1819 - 1892

"Be curious, not judgmental."

- Walt Whitman

Unlike many other poets, Whitman came from the working class and celebrated its unique contributions to American ideals. His groundbreaking Leaves of Grass was released in eight complete editions spanning 1855 to 1892. Speaking both to, and in the voice of, the common man, it represents the greatest achievement of Whitman’s life and a benchmark in the evolution of American literature. Throughout its various reprints it alternated as a commercial flop, a critical favorite, a commercial success, and a scandal. (The 1882 edition was banned in Boston). A tome of profound influence, it is regarded by most literary historians as a towering work, commanding, and uniquely American. It is also almost universally interpreted as a paean to sexual expression and, in particular, a thinly veiled celebration of homoeroticism – so much so that one outraged critic denounced it for “that crime not to be mentioned among Christians.” Though a number of Whitman scholars have taken issue with the suppositions generally made about his sexuality and the ensuing characterizations of Leaves of Grass (aided by a bit of obfuscation to which Whitman himself admitted) the evidence – in the form of letters, personal notes and interviews – supports the contention that Whitman was gay and writing about sexual themes. Oscar Wilde, who met Whitman in America in 1882, wrote that there was "no doubt" about the great American poet's sexual orientation saying "I have the kiss of Walt Whitman still on my lips." Regardless of his personal life, the sheer power of his verse prompted one British reviewer to declare "You cannot really understand America without Walt Whitman, without Leaves of Grass.” Dubbed the first “Poet of Democracy” Whitman’s critical acclaim and reputation remain unrivaled in modern times.

Plaque Sponsor

Paul Highfield, Myron Mix, Yvette Pryor, Shannon Cunningham, Paul DeSousa, Patrick F. Torres, John L. Bohlander III. Laura Angelucci, Jennifer Baker, Chicago Mixtape and The Highfield Group

Lesson Plan


Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White

Faith Construct Agnostic

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch Civil War (1861-1865) Gilded Age (1865-1900) Victorian Era (1837-1901)

Field(s) of Contribution

Advocacy & Activism

Art, Music, Literature & Theater




Media & Communications



Social Justice

Social Sciences

US History

Commemorations & Honors

Posthumous Hall of Fame for Great Americans Inductee (1930)

U.S. Postal Service Famous Americans Series Commemorative Stamp (1940)

Delaware River's Walt Whitman Bridge Opened Near His Camdenn New Jersey Home (1957)

Depicted in Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman The Body Electric Episode as a Gay Man (1997)

First Private High School for LGBT Youth Dallas' Walt Whitman Community School (1997-2004)

Posthumous New Jersey Hall of Fame Inductee (2009)


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Original Biography Author
Victor Salvo
Biography Edited By
Owen Keehnen
Biography Vetted, Edited, and Certified By
Dr. Gregory Eiselein
Kansas State University
Image Rights Usage Granted By
G. Frank Pearsall
with permission of the Walt Whitman Archive and the Gay Wilson Allen Collection
Image Source for Bronze Casting
G. Frank Pearsall
with permission of the Walt Whitman Archive and the Gay Wilson Allen Collection
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell