Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Jan. 29th: Firebrand of the Revolution

Do you know who this is?
-Published the best selling work of the 18th century America.
-Invented a smokeless candle.
-Was imprisoned in Luxembourg Prison during the Reign of Terror

Originally he was a Pain, changing his name to Paine when he immigrated to America in 1774.

Thomas Paine was born on January 29, 1737, in the small market town of Thetford, Norfolk, England. His parents were Joseph and Frances Pain. Joseph earned his living as a master corset maker who took on his son as an apprentice when Thomas was thirteen. After a brief stint as a privateer, Thomas would return to the corset making industry, becoming a master corset maker, would marry, and then lose his wife during childbirth.

Thomas held several different occupations following the collapse of his business in 1761: Excise officer; stay maker, servant, applied to become an ordained minister of the Anglican Church; schoolteacher; and manager of a tobacco shop. In 1771, at the age of thirty-four, he married Elizabeth Ollive, the daughter of his landlord.

Thomas became interested in politics when he joined The Society of Twelve, which was a local intellectual group that met regularly to discuss politics. This would be a springboard for Thomas, making him aware of a diverse group of thoughts on politics and reasoning.

In 1772 Thomas would join the Excise Officers in petitioning Parliament for improvements in wages and working conditions. He penned his first political work in support of this effort, a twenty one page article titled: The Case of the Officers of Excise. In 1774 he was fired from his post as Excise Officer; his tobacco store failed; he sold his possessions to pay his debts; he separated from his wife; he moved to London; and – most significantly for Americans – he met Benjamin Franklin, who encouraged him to emigrate to the colonies. Thomas arrived in Philadelphia on November 30, 1774, sick with fever incurred on the voyage.

Thomas would make his home in Philadelphia and would take up journalism, contributing articles to the Pennsylvania Magazine. As tensions grew – then armed conflict began – between the colonials and the British troops stationed in America, Thomas sided with the cause of American independence. He opposed any reconciliation with the British, and attacked the British monarch (George III). Thomas began advocating an immediate declaration of independence and the establishment of a republican constitution, as well as an abolition of slavery.

In January 1776, a pro-independence pamphlet was anonymously published by Thomas. Common Sense would sell 100,000 copies in three months in colonies where there were only 2 million free citizens. It became the best selling work in America of the 18th century. The popularity of this work was in the fact it took complex ideas and presented them in the language of the common man, so everyone could understand them. Thomas’ original title was Plain Truth, but Benjamin Rush encouraged a change to Common Sense. No matter what the title, the pamphlet truly began people throughout all of the colonies thinking and talking about British abuses. While many were shocked at it’s approach – it even labeled King George III as “the Royal Brute of Great Britain”, they did read, discuss, and begin to see a need for full independence.

Thomas would put a musket where his ideals were, serving with General Nathaniael Greene at Fort Lee, NJ; then went back to writing, releasing the first of sixteen Crisis papers in December 1776. The first Crisis paper contains the immortal words:
“These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine
patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he
that stands it now, deserves the thanks of man and woman”.
In 1777 Thomas continued writing the Crisis installments, and was appointed by the Continental Congress as its Secretary to Committee on Foreign Affairs. He also was appointed to help commissioners for an Indian treaty. He also wrote in Crisis IV:
“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the
fatigues of supporting it. And near the close, it states, We fight not to
enslave, but to set a country free, and to make room upon the earth for honest
men to live in.”
Thomas continued to write and to support the war effort as the Revolutionary War ground its way steadily south. In appreciation for his efforts, New York presented Thomas wit a farm at New Rochelle in 1784 for his services in the cause of independence. As the war drew to a close, Thomas began to write on domestic issues, including the need for a Bank of North America and called for Virginia to cede it’s claim to the western lands to the new government. He also worked on two inventions: a single arch iron bridge and a smokeless candle.

No longer at the center of affairs in American politics, Thomas went to Europe in 1787 to try to raise funding for his prototype bridge, and would soon be immersed in the French Revolution because of his work as a revolutionary propagandist. While in England he wrote the Rights of Man, Parts I and II, urging political rights for all men and proposing social legislation to deal with the poor. As a result he was forced to leave Britain and fled to France in 1792, condemned in his absence, and declared an outlaw. He was a made a French citizen and elected to the National Convention, where he alienated many extremists by opposing the execution of Louis IV. Eventually he was imprisoned for a year during the Reign of Terror, but released through the intervention of the US minister to France – James Monroe.

Eventually Thomas would wear out his welcome in Paris. He had become anti-Christian, denying the Bible, and making bitter attacks on the Church. He returned to the United States in October 1802 where he was well-received by President Thomas Jefferson.

But, his era of influence was over. His last years were marked by poverty, poor health, and alcoholism. He died in New York on June 8, 1809.

Thomas Paine, failed businessman and husband, poor in finances. But, his marvelous ability with a pen arrived on the shores of America at the right time to provide the grounds for discussing, then implementing, the risky step of independence.

Michael Burgan; Thomas Paine: Great Writer of the Revolution
Craig Nelson; Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations
Harvey J. Kaye; Thomas Paine and the Promise of America Harvey J. Kaye; Thomas Paine: Firebrand of the Revolution (juvenile)

History Guide Lecture
US History Biography

Sunday, January 25, 2009

For Jan. 26th: “The air is the only place free from prejudices”

Do you know who this is?
-She was known as “Queen Bess” and “Brave Bessie”
-She was the first African American woman pilot to receive a pilot’s license
-Every year on the anniversary of her death pilots put flowers on her grave

Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman was born in Atlanta, Texas, on January 26th, 1892, as the tenth of thirteen children. Her parents – George and Susan Coleman – were sharecroppers. Her father was a Native American, and her mother was an African American. They later moved to Waxahachie, Texas, where she and her family picked cotton, and she helped with laundry for her mother’s customers.

Beginning at the age of six, Bessie would attend a one-room segregated rural school, walking four miles a day in order to attend. She excelled in math, loved to read, and would complete all eight grades of the one-room school. She often borrowed books from a travelling library to read and enlarge her world.

In 1901 her father – tiring of the racism of early 20th Century America, decided to return to the Cherokee Indian reservation in Oklahoma. His wife decided to stay in Waxahachie, and the family was split up. Bessie stayed with her mother and siblings in Waxahachie.

Bessie would enroll in the Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University (now Langston University, Langston, Oklahoma) when she was 18, but quit attending after her first term there because of lack of money to finance her continued education. She moved to back to Waxahachie, then in 1915 she moved to Chicago, Illinois, living with two of her brothers and securing a job as a manicurist at the White Sox Barber Shop.

Bessie would find her role in life as she listened to pilots returning from World War I relating their experiences and reliving the excitement of flying through their stories. Her dream to fly was also fueled by a challenge from her brother John, a World War I veteran, who told her that French women were better than American women because they could fly airplanes. She tried to receive training in the US, but was turned down because she was Black and she was a woman. So Bessie, with the backing of some influential Black businessmen in Chicago, went to France, where she arrived on Nov. 20, 1920. In France, Bessie attended the well-known Caudron Brothers' School of Aviation in Le Crotoy, France, learning the skills of being a pilot on a French Nieuport 82 trainer aircraft. Within seven months she was successful in becoming the first African American woman in the world to receive an international pilot’s license. She continued to improve her skills with private lessons from a French ace, finally sailing for America in September 1921.

Bessie had two major goals after achieving her pilot’s license: To make a living flying and to establish the first African American flight school. The reason for the second goal was because:
“I decided blacks should not have to experience the difficulties I had faced, so I decided to open a flying school and teach other black women to fly.”
Commercial pilots did not exist in 1921, so the only way that Bessie could make money by flying was to perform exhibition flying - which was a dangerous, stunt filled, acrobatic style of flying known as barnstorming. Despite her international pilot’s license, she still could not get anyone in the United States to give her training in this area, so she returned to Europe for more extensive training in February, 1922. Returning later that year, she would participate in her first air show on September 23, 1922, at Glenn Curtis Field in New York.

She soon became a flying sensation and media favorite. She was soon billed as “the world’s greatest woman pilot”, and was travelling the nation. She most often flew the Curtis “Jenny” biplane as well as surplus World War I aircraft, and it was a stalled engine on a Jenny that would cause Bessie’s first accident – a crash which broke her leg and some ribs, and took her a year to fully recover from.

Bessie began performing again full time in 1925, touring a number of cities, including the town she grew up in, Waxahachie, Texas. Here she performed with one condition: while there was segregated seating, she insisted that there be only one gate where both Blacks and whites would enter into the airfield. Her condition was met – a small victory in the early battle against segregation.

Her aviation career would end tragically on April 30 1926, while preparing for a show in Jacksonville, Florida. She was riding in the passenger seat of her “Jenny” airplane while her mechanic William Willis piloted the aircraft. She was not wearing her seat belt at the time so she could lean over the edge of the cockpit and scout potential parachute landing spots for the parachute jump she was planning on performing the next day. The Jenny was put into a planned dive, then suddenly dropped into a steep nosedive and flipped over, catapulting her to her death after a 500-foot fall. Willis – strapped in to his seat – died when the plane crashed in a nearby field. After the accident, investigators discovered that Willis had lost control of the airplane because of a loose wrench which had jammed the plane’s instruments.

5000 mourners would attend her memorial service on May 2nd, 1926 – honoring the aviation pioneer before her body was shipped to Chicago for burial in Lincoln Cemetary.

Bessie’s career in the public eye what short, but spectacular. She would overcome the challenges of race and gender discrimination to become the first African American woman to earn a pilot’s license, fighting segregation when she could by using her celebrity status to try to affect change, and having a dream – which she could never completely fulfill herself – of establishing a flight school for African Americans.

Her legacy and her dream continued after her death. She heightened interest in flying by showing both African Americans and women that difficulties could be overcome. As she once said, “I refused to take no for an answer.”

Many since Bessie have adopted that motto.

Local Library Resources:
Nikki Grimes: Talkin' 'bout Bessie: the Story of Aviator Bessie Coleman
Louise Borden: Fly High!: the Story of Bessie Coleman (Juvenile)

Reeve Lindbergh: Nobody Owns the Sky: the Story of "Brave Bessie" Coleman (Juvenile)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

January 23rd: A Founder of the U.S. Navy

Do you know who this is?
-His beloved wife-to-be died just days before their wedding, and he never again considered marriage.
-He was one of two bachelors who signed the Declaration of Independence.
-He was a founder of the U.S. Navy.

Joseph Hewes was born near Kingston, New Jersey, on January 23, 1730. His parents were Aaron and Providence Hewes, members of the Society of Friends (Quakers) who fled from the colony of Connecticut to the colony of New Jersey soon after their marriage because of prejudices evidenced by the New England Puritan descendents as well as the threat from Indians.

Not much is known about Joseph’s early years, until he attended the College of New Jersey (later known as Princeton University) and, upon graduation, was placed in a Philadelphia merchant’s counting house to learn about operating a business. He apparently learned the business trade well, because soon after he left the counting house, he became a merchant himself – and a successful one, too.

At the age of thirty, Joseph moved to Edenton, North Carolina, continuing his merchant interests, becoming a ship owner, and building a respectable name for himself as well as a respectable fortune. He established a reputation as being a man of high principles, morals, and honor. A few short years after he moved to North Carolina Joseph was elected to the North Carolina legislature where he served several terms (1766 – 1775).

In 1774 the Continental Congress first met, and Joseph was one of the three delegates from North Carolina. He as asked to serve on a committee that was to "state the rights of the colonies in general, the several instances in which these rights are violated or infringed, and the means most proper to be pursued for obtaining a restoration of them". This committee provided a report which included such statements as:

- That they (colonists) are entitled to life, liberty, and property;
- They are entitled to all the rights, liberties, and immunities of free and natural born subjects, within the realm of England.
- That the foundation of English liberty, and of free government, is a right in the people to participate in their legislative council; and as the English colonists are not represented, and, from their local and other circumstances, cannot properly be represented in the British parliament, they are entitled to a free and exclusive power of legislation in their several provincial legislatures,
- That England should exclude every idea of taxation, internal or external, for raising a revenue on the subjects in America, without their (colonists) consent.
- That they have a right peaceably to assemble, consider of their grievances, and petition the king;
- That the keeping a standing army in these colonies in times of peace, without consent of the legislature of that colony in which such army is kept, is against the law.

Even though Joseph had been a merchant engaged in commercial transactions with England for more than twenty years, he assisted in forming a plan of non-importation, and supported it whole-heartedly. In a letter to a merchant friend in England on July 31, 1775, he wrote:
“We are in a terrible situation indeed; all trade here is now at an end, and
when it will again be revived, God only knows. Every American to a man is
determined to die, or be free. We are convinced, nothing can restore peace to
this unhappy country, and render the liberty of your's secure, but a total
change of the present Ministry, who are considered in this country as enemies to
the freedom of the human race, like so many Devils in the infernal regions,
sending out their servants, furies, to torment where-ever they choose their
infernal vengeance should fall.”
He was reappointed to the Continental Congress in 1775, would lose the office in 1777, partially because of health problems, and return in 1779. While there, he would advocate independence – a stance which ultimately would force him to break with the Society of Friends (Quakers), who held a general convention in 1775 and denounced the activities of the Continental Congress. As an advocate for independence, he stated while signing the Declaration of Independence:
“My country is entitled to my services, and I shall not shrink from the cause,
even though it should cost me my life.”
He also served on the marine committee, and with John Adams was instrumental in forming the U.S. Navy. He also was responsible for bringing John Paul Jones into the American Navy. He also placed his ships at the service of the fledgling Navy.

Joseph was ill and – the last month of his life – bedridden. Many felt that he had overworked himself to death in the cause of independence. He died at the age of 50 on November 10, 1779, and was buried in Christ Church Burial Ground, Philadelphia. His last words on his deathbed were: “Do not fret or worry about my going, for I have full confidence in the mercy and the goodness of God. Pray for me.”

As Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, author of the Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence (1856), wrote:
“Although the events in the life of Mr. Hewes, which we have been able to
collect, are few, they perhaps sufficiently speak his worth, as a man of
integrity, firmness, and ardent patriotism. To this may be added, that in
personal appearance he was prepossessing, and characterized in respect to his
disposition for great benevolence, and in respect to his manners for great
amenity. He left a large fortune, but no children to inherit it.”

Web Resources:
Biographies of the Founding Fathers

Local Library Resources:
Dennis B. Fradin: The Signers: the Fifty-six Stories Behind the Declaration of Independence

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Jan. 20: “The sun will come out tomorrow"

Do you know who this is?
He was a famous cartoonist without formal art training.
He was a bayonet instructor in WW I
His cartoon strip lasted for years, and morphed into a Broadway play and a movie.
His cartoon character never sang "The sun will come out tomorrow."

Harold Gray was born on January 20, 1894, in Kankakee, Illinois. He would grow up on a farm near Chebanse, Illinois, and would attend Purdue University in 1917, where he received a degree in engineering.

While he held a degree in engineering, Harold is best known for his self-taught occupation of cartoonist. He would serve in World War I as a bayonet instructor, and after his discharge from the Army would be hired by the Chicago Tribune, where between 1921 and 1924 he did the lettering for Sidney Smith's The Gumps comic strip.

In 1924, Harold came up with a comic strip of his own titled Little Orphan Otto. However, since there were many comic strips about boys, and none about girls, the title was soon changed to Little Orphan Annie. The change was suggested by the Chicago Tribune's Joseph Patterson, who liked the idea of an orphan able to roam freely from place to place and to go through various adventures. Patterson suggested the change because (referring to Otto) "He looks like a pansy. Put skirts on the kid."

She was named after James Whitcomb Riley’s 1885 poem Little Orphant Annie which was being reprinted in the newspaper at that time. Riley’s poem goes:

Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an'
saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
An' shoo the chickens off the porch,
an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an'
earn her board-an'-keep;
An' all us other childern, when the supper-things
is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Gobble-uns
'at gits you
Ef you

The strip became a soap opera about the good and evil found in the world. It became very popular in the 1920’s, and would continue it’s comic strip run for the rest of Harold’s life – the next 44 years – and would be continued by Tex Blaisdell and others after Harold’s death in 1968, but without the characteristics that Harold had given to it.

The comic strip – and the plots – became more complicated as Little Orphan Annie entered the 1930s. Always reflecting Harold’s conservative nature, the plot lines began to extend over time, creating more involved characters, dialogue, plot, and action. She met do-gooders, crooked politicians, and gangsters.

As World War II approached, Little Orphan Annie became involved in blowing up Nazi submarines, ducking bullets, and helping to fight saboteurs. She even formed the Junior Commandos, which later became a real organization with 20,000 members, to help collect metal, money for war bonds, and assist in raising victory gardens.

Always patriotic, smart, and pro-American – mixing the rich (Daddy Warbucks) with faithful servants (Punjab), and with a love of animals (Sandy), Little Orphan Annie reflected Harold’s personae. Her dedication to hope, hard work, and optimism reflected Harold’s belief in the Puritan work ethic, and the belief that anyone who worked hard enough could succeed. His conservative views on society, government, and human nature constantly rose to the surface in Little Orphan Annie, striking a cord with many Americans – yet often getting him in trouble. He told a young Al Capp:

I know your stuff, Capp. You're going to be around a long time. Take my advice and buy a house in the country. Build a wall around it. And get ready to protect yourself. The way things are going, people who earn their living someday are going to have to fight off the bums.
Harold was a master story teller, able to bring a reader into the comic strip on one day, and make him want to come back again the next through the strength of the story line. Whether you liked his political stance or not, he created an engaging, lasting character.

Web Resources:

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Jan. 14: Sea Captain to General

Do you know who this is?
-He married his first cousin, Katherine
-Shipped out as a cabin boy at a young age, and wound up a ships captain by the age of 21.
-Was involved in the African Slave Trade while a ships captain.
-Freed his two slaves (man servants) after he signed the Declaration of Independence.

On January 14, 1730, Captain William and Mary Cutt Whipple had their second of five children, a future signer of the Declaration of Independence: William, in their home in Kittery, located in the SW corner of modern day Maine.

Whipple’s education was limited to public school, without access to the colleges or other higher institutions of learning that many of the other signers had the advantage of going to. He was, however, tutored by his mother’s cousin, Robert Elliot Gerrish, who was a Harvard graduate. William and his two brothers grew up playing in the shipyards, learning the skills of building sailing vessels, following in the footsteps of their father by falling in love with the sea. When William was 14, he signed on as a cabin boy, beginning his merchant career. By the age of 21 he was ship’s captain, and sailed principally in the West Indies and Africa, transporting rum, rice, tobacco, and slaves.

William was wealthy enough to retire from the sea when he was 29, and joined with his brothers in business ventures, centered in Portsmouth, N.H. William prospered.

In 1767, at the age of 37, he married his cousin, Catherine (Katharine) Moffett, 35. They had only one child – a boy – who died before he was two.

The outbreak of the American Revolution would mark the beginning of William’s career as a public servant. In June 1774 he was on a committee to prevent the landing of tea in Portsmouth. He became a member of the Committee of Safety and in 1776 was sent as a delegate to the Continental Congress. He served in the Congress until 1779. He was appointed a Brigadier General in 1777, commanding New Hampshire troops at the battle of Saratoga. His meritorious conduct was rewarded by his being jointly appointed with Colonel Wilkinson, as the representative of General Gates, to meet two officers from General Burgoyne, and settle the articles of capitulation.

One story about Whipple based on a diary entry:
The day that General Whipple was leaving for Bennington he noticed that his slave boy, Prince, was hanging around the stable yard watching the preparations for the General's departure. Suddenly the General said to the boy "Hurry up Prince, we've got to go and fight for our freedom." The young boy looked his master squarely in the eye and said, "But I have no freedom to fight for, suh." This stirred the older man considerably and he replied quickly, "From this moment on you are a free man, Prince, hurry up now and we will fight for our freedom together."
Having freed his own slaves during the Revolution, William wrote this letter to his friend Josiah Bartlett:
"The last accounts from South Carolina were favorable. A recommendation is gone thither for raising some regiments of Blacks. This, I suppose will lay a foundation for the emancipation of those wretches in that country. I hope it will be the means of dispensing the blessings of Freedom to all the human race in America."
William expressed his frustration with some members of the Continental Congress in a letter in which he said:
“I am sorry to say that sometimes matters of very small importance waste a good deal of precious time, by the long and repeated speeches and chicanery of gentlemen who will not wholly throw off the lawyer even in Congress.”
After the Revolutionary War was over, William served as a representative to the New Hampshire legislature, and Judge of the Superior Court of New Hampshire.

William would die on Nov. 28, 1785. He had pledged his honor and his finances to the American Revolution, and had embodied its principals in freeing his personal servants. He was highly respected in his day for his strong religious convictions, honesty, hard work, and unblemished moral stance. It is important for us to recognize the risks that the signers took, especially if the revolution failed: They were traitors to the mother country, and the penalty for being a traitor was death.

The New Hampshire Gazette ran a full-page tribute to Whipple when he died. The article included the following quote:
"In him concentrated every principle that exalts the dignity of man. His disinterested patriotism and public services are now known to all. And when newspaper encomiums are lost in oblivion, the pen of the historian shall preserve the remembrance of his virtue in the breast of succeeding generations. During the long course of unequaled sufferings, he endured his lot with a firmness correspondent to the greatness of his mind.”
There are no books available dedicated to William Whipple

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Jan. 13: The Flat, Calm, Twangy Midwestern Voice

Do you know who this is?
-He was an author and radio newscaster.
-He was the head of the Office of War Information (OWI) during World War II
-He portrayed himself as a journalist in the 1951 science fiction classic, The Day The Earth Stood Still

Elmer Davis is a name that many may not have heard of. He was not a general or admiral, great politician or explorer. He was an Indiana newsman who moved into radio, and won the hearts of America during the tension filled years of WW II with honest news reporting.

Elmer was born in Aurora, Indiana on January 13, 1890, the son of Elam Davis - a cashier for the First National Bank of Aurora – and Louise Severin Davis – a school principal. He would grow up in Aurora, and would start working for the Aurora Bulletin as a printer’s devil after his freshman year in high school. Elmer was small in build, and athletics were not his strong point. However, he did have a sharp mind and an intense interest in writing – a combination that would move him into a career in which he would excel.

Elmer started his professional writing career as a reporter with the Indianapolis Star, where he was paid $25 a week, and worked for them during his years at Franklin College

In 1910 Elmer was awarded a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford. His time at Oxford was cut short when Elmer’s father became very ill, and eventually died. While his stay in England was short, Elmer was able to make frequent trips to the Continent during that time, and during one of these trips met his future wife, Florence.

When Elmer returned to America he began working as editor of Adventure magazine. He left this job after a year (in 1913) to go back to his true love – the news – and work for the New York Times, a job he held for the next decade, interviewing people from boxer Jack Dempsey to evangelist Billy Sunday. Here he was very successful. Reporters were paid for the printed space of their article – the longer the article, the more the pay. Samuel T. Williamson, a fellow Times reporter said of Davis: he "benefited from his facility with the English language," which "made it possible for him to write a long story so phrased that a copy-reader couldn't cut it much."

In 1923, Elmer left the Times to become a successful freelance writer, writing both fiction and nonfiction articles for a number of publications, as well as books. His big break would come in 1939.

Columbia Broadcasting called Elmer in August 1939, asking him to fill in as a news analyst for H. V. Kaltenborn. Kaltenborn was in Europe reporting on the various crisis occurring there that would eventually lead to World War II. Elmer later wrote: "I had done some broadcasting at odd times over the past dozen years, had sometimes even pinch-hit for Kaltenborn during his absences; but to fill in for him in such a crisis as this was a little like trying to play center-field in place of Joe DiMaggio." He became an instant success, and was welcomed into the homes of millions of Americans every evening. His news analaysis was a brief five minutes long, but it summed up the events shaping the world in a concise, clear manner. Edward R. Murrow, one of the great newscasters of the day, felt that Elmer’s success was due in part to his Indiana accent: it reminded folks of home. Murrow wrote to Elmer: "I have hopes that broadcasting is to become an adult means of communication at last. I've spent a lot of time listening to broadcasts from many countries . . . and yours stand out as the best example of fair, tough-minded, interesting talking I've heard."

Listen to one of his broadcasts here.

In one of his broadcasts, Elmer recommended the government organize news information under one organization. This would lead Franklin Roosevelt to establish the Office of War Information (OWI), and to ask Elmer Davis to be the head of it. Davis eventually accepted, and created a powerful organization with the goal: "This is a people's war, and the people are entitled to know as much as possible about it." The OWI was charged with coordinating government information about the events and progress of the war effort to the home front. Elmer was in continual confrontation with the military over what the public had the right to know.

When the war ended, so did the OWI, and Elmer went back to radio broadcasting, this time with ABC. He took a stand against the abuses of McCarthyism in the early 1950’s – risky business at the time, though typical for Elmer, as his statement “The first and great commandment is, don't let them scare you” shows. In 1958 he would suffer a stroke, dying on May 18th of that year.

While his work in radio is largely unrecognized today – reflecting, perhaps, the huge influence of television during the last half-century - Elmer Davis brought critical analysis and commentary to the events of the day, was willing to stand up for his basic principles, and lived his life wanting to honestly inform the American public of news both good and bad. He crusaded against the enemies of freedom of expression, and used a common sense in his approach that is often missing in other commentators. The New York Times stated that he was "the Mount Everest of commentators, towering in serenity and grandeur over the foothill Cassandras of his time." He’s a man we need to remember.

Web Resources:

American Journalism Review
Elmer Davis Biography
OTR Davis Biography
Life Article 1943
Time Article 1940
Time Magazine Article 1942
Time Article 1943

Local Library Resources:
No local library resources are available.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Man of Faith, Man of Vision

He became the first American-born Catholic bishop
He became the first American archbishop

John Carroll was born on January 8, 1736, in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, the fourth of seven children born to Daniel and Eleanor Darnall Carroll. His father was a merchant and planter, engaging in the profitable tobacco trade of the era.

John was first educated at home by his mother, who had been educated in a convent school in France. When he was 11, John would be sent to a Jesuit school, then a year later he was sent to the Jesuit school of St. Omer in French Flanders. He would stay overseas for the next 26 years, mostly in France. John pursued his education and sought the priesthood, taking his final vows in 1771. Upon this achievement he became a chaperone for a young baron, toured Europe, with a goal of visiting Rome. John wanted to visit Rome because the pope was on the verge of suppressing the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). He arrived there – incognito - in the fall of 1772, and soon after received word of the suppression of a group that had been his mentor and teacher for a quarter of a century. John wrote to his mother:
"The greatest blessing which in my estimation I could receive from God, would be
immediate death."

He returned to America in 1774 – and a revolution. He would go back to Maryland, living with his mother in Maryland. As a result of laws discriminating against Catholics, there was then no public Catholic Church in Maryland, so John began the life of a missionary in Maryland and Virginia. He would found St. John the Evangelist Parish at Forest Glen, holding mass on a regular basis. In 1776 the Continental Congress would ask John to accompany Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase, and his cousin Charles Carroll to Quebec to try to persuade the French Catholics to join in the Revolution. While he questioned the propriety of a priest joining the committee, he also saw it as his duty as a patriot. The local Catholic bishop in Quebec tried to block his influence, and he would return to the colonies with an ailing Franklin in 1777.

His sympathies were with the revolutionary cause, which he saw as favorable to the future of the Church in the new nation. With independence ratified by treaty in 1783, he wrote jubilantly to an official in Rome that… "our Religious system has undergone a revolution, if possible, more extraordinary, than our political one." Also in 1783, he – and five other priests – began a series of meetings that established the Catholic Church in the United States. John worked hard toward establishing Catholicism in the face of discrimination. Only 4 of the original thirteen states included equality of religion in their constitutions – Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, and Maryland – with all but Pennsylvania having been regularly visited by John as a missionary.

In 1784 – based on a recommendation from Benjamin Franklin – John was appointed the Superior of Missions in the United States of North America, establishing the first Catholic hierarchy in the new nation. In 1789, Baltimore would be made the first diocese in the United States, and John Carroll was made its bishop.

He represented to Congress the need of a constitutional provision for the protection and maintenance of religious liberty, and doubtless to him, in part, is due the provision in Article Sixth, Section 3, of the Constitution, which declares that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States", and also the first amendment, that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..” To a Catholic critic in 1790, John wrote:
"Their blood flowed as freely (in proportion to their numbers) to cement the fabric of independence as that of any of their fellow-citizens. They concurred with perhaps greater unanimity than any other body of men in recommending and promoting that government from whose influence America anticipates all the blessings of justice, peace, plenty, good order, and civil and religious liberty"

In 1806, he oversaw the construction of America's first Catholic Cathedral, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore, Maryland The Basilica was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe – who had been the architect of the United States Capitol. He became the first Catholic archbishop in the United States in 1808 when Baltimore was elevated to an archdiocese.

He died on December 3, 1815, almost reaching his eightieth birthday. His remains are interred in the crypt of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which can be visited by the public.

One man can have a profound influence on a nation’s history. He took a religion that was discriminated against, and made it a part of the American fabric. His influence in protecting all religions – in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights – is still felt today. His support of separation of church and state – in the intent and understanding of the founding fathers – was crucial to establishing that concept. The original intent was that there was to be no ‘state’ religion (as existed in most if not all parts of the world in the 18th century), which could discriminate and persecute against other religions as being ‘false’. The original founders never thought of a total rejection of religion by a government – or of a government controlled by (or controlling) a religion. His dedication to education as a great equalizer is still carried on today: he was part of the founding of Georgetown University, and has a Jesuit university (John Carroll University) named after him. He was a phenomenal man in a revolutionary era.

Web Resources:
America’s First Cathedral
Catholic Encyclopedia

Local Library Resources:
No biographies are available

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Cutting Edge: For January 5

His mother produced a cookbook that was popular for over 100 years, and is still in use today.
He was an opponent to capitalism.
It is estimated that men will spend an average of five months of their lives using his product.

Although his ancestors had landed in Massachusetts in the 1630s, the family had migrated westward. King Camp Gillette was born in the small town of Fond du Lac, central Wisconsin, on January 5, 1855. His parents, George and Fanny, were both innovators in their own right, which would have a long-term influence on their son. When King was four, the Gillette’s moved to Chicago, where his father would start a hardware business. Thirteen years later the great Chicago Fire would wipe out the business, and they would move to New York, where the elder Gillette got a job as a patent agent.

King went to work as a travelling salesman at the age of 17, and would make improvements on some of the products he sold, winding up with four patents of his own by 1890. King was a successful salesman, working for a variety of companies, for the next 20 years. It was in 1890 that he married Ella Gaines.

His mother, in 1887, published the White House Cook Book: A Selection of Choice Recipes Original and Selected, During a Period of Forty Years' Practical Housekeeping. The book became a standard gift for new brides, and is still sold today – both the original and revised editions.
“As I stood there with the razor in my hand, my eyes resting on it as lightly as a bird settling down on its nest—the Gillette razor was born. I saw it all in a moment, and in that same moment many unvoiced questions were asked and answered more with the rapidity of a dream than by the slow process of reasoning. … I stood there before that mirror in a trance of joy at what I saw.”
It was while he was traveling on a train that King discovered his dream. Shaving on a train with a straight razor was really dangerous. There were safety razors available – King had one, the Star Safety Razor – but the blade had to be manually resharpened. King felt there had to be a better way. In 1895, living in Boston, he came up with the idea of putting an edge on a small piece of steel, creating a blade that could be readily replaced when it became dull. King later said:
“If I had been technically trained, I would have quit or probably never would have begun...”
King consulted metallurgists at MIT - who promptly assured him that it could not be done. King did not give up, and in 1901 partnered with a MIT graduate, William Nickerson, an engineer who produced the blade King wanted. A company was formed in 1901 (The American Safety Razor Company), to be renamed The Gillette Safety Razor Company the following year. He won a patient (patent #775,134), and started producing razors and blades in 1903. For the first time razor blades would be sold in multiple packages.
“Sell the razors cheap and the blades dear.”
In order to market his product, King came up with an innovative idea: He gave away the safety razor, then sold the replaceable blades. The root of his idea came from his time as a travelling salesman with the Baltimore Seal Company, whose owner had told the inventor that in order to be successful, he had to invent something that people would throw away. It was through this technique he became wealthy. King became somewhat of a celebrity, as his picture and signature was on every razor blade package sold – not only in the United States, but world-wide.
King would lose most of his wealth in the stock market crash of 1929, and would be levered from controlling his company by various Board machinations. He would die in 1932 at the age of 77.
Despite his success, or perhaps because of it, King was not a supporter of capitalism. In 1894 he had written an anti-capitalist book called "The Human Drift" in which he criticized business practices and the rich. In the book, he stated that competition was the root of all evil and proposed a form of utopian, socialistic society that was pollution free. He hoped to replace the sprawling cities that the industrial revolution had created with beehive type communities.