Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova expedition begins

Year
1910
Month Day
June 15

Robert Falcon Scott’s ship, the Terra Nova, sets sail from Cardiff, Wales on June 15, 1910, bound for Antarctica. Though it will succeed in reaching its objective, the expedition will end in tragedy as Scott and his companions give up their lives in order to become the second party to reach the South Pole.

Scott had previously led the Discovery expedition, one of the first major explorations of the Antarctic, from 1901 to 1904. He recruited 65 men to aid him on his quest “to reach the South Pole, and to secure for The British Empire the honour of this achievement.” Upon reaching Melbourne, Australia, Scott learned that a Norwegian expedition led by Roald Amundsen, who had claimed to be heading to the North Pole, was in fact racing South in an attempt to beat Scott. Upon arriving in the Antarctic, Scott’s team spent most of the next year preparing for the journey South, stocking depots to be used during the polar journey, and conducting scientific research as they waited for the Antarctic summer.

READ MORE: The Treacherous Race to the South Pole 

Finally setting out in late September, Scott employed several teams, 28 men in total, as well as motorized sledges, ponies, and dogs in his push to the pole. As the expedition neared its target, Scott selected chief scientist Edward Wilson, Army captain Lawrence Oates, Royal Indian Marine Lieutenant Henry Bowers, and Discovery veteran Edgar Evans to join him in the final approach. On January 16, 1912, the party spotted Amundsen’s flag at the South Pole and were crushed to realize they had been beaten. The next day, having arrived and planted his own flag, Scott wrote, “Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority.”

Dismayed, they began the return journey hoping to at least be the first to report that they had reached the pole, but they would never make it back to the Terra Nova. Evans died on February 17, suffering from multiple injuries after repeated falls. Severely frostbitten and convinced he was slowing his companions down, Oates walked out of his tent and into a blizzard in an apparent act of self-sacrifice on March 16. A few days later, just 11 miles shy of the nearest depot, the rest of the team was stopped by a storm and took to their tent, from which they would never emerge. The bodies of Wilson, Bowers, and Scott were found on November 12, along with their farewell letters and records of their expedition. Though historians have recently begun to question Scott’s overbearing leadership style and many of his tactical decisions, he instantly became regarded as a tragic hero in Britain upon his death.

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Alice B. Toklas moves in permanently with Gertrude Stein

Year
1910
Month Day
September 09

On September 9, 1910, Alice B. Toklas becomes the lifetime house mate of avant-garde writer Gertrude Stein.

Stein, who shared a house with her brother Leo for many years, met Toklas in 1907. Toklas began staying with Stein and Leo in Paris in 1909, then moved in permanently in 1910. Stein’s brother Leo moved out in 1914. Toklas’ love and support of Stein was so important that when Stein wrote her autobiography in 1933, she titled it The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, adopting Toklas’ persona as the narrator of her own memoirs.

The two women turned their Parisian home at 22 rue de Fleurus into an important artistic and literary salon, where they entertained Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and many others. Stein’s own avant-garde writing attempted to create a Cubist literature that used words like the strokes of a paintbrush.

Stein was born in Pennsylvania in 1879 and traveled around Europe with her parents and four siblings. The family settled in Oakland when she was seven, and she spent much of her childhood raised by a governess. Very attached to her older brother, Leo, she followed him to Harvard and studied psychology with William James. She then followed Leo to Johns Hopkins, where she studied medicine for a year, then gave up. The siblings moved to Paris in 1903. Her best-known works include the novels Three Lives (1909) and The Making of Americans (1925), her autobiography, and the experimental work Tender Buttons (1914).

Stein and Toklas survived the German occupation of Paris and later befriended many American servicemen in the city. After the success of her opera, Four Saints in Three Acts (1934), Stein launched a successful U.S. lecture tour. Stein is considered one of the most influential thinkers and writers of the century. She died in France in 1946. Her last words, according to Toklas, were, “What is the answer? … In that case, what is the question?”

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Trains buried by avalanche


Year
1910
Month Day
March 01

Two trains are swept into a canyon by an avalanche in Wellington, Washington, on March 1, 1910, killing 96 people. Due to the remote location of the disaster and the risk of further avalanches, efforts to rescue survivors and find the bodies of the dead were not completed until several days later.

The Great Northern Railroad’s westbound Spokane Express left for Seattle, Washington, from Spokane on February 23. On February 26, a blizzard in Washington caused high snow drifts in the Cascade Mountains that blocked the rail lines. Despite many workers attempting to clear the tracks, the train was still stuck in Wellington, a small village in King County just past the Stevens Pass, nearly a week later. The area’s telegraph lines had come down in the storm, and there was little passengers or train personnel could do but wait out the storm.

The Wellington train station was located near the base of Windy Mountain, but had no protective cover. On February 28, weather conditions changed, with temperatures dropping and thunderstorms battering the area. In Idaho, several miners died in an avalanche, and flooding imperiled residents of low-lying areas. At 4:20 a.m. the following morning, with approximately 50 passengers and 75 employees of Great Northern Railroad sleeping in the Spokane Express, an avalanche of snow crashed down Windy Mountain, prompted by a combination of rain, lighting and thunder.

Charles Andrews, a rail worker and resident of Wellington who witnessed the disaster, described the scene: White Death moving down the mountainside above the trains. Relentlessly it advanced, exploding, roaring, rumbling, grinding and snapping. The Spokane Express and a mail train were both thrown from the tracks down a nearby gorge 150 feet deep. The Wellington station was wiped away, though the town’s hotel and store were untouched.

At the bottom of the gorge, the trains were covered by 40 to 70 feet of snow and debris. Because the telegraph lines were down, the people of Wellington were unable to call for immediate assistance. Despite the risk of further avalanches, many people pitched in to try to dig out survivors; it was not until the night of March 2 that assistance from outside Wellington was able to reach the site. By that time, 23 people had been pulled out alive, most with serious injuries. It took over a week to recover the bodies of all 96 victims of the avalanche, which then had to be moved by toboggan to the rail lines for further transport.

In the aftermath of this tragedy, the worst in Washington’s history to that time, the town of Wellington was renamed Tye and new rail lines with protective tunnels were established; the old line is now a popular hiking trail. Lessons were also learned about the dangers of clear-cutting timber on mountains above towns and villages, a practice that was partially responsible for the avalanche.

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Congress passes Mann Act, aimed at curbing sex trafficking

Year
1910
Month Day
June 25

Congress passes the Mann Act, also known as the White-Slave Traffic Act, which was ostensibly aimed at keeping innocent girls from being lured into prostitution, but really offered a way to make a crime out of many kinds of consensual sexual activity.

The outrage over “white slavery” began with a commission appointed in 1907 to investigate the problem of immigrant prostitutes. Allegedly, women were brought to America for the purpose of being forced into sexual slavery; likewise, immigrant men were allegedly luring American girls into prostitution.

The Congressional committees that debated the Mann Act did not believe that a girl would ever choose to be a prostitute unless she was drugged and held hostage. The law made it illegal to “transport any woman or girl” across state lines “for any immoral purpose.” In 1917, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of two married California men, Drew Caminetti and Maury Diggs, who had gone on a romantic weekend getaway with their girlfriends to Reno, Nevada, and had been arrested. Following this decision, the Mann Act was used in all types of cases: someone was charged with violating the Mann Act for bringing a woman from one state to another in order to work as a chorus girl in a theater; wives began using the Mann Act against girls who ran off with their husbands. The law was also used for racist purposes: Jack Johnson, heavyweight champion of the world, was prosecuted for bringing a prostitute from Pittsburgh to Chicago, but the motivation for his arrest was public outrage over his marriages to white women.

The most famous prosecutions under the law were those of Charlie Chaplin in 1944 and Chuck Berry in 1959 and 1961, who took unmarried women across state lines for “immoral purposes.” Berry was convicted and spent two years in the prime of his musical career in jail. After Berry’s conviction, the Mann Act was enforced only sparingly, but it was never repealed. It was amended in 1978 and again in 1986; most notably, the 1986 amendments replaced the phrase “any other immoral purpose” with “any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense.”

READ MORE: America’s Forgotten Mass Imprisonment of Women Believed to Be Sexually Immoral

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A bomb explodes in the Los Angeles Times building

Year
1910
Month Day
October 01

A massive explosion destroys the Los Angeles Times building in the city’s downtown area, killing 21 and injuring many more. Since Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Otis, a virulent opponent of unions, believed that the bomb was directed at him, he hired the nation’s premier private detective, William J. Burns, to crack the case. In addition to printing numerous editorials against unions, Otis was the leader of the Merchants and Manufacturing Association, a powerful group of business owners with extensive political connections.

Burns’ investigation led him to the Bridge and Structural Iron Workers Union and their treasurer, John J. McNamara. In April 1911, after Burns got a confession out of Ortie McManigal, who had allegedly been the intermediary between McNamara and two bomb experts, he personally arrested John McNamara and his brother in Indiana. Without any legal authority, Burns also managed to get the brothers to California, where they were to be prosecuted.

Union members and left-wing supporters rallied around the McNamara brothers. After a large defense fund was raised, union representatives pleaded with Clarence Darrow to take the case. Darrow, who was the best defense attorney America had to offer, had already gotten “Big Bill” Haywood, the union leader of the Industrial Workers of the World, off on murder charges in Idaho a few years earlier. Offered $50,000, he reluctantly took the case.

Even though public opinion supported the McNamaras, Darrow’s own investigation was turning up evidence to prove that the brothers were actually guilty. Even worse, members of the defense team were trying to bribe the jury just to keep up with the prosecution’s own bribery tactics. Darrow worked out a deal with Otis and the prosecutors that the brothers would plead guilty to escape the death penalty, which they did.

Nevertheless, this resolution was not satisfactory to either side, and Darrow got caught in the middle. Otis arranged for Darrow’s prosecution on bribery charges, and the union deserted the great defense lawyer. Not only did they refuse to pay his fee for the McNamara case, they refused to assist in his defense. Earl Rogers, a notorious drunk, but also a brash, formidable, and effective Los Angeles attorney, took Darrow’s case.

After a long trial, Rogers secured a mistrial for Darrow, who was later acquitted after a second trial. Darrow went on to try even more distinguished cases, including the Leopold and Loeb murder trial and the Scopes evolution trial.

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