Elizabeth Blackwell becomes the first woman to receive a medical degree


Year
1849
Month Day
January 23

At a graduation ceremony at a church in Geneva, New York on January 23, 1849, Geneva Medical College bestows a medical degree upon Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the United States to receive one. Despite the near-uniform opposition of her fellow students and medical professionals, Blackwell pursued her calling with an iron will and dedicated her life to treating the sick and furthering the cause of women in medicine.

Blackwell’s family was remarkable by any standard. Her father was a staunch abolitionist and both her brother and his wife were active in the women’s suffrage movement. Another sister-in-law was the first female minister to be ordained in a mainstream Protestant denomination, and Elizabeth’s younger sister Emily also studied medicine. A gifted student, Elizabeth felt compelled to become a doctor after a conversation with a dying friend, who told her that her ordeal had been that much worse because her physicians were all men. Elizabeth’s family approved of her ambition, but the rest of society still found the idea of female doctors laughable. It was, quite literally, a joke even to the men who accepted her to Geneva Medical College—the question of whether or not to accept a woman was put up to a vote of the students, who voted in favor as a practical joke. Nevertheless, Blackwell received her acceptance letter and started school in 1847.

Blackwell’s fellow students shunned her. So did the townspeople of Geneva. Her professors complained that teaching her was an inconvenience, and one even tried to stop her from attending a lesson on anatomy, fearing it would be immodest for her to be present. When Blackwell graduated, the dean of her school congratulated her in his speech but went as far as adding a note to the program stating that he hoped no more women would attend his school. The sentiment was echoed by the rest of the American medical community—a letter to the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal described her graduation as a “farce.” Again, Blackwell succeeded in the face of indignities, not only graduating but publishing her thesis in the Buffalo Medical Journal.

Blackwell set up a clinic for the poor of New York City, where she met what she described as “a blank wall of social and professional antagonism,” but remained determined to treat as many patients as possible. She founded a hospital, the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, in 1857 with the help of her sister and another protégé, both women who had followed in her footsteps and received medical degrees. She and her sister trained nurses during the Civil War and opened their own medical college in 1868. She eventually moved to London, becoming a professor of gynecology at the School of Medicine for Women. 

Faced with sexist discrimination at every turn, Blackwell not only received her degree and practiced medicine but contributed greatly to the education of the first generation of female doctors in America. The profession remained notoriously male for many, many years, but the progress that started with Blackwell continues. In 2017, for the first time ever, a majority of medical students in the United States were women.

READ MORE: Elizabeth Blackwell: Her Life and Legacy

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USS Pueblo captured


Year
1968
Month Day
January 23

On January 23, 1968, the USS Pueblo, a Navy intelligence vessel, is engaged in a routine surveillance of the North Korean coast when it is intercepted by North Korean patrol boats. According to U.S. reports, the Pueblo was in international waters almost 16 miles from shore, but the North Koreans turned their guns on the lightly armed vessel and demanded its surrender. The Americans attempted to escape, and the North Koreans opened fire, wounding the commander and two others. With capture inevitable, the Americans stalled for time, destroying the classified information aboard while taking further fire. Several more crew members were wounded.

Finally, the Pueblo was boarded and taken to Wonson. There, the 83-man crew was bound and blindfolded and transported to Pyongyang, where they were charged with spying within North Korea’s 12-mile territorial limit and imprisoned. It was the biggest crisis in two years of increased tension and minor skirmishes between the United States and North Korea.

The United States maintained that the Pueblo had been in international waters and demanded the release of the captive sailors. With the Tet Offensive raging 2,000 miles to the south in Vietnam, President Lyndon Johnson ordered no direct retaliation, but the United States began a military buildup in the area. 

At first the captured crew of the Pueblo resisted demands they sign false confessions, famously raising their middle fingers at the camera and telling the North Koreans it was the “Hawaiian good-luck sign.” Once the North Koreans learned the truth, they punished the prisoners with beatings, cold temperatures and sleep deprivation, according to a lawsuit some of the Pueblo’s crew would later file against the North Korean government.

Eventually North Korean authorities coerced a confession and apology out of Pueblo commander Bucher, in which he stated, “I will never again be a party to any disgraceful act of aggression of this type.” The rest of the crew also signed a confession under threat of torture.

The prisoners were then taken to a second compound in the countryside near Pyongyang, where they were forced to study propaganda materials and beaten for straying from the compound’s strict rules. In August, the North Koreans staged a phony news conference in which the prisoners were to praise their humane treatment, but the Americans thwarted the Koreans by inserting innuendoes and sarcastic language into their statements. Some prisoners also rebelled in photo shoots by casually sticking out their middle finger; a gesture that their captors didn’t understand. Later, the North Koreans caught on and beat the Americans for a week.

On December 23, 1968, exactly 11 months after the Pueblo‘s capture, U.S. and North Korean negotiators reached a settlement to resolve the crisis. Under the settlement’s terms, the United States admitted the ship’s intrusion into North Korean territory, apologized for the action, and pledged to cease any future such action. That day, the surviving 82 crewmen walked one by one across the “Bridge of No Return” at Panmunjon to freedom in South Korea. They were hailed as heroes and returned home to the United States in time for Christmas.

Incidents between North Korea and the United States continued in 1969, and in April 1969 a North Korean MiG fighter shot down a U.S. Navy intelligence aircraft, killing all 31 men aboard. In 1970, quiet returned to the demilitarized zone.

READ MORE: What You Need to Know About North Korea

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Madeline Albright becomes first female secretary of state


Year
1997
Month Day
January 23

The day after her unanimous confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Madeline Albright is sworn in as America’s first female secretary of state by Vice President Al Gore at the White House. As head of the U.S. State Department, Albright was the highest ranking female official in U.S. history, a distinction that led some to declare that the “glass ceiling” preventing the ascension of women in government had been lifted.

Albright was born Maria Jana Korbelova in Czechoslovakia in 1937 and fled to the United States with her family in 1948 after the communist takeover. She studied law and government at Columbia University in New York City and graduated with a Ph.D. During the 1970s, she served as a staff member on the National Security Council and at the White House and in 1989 became president of the nonprofit Center for National Policy. In January 1993, she was appointed the permanent U.S. representative to the United Nations by President Bill Clinton, where she earned a reputation as a tough, straight-talking negotiator with a personal touch. In December 1996, she was nominated by Clinton to replace Warren Christopher as secretary of state, the most important and powerful post in the president’s Cabinet.

On January 26, 2005, Condoleezza Rice was sworn in by President George W. Bush as the nation’s second female secretary of state. Hillary Clinton became the third in 2009. 

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Toy company Wham-O produces first Frisbees


Year
1957
Month Day
January 23

On January 23, 1957, machines at the Wham-O toy company roll out the first batch of their aerodynamic plastic discs—now known to millions of fans all over the world as Frisbees.

The story of the Frisbee began in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where William Frisbie opened the Frisbie Pie Company in 1871. Students from nearby universities would throw the empty pie tins to each other, yelling “Frisbie!” as they let go. In 1948, Walter Frederick Morrison and his partner Warren Franscioni invented a plastic version of the disc called the “Flying Saucer” that could fly further and more accurately than the tin pie plates. After splitting with Franscioni, Morrison made an improved model in 1955 and sold it to the new toy company Wham-O as the “Pluto Platter”–an attempt to cash in on the public craze over space and Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs).

In 1958, a year after the toy’s first release, Wham-O—the company behind such top-sellers as the Hula-Hoop, the Super Ball and the Water Wiggle—changed its name to the Frisbee disc, misspelling the name of the historic pie company. A company designer, Ed Headrick, patented the design for the modern Frisbee in December 1967, adding a band of raised ridges on the disc’s surface–called the Rings–to stabilize flight. By aggressively marketing Frisbee-playing as a new sport, Wham-O sold over 100 million units of its famous toy by 1977.

High school students in Maplewood, New Jersey, invented Ultimate Frisbee, a cross between football, soccer and basketball, in 1967. In the 1970s, Headrick himself invented Frisbee Golf, in which discs are tossed into metal baskets; there are now hundreds of courses in the U.S., with millions of devotees. There is also Freestyle Frisbee, with choreographed routines set to music and multiple discs in play, and various Frisbee competitions for both humans and dogs–the best natural Frisbee players.

Today, at least 60 manufacturers produce the flying discs—generally made out of plastic and measuring roughly 20-25 centimeters (8-10 inches) in diameter with a curved lip. The official Frisbee is owned by Mattel Toy Manufacturers, who bought the toy from Wham-O in 1994.

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Hulk Hogan beats Iron Sheik to win first WWF title


Year
1984
Month Day
January 23

On January 23, 1984, Hulk Hogan becomes the first wrestler to escape the “camel clutch”—the signature move of reigning World Wrestling Federation (WWF) champion Iron Sheik—as he defeats Sheik to win his first WWF title, at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Only one month earlier, the Iron Sheik—born Hossein Khosrow Vaziri in Tehran, Iran—had defeated the celebrated Bob Backlund in a controversial match, ending Backlund’s WWF-championship reign of almost six years. A rematch was scheduled, but Backlund was injured, and Hulk Hogan–born Terry Gene Bollea in Augusta, Georgia–was given his spot. Six-foot-eight and around 300 pounds, with long blond hair and bronzed skin, Hogan entered the ring to his theme song, Survivor’s hit “Eye of the Tiger,” electrifying the Garden crowd. After the Sheik took an early advantage, Hogan turned the match around. He landed a kick to the Sheik’s face and followed up with a leg drop–jumping in the air and landing his leg on his fallen opponent. The bout was over in five minutes and 40 seconds, and Hogan was the new WWF champion.

The victory began what became known as “Hulkamania,” as Hogan’s phenomenal popularity led to a golden age for professional wrestling. A Southern, working-class hero in the eyes of his fans, Hogan advised young “Hulkamaniacs” to say their prayers and take their vitamins, and to believe in themselves. His championship reign lasted four straight years, and his enduring popularity brought unprecedented mainstream attention to the sport. He lost the WWF title in 1988 to Andre the Giant but regained it the following year with a win over Randy “Macho Man” Savage; he would hold it four times between 1989 and 1993.

The WWF and owner Vince McMahon launched the first wrestling pay-per-view event, WrestleMania, in 1985, and Hogan headlined eight of the first nine WrestleMania fights. After taking a year off to concentrate on television and movie roles, Hogan signed with a rival league, Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling (WCW), helping to foster what was known as a “New World Order.” He won the WCW championship title six times between 1994 and 1999, before returning to McMahon’s league–now known as World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Plagued by knee injuries, he left wrestling in 2003, but returned two years later amid hoopla over his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame. Since 2005, Hogan has made a limited number of appearances in the WWE arena.

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President George H.W. Bush honors Women’s World Cup champions


Year
1992
Month Day
January 23

On January 23, 1992, President George H.W. Bush hosts a White House reception for the U.S. women’s soccer team in honor of their recent World Cup win.

On this occasion, President Bush displayed the wry, folksy sense of humor that endeared him to his supporters. He began by welcoming the crowd who gathered to support a team that he said reflected a favorite American pastime; it’s known as winning. He emphasized the importance of an American team finally achieving first-class status in a global sport that had previously been dominated by teams from other parts of the world. The 1992 U.S. women’s soccer team not only won the first FIFA women’s championship, but the first-ever soccer championship for the U.S. At the reception, Bush repeated a quote that sport was the first great separator of the sexes. Referring to the less-than-successful record of the U.S. men’s soccer team he quipped, “For the sake of the male ego, I hope the men start catching up.”

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Soldiers massacre sleeping camp of Native Americans


Year
1870
Month Day
January 23

Declaring he did not care whether or not it was the rebellious band of Native Americans he had been searching for, Colonel Eugene Baker orders his men to attack a sleeping camp of peaceful Blackfeet along the Marias River in northern Montana.

The previous fall, Malcolm Clarke, an influential Montana rancher, had accused a Blackfeet warrior named Owl Child of stealing some of his horses; he punished the proud brave with a brutal whipping. In retribution, Owl Child and several allies murdered Clarke and his son at their home near Helena, and then fled north to join a band of rebellious Blackfeet under the leadership of Mountain Chief. Outraged and frightened, Montanans demanded that Owl Child and his followers be punished, and the government responded by ordering the forces garrisoned under Major Eugene Baker at Fort Ellis (near modern-day Bozeman, Montana) to strike back.

Strengthening his cavalry units with two infantry groups from Fort Shaw near Great Falls, Baker led his troops out into sub-zero winter weather and headed north in search of Mountain Chief’s band. Soldiers later reported that Baker drank a great deal throughout the march. On January 22, Baker discovered a village along the Marias River, and, postponing his attack until the following morning, spent the evening drinking heavily.

At daybreak on the morning of January 23, 1870, Baker ordered his men to surround the camp in preparation for attack. As the darkness faded, Baker’s scout, Joe Kipp, recognized that the painted designs on the buffalo-skin lodges were those of a peaceful band of Blackfeet led by Heavy Runner. Mountain Chief and Owl Child, Kipp quickly realized, must have gotten wind of the approaching soldiers and moved their winter camp elsewhere. Kipp rushed to tell Baker that they had the wrong group, but Baker reportedly replied, “That makes no difference, one band or another of them; they are all Piegans [Blackfeet] and we will attack them.” Baker then ordered a sergeant to shoot Kipp if he tried to warn the sleeping camp of Blackfeet and gave the command to attack.

Baker’s soldiers began blindly firing into the village, catching the peaceful Native Americans utterly unaware and defenseless. By the time the brutal attack was over, Baker and his men had, by the best estimate, murdered 37 men, 90 women, and 50 children. Knocking down lodges with frightened survivors inside, the soldiers set them on fire, burnt some of the Blackfeet alive, and then burned the band’s meager supplies of food for the winter. Baker initially captured about 140 women and children as prisoners to take back to Fort Ellis, but when he discovered many were ill with smallpox, he abandoned them to face the deadly winter without food or shelter.

When word of the Baker Massacre (now known as the Marias Massacre) reached the east, many Americans were outraged. One angry congressman denounced Baker, saying “civilization shudders at horrors like this.” Baker’s superiors, however, supported his actions, as did the people of Montana, with one journalist calling Baker’s critics “namby-pamby, sniffling old maid sentimentalists.” Neither Baker nor his men faced a court martial or any other disciplinary actions. However, the public outrage over the massacre did derail the growing movement to transfer control of Indian affairs from the Department of Interior to the War Department–President Ulysses S. Grant decreed that henceforth all Native agents would be civilians rather than soldiers.

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Singer, actor, athlete, activist Paul Robeson dies


Year
1976
Month Day
January 23

The singer, actor, athlete and activist Paul Robeson dies at the age of 79 on January 23, 1976.

Robeson’s physical strength, size and grace made him one of the elite sports figures of his generation, but his stature in other fields—music, theater, politics, human rights— eventually overshadowed his athletic greatness. On stage and screen, his unique voice earned him universal artistic acclaim, but when he raised it in support of Civil Rights and social justice, his voice often aroused violent controversy.

Paul LeRoy Bustill Robeson was born in Princeton, New Jersey, on April 9, 1898, the son of a father born into slavery and a mother raised as a vocal abolitionist. Robeson’s academic and athletic achievements earned him a scholarship to Rutgers University in 1915, where he became not only a four-sport letterman and two-time All American football star, but a member of Phi Beta Kappa and class valedictorian—all of this while being only the third African-American student in school history. Robeson moved to Harlem after graduation, where he worked his way through Columbia University Law School as an actor and professional football player. By 1923, Robeson had passed the New York bar and earned critical raves on the London and Broadway stage. The lure of a promising career in law proved less compelling for Robeson than a career in the theater.

Over the next twenty years, Robeson established himself as one of the most important musical and dramatic performers of his day. The role of Joe and the song “Ol’ Man River” in Show Boat were written for Robeson’s famous bass voice; Robeson originated the title role in Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones; and he became the first African American to play Othello on Broadway. By the late 1940s, Robeson’s international artistic reputation was well established, but it was rivaled by his reputation as a political activist. Racism generally, and the horror of racial lynching particularly, were Robeson’s greatest concerns. If his outspoken views on segregation didn’t win him enough enemies in the United States, his openly leftist leanings certainly did. 

Robeson traveled repeatedly to the Soviet Union beginning in the 1930s—a history that led to the unconstitutional seizure of his passport and to his blacklisting following an appearance before the Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee in 1950. When asked during those hearings why he did not simply move to the USSR, Robeson offered a typically powerful response: “Because my father was a slave, and my people died to build this country, and I am going to stay right here and have a part of it just like you.”

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Deadliest earthquake in history rocks China


Year
1556
Month Day
January 23

On January 23, 1556, an earthquake in Shaanxi, China, kills an estimated 830,000 people. Counting casualties is often imprecise after large-scale disasters, especially prior to the 20th century, but this disaster is still considered the deadliest of all time.

The quake struck in late evening, with aftershocks continuing through the following morning. Later scientific investigation revealed that the magnitude of the quake was approximately 8.0 to 8.3, which isn’t close to the strongest tremor on record. However, the quake struck in the middle of a densely populated area with poorly constructed buildings and homes, resulting in a horrific death toll.

The epicenter of the earthquake was in the Wei River Valley in the Shaanxi Province, near the cities of Huaxian, Weinan and Huayin. In Huaxian, every single building and home collapsed, killing more than half the residents of the city, a number estimated in the tens of thousands. It was a similar story in Weinan and Huayin. In some places, 60-foot-deep crevices opened in the earth. Serious destruction and death occurred as much as 300 miles away from the epicenter. The earthquake also triggered landslides, which contributed to the massive death toll.

Even if the number of deaths caused by the Shaanxi earthquake has been overestimated slightly, it would still rank as the worst disaster in history by a considerable margin. 

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Videotaped murder leads to convictions in Texas


Year
1991
Month Day
January 23

Darrell Lunsford, a county constable in Garrison, Texas, is killed after pulling over a traffic violator. His murder was remarkable because it was captured on a camera set up in Lunsford’s patrol vehicle. The videotape evidence led to the conviction of the three men who beat, kicked, and stabbed the officer to death along the East Texas highway.

Lunsford pulled over a vehicle and turned on the video camera installed on his front dashboard. He appeared to have asked the three men in the car to open the trunk. However, when the men got out of the car they tackled Lunsford and stabbed him in the neck before driving off. Later that night, Reynaldo Villarreal was picked up by officers as he was walking a few miles from the murder site. His brother, Baldemar, and another man, Jesus Zambrano, were also arrested a short time later. At the trial of the three men, the jury watched the videotape and all were convicted.

The videotaped murder of Lunsford has ushered in a new era. Video cameras have become ubiquitous in police cars, and have proven to be a potent law-enforcement tool.

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