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August 1970

The Self-Made Man

Author Affiliations


From the Department of Neurology, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, and the Cincinnati General Hospital.

Arch Intern Med. 1970;126(2):309-310. doi:10.1001/archinte.1970.00310080115019

The Horatio Alger legend dies hard. In America much capital, particularly political, has accrued to birth in a log cabin or a reasonable facsimile thereof, providing one rises above it. Living rigorously in youth, it is supposed, may instill excellence by a sort of purification by fire. To have gone from quite ordinary beginnings to a position of responsibility by one's own efforts has been considered not only desirable but of itself is credited with character formation. Oliver Wendell Holmes commented on it presciently: "Everybody likes and respects self-made men. It is a good deal better to be made in that way than not to be made at all."

The origins of the log cabin mythology are not difficult to discern. During the early period of American history, hard physical work was a necessity. The Puritan ethic was work or starve, and a Puritan nightmare was that if no one

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