridge University. In 1945, he served with the U.S. Army Information and Education Division. His career spanned many decades, beginning in 1929 as a professor of history at Columbia and finishing as professor emeritus at Amherst College in Massachusetts in 1992. He also lectured at many prestigious universities such as Cambridge, Boston University, University of London, and Northwestern University. Commager was an esteemed historian and is world renowned for his grasp on the ideals of democracy and its applications in the United States. Commager's second book,The Growth of the American Republic (1931) (co-authored with Samuel Eliot Morrison), introduced him as an unorthodox but astute historian and established his readable style for students of history.
Commager had a prolific career lecturing about democracy and civil liberties. Commager's legacy lies in his passion for history, which is reflected in his ability to allow academics and student insight into the roots of democratic theory. He had a wide audience, which varies from academics to children. Through his books, essays articles, and lectures Commager left a straightforward commentary on the state of democracy over the past century that will remain valuable to historians and students. Commager was one of the strongest opponents to the anti-intellectual, cold war fear tactics of McCarthyism in the 1950s. Hiscomment fromCivil Liberties under Attack (1951) has become a timeless summation of the era's problems: "The great danger that threatens us is neither heterodox thought nor orthodox thought, but the absence of thought." During this time, he also began writing for young adults, publishingAmerica's Robert E. Lee in 1951.
Commager received many awards in his field from around the world. In 1929, he was awarded the Herbert B. Adams Award. In 1954, he received the Special Award from the Hillman Foundation and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1960. The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters gave Commager its Gold Medal award in 1972. He was a decorated Knight in the Order of the Dannebrog, an award given for conspicuous service to Denmark, in this case his doctoral dissertation on Danish reform movements. He was also a member of the War Department Commission on the History of the War.
Henry Steele Commager died on March 2, 1998, in Amherst, Massachusetts.
The Growth of the American Republic. London: Oxford UP, 1931.
Majority Rule and Minority Rights. London:Oxford UP, 1943.