Today in History – October 29

On October 29, 1855, recent German immigrant Carl Schurz wrote his wife, Margarethe Meyer Schurz, expressing hope for their future happiness. A political refugee from the tumultuous revolutions of 1848 External, Schurz soon gravitated toward political life in the United States. Exactly five years later, Schurz corresponded with his wife from Lincoln’s presidential campaign trail.

The sun has risen bright and clear, and the view spread out before me presents so cheerful and sweet a picture that I am distinctly encouraged to hope we shall be very happy here.

Carl Schurz to Margarethe Meyer Schurz, October 29,1855. In Intimate Letters of Carl Schurz, 1841-1869. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1928. Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820 to 1910 General Collections; Rare Book & Special Collections Division

Hon. Carl Schurz of Missouri. [between 1860 and 1875]. Brady-Handy Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

Although Schurz initially supported William H. Seward for the Republican nomination, he welcomed the prospect of a Lincoln presidency and assured the nominee that

. . . I shall carry into this struggle all the zeal and ardor and enthusiasm of which my nature is capable. The same disinterested motives that led me and my friends to support Gov. Seward in the Convention,
will animate and urge us on in our work for you, and wherever my voice is heard and my influence
extends you may count upon hosts of true and devoted friends.

Carl Schurz to Abraham Lincoln, Tuesday, May 22, 1860 (Congratulations). Series 1. General Correspondence 1833-1916. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Manuscript Division

Schurz’s efforts on behalf of Lincoln and his commitment to the nascent Republican Party resulted in his appointment as envoy to Spain. A year later, Schurz returned to America to serve as a brigadier general in the Union Army during the Civil War.

After the war’s conclusion and Lincoln’s assassination, Schurz toured the South on behalf of President Andrew Johnson. In his report to Johnson, the former abolitionist urged extension of the franchise to freedmen as a condition for the South’s readmission to the Union. Johnson ignored his recommendations.

After a stint as a journalist, Schurz served as a U.S. senator from Missouri from 1869 to 1875. Over the course of his term, dissatisfaction with the corruption of the Grant administration and disappointment with its Reconstruction policies led Schurz to take an active role in the short-lived reformist Liberal Republican Party. By 1876, however, he was back in the traditional Republican fold advocating the election of Rutherford B. Hayes, who he believed would restore integrity to government.

My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.

Carl Schurz, speech in the Senate, February 29, 1872. In Congressional Globe. Senate, 42nd Congress, 2nd Session. A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 – 1875. Law Library

As secretary of the interior under Hayes, Schurz had lasting impact on the American environment. For the first time, the Department of the Interior addressed conservation issues. During Schurz’s tenure, the U.S. Geological Survey was officially established as a bureau within the department. Schurz himself urged the creation of forest reserves and a federal forest service. Although these recommendations were not enacted until 1891 and 1905, respectively, Schurz’s administration is considered a turning point in the history of government participation in the American conservation movement.

First Official Investigation of Indian Grievances, Visit of Secretary Schurz to the Spotted Tail Indian Agency External. In Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, Oct 4, 1879. p.69. Denver Public Library Digital CollectionsExternal

After leaving government in 1881, Schurz returned to journalism. As an editor for national publications including The Nation and Harper’s Weekly, he continued to influence U.S. opinion and policy and was recognized as perhaps the leading spokesman for German Americans. Never one to place party loyalty before principle, he urged reformist Republicans to vote for Democrat Grover Cleveland in 1884.

Continuing his early advocacy of clean government, Schurz headed the National Civil Service Reform League from 1892 to 1901. Though his anti-imperialism placed him strongly at odds with President Theodore Roosevelt, he lived to see the latter create the Forest Service in 1905 and vigorously expand the conservation policies he himself had advocated. Carl Schurz died the following year at age seventy-seven.


Today in History – October 28

On October 28, 1919, Congress passed the Volstead Act providing for enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified nine months earlier. Known as the Prohibition Amendment, it prohibited the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors” in the United States.

We have only to look about us in this great city, to observe the traces of the deadly influence of intemperance. Everywhere, we face crime, disease and death, all testify to the necessity of the prosecution of the cause, of steadfast and unwavering effort and prompt action to lead to complete success.

[Address by Charles C. Burleigh]. In The Whole World’s Temperance Convention. [Metropolitan Hall, NYC, Sept. 1-2, 1853] New York: Fowler and Wells, 1853. p. 10. National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection. Rare Book & Special Collections Division

Unidentified Woman, Half-length Portrait, Facing Front, Holding a Copy of the Book “Sons of Temperance Offering” for 1851. ca. 1851. Daguerreotypes. Prints & Photographs Division

The movement to prohibit alcohol began in the early years of the nineteenth century when individuals concerned about the adverse effects of drink began forming local societies to promote temperance in the consumption of alcohol. Some of the earliest temperance societies were organized in New York (1808) and Massachusetts (1813). Many of the members of these societies belonged to Protestant evangelical denominations and eventually organized religion played a significant role in the movements. As time passed, most temperance societies began to call for complete abstinence from all alcoholic beverages.

The Anti-Saloon League, founded in Ohio in 1893 and organized as a national society in 1895, helped pave the way for passage of the Eighteenth Amendment with an effective campaign calling for prohibition at the state level. Their success is reflected by the fact that as of January 1920, thirty-three states had already enacted laws prohibiting alcohol. Between 1920 and 1933, the Anti-Saloon League lobbied for strict federal enforcement of the Volstead Act.

Sixteenth Convention, Anti-Saloon League of America at Atlantic City, N.J., July 6-9, 1915. Thomas Sparrow, photographer,July 1915. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

Organizations like the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the World’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, founded by reformer and educator Frances Willard in 1883, mobilized thousands of women in the fight for temperance.

I Never Knew I Had a Wonderful Wife Until the Town Went Dry External,” Words by Lew Brown; Music by Albert Von Tilzer; New York: Broadway Music, 1919. Historic American Sheet MusicExternal. Duke University Libraries

Willard also worked for women’s suffrage, as did many other women who found their political awareness expanded by involvement in the temperance crusade. Given their political and economic vulnerability, nineteenth-century women’s lives were easily devastated if the men they depended on “took to drink.” Famous for attacking saloons with a hatchet, Carry Nation’s flamboyant activism evolved from her upbringing in an atmosphere of strong religious beliefs and a failed marriage to an alcoholic. Although few embraced Nation’s extreme stance, Prohibition was viewed by many as a progressive social reform that would improve and protect the lives of women and children.

The Volstead Act ultimately failed to prevent the large-scale production, importation, and sale of liquor in the United States, and the Prohibition Amendment was repealed in 1933.

U.S. Officials Destroying Liquor at the Brownsville Customs House External. Robert Runyon, photographer, December 20, 1920. Runyon (Robert) Photograph Collection External. Briscoe Center for American History:University of Texas/Austin

Taken from Inventing Entertainment: the Early Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies, the following recordings from the early 1920s lampoon Prohibition. “Dinnie Donohue” relies on the ethnic stereotype of a drunken Irishman, while “Save a Little Dram” features a minister complaining that his congregation is stingy with their gin.

Dinnie Donohue, on Prohibition.”
An “Irish monologue,” Performed by William Cahill, Orange, N.J: Edison, 1921.

Save a Little Dram for Me.”
Written by Will E. Skidmore and Marshall Walker, Performed by Duke Rogers, Orange, N.J.: Edison, 1922.


Today in History – October 27

The first in a series of eighty-five essays by “Publius,” the pen name of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, appeared in the Independent Journal, a New York newspaper, on October 27, 1787. Publius urged New Yorkers to support ratification of the Constitution approved by the Constitutional Convention on September 17, 1787.

AFTER an unequivocal experience of the inefficiency of the subsisting federal government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America. The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world.

“Federalist No. 1.” Alexander Hamilton. Federalist Papers

Alexander Hamilton. Photograph of a Contemporary Portrait by John Trumbull; in the collection of the Yale School of Fine Arts. [between 1900 and 1912]. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

Proponents of the new Constitution believed that centralized government was essential for successful commercial and geographic expansion. Only a strong national government, they argued, could effectively negotiate with foreign countries, ensure free trade between states, and create a stable currency.

Known as the Federalist Papers or The Federalist, these eighty-five essays addressed widespread concern that a national government, distanced from the people, would soon grow despotic. The essays eloquently and comprehensively argue that distributing power across the various branches of government provides checks and balances to the concentrated sovereignty of the federal government.

James Madison’s Federalist No.10 exemplifies the brilliance and startling originality of the Federalist Papers. Published on November 23, 1787, Madison challenges the assumption that individual rights can be secured only in small countries with homogeneous populations.

James Madison, fourth President of the United States. Lithograph after the painting by Gilbert Stuart; Pendleton’s Lithography, [1828?]. Popular Graphic Arts. Prints & Photographs Division

The Constitution’s detractors maintained that large nations with disparate populations are inherently unstable. The emergence of factions, they believed, would constantly threaten to overwhelm the government and place personal liberty at risk. Madison topples this argument by insisting that plurality and liberty are complementary. In a famous passage he writes:

Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.

Federalist No.10. James Madison. Federalist Papers

Although written for the New York press, newspapers around the country reprinted the essays. The Federalist, a bound edition of the essays first published in 1788, played an important role in the campaign to ratify the Constitution in New York and Virginia. Ratification of the Constitution was possible without these populous states, but their approval was considered crucial to the success of the new government.

In the following letter to Alexander Hamilton, George Washington thanks Hamilton for sending a copy of the pamphlet written by “Publius”.

George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, November 10, 1787. Series 2. Letterbooks 1754-1799: Letterbook 14. George Washington Papers. Manuscript Division

Ultimately, the federalist vision of a national government prevailed. However, the Federalist represents one of many perspectives in a nationwide debate over the Constitution. Learn more about the Constitutional Convention and the controversy surrounding ratification:


Today in History – October 26

Mahalia Jackson, the “Queen of Gospel Song,” was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on October 26, 1911. She was the daughter of Charity Clark, a laundress and maid, and Johnny Jackson, a Baptist preacher, barber, and longshoreman. Her mother died when she was five years old and she was then brought up by her extended family of one brother, six aunts, and several half-brothers and sisters—the children of her father. Jackson grew up singing gospel music at the Plymouth Rock Baptist Church where her father preached. She relocated to Chicago in 1927. Although her ambition was to become a nurse, she worked as a laundress and studied beauty culture at Madame C. J. Walker’s External and the Scott Institute of Beauty Culture. With that training, Jackson began the first of her several business ventures and opened a beauty shop.

Within months of her arrival in Chicago she was a lead singer with the choir at the Greater Salem Baptist Church, where she joined her pastor’s three sons in their group, the Johnson Brothers.

[Mahalia Jackson,…standing at podium, singing]. {Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, Washington, D.C., May 17, 1957]. The Civil Rights Era. The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship. Visual Materials from the NAACP Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

In 1936 Jackson married Isaac Hockenhull, a college-educated entrepreneur. He encouraged her business aspirations but realized that her musical talent was a bigger source of income. “Ike,” as he was called, persuaded Jackson to audition for the Works Projects Administration (WPA) Federal Theatre Broadway production of Hot Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan.

The beauty of her contralto voice and the increasing popularity of gospel music during the Depression brought Jackson success. Her first recording, “God’s Gonna Separate the Wheat from the Tares” and the Baptist hymn “Keep Me Every Day,” was made for Decca in May 1937. Jackson changed record labels and signed with Columbia in 1954.

Easter Procession outside a fashionable Negro church, Black Belt, Chicago, Illinois. Edwin Rosskam, photographer, Apr. 1941.  Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division

Jackson resisted secular music saying, “When you sing gospel you have a feeling there is a cure for what’s wrong. But when you are through with the blues, you’ve got nothing to rest on.” Although she declined to sing anything but gospel, Jackson listened to and was heavily influenced by ragtime, jazz, and blues artists including Bessie Smith, Maime Smith, Ma Rainey, and Ida Cox.

Jackson sang regularly at Chicago’s South Side Greater Baptist Church and often collaborated with Thomas Dorsey, the “Father of Gospel Music.” Originally a blues musician, Dorsey began to write sacred music early in the century, using the sounds and rhythms of blues and jazz. Over the years, gospel made a lasting impact on blues and soul artists, including Aretha Franklin, who listened to Mahalia Jackson sing at Reverend C. L. Franklin’s (Aretha’s father) New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit.

Jackson hosted a radio program in Chicago for CBS, and often her powerful voice concluded the day’s local television broadcast. She recorded with Duke Ellington, packed Carnegie Hall on a number of occasions, and sang for four presidents.

Mahalia Jackson – Easter Sunday – Philharmonic Hall, Lincoln Center…. Milton Glaser, artist; New York: Security Printing Company, 1967. Posters: Artist Posters. Prints & Photographs Division

Jackson lent her prestige to the civil rights movement and became a prominent figure in the struggle. In 1955, she supported the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott led by Dr. Martin Luther King, and, at King’s request, she sang “I’ve Been ‘Buked and I Been Scorned” just before he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech during the 1963 March on Washington.

[Mahalia Jackson and unidentified man at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom]. Roosevelt H Carter, photographer, [1963]. Prints & Photographs Division

Jackson was sixty-years-old years old when she died in the Chicago suburb of Evergreen Park, Illinois. At her funeral, Coretta Scott King described the singer as “black…proud…[and] beautiful.” She recalled her husband saying of Jackson, “A voice like this comes, not once in a century, but once in a millennium.”

The Library of Congress Digital Collections offer more information on gospel and the times in which Mahalia Jackson lived.


Today in History – October 25

On October 25, [1741] we had very clear weather and sunshine, but even so it hailed at various times in the afternoon. We were surprised in the morning to discover a large tall island at 51° to the north of us.

Georg Wilhelm Steller, Journal of a Voyage with Bering, 1741-1742, trans. by M. Engle and O. W. Frost (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988): 119.

Thus wrote the naturalist-physician, Georg Wilhelm Steller, about his first encounter with Kiska Island in the Aleutian Islands chain of present-day Alaska. Steller’s journal was kept according to the Old Style (Julian) calendar, which was replaced by the Gregorian calendar in 1752, so his October 25 is November 5 by twenty-first-century reckoning. His entries provide a detailed firsthand account of the final voyage of the navigator and explorer Captain-Commander Vitus Jonassen Bering.

Panorama Nome City Water Front, Sept. 22, ’99. Pillsbury & Cleveland, photographer, September 22, 1899. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division
Goldi Village on the Amur, North of Khabarovsk… William Henry Jackson, photographer, [1895]. World’s Transportation Commission. Prints & Photographs Division

Bering was born in 1681 in Horsens, Denmark, but served with the Russian fleet for thirty-eight years. Under Tsar Peter the Great, Bering led an expedition from 1725-30 to explore northeastern Siberia and purportedly to determine if Russia and North America were connected by a land bridge. Having learned that North America and Russia were not connected, Bering undertook a second exploration, lasting from 1733-43. The Great Northern Expedition sought to secure a Russian foothold on the North American continent. In June 1741, Bering set sail on the St. Peter, with fellow navigator Aleksei Chirikov commanding the St. Paul. The two soon were separated by a storm at sea. Chirikov searched futilely for Bering, but headed home after losing two scouting parties of his own men.

After a futile search for the St. Paul, Bering’s men made the first European discovery of the northwest coast of America on July 16, sighting coastal mountains on the northern Gulf of Alaska coast which he named the St. Elias Mountains. By mid-September, Bering had set a return course when, ill with scurvy, he became too weak to command his ships. He and his men took refuge on an uninhabited island. Survivors of Bering’s ship finally came ashore in November on land they believed Kamchatka; their journals reveal an extraordinary tale. Bering died in December, but the survivors took advantage of the abundant sea life and natural resources and returned to health by eating whale blubber, and the meat of sea otters and “sea cows,”—the latter having seaweed-nourished meat.

St. Michael’s Cathedral. Novoarkhangelsk [Sitka, Alaska], ca. 1895. In the Beginning Was the Word: The Russian Church and Native Alaskan Cultures. Prints & Photographs Division

Fur-trading possibilities soon hastened the colonial settlement of Alaska and the Aleutians. The Russian-American Company, led by Grigorii Shelekov and encouraged by Tsarina Catherine the Great, established a Russian outpost on Kodiak Island in 1784. The Russian Orthodox Church founded its first Orthodox mission in North America in 1794.

The online exhibition In the Beginning Was the Word: The Russian Church and Native Alaskan Cultures examines the Russian state and the Russian Orthodox Church in Russian America from 1794 to about 1915. It explores issues of commerce, the relationship of the Russian Orthodox Church to native Alaskans, and the preservation of the Aleut, Eskimo, and Tlingit languages.

Native Peoples

Eskimos. 1916. Carpenter Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

The Native peoples of the greater Aleutian Islands region are the  Unangax̂ , also know as the Aleut. It is estimated that native peoples have lived in the Aleutian Islands region for at least 10,000 years, and in greater Alaska for at least 15,000 years. Kiska Island, which is part of the Rat Islands, is said to have been inhabited for at least 6,000 years. All of the Aleutian  Islands, including Kiska, had been densely occupied by native peoples long before Europeans or Americans made contact.  In fact, reports describe an attack on the shipwrecked crew of the Sv. Kapiton vessel in 1758.

Native customs remained strong in Alaska after U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward purchased this territory from Russia in 1867. However, in 1948, the Cold War halted centuries of native travel back and forth across the Bering Strait. Only after the Reagan-Gorbachev Moscow summit in 1988 did the “Friendship Flights” from Nome to Provideniya allow Alaska natives once again to share their mutual culture. At this time, other economic, scientific, and cultural exchanges also recommenced.


Today in History – October 23

The Senate passed a $5.98 billion supplemental Lend-Lease Bill on October 23, 1941, bringing the United States one step closer to direct involvement in World War II. The Lend-Lease Act, approved by Congress in March 1941, had given President Roosevelt virtually unlimited authority to direct material aid such as ammunition, tanks, airplanes, trucks, and food to the war effort in Europe without violating the nation’s official position of neutrality. The supplemental bill brought the amount of available aid to nearly $13 billion. This aid was intended to assist in the defense of nations whose security was deemed vital to the security of the United States. President Roosevelt, who favored U.S. intervention in WWII, advocated creating the program as a way to provide indirect support for the Allies without engaging the U.S. in a war for which there was not yet overwhelming public support.

Lend-Lease to Britain. English Girls, Members of the Auxiliary Territorial Service, Move Armfuls of American Rifles Just Arrived from the United States under Lend-Lease. United States. Office of War Information, [between 1940 and 1946]. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division

“And so our country is going to be what our people have proclaimed it must be-the arsenal of democracy.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Speech on Lend-Lease Act, March 15, 1941

The United States formally entered the war itself in December 1941, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

President Roosevelt Signing the Declaration of War against Germany. United States. Office of War Information, Dec. 1941. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division

Initially created to help Great Britain, within months, the Lend-Lease program was expanded to include China and the Soviet Union. By the end of the war, the United States had extended over $49 billion in Lend-Lease aid to nearly forty nations.

Lend-Lease to Britain. A Shipment of 155 mm. Howitzers Just Arrived from the United States under Lend-Lease is Prepared for Service at an Ordnance Depot in England. United States. Office of War Information, [between 1940 and 1946]. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division
Cincinnati, Ohio. Preparing Canned Pork (Russian: “svinaia tushonka”) for Lend-Lease Shipment to the USSR at the Kroger Grocery and Baking Company…. Howard R. Hollem, photographer, June 1943. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division
Baby Betty Rothwell Loves her Orange Juice. She was very thin and ailing until Lend-Lease Concentrated Orange Juice arrived in England…. United States. Office of War Information, April 1943. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division


Today in History – October 22

The Metropolitan Opera House (the Met) in New York City, then located on Broadway at 39th Street in New York City, opened on October 22, 1883, with a performance of Charles Gounod’s Faust, the tale of a German sorcerer who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge, power, youth, and love. The opera, although composed in French and based on Goethe’s German poem, was sung on this occasion in Italian, the favored language of the Met’s early management.

Did you knowa…I make every month de arrangements for de Italian opera? It is ten times so much refreshing as de movies…It is marvelous. It causa to swell de heart…you never heard de music so sweeta. Yes, de words are de words of Italy. But de fine music, it isa de same in all language. It conquer de spirit. It maka to soar de soul…De price is fifty cents.

[Interview with Vito Cacciola]. Merton R. Lovett, interviewer; Connecticut, March 24, 1939. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writer’s Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division

Metropolitan Opera House, Ne[w York City]. c1905. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division
Geraldine Farrar in La Tosca. Photograph of a painting by George Burroughs Torrey. c[between 1900 and 1920]. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

The Metropolitan Opera External has attracted talented artists from around the world. In its early days, the Met was graced with such legendary conductors as Arturo Toscanini and Gustav Mahler, and the great singers Enrico Caruso, Geraldine Farrar, and Christine Nilsson. Since 1966, the Metropolitan Opera has made its home at the Lincoln Center for the Performing ArtsExternal in New York City; opera vocalists such as Placido Domingo, Beverly Sills, Marian Anderson, and Leontyne Price have performed there.

Historically, opera houses have served a variety of functions in towns and cities across the country hosting community dances, fairs, plays, and vaudeville shows as well as operas and other musical events such as Jenny Lind’s tour. “That old Opera House used to be going every night in the week, pretty near, during the winter season,” Charles Smith recalled in his recollections of life in Thomaston, Connecticut. Smith shared especially fond memories of the community dances he had attended at the Thomaston Opera House:

Opera House and American National Bank, Pensacola, Florida. [between 1900 and 1906]. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

Explore the rich collection of photographs of opera houses from the turn-of-the-century. Search the collection Detroit Publishing Company on the keywords opera house.

You’d get down to the Opera House just before eight, it wasn’t stylish to be late those days; and when you got there, you’d escort your girl as far as the ladies’ room, and leave her there, and then you’d join the other lads in the gent’s room, and put on your dancing pumps. Then you’d go back and wait…you’d always have to wait…while she finished her primping, and when she came out you’d escort her to a seat, and wait for the grand march to be called…Usually, the dance would break up at midnight, because all the lights in town went out then. Sometimes, for the big affairs, they’d notify the Power House to keep the current on until one.

[Folklore of Clockmaking]. Francis Donovan, interviewer; Charles Smith, interviewee; Connecticut, December 7, 1938. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division

Dances such as those described by Smith followed an established pattern of etiquette described in detail in many how-to books published in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They began, as he recalls, with a Grand March such as that described in the section on “The March” in the 1890 manual, Wehman Bros Book on The Way to Dance: A Book Which Teaches the Art of Dancing Without a Master. The Grand March was followed by sets of quadrilles, contra-dances, round dances, waltzes, polkas, and other dances.

During the Depression, the Works Progress Administration provided jobs for unemployed composers, musicians, and singers through the Federal Music Project which provided classical opera and operetta performances, as well as orchestra and band concerts and free music lessons to the public in cities and towns across America. The Works Progress Administration employed artists through the Federal Art Project to create colorful theatrical posters advertising the Federal Music Project performances.

WPA in Ohio Federal Music Project presents Verdi’s grand opera “Il Trovature… Ohio: Federal Art Project, 1936 or 1937. Posters: WPA Posters. Prints & Photographs Division
Carmen“: Presented by Cuyahoga County Opera Association and the Federal Music Project…. John LaQuatra, artist; Ohio: Federal Art Project, 1939. Posters: WPA Posters. Prints & Photographs Division
Cavalry Guild Presbyterian Church presents Gilbert & Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore. Earl Schuler, artist; Ohio: WPA Federal Art Project in Ohio, 1939. Posters WPA: Posters. Prints & Photographs Division


Today in History – October 21

On October 21, 1960, American viewers were riveted to their television sets for the broadcast of the fourth and final debate between Republican Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy.

The first-ever televised debate between presidential candidates was held on September 26, 1960. An estimated total of sixty to seventy million viewers watched the first and the successive debates, which came to be known as “the Great Debates.”

Here We Go Again. Edmund S. Valtman, artist; published in: Hartford Times, Sept. 12, 1960. Cartoon Drawings. Prints & Photographs Division

The first debate, broadcast by CBS, focused on domestic issues. Each candidate was allowed eight minutes for an opening statement, followed by thirty minutes of questions and answers and a combined total of ten minutes for closing statements. The first and last debates allowed two and a half minutes for answers and one and a half minutes for comments on questions directed to the opponent. The fourth debate, broadcast by ABC, focused on foreign policy issues, particularly U.S. relations with Cuba.

The second and third one-hour debates, televised from New York by NBC and ABC, respectively, followed a looser format with a news panel questioning the candidates on a variety of subjects. The second debate had neither opening nor closing statements by the candidates. The third debate was the first genuine “electronic debate,” with the two candidates facing off from opposite coasts; Kennedy spoke from a television studio in New York and Nixon from Los Angeles.

The 1960 debates have been compared to the famous 1858 debates in the senatorial campaign between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. However, the seven Lincoln-Douglas debates were held outdoors in the towns of several voting districts. Each debate lasted three hours — first one candidate spoke for one hour, then the second candidate spoke for an hour and a half, and then the first candidate spoke again for another thirty minutes. The debates were attended by crowds ranging from 1,500 to as many as 20,000 people.

President John F. Kennedy, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front. US Navy photograph, 1961. Prints & Photographs Division
Richard M. Nixon, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front. Official White House photograph, between 1969-1974. Prints & Photographs Division

In the twentieth century, radio became the new political medium. During the presidential campaign of 1924, radio stations broadcast the speeches of incumbent President Calvin Coolidge, the Republican candidate, and John W. Davis, the Democratic candidate. During World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt held the attention of the American public through his use of this medium in his radio-broadcast “fireside chats.”

An increase in the use of radio by politicians sparked arguments about freedom versus responsibility of the broadcasting industry in providing coverage of political events. Criticism by political parties, Congress, and the Federal Communications Commission led to legislation in the areas of equal airtime and freedom of speech.

Lincoln Douglas Debate Du Page County Centennial, August 27th, West Chicago//Kreger. Illinois: Federal Art Proj., WPA, [between 1936-1939]. Posters: WPA Posters. Prints & Photographs Division

In 1952, national political conventions and the presidential campaign were televised nationwide for the first time. The public avidly followed television coverage of the campaign and rated television as the most informative medium. Televised broadcasts of the debates in the 1960 presidential campaign were a response to the public’s enthusiasm for this type of coverage.

Pollsters estimated that approximately 3.4 million voters determined their choice of party solely on the basis of the Great Debates. The milestone events thrust broadcast media into a central role in American political life. The trend continues despite critics blaming the media for the “merchandising” of candidates, the rising costs of political campaigns, and the use of advertising agencies in the “image manipulation” of candidates.


Today in History – October 20

On October 20, 1803, the Senate ratified the Louisiana Purchase Treaty by a vote of twenty-four to seven. The agreement, which provided for the purchase of the western half of the Mississippi River basin from France at a price of $15 million, or approximately four cents per acre, doubled the size of the country and paved the way for westward expansion beyond the Mississippi.

View Down the Mississippi from Ft. Snelling, Minn. [between 1880-99]. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

Spain had controlled Louisiana and the strategic port of New Orleans with a relatively free hand since 1762. However, Spain signed the Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1800 under pressure from Napoleon Bonaparte, a secret agreement retroceding the territory of Louisiana to France.

News of the agreement eventually reached the U.S. government. President Thomas Jefferson feared that if Louisiana came under French control, American settlers living in the Mississippi River Valley would lose free access to the port of New Orleans. On April 18, 1802, Jefferson wrote a letter to Robert Livingston, the U.S. minister to France, warning that, “There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans…”

Napoleon, faced with a shortage of cash, a recent military defeat in Santo Domingo (present-day Haiti), and the threat of a war with Great Britain, decided to cut his losses and abandon his plans for an empire in the New World. In 1803, he offered to sell the entire territory of Louisiana to the United States for $15 million.

The Heart of the Rockies, Long Lake & Snowy Range, Near Ward, Colo. William Henry Jackson, photographer, 1901. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

Robert Livingston and James Monroe, whom Jefferson had sent to Paris earlier that year, had only been authorized to spend up to $10 million to purchase New Orleans and West Florida. Although the proposal for the entire territory exceeded their official instructions, they agreed to the deal. The Louisiana Purchase Treaty was dated April 30 and formally signed on May 2, 1803.

The bounds of the territory, which were not clearly delineated in the treaty, were assumed to include all the land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, at that time known as the Stony Mountains. Just twelve days after the signing of the treaty, frontiersmen Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, younger brother of Revolutionary War officer George Rogers Clark, set out on an expedition to explore the newly acquired territory.

The purchase of the Louisiana Territory and the Lewis and Clark expedition marked the beginning of a century of conquest. As explorers, speculators, adventurers, and settlers pushed the territorial boundaries of the United States westward toward the Pacific coast, the notion of America as a nation always pushing toward new frontiers took hold in art, literature, folklore, and the national psyche.

New Orleans, La., a corner of the French Market. [between 1900 and 1910]. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division


Today in History – October 19

On October 19, 1781, British General Charles Cornwallis surrendered his army of some 8,000 men to General George Washington at Yorktown, giving up any chance of winning the Revolutionary War. Cornwallis had marched his army into the Virginia port town earlier that summer expecting to meet British ships sent from New York. The ships never arrived.

In early October, approximately 17,000 American and French troops led by Generals George Washington and Jean-Baptiste Rochambeau, respectively, surrounded British-occupied Yorktown. Off the coast, French Admiral François de Grasse strategically positioned his naval fleet to control access to the town via the Chesapeake Bay and the York River.

The Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown A.D. 1781. Illman Brothers, [ca.1870]. Popular Graphic Arts. Prints & Photographs Division

The Franco-American siege exhausted the British army’s supplies of food and ammunition. With no hope for escape, Cornwallis agreed to the terms of Washington’s Articles of Capitulation, signing the document at Moore House on October 19. Hours after the surrender, the general’s defeated troops marched out of Yorktown to the tune “The World Turned Upside Down.”

During his occupation of Yorktown, General Cornwallis set up headquarters in the Thomas Nelson House. The residence saw wartime action again during the Civil War, when it was used as a hospital.

Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown effectively ended the Revolutionary War. Lacking the financial resources to raise a new army, the British government appealed to the Americans for peace. Almost two years later, on September 3, 1783, the signing of the Treaty of Paris brought the war to an end.

A Plan of the Entrance of Chesapeak [sic] Bay, with James and York Rivers;… London, Published by Wm. Faden, Charing Cross, Novr. 26th 1781. American Revolution and Its Era: Maps and Charts of North America and the West Indies, 1750 to 1789. Geography & Map Division