Today in History: September 15
Robert Penn Warren
Writer, critic, and teacher Robert Penn Warren died on September 15, 1989. During his long and distinguished literary career, Warren was twice associated with the Library of Congress. In 1944-45, he served the Library as consultant in poetry and in 1986 Warren was named the first poet laureate of the United States.
Born in Guthrie, Kentucky, in 1905, Warren attended Vanderbilt University after an accidental eye injury caused him to forgo his appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. He roomed with Allen Tate at Vanderbilt and befriended Donald Davidson, as well as one of his teachers, John Crowe Ransom, forming a group of Southern poets called the Fugitives. From 1922-25, they published a bi-monthly magazine called The Fugitive. Several members of the group went on to urge preservation of Southern agrarian values in the 1930 manifesto I'll Take My Stand.
Warren studied at the University of California, Yale, and New College, Oxford, as a Rhodes scholar. He subsequently taught at several colleges and universities including Vanderbilt, the University of Minnesota, and Yale. With Cleanth Brooks and Charles Pipkin, Warren founded The Southern Review. Among the most influential American literary magazines of the time, it deeply influenced and fostered the development of Southern writers.
In Understanding Poetry (1938) and Understanding Fiction (1943), both written with Cleanth Brooks, Warren championed the "New Criticism"—a school of literary interpretation that approaches each work as an individual artistic production rather than a reflection of the author's personal or historical experience.
Warren's novels include Night Rider (1939)—his first published novel, At Heaven's Gate (1943), World Enough and Time (1950), Band of Angels (1955), The Cave (1959), and Wilderness (1961). All the King's Men (1946) used the career of Louisiana demagogue Huey Long to examine the corrupting nature of power. It received the 1947 Pulitzer Prize and the film adaptation won the 1949 Academy Award for best motion picture.
Warren twice won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry—in 1958 for Promises: Poems, 1954-1956 (1957) and in 1979 for Now and Then: Poems 1976-1978 (1978). His other poetry volumes include You, Emperors, and Others: Poems (1960), Audubon, A Vision (1969), Rumor Verified: Poems, 1979-1980 (1981), Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce… (1983), and New and Selected Poems, 1923-1985 (1985). His long narrative poem Brother to Dragons, a Tale in Verse and Dreams (1953) deals with the brutal murder of a slave by two nephews of Thomas Jefferson. The poetry of his later years touched on a variety of themes including aging, immortality, and nature.
In the spring of 1998, then Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky introduced Robert Penn Warren's daughter to a Library of Congress audience. Rosanna Warren read her poem "Song," calling it "an elegy" for her father.
A yellow coverlet
in the greenwood:
spread the corners wide to the dim, stoop-shouldered pines.
Let blank sky
be your canopy.
Use the Library of Congress to learn more about the life and times of Robert Penn Warren:
- Search on Robert Penn Warren in Freedom's Fortress: The Library of Congress, 1939-1953 to view correspondence to and from Robert Penn Warren.
- Examine images and sounds of the South during Robert Penn Warren's lifetime. See the following collections:
- America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA and -OWI, ca. 1935-1945
- Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920
- Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991
- Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections, 1937-1942
- Explore Southern Mosaic: The John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip. Like Robert Penn Warren, John and Ruby Lomax recognized the disappearance of America's rural South, so developed this collection to showcase and preserve the region's musical traditions.
- Search the Library of Congress Online Catalog on Robert Penn Warren for a list of works by the author—to include books, plays, and sound recordings.
- Search the Today in History Archive on writer to find additional features on American writers including pages on Warren's contemporaries Archibald MacLeish and William Faulkner.
William Howard Taft served as both president of the United States and chief justice of the Supreme Court. He was born on September 15, 1857, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Taft's father was a prominent Republican who served as secretary of war under President Ulysses S. Grant. The younger Taft began his political career in Ohio shortly after joining the bar in 1880. He served in the judicial branch of government—in Ohio in the superior court, as solicitor general of the United States, and in the federal Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
In 1900, President William McKinley appointed Taft chair of a commission to organize a civilian government in the Philippines—which had been ceded to the United States at the close of the Spanish-American War. He became the first civilian governor of the Philippines in July 1901 (under McKinley) and continued when Theodore Roosevelt became president in September, serving until 1904. In 1904 Roosevelt named Taft secretary of war. In this position he played a role in the construction of the Panama Canal and in establishing a protectorate in Cuba.
After serving nearly two full terms, Roosevelt declined another run for the presidency in 1908 and promoted Taft's candidacy as the next Republican president. With Roosevelt's help, Taft handily defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan.
Throughout his presidency, Taft contended with dissent from more liberal members of the Republican Party—many continued to follow the lead of former President Roosevelt's reform policies. Progressive Republicans openly challenged Taft in the Congressional elections of 1910 and in the Republican presidential primaries of 1912. When Taft won the Republican nomination from a party in disarray, the Progressives organized a rival party and selected Theodore Roosevelt to run against Taft in the general election. Roosevelt's Bull Moose candidacy split the Republican vote and helped to elect Democrat Woodrow Wilson.
Taft left the presidency and returned to the law as the Kent Professor of Constitutional Law at Yale University from 1912-21. Nominated by President Warren G. Harding, Taft served as chief justice of the Supreme Court—his lifelong dream—from 1921 to until he retired in 1930. In an effort to make the Court work more efficiently, he advocated passage of the Judiciary Act of 1925, or "Judges Bill"—enabling the Supreme Court to give precedence to cases of national importance.
Learn more about William Howard Taft:
- Examine several panoramic photographs featuring President Taft, including one of a dinner party Taft hosted while secretary of war. Search across the pictorial collections on William Taft to find more photographs of the president.
- The Library of Congress houses the papers of William Howard Taft. View the finding aid for more information.
- View the film, "William H. Taft in Panama" in Theodore Roosevelt: His Life and Times on Film which includes footage of Taft inspecting canal construction.
- Read Today in History features on U.S. presidents including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Search the archive on president to access these documents and more.