The Final Word

6, 7, 8

Learners will research the lives of key Americans, from the colonial period through Reconstruction, who advanced science and improved the common good. Learner research will be summarized using the obituary literary format.

PrintTwo Forty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • use biographies to understand the contributions of Americans who contributed to the field of science and the common good.
  • describe the purpose and characteristics of obituaries as historical data.
  • Newspaper obituary sections – one for each learner
  • Dark "funereal" clothing
  • Elvis CD or audio clip from the Internet (optional)
  • Learner copies of the handout Scoring Guide for the Scientists/Philanthropists Obituary 
  • Learner copies of the handout Scoring Guide for the Self Obituary



  • Anderson, Laurie H. Fever 1793. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000. ISBN 0-689-84216-3.
  • Brenner, Barbara. On the Frontier with Mr. Audubon. New York: Putnam Publishing Group, 1977. ISBN 0698203852.
  • Eric Weinstein’s World of Biography – Scientific Biography – Nationality – American
  • Fleming, Candace. Ben Franklin’s Almanac: Being a True Account of the Good Gentleman’s Life. New York: Simon & Schuster Atheneum, 2003. ISBN 0689-83549-3.
  • Lewis & Clark: Journey of the Corps of Discovery (from PBS)
  • Locust Grover the Samuel F.B. Morse Site
  • Mathematicians of the African Diaspora – Benjamin Banneker.
  • Murphy, Jim. An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793. Alton, England: Clarion, 2003. ISBN 0-395-77608-2.
  • Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. Plants on the Trail with Lewis and Clark. Alton, England: Clarion, 2003. ISBN 0618067760.
  • Profiles in Caring: Clara Barton
  • Rush, Benjamin. An Account of the Bilious Remitting Yellow Fever as it Appeared in the City of Philadelphia in the Year 1793.
  • Severance, John B. Thomas Jefferson Architect of Democracy. Alton, England: Clarion, 2998. ISBN 0585104492.


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Dress in black or dark colors as if attending a formal funeral. Read the obituary of a respected famous person or play a few bars from an Elvis Presley song the learners will recognize, and read his obituary found at

  2. Ask, "What did you just hear?" Have the learners define characteristics of, or differences between, biographies, memoirs, autobiographies, histories, obituaries, epitaphs.

    Define obituary as the "final word" about a deceased person, describing his/her attributes, deeds and accomplishments. Explain that historians and genealogists rely on information found in obituaries. Obituaries providing answers to "who, what, where, when, why and how" are especially helpful in sharing the person’s story.

  3. Distribute copies of the newspaper obituary section to learners. Ask learners to read one or two obituaries from their issue. Have the learners determine what type of information is found in obituaries.

    Show different styles of obituaries from websites listed in the bibliography.

  4. On the board, list the names of famous diverse Americans (from colonial times through Reconstruction) who excelled in some area of science and philanthropy. Below is a list of suggested persons. You may wish to include names of local/state citizens who lived during this same period and were accomplished scientists. Ask the learners to identify the people and what made them famous. What do they all have in common? (used science for the common good)

    • Thomas Jefferson – scientific farmer and President
    • Richard Allen – organized the African American community to help during the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia
    • Benjamin Rush – doctor during the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia
    • Benjamin Franklin - scientist and statesman
    • Benjamin Banneker – mathematician and astronomer
    • William Bartram – naturalist and travel writer
    • Lewis and Clark – leaders of the expedition into the Louisiana Territory
    • William Audubon – his nature paintings inspired the formation of the National Audubon Society
    • Robert Fulton – improved steam engines for maritime use
    • Eli Whitney – cotton gin
    • Samuel Slater – beginning of industrialization in the US
    • George Washington Carver – developed industrial applications for agricultural products including peanuts, sweet potatoes and pecans
    • James Smithson – Englishman who funded the Smithsonian Institution
    • Clara Barton – Civil War nurse, founder of the American Red Cross
    • Samuel F.B. Morse – patented the telegraph
    • Alexander Graham Bell – invented the telephone
  5. Distribute Scoring Guide for Writing the Scientist/Philanthropist Obituary (handout) and go over the information with the learners. Assign the learners to write an obituary in class for one of the scientists/philanthropists from the list, or to choose one of their own from the same time period. Plan two class sessions to visit the Library/Learning Resources Center, and/or computer lab for Internet searches and note-taking. Require three sources for learner obituaries.

  6. Have learners orally share the famous person’s obituary with the class. If more than one learner chooses the same person, those obituaries could be read one after the other and compared and contrasted. Discuss whether each person’s were philanthropic in aiding the common good. Why or why not? What was given by each of the historic personalities? (time, talent, treasure)

  7. Distribute Scoring Guide for the Self-Obituary (handout) and go over the information with the learners. Ask the learners to think about how they would like to be remembered. They may consider questions like:

    • Will you have a family?
    • Live in the same place as today?
    • Go to College?
    • Run for office?
    • Find a cure for ___?
    • Invent something?
    • Start a nonprofit organization?
    • Own or run a business?
    • Be a philanthropist?

    As a culminating activity, have learners write a "self-obituary" using the premise that they lived a long life and died at the age of 99. The obituary can be written in a style similar to the obituaries previously read. They can be serious, funny or heart-warming. Ask learners to orally share their own obituary with the class.


The obituary for a scientist or philanthropist and the self-obituary may be used as an assessment of learning for this lesson. Rubrics are included in Scoring Guide for the Scientists/Philanthropists Obituary (Handout One) and Scoring Guide for the Self Obituary (Handout Two).

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Give examples of how individuals have helped others.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Examine several examples of philanthropic traditions practiced in diverse cultures.
    2. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark MS.5 Identify positive philanthropic historic acts or events that helped build the community, state, and nation.