Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October 31: Pregnancy Discrimination Act

On this date in History ..... 1978:

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is approved, prohibiting sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, amending Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Employers of 15 or more employees had to cover expenses for pregnancy-related conditions on the same basis as costs for other medical conditions, and could no longer limit these benefits to married persons only. With more than 70% of women with children in the work force, pregnancy discrimination is the fastest growing type of discrimination in the U.S., and in 2006 represented approximately 6.5% of all discrimination claims filed.

There have been many laws covering women in the workplace, going back as far as the 1908 case, Mueller v. Oregon, in which the Court upheld a prior decision to limit women to a 10-hour workday under the assumption that "performance of maternal functions” meant that women were incapable of the same work as men, and legally justified sexual discrimination in the workplace under the guise of protecting women’s health.

This ruling was confusing to some because just three years earlier, the Supreme Court had ruled just the opposite in Lochner v. New York in which the court invalidated a New York law that restricted a baker’s day to just ten hours “to protect the health of the baker.”  The Court opinion was the law was an attempt to regulate employment terms and had nothing to do with health protection. 

While Mueller did not overule Lochner, the Court differentiated between the two cases on the basis of the difference between the sexes, specifically citing that “the performance of maternal functions place her at a disadvantage in the struggle for subsistence”.

Council for Oregon state had put together a large brief that included hundreds of sources, including social authorities and their opinions on the impact of women working.  It became the first case in which social science was used and changed the direction of the Court and it’s decision.

Two cases in the 1970s had a direct impact on getting the Pregnancy Discrimination Act passed: Once was General Electric v. Gilbert and the other was Geduldig v. Aiello.

Geduldig ruled that denying pregnant women medical benefits in California was not discriminatory. The state justified its stance by pointing out that while conceeding only women can become pregnant, they actually divided their employees into group of “pregnant women” and “non-pregnant persons”.  Since the second group included men and women, they felt they therefore were not discriminating against women. 

The courts agreed. 

Women revolted. 

Congress reacted and passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

October 30: Mrs. Astor

On this date in History ... 1908:

The self-crowned queen of high society, Caroline Astor, dies at the age of 78.
Wealthy in her own right, when she married she combined her immense wealth with that of fur magnate William Astor (grandson of John Jacob Astor). During the Gilded Age, there was a great influx of new wealth from the new rich …. mining kings, industrialists, railroad owners …. who were all trying and vying to enter the upper social circle.  Mrs. Astor took on the job of keeping the new rich out of what she considered her ‘proper society of old money’. The list of “Mrs. Astor’s Four Hundred” became the blue book and the “sacred inner circle of society.” It is said the number four hundred was derived from the capacity of her ballroom.  Photo source: http://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com/
In 1902, she expanded the size of her ballroom to hold 1200, but in addition she decided the room would double as an art gallery to hold her collection of 100 pieces of fine art. 
In her ambition to be the society queen she not only had to set herself up in that position but also had to “unseat” her sister-in-law, Mrs. John Astor III.  With her lavish parties and strong ambitious personality, she succeeded in doing both.

Early in her marriage, she insisted that her husband drop his “vulgar” middle name of Backhouse as she said it made people think of outdoor toilets. She made him even stop using his middle initial.  Further, she insisted on being called simply “Mrs. Astor” (much to the ire of John Astor III) even after the death of her husband, in an era when the norm for women of society would have required she print her calling card as “Mrs. John B. Astor” instead of her practice of simply printing them with the name of “Mrs. Astor.” All of this was part of her insistence on being known as the head of the Astor family.

Monday, October 29, 2012

October 29: "Killer Smog"

On this date in History .... 1948:

“Killer Smog” kills 20 in the town of Donora, PA, a small town of 14,000 and home to steel mills and a zinc smelting plant.  The town was located in a valley and around Oct 26, a fog moved into the valley, effectively creating a ceiling that blocked the factory pollutants in the valley.

photo courtesy of: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/donora-pennsylvania-everett.html

Hospitals and doctors began receiving hundreds of calls. About two dozen people died from the concentrated pollution. The elderly and those with respiratory problems were told to leave town but the mass evacuation made leaving difficult.

It was not until Oct 31 that the zinc plant shut down. A rain came in that night, disbursing the pollutants. Walter Winchell reported the story on his radio show, bringing the incident to national attention. The incident led to the passage of the 1955 Clean Air Act and eventually the 1970 federal Clean Air Act. .

This air pollution disaster is what convinced people that air pollution could kill people.  The fog came about due to what is known as a temperature conversion when a layer of warm air trapped the cooled coal smoke and other pollutants including sulfuric acid, nitrogen dioxide, fluorine and other poisonous gases under it, not allowing the poisoned air to escape away from the town and its residents.  Fluorine is a highly toxic component which attacks the eyes, respiratory, lungs, liver and kidneys.  Autopsies of those who didn’t survived  the smog were found to have levels of fluorine 20 times more than normal.

This is a photo of the town of Donora at high noon. 

About one-third of the 14,000 residents were affected and made ill from the killer smog.  “A decade later the town's mortality rate remained significantly higher  than that of neighboring communities.”  (quote source: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/   )

The town was torn between needing a resolution to the problem and needing the 5000 jobs provided by the factories, American Steel  & Wire Company and Donora Zinc Works, both owned by U.S. Steel.

"U.S. Steel would not accept blame for the pollution that resulted in the deaths, and many workers, worried that the mills could close, agreed at the time.” A settlement was finally reached but it was so small that after paying for attorney fees, “most people had enough to buy a television set.” (quote source: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/ [D4] )

Sunday, October 28, 2012

October 28: Madonna of the Trail

On this date in history ..... 1928:

The Indiana “Madonna of the Trail” is dedicated in Richmond, Indiana. 

The 9th in a series of 12, the Madonna statue is placed in each state in which the “National Road”  (i.e. U.S. 40) passes, to honor the pioneer mothers of covered wagon days. The National Road, sometimes referred to as the Ocean-to-Ocean highway, was the first interstate highway established by an act of Congress in 1806. Judge Harry S. Truman, then president of the National Old Trails Road Association, guaranteed the funds for these monuments, and attended the dedication of the Indiana monument. 

photo courtesy: ttp://www.waynet.org/waynet/spotlight/2005/051017-madonna.htm

It is indicated Truman may have attended many of the other dedications, but confirmation this at each monument could not be found. However, this project was very important to Truman and it is said that he was a “driving force” behind the project. “On July 27, 1998, at Norfolk, Virginia, the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, was commissioned. A 20" x 24" color photograph of the ‘Madonna of the Trail’ hangs in a place of honor in its Captain's Quarters.”
Source: http://www.santafetrailscenicandhistoricbyway.org/madona.html

Created by German born artist August Leimbach, (who came to America in 1910 when he was 28 years old), the ten foot tall woman stands on a six foot base and weighs five tons.  All of the twelve statues are identical. 

All but two or three of the statues face west, the direction these pioneer women were traveling. The first Madonna was dedicated in Springfield OH on July 4, 1928.  The order of the remaining eleven’s dedication are:

2nd – Wheeling WV – July 7, 1928
3rd – Council Grove KS – Sept 7, 1928
4th – Lexington, MO – Sept 17, 1928
5th – Lamar, CO – Sept 24, 1928
6th – Albuquerque, NM – Sept 27, 1928
7th – Springerville, AZ – Sept 29, 1928
8th – Vandalia, IL – Oct 26, 1928
9th – Richmond IN – Oct 28, 1928
10th – Beallsville, PA – Dec 8, 1928
11th – Upland, CA – Feb 1, 1929
12th – Bethesda, MD – April 19, 1929

Saturday, October 27, 2012

October 27: New York Subway

On this date in History .... 1904:

New York City opens their subway system, which would quickly grow to be the world’s largest American underground train network and the only system to operate 24/7, carrying an average of 4.5 million people per day. The “Great Blizzard of 1888”, which saw 40-50” of snow and 30-40ft snowdrifts,  helped sell the advantages of an underground system.  The city hired skilled miners to do the work. Only 16 deaths occurred during the 2 year construction, with 10 of those taking place when a roof of one tunnel collapsed in 1903. 

Restrooms are a rarity in today’s subway system.  There are only 129 restrooms spread out over 77 of the 468 stations have restrooms.  However, some of the restrooms were converted to retail space, as shown in the attached photo.  There are approximately 350 retail businesses, selling newspapers and food, in the subway, generating over $70million in rent to the transit authority.
Tokens to ride the subway were changed periodically as prices increased.
In the 1980, the “Token War” began as people discovered the Connecticut Toll Booth tokens, which cost about one-third the cost of subway tokens, could be used in the subway. Connecticut initially agreed to change the size of their tokens but changed their minds.  It remained a problem until 1985, when Connecticut discontinued charging tolls on the turnpike.  The New York subway system had collected over 2 million tokens over a three year period, which had a value of less than 18 cents each.

Friday, October 26, 2012

October 26: Erie Canal

On this date in history .... 1825:

The Erie Canal opens, connecting the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.  New York Governor DeWitt Clinton road the first ship thru the canal, pouring a container of Lake Erie water into the Atlantic Ocean to “marry” the two bodies of water. Most of the work was done by Irish immigrants who used primitive tools to dig the 425 mile canal nicknamed “Clinton’s Big Ditch”.  83 canal locks were built to deal with the 500 ft elevation. The canal was instrumental in getting the area settled since supplies could be shipped in 1/10 the time of using stagecoach or wagon. The canal was paid for in 9 short years by the tolls.
(Photo courtesy of schmoop.com)
The canal project was proposed as a way to open the way to the west, through  the Appalachian Mountains.  An easy way for settlers to get to the west and for produce, grain and hunted game to the east was needed to enable the new country to grow.

The Ohio valley’s biggest product at the time was grain, a “high-volume, low-priced commodity”. Traditional transportation costs were prohibitive so farmers tended to convert the corn and grains to whiskey, which was easier to ship and brought about a higher price.  This pricing issue (and high profit) was a factor that led to the Whiskey Rebellion when Alexander Hamilton passed an excise tax on whiskey in 1794.  

The canal lowered food costs in the east and made shipping machinery and materials to the west more affordable. By 1852, the canal was carrying 13 times the freight tonnage than all the railroads in New York combined.

Since so many Irish immigrants were used as labor on the canal (they were paid $10 a month and barrels of whiskey lined the route for them as encouragement), many Irish communities and towns formed along the canal.  Hundreds of German masons were used to do the stonework.  Because of the high immigration traffic along the canal (both during construction and after completion), the rare passengers lists of the canal are considered valuable to genealogists.

One of the most ambitious projects of the 19th century, the canal was longer than any other canal previously built in Europe or America. The cost was $7 million (in 1825 dollars) and considered “an engineering marvel” that connected the west to the east and enabled New York to become the financial center of the new country. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

October 25: Kamikaze Bombers

On this date in history .... 1944:

The first kamikaze suicide bombers were deployed by the Japanese against the U.S. in the battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, targeting escort carriers. Japanese Naval Cap’t Okamura believed “There will be more than enough volunteers for this chance to save our country.”  The first kamikaze plowed into the flight deck of the carrier St. Lo, sinking it in less than an hour, killing 100 men when the bomb magazine exploded.  One sailor reports they were ordered not to mention the word “kamikaze’ as the Navy Dept didn’t want the U.S. citizens to know the extent of the damage, nor did they want the Japanese to know how effective the tactic was.

Click here to see Kamikaze Attacks Video

The tradition of death instead of defeat, capture, and perceived shame was deeply entrenched in Japanese military culture. It was one of the primary traditions in the samurai life and the Bushido code: “loyalty and honour until death.“

Intentional and deliberate crashes into enemy ships had previously been used individually by pilots when they saw they were going to crash anyway, so they maneuvered to steer their dying aircraft into an enemy target to do as much damage as possible.  The Japanese military were the first to actually form Kamikaze Units in which men volunteered to become flying bombs themselves with the full premeditated intent of dying while crashing into the enemy, whether or not their plane was damaged.

Not all officers in the Japanese military agreed with the philosophy:

“I cannot predict the outcome of the air battles, but you will be making a mistake if you should regard Special Attack operations as normal methods. The right way is to attack the enemy with skill and return to the base with good results. A plane should be utilized over and over again. That’s the way to fight a war. The current thinking is skewed. Otherwise, you cannot expect to improve air power. There will be no progress if flyers continue to die.” 

—Lieutenant Commander Iwatani, Taiyo (Ocean) magazine, March 1945

The Japanese began making “purpose-built” planes to be used in these kamikaze runs, using simple, wooden fuselages designed to use up obsolete engines. The landing gear was designed to be dumped shortly after take-off and reused since the plane would not be landing anywhere once it took off.  American military nicknamed these planes “Baka Bombs” (‘baka’ being Japanese for “idiot” or "stupid”.)

The peak kamikaze attack was at the Battle of Okinawa (April-June 1945) where kamikaze attacks put at least 30 warships out of action, but no aircraft carriers were harmed.  The attack depleted over 1400 planes.  The destroyer USS Laffey was nicknamed “The Ship That Would Not Die” after surviving 22 kamikaze attacks and six hits during this battle.

This is the rear gun turret, on the USS Laffey during the battle of Okinawa on April 16, 1945.  Original photo from: www.postandcourier.com

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October 24: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

On this date in History ... 1969:

The movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” was released. The $6 million movie grossed over $96 million in sales. It was rated #7 on the American Film Institute’s 10 Greatest Western Films in 2008. The theme song "Raindrop Keep Falling on my Head", sung by BJ Thomas,  was 1st offered to Ray Stevens, then Bob Dylan. Both turned it down. The song won an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Thomas had laryngitis when recording the song, which is why his voice sounds raspy in the movie soundtrack.  (photo courtesy of imbd.com)

During the filming of the scenes in Bolivia (which were filmed in Mexico), the entire cast and crew came down with what is referred to as “Montezuma’s Revenge” except for Redford, Newman and Katherine Ross as they refused to drink the water provided by the local caterer.  They only drank soda and alcohol during the entire location shoot.

(One of my favorite lines is in this clip, before they jump into the river, when Sundance admits he can’t swim and Cassidy replies, “…. the fall will probably kill ya!”)  See Video Clip Here

The sister of the real Butch Cassidy visiting the set often and was amazed and impressed at how accurately the film and Newman portrayed her brother.  She refused to endorse the film when asked by the studio, but relented when Redford suggested she do it “for a small fee.”

Steve McQueen also read for the part of Butch Cassidy, at about the same time as Paul Newman. The original name of the film was “Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy” but when Newman got the role, the names were reversed since Newman was a bigger star. Warren Beatty was also considered for the role, but he turned it down because he felt it was too similar to his role in “Bonnie and Clyde”.

The film holds the record for the BAFTA’s (British Academy Awards) with nine wins.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

October 23: Justice Clarence Thomas

Clarence Thomas is sworn in as Justice of the Supreme Court in 1991, becoming the second black Justice, replacing Thurgood Marshall, the 1st black Justice.  At the time of his swearing in, he was the youngest member of the Court.

Thomas grew up poor. When he was two, his father left and his mother moved the family into his grandparent’s home where he had daily meals and indoor plumbing for the first time in his life. He was the only black student in his high school, where he was an Honor Roll student.

After graduating from Yale, Thomas felt potential employers thought he was just a product of affirmative action, feeling that the questions he was asked were questioning whether he was as smart as his grades indicated.  He said, “I peeled a fifteen-cent sticker off a package of cigars and stuck it on the frame of my law degree to remind myself of the mistake I’d made by going to Yale. I never did change my mind about its value.”

While serving on the Supreme Court, he has opposed decisions in favor of affirmative action, such as the June 2003 ruling that continued the program at the University of Michigan's law school. The Court ruled 5-4 (coincidentally, on Thomas’s 43rd birthday) that the University’s practice of using race for admission scoring and consideration could be a factor in the admission decisions. 

During the Anita Hill segment of his Supreme Court confirmation hearing, Thomas was adamant in denying the accusations and told the committee, (which was chaired by Democrat Joe Biden), "This is a circus, it's a national disgrace….. as far as I am concerned, it is high-tech lynching for uppity blacks." (see video clip here) Thomas was confirmed 52-48, the closest confirmation vote in almost a century.

What has been dubbed “The Anita Hill Hearings” made an impact on women. During the hearings, women held only 32 seats in the House/Senate combined.  The election following these hearings (1992) became known as The Year of the Woman when a record number of women ran for public office and 23 women were elected to the House/Senate.


Monday, October 22, 2012

October 22: Pretty Boy Floyd

On this date in history, 1934:  Pretty Boy Floyd is killed.

"Pretty Boy" hated his nickname. It was given to him after his first robbery, when the victim described him as a "pretty boy with apple cheeks."

After his part in The Kansas City Massacre in June 1933, & hiding out in Toledo for awhile, Pretty Boy Floyd was on his way back to Okla when he skidded the car into a telephone pole. He got into a gunfight w/ the local police chief while waiting for his girlfriend to get the car fixed. Floyd ran but a manhunt, which included Melvin Purvis, pursued him. Floyd was shot & killed as he ran from behind a corn crib in East Liverpool OH.

Floyd and two others were attempting to free their friend Frank Nash from federal custody.  Nash was on his way back to Leavenworth, where he had escaped almost four years ago to the day, in 1930. While he was out, the FBI discovered he had helped seven other men escape from Leavenworth in 1931.

When their car broke down on the way to free Nash, Floyd was waiting in the garage for the repair when the sheriff came in. One of the men with Floyd recognized the sheriff, pulled a machine gun and forced the sheriff into another car. Taking the sheriff with them, the gang fled, changing cars two or three times before releasing the sheriff.
At Union Station in Kansas City on June 17, 1933, Nash was being escorted by seven FBI agents and local police. While getting into the FBI car, Floyd and his gang attacked and killed five of the FBI/law enforcement men, the police chief, and killed Nash himself.  Floyd and his remaining partner escape from the massacre and lived in New York for a short time before deciding to return to Oklahoma. On the way back to Oklahoma, they skidded the car into a telephone pole. Floyd and his partner hid in the woods while the girlfriends had the car repaired. Someone reported two suspicious men hanging around and when police went to check it out, a gun battle began in which Floyd’s partner was captured and Floyd escaped.

Kansas City Massacre Video

Melvin Purvis, famous for the being the “man who got Dillinger”, (even though he never fired a shot when Dillinger was killed), joined the manhunt.  Floyd was spotted behind a corncrib and during the gun battle, Floyd was shot twice.   He died within 15 minutes, while enroute to the hospital.

At the time Floyd was killed, a watch and fob, consisting of a "lucky piece," were found on his person. Groups of ten notches were found on each of these items—reportedly carved by Floyd as an indication of the number of people he had killed.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

October 21: Henry Ford / Thomas Edison

On this date in History .... 1929:

Henry Ford throws a party for the dedication of the Thomas Edison Institute in Dearborn MI. Ford had moved Edison’s actual lab bldg’s from Menlo Park NJ and had them reconstructed just as they had looked in 1879.  By the time the Institute opened to the public in 1933, it had become part of the Henry Ford Museum.  
(Personal Note: Husband Phil and I went to this museum on our honeymoon and were told that when Edison last stood up from his chair in the lab (seen in this pic), Ford had it nailed in place. No one has sat in the chair since.)
The dedication party was thrown on the 50th birthday of the lightbulb, and just days before the country experienced the stock market crash of 1929 that threw the country into The Depression. Guests to the event were from the Who’s Who list of notables: John D. Rockefeller Jr., Charles Schwab, Otto H. Kahn, Walter Chrysler, Orville Wright, Marie Curie, Will Rogers, and President Herbert Hoover, to name just a few. 
The Henry Ford Museum (a.k.a. Greenfield Village) is not only a history of Ford himself but celebrates the “practical genius of great Americans.”  The museum contains every Ford car ever built, including the 15th million Model T and the very first Mustang, plus great displays of other automotive advances, including locomotive, printing presses, home appliances and full size buildings related to the auto industry, such as road side motels, a full size Texaco gas station, a drive-in movie theater, a full size diner car, and the oh so memorable Burma Shave signs!  Historical automotive displays, such as the bus on which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat and Sikorsky’s prototype helicopter.

(Photo from "legends of america" website)

The museum is also the proud owner of a “genuine fake” 17th century Brewster chair. Seven years after purchasing this rare, antique find, the museum discovered it was a fake, made by a man who wanted to see if he could fool the experts. And he did. The museum, however, turned the potential embarrassment into a positive by keeping the chair on display as a lesson in fake antiques. The chair is loaned out to national exhibits about fakes and forgeries.

This history teacher strongly recommends making this museum part of your next vacation!  Plan at least two days to tour the museum and Greenfield Village.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

October 20: Gen'l Douglas MacArthur

On this date in History ..... 1944:

Gen’l Douglas MacArthur returns to the Philippines, fulfilling his 1942 promise to the Philippine people. A few hours after his troops landed, MacArthur waded ashore onto the Philippine island of Leyte. That day, he made a radio broadcast in which he declared, "People of the Philippines, I have returned!"  (See video link below.)

MacArthur was the son of a Civil War Medal of Honor recipient and had grown up in a military environment.  When Roosevelt ordered MacArthur out of the Philippines, MacArthur and his family traveled 560 miles by boat over rough seas, avoiding mines and the Japanese Navy for 35 hours.  He spent the next two and a half years publicly repeating his promise “I shall return.”

For his valiant defense of the Philippines, MacArthur was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, making his father and him one of only 2 sets of father/son MOH recipients, and celebrated as "America's First Soldier."   Only one-third of the men MacArthur left behind in March 1942 survived to see his return. "I'm a little late," he told them, "but we finally came."

Click here to see video:  MacArthur arrives on the beach


Friday, October 19, 2012

October 19: Battle of Cedar Creek

On this date in History .... 1844:

The battle of Cedar Creek takes place in Virginia.  It was the final Confederate invasion of the North. The Confederacy was never again able to threaten Wash, D.C., through the Shenandoah Valley.  The Union victory aided the reelection of Lincoln and won Union Maj. General Sheridan lasting fame.

Sheridan was on his way back from a D.C. conference when he encountered retreating Union soldiers.  He turned them around for a counterattack, which became known as “Sheridan’s Ride”. 12 Union enlisted men and 9 Union officers received the Medal of Honor for their actions in this battle including future Senator, Henry A. du Pont. 2 future presidents also fought in this battle: Col. Rutherford B. Hayes and Capt. William McKinley.

There were over 8000 casualties at this battle.  The Union Army, who went in with over 31,000 men, suffered almost 5800 casualties (roughly 18%). The Confederate Army, who went in with just 14,000 men, suffered slightly over 3,000 casualties (roughly 21.5%).  

The regiment of The 8th Vermont was one of the four regiments used to hold the Confederacy back while General Emory strengthened his line to meet a Confederate attack.  For over 30 minutes, these four regiments fought and held the line.  The 8th Vermont lost 106 of 159 men and a monument was placed on the ridge to honor the men of the 8th who died in this action.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

October 18: Gloria Swanson

On October 18, 1974, Gloria Swanson makes her final appearance in a made-for-theater film playing herself, in“Airport 1975”. (Her absolutely last acting role was a made-for-TV movie called “Killer Bees”.)

Swanson was the queen of the silent film stars and one of the few who made
the transition to‘the talkies’. The 5ft tall actress was also a fashion icon. Her fashion, hair and jewels were copied around the world, earning her the title of the screen’s first clothes horse and the most photographed woman in the world.
 (photo from wikipedia)

Swanson was married six times. Her 3rd husband was Henri, Marquis de la Falaise de la Coudraye, making Gloria the first film star to marry nobility. While still married to him, she had an affair that lasted for years with Joseph Kennedy, father of U.S. President John Kennedy.

She is best remembered for her role of Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard”, a part that was turned down by many actresses including Mae West and Mary Pickford. The film included many lines that are still quoted today, such as "I AM big .... It's the pictures that got small!" and of course her closing line of "All right Mr. DeMille ... I'm ready for my close-up." 

The famous closing scene of "Sunset Boulevard" can be seen here: