John‘s link trolling experiment is going as one would expect. Not only did many (most? all?) the participating bloggers post a link to it but it is now generating a lot of discussion based on who deserved/didn’t deserve to make the cut.

Venemous Kate weighs in here and here contending that the list is “myopic” because it doesn’t include enough women. Meryl sees it as proof of sexism in the blogosphere:

Notice also that there is not a single woman on the list of the “greatest figures in American history.” There is one honorable mention of a woman: Harriet Tubman.

Something is wrong with that picture.

I chose the women on my list for several reasons. I chose Susan B. Anthony because she was instrumental in the birth of the women’s rights movement. I chose Gloria Steinem because decades after Susan B. Anthony, it took women like Steinem to energize the women’s rights movement in our lifetimes so that women can enjoy the freedom they now have. I chose Rosa Parks because she was the flashpoint that got the Civil Rights movement started. I chose Eleanor Roosevelt because she was the first activist First Lady. In her time, she was hated or loved just as much as Hillary Clinton is today.

John responds to Meryl with a reasonable question,

. . . who should be taken off the list so Eleanor Roosevelt can get in the top twenty? Her husband? Thomas Paine? Ulysses S. Grant? Come on — get serious. Should we yank Alexander Hamilton or Teddy Roosevelt so Rosa Parks can get on the list? Do you think any of the women who didn’t make it were more significant than men like Andrew Jackson, Douglas MacArthur & Alexander Graham Bell who also didn’t make the final cut? You’ve got to be kidding me.

I’ll agree with John in spirit if not in tone. It’s hardly surprising that women didn’t make the list.

Indeed, it occurred to me that I didn’t have any women on the list but I couldn’t think of any to add. Gloria Steinem? Susan B. Anthony? They were minor figures compared to anyone on the main list. Rosa Parks? She was a symbol, not a major actor. Any black woman could have been planted on that bus to get arrested.

Why? There have been zero female presidents, unless you count Edith Wilson and Hillary Clinton. No female inventors on the scope of Edison. No businesswomen on the scope of Ford. No great female combat leaders. No female authors of founding documents. Because, gee whiz, women were discriminated against and kept out of prominent careers until about 30 years ago. That was the whole point of the women’s movement, right?

Aside from the gender issue, Meryl also writes,

I frankly forgot to list Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and for that I am ashamed.

. . . .I specifically did not choose Henry Ford because I don’t think he is a great American. His hatred and prejudice take away from his business and engineering acumen. Because of that, he doesn’t belong on the list. Neither do the Wright brothers (how did air travel contribute to the greatness of America? Hello, transcontinental rail line ring a bell?) or Teddy Roosevelt.

Hmm. By modern standards, Jefferson shouldn’t make the list because he had slaves. Personally, I think Henry Ford’s contribution to society outweighed the fact that he shared the prejudices of his times. And, indeed, MLK had all sorts of personal and political baggage outside his civil rights career. Frankly, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon did more for civil rights than either Parks or Martin Luther King, Jr. Because they were white males? No; because they were presidents. With great office comes great influence.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Paul says:

    Meryl sees it as proof of sexism in the blogosphere:

    She is right… She is sexist.

    Gloria Steinem? Can you say reality check?

    I love when the people accusing others are guilty of the those misdeeds themselves.

  2. Kevin Drum says:

    Margaret Sanger? In terms of social influence, she’s hard to beat.

    Of course, there were only a grand total of six on the list who weren’t politicians (counting all founding father types as politicans), which strikes me as a bit narrow to begin with.

    Of course, you have the usual problem of here of “greatest” vs. “most influential.”

    And in any case, you all forgot Matt Groening.

  3. James Joyner says:


    Indeed on Margaret Sanger. Very influential, and I’m glad of the widespread availability of birth control pills. Less thrilled about the insane number of abortions wrought or her eugenics theories.

  4. Hermetic says:

    I would argue that Ford did not merely “share the prejudices of his times.” He actively promulgated them. His anti-semitism was not passive and inconsequential, it was a core part of his political beliefs, and he put his money where his mouth was, publishing and American edition of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and donating extensively to the Nazi Bund, if I am not mistaken.

  5. Forget the phony issue about there not being a token woman on the list.The real scandal of this list is that out of 49 bloggers, 14 would not have chosen Washington and 18 would not have chosen Lincoln. I’m up in arms about that.