Category Archives: Today’s Birthday

Jayne Mansfield (1933)

One of the leading sex symbols of the 1950s, Mansfield reportedly spoke five languages, played the violin, and claimed an IQ of over 150. However, the provocative image she presented to the public was carefully crafted, and she was best known for her film roles as a “blonde bombshell” and her many appearances in photographs. Her tragic death at the age of 34 in a car accident led to the mandating of underride guards on tractor-trailer trucks in the US. What well-known actress is her daughter? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

James McCune Smith (1813)

Smith was the first African American to obtain a medical degree and operate a pharmacy in the US. Denied admission to American colleges due to racial discrimination, he studied in Scotland, obtaining a series of degrees. After returning to New York, he became the first professionally trained black physician in the country. He wrote forcefully against common misconceptions and false notions about race, science, and medicine and once used statistics to refute what argument about slaves? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Sirimavo Bandaranaike (1916)

Bandaranaike’s husband became prime minister of Ceylon in 1956 and was assassinated three years later. In the election that followed, Bandaranaike’s party was victorious—making her the world’s first female prime minister. She headed two coalition governments and served again as prime minister when she was appointed by her daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga, who was elected president in 1994. While in office, Bandaranaike promoted a new constitution that changed the country’s name to what? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Sir John Franklin (1786)

Franklin was a British Royal Navy officer and Arctic explorer who also served as governor of Tasmania. He is best remembered for presiding over a doomed expedition in the 1840s to chart the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic. He and his crew fell prey to a host of ills, including starvation, disease, and lead poisoning. Of the entire expedition of nearly 130 men, not one is known to have survived. What evidence suggests that some of the crew members may have resorted to cannibalism? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Bessie Smith (1894)

When Smith was just a teen, she became the protégée of Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, one of the earliest blues singers. After making recordings, she quickly became the favorite singer of the jazz public. The power and somber beauty of her voice, coupled with songs representing every variety of the blues, earned her the title “Empress of the Blues.” Numerous critics have regarded her as the greatest of all jazz artists, and her fame increased enormously after her death in what tragic accident? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891)

A member of the caste of Dalits—once known as Untouchables—Ambedkar obtained his education abroad. He returned to his native India and worked in law before entering politics. In 1947, he became the law minister of the government of India and was instrumental in framing the Indian constitution. In that capacity, he made great strides in fighting for the rights of Dalits, even criticizing Gandhi’s position on the caste system. How did the two Indian leaders differ in their approaches? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Philippe de Rothschild (1902)

A member of the aristocratic Rothschild banking family, Philippe was one of the most successful winemakers in the world. In the 1920s, the wealthy French playboy took up Grand Prix motor racing, among other pursuits, but soon withdrew to focus on the family vineyard. He spent decades building the Château Mouton Rothschild label, finally achieving Premier Cru—or First Growth—status in 1973. His idea for bottle labels became an enduring part of his vineyard’s image. What was it? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550)

A brilliantly gifted linguist and one of the most dashing figures of his time, Oxford was also reckless, hot-tempered, and disastrously spendthrift. He was the patron of an acting company and wrote highly praised poems and plays in his earlier years, though none of the plays are known to have survived. He is considered by some to be the true author of Shakespeare’s plays, since his own literary output apparently ceased just before Shakespeare’s began. Which of his writings have survived? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Percy Lavon Julian (1899)

Julian was an African-American chemist and a pioneer in the synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants. Due to the institutional racism of the time, Julian was forced to overcome enormous obstacles to obtain his PhD and was repeatedly denied opportunities for employment and academic tenure. His home in Illinois was firebombed. Nevertheless, he developed an important fire-fighting foam from soy protein and revolutionized the synthetic hormone industry, making possible what treatments? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Frances Perkins (1880)

Though Perkins was already extraordinarily accomplished by the time she was appointed US Secretary of Labor under President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, the decision to appoint a woman to the cabinet was bitterly criticized by business and political leaders. In her unusually long 12-year term, Perkins advocated reforms such as a minimum wage, a maximum workweek, and unemployment compensation. She helped develop the Social Security Act of 1935. What book did she write after leaving office? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary