Walt Whitman was arguably one of America’s most significant and groundbreaking poets. He was born on May 31, 1819 into a working class family in West Hills, New York. Whitman was the second son of Walter Whitman Sr. who was both a carpenter and a farmer. The Sr. Whitman was never very successful at either occupation; however, he moved his family to Brooklyn in 1823 in order to follow a career as a house builder.
Whitman attended elementary school in Brooklyn, and at the age of eleven, he began to work in a local office as a clerk. At the age of twelve, he began to learn the printers trade and fell in love with the ‘written word’. Whitman, who mostly taught himself, avidly read the works of Shakespeare, Dante and Homer. Over the next few years, he worked as a printer at the Patriot and Stars newspapers in Brooklyn until in 1836, when a fire demolished the industry. When Whitman turned seventeen, he started teaching at a schoolhouse in Long Island where he taught for five more years.
In 1841, after working as a teacher, Whitman turned to journalism as a full time career. He founded a weekly newspaper called the Long-Islander, and later edited many of Brooklyn and New York papers. It was in 1848 when he left the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and instead became editor of the New Orleans Crescent. On his return to Brooklyn later that year, after witnessing the extreme cruelty of slavery in the slave markets back in New Orleans, he founded a “free-soil” newspaper, the Brooklyn Freeman. He then continued to develop the exclusive style of poetry that later astonished such authors as Ralph Waldo Emerson.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Whitman wrote freelance journalism and visited the wounded at New York-area hospitals. In December of 1862, he went to Washington, D.C. to care for his brother who had been wounded in the war. Overwhelmed by the sight of so many soldiers suffering, he decided to stay and work in the hospitals. He also took a job as a clerk for the Department of the Interior, which was terminated when the Secretary found that Whitman was the author of Leaves of Grass. However, Whitman never gave up.