Authors: Doris Kearns Goodwin

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American historian

Author Works

Nonfiction:

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream, 1976

The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, 1987

No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, the Home Front in World War II, 1994

Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir, 1997

Biography

Doris Kearns Goodwin (born Doris Helen Kearns) is an American political historian noted for three award-winning studies on presidential lives (Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson) and a best-selling autobiographical account of her growing up in Long Island, amid the social changes of the 1950’s, as an avid fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers. She has also written numerous articles on politics and baseball for major news publications and served as a commentator or panelist for national television news programs. Her reputation, however, became tarnished early in 2002 amid substantiated charges that portions of her work The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys were plagiarized from several other sources.{$I[A]Goodwin, Doris Kearns}{$S[A]Kearns Goodwin, Doris;Goodwin, Doris Kearns}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Goodwin, Doris Kearns}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Goodwin, Doris Kearns}{$I[tim]1943;Goodwin, Doris Kearns}

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s parents, both native Brooklynites, moved to Rockville Centre, Long Island, shortly before she was born. Her father, a bank examiner for the state of New York, instilled in her a lifelong love of baseball and preoccupation with the successes and failures of the Brooklyn Dodgers. As Goodwin relates, her life was governed by the dual calendars of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Catholic Church. Because of her team’s repeated failure to win a championship, “Wait till next year” became a recurring anthem of her early years of devotion to the much-worshipped “Brooklyn Bums.” Doris’s mother was an avid book reader and took great pride in her role as a housewife. She was thirty-five when Doris was born, and she remained sickly from circulatory problems throughout her daughter’s early life. Goodwin lost her mother shortly after turning fifteen and had to cope with her father’s drowning his grief in alcohol.

Goodwin’s early years are revealed in great detail in Wait Till Next Year. Hers was a life preoccupied with the successes of Dodger greats Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, filled with fear of polio and nuclear holocaust, puzzled by McCarthyism and the execution of the Rosenbergs, and challenged by nontraditional media stars such as James Dean and Elvis Presley and controversial films like Blackboard Jungle (which she was forbidden to see). She was also impacted by her favorite teacher, Miss Austin, who taught civics and was able to re-create major historical moments (such as the death of Franklin Roosevelt) by using both emotion and tremendous skills in communication. When national crises hit, such as the integration of the Little Rock high school in 1957, Doris felt fortunate to have teachers willing to discuss the significance of current events. Thanks to her teachers, Goodwin relates, she never confused temporary leaders of the United States with the country itself. The halls of her school abuzz with little portable radios at World Series time, Goodwin relates her ecstatic moment when the “Brooklyn Bums” won the 1955 World Series. For once, fans did not have to say “wait till next year.”

Goodwin attended Colby College and graduated magna cum laude. She went on to attain a doctoral degree in government from Harvard University, where she was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow. In all, Goodwin spent ten years teaching courses in government at Harvard, including those on the American presidency.

Although active in the movement against the Vietnam War and author of an article on how to “dump Lyndon Johnson,” Goodwin was appointed in 1967 as a White House intern. When Johnson left the White House a year later, she accompanied him to his ranch to assist with his memoirs. The experience with the morose Johnson, concerned about his role in history, provided insights for Goodwin’s book Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream, which was critically well received as “a penetrative biography” and became a popular success. It was the Kennedy connection, however, that first earned Goodwin fame and fortune.

In 1975 Doris married Richard Goodwin, a writer who had been an adviser to both John and Robert Kennedy. He was noted for being the investigator who brought to light the 1950’s quiz show scandal. By 1977 Doris Kearns Goodwin had gained access to unpublished primary sources and Kennedy family associates, enabling her to complete a massive study, ten years later, on the Kennedy family. The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys was a tremendous success. It was on The New York Times best-seller list for five months and won a Literary Guild award. In 1990 it was translated into a six-hour television miniseries.

Goodwin’s third book, No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, the Home Front in World War II, a social-biographical study acclaimed for its sensitive insights, won a 1995 Pulitzer Prize and numerous other awards and was a best-seller for six months. Her fourth study, Wait Till Next Year, is a brilliant work of social history and autobiography which captured New York suburbia in the 1950’s in the midst of the Cold War, sociocultural changes, and fanatical devotion to the three New York baseball teams. It became a best-seller and a Book-of-the-Month Club selection.

Noted for her keen insights into presidents as well as baseball, Goodwin became a panelist on public television’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and a frequent news commentator for the NBC and MSNBC television networks. She has also served as a consultant for numerous documentaries on presidents Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Johnson and the history of baseball. Goodwin has raised three sons, sharing with them her love for baseball and her adulthood devotion to the Boston Red Sox. She became the first woman ever to enter the Red Sox locker room.

Problems began for Goodwin in January, 2002, as charges began to appear that portions of her famous first book on the Kennedys had been plagiarized from three other studies. Goodwin admitted to sloppy footnoting, more extensive than she first realized, and promised to issue a fully corrected edition of her work. The scandal led to a rapid departure from her television panel appearances and the dropping of honorary positions as well as speaking and commencement engagements.

BibliographyCrader, Bo. “A Historian and Her Sources.” The Weekly Standard, January 28, 2002. Provides a detailed discussion of problems with Goodwin’s study of the Kennedys.Jackson, Kenneth T. “The Power of History: The Weakness of a Profession.” The Journal of American History 88, no. 4 (March, 2002). A broad look at the state of the history profession in the aftermath of the Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Ambrose controversies.Lewis, Mark. “Plagiarism Controversy: Doris Kearns Goodwin and the Credibility Gap.” Forbes Magazine, February 27, 2002. A balanced account of the issues involved in controversy surrounding Goodwin’s first major work.
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