Educator and author. Has taught at Yale University and Wesleyan University.
Contributor to periodicals, including the New York Times and the Journal of American History.
While still an undergraduate student at Amherst College, historian Debby Applegate decided to write a thesis paper on a famous alumnus of her college, the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher. The project took on a life of its own, however, and Applegate worked on it all through college and for years after that. After twenty years of research and writing, she completed The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher. Less well known today than his sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, the reverend was, as Applegate's title declares, more famous than many of his contemporaries. The son of a famous Calvinist preacher, the younger Beecher was more moderate than his father and took up the cause of abolition. He also deemphasized the threat of Hell in his sermons and replaced it with a moderate message of forgiveness and redemption for those who asked for it. With this kind, Christian message, Beecher soon won wide public popularity, and eminent men such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Samuel Clemens, and Abraham Lincoln "assumed upon meeting him that Beecher was the greater man," as a Kirkus Reviews writer related. Unfortunately, Beecher was not a saint, but rather a very human person. His downfall came when he was accused of having an affair with a parishioner. The case went to trial in 1875, and although Beecher was acquitted, the scandal did irreparable harm to his reputation.
Critics of The Most Famous Man in America praised Applegate's book for its erudition and sympathetic portrayal of the now largely forgotten Beecher. Although New York Times writer Michael Kazin felt that the author sometimes gets bogged down by providing a surfeit of details on Beecher's personal life, the reviewer asserted: "Besides her deep knowledge of nineteenth-century culture and politics, Applegate adeptly gets to the core of her subject's character, often with telling quotations." Kazin concluded that "by illuminating Beecher's position in history, Applegate has produced a biography worthy of its subject." A Publishers Weekly contributor likewise felt that "this assessment of Beecher is judicious and critical. Applegate gives an insightful account." And in Booklist, June Sawyers concluded: "Applegate sympathetically portrays this larger-than-life figure as appealingly human."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, June 1, 2006, June Sawyers, review of The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher, p. 24.
Christian Science Monitor, July 11, 2006, Chuck Leddy, "Beecher: Abolitionist, Preacher, Lover," review of The Most Famous Man in America.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2006, review of The Most Famous Man in America, p. 443.
New York Times, July 16, 2006, Michael Kazin, "The Gospel of Love," review of The Most Famous Man in America.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 25, 2006, Len Barcousky, "Fame and Shame: Beecher Sex Scandal Rocked 1875 America," review of The Most Famous Man in America.
Publishers Weekly, April 24, 2006, review of The Most Famous Man in America, p. 49.
History Wire,http://www.historywire.com/ (July 30, 2006), "Book Alert," review of The Most Famous Man in America.
Week Magazine,http://www.theweekmagazine.com/ (June 27, 2006), review of The Most Famous Man in America. *