After six unsuccessful attempts to mark their arrival to the North Pole, the exploratory team—composed of Robert Peary, Matthew Henson, Ootah, Seegloo, Ooqueah, and Egingwah—succeeded in their endeavor on April 6, 1909. Like many great achievements, however, this one too was mired in controversy. Why did any member of the team, let alone someone as essential as Matthew Henson, fade into relative obscurity?
Wanting to learn more about the expedition and the people involved, I decided to search our online library catalog. It seemed we had access to a few junior biographies and junior non-fiction books, but I couldn’t immediately get my hands on them. In situations like these, I like to use our databases, which offer 24/7 access to fantastic resources.
Considering the element of controversy, Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints, opens a new window was a great place to start. This database excels at providing resources that represent complex social issues from a variety of perspectives and at many reading levels. Searching “Matthew Henson” and sorting by Lexile Level, I was able to find a relatively short biography with a lot of great detail about the final expedition. So who was the first American to reach the North Pole?
Accounts indicate that Robert Peary’s struggle with Leukemia saw him seated in one of the dogsleds while Henson forged ahead, and, that consequently, Matthew Henson must have been the first American to reach the North Pole. But upon reaching Camp Jesup--which was thought to have marked the North Pole, Robert Peary surmised that the camp was actually a few miles short of their goal. Allegedly, Peary set out early the following morning with one of the Inuit team members to reach the North Pole first.
First or second, the bottom line was that Matthew Henson did not receive the recognition he deserved upon returning home to the U.S. He was an essential member of the team, yet when he returned home, he faded into relative obscurity. The good news is that as time passed and racial attitudes changed, Matthew Henson’s crucial role in the expedition was eventually recognized and celebrated.
If you would like to learn more about the expedition or some other event in history, give Gale in Context: Opposing Viewpoints, opens a new window a try!
If you'd like to learn more about how to get the most out of Gale in Context: Opposing Viewpoints, have a look at this quick tutorial, opens a new window and/or call one of our reference librarians, opens a new window!
"Matthew A. Henson." Encyclopedia of World Biography Online, Gale, 1998. Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints, link.gale.com/apps/doc/K1631002979/OVIC?u=lln_ptamm&sid=OVIC&xid=dc56f4c1. Accessed 10 Mar. 2021.