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American Pioneers and Trailblazers

July means fireworks, grilling, red-white-&blue popsicles . . . and celebrating American heroes! We all learned about George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in school, but have you ever heard about Major Taylor or Deborah Sampson? 

This month we are highlighting some of those lesser-known American pioneers who changed the course of American history. Some of these names you’ll recognize; others you might not. Some of them died hundreds of years ago; others are still alive today. And many of them are Hoosiers like us! Throughout the month of July, join us in reading about these American pioneers, and share your favorite American heroes with us on social media.

Places to Learn About American Pioneers

Hoosier Heroes

  • James Dean: Actor remembered as a symbol of teenage disillusionment in the 1950s.
  • Adam Driver: Actor from Mishawaka who was in the Marines and has received two Academy Awards and four Emmys.
  • Wes Montgomery: Influential jazz guitarist from Indianapolis; known for the technique of plucking strings with his thumb and playing octaves.
  • Cole Porter: Composer and songwriter from Peru, IN whose witty songs found success on Broadway
  • Gene Stratton Porter: Author and naturalist who advocated for conservation of wetlands in Indiana in the early 1900s; two of her homes are historical sites that you can visit.
  • Major Taylor: Cyclist from Indianapolis who set numerous world records in the 1890s and was the second Black athlete to win a World Championship.
  • Kurt Vonnegut: Writer from Indianapolis who served in World War II and is known for his dark humor and social critiques.
  • Madam C.J. Walker: African-American entrepreneur, philanthropist, and activist, and the first female self-made millionaire in the United States. 

Other American Heroes

  • Clara Barton: Nurse in the Civil War who founded the American Red Cross; was also an activist for civil rights and women’s suffrage.
  • Truman Capote: Influential novelist, screenwriter, playwright, and actor in the mid-1900s.
  • Shirley Chisholm: The first Black woman elected to the US Congress and the first woman and African-American to run for president.
  • X/Emma Gonzalez: American activist and advocate for gun control; a survivor of the Parkland shooting who co-founded the gun-control advocacy group Never Again MSD.
  • Dolores Huerta: Labor leader & civil rights activist who co-founded United Farm Workers in the 1960s and led the Delano strike of 5,000 grape workers, advancing union progress in the US.
  • John Lewis: Politician and civil rights activist who led the lunch counter sit-ins and Selma to Montgomery march in the 1960s.
  • Bass Reeves: Born into slavery, was the first Black deputy U.S. marshal and the inspiration for the Lone Ranger character; arrested more than 3,000 dangerous criminals.
  • Deborah Sampson: Disguised herself as a man to serve in the Revolutionary War; was the only woman to earn a military pension for serving in the Revolutionary War.