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John Brown

The Significance of Facial Hair in American History

A recent anti-intellectual screed published in my local community paper suggested that historians do nothing more significant than inquire into the length of Walt Whitman’s beard. I took this insult as something of a challenge, and uncovered fascinating material regarding Whitman’s beard as a symbol, particularly of the poet’s “homosexuality.”1 Beyond Whitman, beards and facial hair in general have served as powerful cultural symbols for communicating sexuality, manhood, insanity, and divinity in American history. Read more