Wednesday, March 31, 2010

So Long Women’s History Month! Here's "A Word to the Wives"

With Women’s History Month coming to a close, I thought I would post a little video that explores how far women’s roles in American life have come. Here is “A Word to the Wives,” about two enterprising women who attempt to “trick” their husbands into buying them new kitchens. The film was made by companies looking to advertise their new kitchen appliances in the 1950s, and operates under the assumption that all women are housewives and all men can’t manage to operate kitchen appliances without a woman present. This film is a throwback in more ways than one, and definitely managed to entertain me when I first found it last week. At the time, I was looking for any video on women’s history, and found this the same day that my own oven caught on fire and died. This film entertained me and I hope it will make you laugh too.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Happy Maryland Day!

Today in 1634, settlers first arrived at the land that King Charles I of England chartered to Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore. The colony was named for the King’s wife, Henrietta Maria, and was the first proprietary colony in what is now the United States.

Find out more about Maryland Day at the Library of Congress

[Image via]

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In the Army Now – Elvis Presley Joins the Army

Today in 1958, Elvis Presley was conscripted into the U.S. Army as a private at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas. He wished to be treated like any other soldier during his stint in the army saying: “The Army can do anything it wants with me.” He was adamant about taking on regular duties, and turned down offers to serve as mainly an entertainer to the troops (which would have also allowed him to keep in touch with the public). The army wasn’t prepared for the media attention Elvis’ conscription would create, and a small army of reporters descended on Fort Chaffee on the first day to see Elvis take his oath, try on his uniform and cut his hair.
            Elvis served mainly in Germany during his two- year stint in the service. Although he wanted to be treated like everyone else, he did have certain privileges. For a time, he lived apart from the base in his own apartment with family and friends. He also was able to provide his base with televisions and bought an extra set of fatigues for everyone in his unit (and donated his army pay to charity).
            Two interesting developments occurred while Elvis was in the army: he learned about amphetamines and was introduced to karate. The interest in karate would continue and later become a part of his stage routine. The interest in and use of amphetamines would later have serious consequences for his health, and contributed to his death. Beyond these developments, he also met a girl named Priscilla during his time in Germany who he would later marry. Interestingly, in the video below he claims there was nothing serious between them.
            I think it was John Lennon who said that once Elvis entered the army, his career was never the same. Elvis had those same fears, and worried about his own ability to recover his career after leaving the service in 1960. From 1960-1967, Elvis made a series of mostly laughable films, and moved further away from making serious rock and roll. He would try to recapture his musical career with his 1968 comeback special, but it was never really the same. Here is a video showing footage of Elvis’ first few days in the army.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Health Care Reform Timeline

Here is an interactive timeline from the NY Times that shows the past attempts at health care reform. What do you think of the newly passed bill?

OK Enters National Vernacular

 On this day in 1839, the initials "O.K." are first published in The Boston Morning Post. Meant as an abbreviation for "oll correct," a popular slang misspelling of "all correct" at the time, OK steadily made its way into the everyday speech of Americans.
During the late 1830s, it was a favorite practice among younger, educated circles to misspell words intentionally, then abbreviate them and use them as slang when talking to one another. Just as teenagers today have their own slang based on distortions of common words, such as "kewl" for "cool" or "DZ" for "these," the "in crowd" of the 1830s had a whole host of slang terms they abbreviated. Popular abbreviations included "KY" for "No use" ("know yuse"), "KG" for "No go" ("Know go"), and "OW" for all right ("oll wright").
Of all the abbreviations used during that time, OK was propelled into the limelight when it was printed in the Boston Morning Post as part of a joke. Its popularity exploded when it was picked up by contemporary politicians. When the incumbent president Martin Van Buren was up for reelection, his Democratic supporters organized a band of thugs to influence voters. This group was formally called the "O.K. Club," which referred both to Van Buren's nickname "Old Kinderhook" (based on his hometown of Kinderhook, New York), and to the term recently made popular in the papers. At the same time, the opposing Whig Party made use of "OK" to denigrate Van Buren's political mentor Andrew Jackson. According to the Whigs, Jackson invented the abbreviation "OK" to cover up his own misspelling of "all correct."
The man responsible for unraveling the mystery behind "OK" was an American linguist named Allen Walker Read. An English professor at Columbia University, Read dispelled a host of erroneous theories on the origins of "OK," ranging from the name of a popular Army biscuit (Orrin Kendall) to the name of a Haitian port famed for its rum (Aux Cayes) to the signature of a Choctaw chief named Old Keokuk. Whatever its origins, "OK" has become one of the most ubiquitous terms in the world, and certainly one of America's greatest lingual exports.

New Presidential History Page!

Ever wondered which president made the first audio recording? Which president starred in the first video with sound recording? You can find out now on the new presidential history page. On this new page at you can read important speeches from each president and also enjoy audio and video clips from important political moments in the 20th and 21st centuries. From FDR's fireside chats to Nixon sweating through his first debate with JFK, you will find it all at the new presidential history page.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Once Upon a Time, Republicans Advocated Health Care Reform

Yesterday, Congress passed the much- debated health care reform bill. I can’t really remember the last time an issue so polarized the Congress, and the nation at large. After its passage, Democrats hailed health care reform as historic legislation in line with Social Security and Medicare. On the other hand, Republicans panned the bill calling it a “financial Frankenstein.” No matter what your views on its passage, I think we can all agree that it is historic legislation that will certainly be remembered as a fundamental part of Obama’s presidency. Over the weekend, the president and other proponents of the bill were out plugging it across the country, and the president’s words in particular inspired me to do a little research.
In a speech this weekend at George Mason University, President Obama said that the call for health care reform began with a Republican president, Teddy Roosevelt, which was later echoed by another Republican president, Richard Nixon. I wanted to know if these claims were in fact true, or just an attempt to couch his legislation in a broad sense of bi-partisanship. After a little research, it turns out that there were once actual Republicans who approved of sweeping health care reform.
When Theodore Roosevelt was running for a third term as part of the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party in 1912, national health insurance was a plank in his party’s platform. Health Care was listed as the 11th issue under “Social and Industrial Justice.” (  In 1974, Republican President Richard Nixon also advocated major Health Care reform. In his letter to Congress, he advocated a federal program of health care reform that does not look that different from the legislation that was passed yesterday. Read Nixon’s letter to Congress here

What are your thoughts on the bill?

[Image via fusewashington]

Friday, March 19, 2010

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter?

Throughout the week, Abraham Lincoln has appeared in the news (NYTimes in connection with a new book that just hit stores. The book is entitled Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and was written by the same author that recently had a hit with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This latest effort at reimagining Abraham Lincoln has already managed to polarize Lincoln scholars (as if that took much anyway). As the Daily Beast reported, the founding director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library is none too pleased with the book that casts the Great Emancipator as an axe wielding vampire hunter. In an email interview, Robert Norton Smith described the idea of Lincoln as a vampire hunter as “the most inane idea imaginable.” He went on to add that the book is, “a true bastardization of the Lincoln story.”
That said, Doris Kearns Goodwin (author of Team of Rivals) is said to be a fan. Is it wrong to be a fan of such an insane and silly interpretation of Lincoln, as Norton Smith suggests? I think not. I haven’t read the book, but I think generally speaking anything that encourages greater interest in American history is a good thing. Maybe Lincoln himself may have enjoyed the book; he certainly had a taste for the macabre.
He was known to recite the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, and even wrote his own Poe-like true crime short story entitled “Remarkable Case of Arrest for Murder,” which was published in a local newspaper. 
            While I agree that the idea of Lincoln as a “vampire hunter” is laughable and probably an attempt to cash in on the popularity of all things vampire related, I think the historians who are taking aim at this book are missing the point. Maybe someone who never would have thought to read a book on Lincoln or the Civil War era will read this and want to learn more about American history. 

Will you read Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter?

            [Images via bestdamncreativewritingblog and avocado-owlet]

Monday, March 15, 2010

Rock and Roll!

Tonight marked the induction of the class of 2010 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This year’s class included The Stooges, The Hollies, Genesis, ABBA, Jimmy Cliff and record executive David Geffen. Read about highlights of the ceremony here. A theme throughout the night was not only the survival of the artists and bands over a few hard living decades, but the lingering questions over the survival of the music industry itself. 

Sunday, March 14, 2010

$50 Dollar Bill Debate

In recent weeks, there has been a call by some Americans to replace the image of Ulysses S. Grant on the $50 bill with the image of Ronald Reagan. Here is an interesting op-ed in the NY Times by historian Sean Wilentz which argues that President Grant deserves to remain on the $50 bill. What do you think?

[Image via Oldpicture]

Friday, March 12, 2010

Radio, Radio - FDR and His First Fireside Chat

Today marks the anniversary of President Roosevelt’s first fireside chat. FDR delivered his first radio address to the American people only eight days after taking office in 1933. He opened his address saying “I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking.” He wanted to explain his decision to close the nation’s banks for one day to prevent massive withdrawals by panic stricken Americans. At the time, the United States was at the lowest point of the Great Depression. FDR used these carefully calculated radio chats to address as many American households as possible about his plans to fix the nation, while also allaying the nation’s fears. The number of listeners to these addresses was always strong as about 90 percent of Americans owned radios in their homes.
FDR went on to deliver about 30 “fireside chats” in his twelve- year presidency – so called because they invoked the image of the president sitting by a fireside in a living room talking simply to the nation. He not only used them to explain his New Deal policies, but also to explain America’s role in the war after the start of World War II. They were consciously drafted with the simplest of language and often involving anecdotes so as to appeal to every American, no matter what level of education.
The idea that the president would talk directly to the people in their homes, and not through a press release or journalist’s column was groundbreaking. Every president since FDR has used radio addresses as a way to inform Americans about their administration’s policies and the state of the nation. President Obama has engaged the newer technologies of our time to continue this tradition of a weekly conversation with the public by posting videos of his addresses online. I can only imagine how future presidents will engage evolving technologies to communicate with us in different ways…

To read and listen to FDR’s first “fireside chat” – click here.

* I apologize for the lag time in posting, but I am working on several new pages to add to the website. One of them will be a “Presidential History” page which will allow you to engage presidential history through text, audio and video. I’ll keep you posted…

[Image via moah]

Monday, March 8, 2010

I Am Woman Hear Me Roar – Women’s History Month Resources

To celebrate Women’s History Month, I thought I would point out some great sites where you can learn a little about the contribution of women to American history.
            The National Women’s History Project is an educational non-profit organization devoted to promoting the contributions and achievements of women to society. They have all kinds of educational resources on their site, which can be accessed here
 The Library of Congress has a slue of resources available for Women’s History Month. Visitors can view portraits of influential women from the twentieth century at the National Portrait Gallery, or listen to music by female musicians who broke musical barriers at the Smithsonian
There are also a host of resources available to teachers to help integrate the historical contribution of America’s women into classrooms. Check those out here
One cool example of a resource available for teachers and history lovers alike are census records. Here is a description of a now famous resident of the Dakota territory in 1880.  This page shows the census records of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the popular Little House on the Prairie series (and inspiration for a deliciously cheesetastic 1970s TV show). In this census record, she is listed along with her parents and sisters as a member of the Ingalls household. Under “occupation” the census record has listed her main job as “help in keeping house,” just like her mother and sisters.   This trait certainly speaks to the time, but also allows us to have a conversation with the past. How are our lives different today?  Laura was 13 when this census was taken. Think of the innumerable ways in which our expectations for today’s 13-year old girls are radically different than in 1880.
2010 is a census year, so you may soon be answering questions about the occupants of your household to help make sure that each state gets a correct allotment of representatives in the House of Representatives. It may seem like prying to have someone knock on your door and ask you personal questions, but just think, it may help a future historian tell your story someday.

[Image via Indiana]

Thursday, March 4, 2010

“...The Better Angels of Our Nature.” - President Lincoln Inaugurated

Imagine you are finally elected to the political office to which you’ve always aspired, only to have half the country secede as a result. This was the case when Abraham Lincoln was elected to the presidency in 1860. The country was in a precarious position when Lincoln took the oath of office on March 4, 1861, and Lincoln had already confronted the inherent danger personally. He had taken a long train ride from his home in Springfield, Illinois fearing he might never see his friends again. He even broke from his family to make the last part of the journey alone and in secret, as his security team believed he might face attempts on his life while traveling through Maryland. Despite these risks, Lincoln broke from his security advisors in deciding to ride to the capital in an open carriage with President Buchanan on the morning of his inauguration.
Many southern states had already seceded, and Lincoln was trying to hold on to the border states without placating to southern demands. He was in a position that no other president had ever faced in American history. However, rather than appear bitter or angry, his first inaugural address is cloaked in words of reconciliation. “We are not enemies, but friends,” said Lincoln. “We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
With his inauguration, Abraham Lincoln was taking on arguably the toughest task every faced by an American president - namely, how to reunite and reconcile a nation that was coming apart at the seams. Rather than vilify southerners as enemies, he emphasized their shared ties to the union, a tone he would recall in his second inaugural when the war was coming to a close.

            To read Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address in its entirety, click here.

[Image via unomaha]

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

“…And the Home of the Brave” – The Star-Spangled Banner Becomes the National Anthem

Today in 1931, Congress officially designated “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem. Prior to the congressional designation in 1931,the Army and Navy already designated the song as the American national anthem. Francis Scott Key composed the lyric during the War of 1812, as he was held overnight in a British ship in Chesapeake Bay. From where he was held, he could watch the British bombard Fort McHenry. The next morning, he could still see the American flag raised above the fort, which gave him hope that the American cause was not lost. Only the first verse of Francis Scott Key’s poem is sung in the national anthem, but for those who are curious, here is the original poem in its entirety:

Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Now most of us have been to ballgames, events or ceremonies where the national anthem is played and/or sung. We’ve all probably heard some disastrous versions (maybe we’ve been the ones singing) and some great versions. It’s a very challenging song to sing, which makes it all the more gratifying when someone/a group does the song proud.

Here are the combined military academy choirs (Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard) singing the national anthem before the 2005 Super Bowl. (Look for Bill Clinton hanging around in the background)

[Image via the pilver]

“Do Me A Solid and Don’t Tell Dick Cheney I was Here” – Presidential Video on CFPA

Here is a great video from that shows many of the former presidents visiting Barak Obama during the night to argue for the importance of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. You’ll see many past cast members of Saturday Night Live reprising their roles as former presidents along with Jim Carrey, who stars as Ronald Reagan. Enjoy!

[Image via Venturebeat]

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Women's History Month Video

Here is a great video from showing a brief history of women in American political history. In honor of Women's History Month, enjoy this video and think about how far women have come in political life, and how much farther women have to go. We have never had either a female vice-president or president. When do you think that will change? Do you think the suffragettes who marched in front of the White House fighting for the right to vote believed that they would see a female president in their lifetime? How about now?

Women's History Month Video —

[Image via about]

Monday, March 1, 2010

Lindbergh Baby Kidnapped!

Today in 1932, the 20 -month old son of the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh was kidnapped around 9:00 p.m. from the Lindbergh’s home near Hopewell, New Jersey. The nanny noticed he was missing around 10:00 p.m. and reported it to his parents. A crudely constructed ladder was found near the baby’s window, along with a ransom note demanding $50,000.00 that had been left on the windowsill. The police were contacted and the search for the Lindbergh baby began.
            A series of ransom notes followed, and the Lindbergh’s were eventually sent a sleeping suit similar to one worn by their son to confirm that the kidnappers still held the baby captive. After working with the police, the federal government, and private investigators, the Lindbergh’s paid a ransom but were no closer to locating their son. On March 12, 1932, a truck driver made the gruesome discovery of the Lindbergh baby’s body on the side of a road a few miles from the Lindbergh’s home. The child had died from an apparent blow to the head.
            Following two more years of investigation, a German immigrant named Bruno Richard Hauptmann was arrested for the kidnapping and murder. Various witnesses had seen him spending the same gold certificates that made up the ransom, and his handwriting matched that on the ransom notes. He was tried and found guilty, and in 1936 he was electrocuted.
            Such a tragic story captivated the nation, and newspapers across the country followed the search for the Lindbergh baby, and later, the hunt for his killer, with rapt attention. When tragic events happen these days, the public often vilifies the media’s obsession with the morbid as a byproduct of the 24 hour news cycle. However true that may be, the story of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping shows that the public has always had an insatiable appetite for controversy and tragedy. Here is a 1935 newsreel showing the public’s continued obsession with the case, as it is included among the other “major events” of 1935.   

For more information on the case, check out the FBI’s record here

[Images via Consolatio and thegeminiweb]