Category Archives: Today’s Birthday

Ronald McNair (1950)

A nationally recognized US physicist, accomplished saxophonist, and black belt in karate, McNair was selected to join NASA’s astronaut training program in 1978. Six years later, aboard the space shuttle Challenger, he became the second African American in space. His next trip into orbit was to take place on the same shuttle on January 28, 1986, and McNair brought his sax along for the ride, intending to be the first to record an original piece of music in space. Why did this never happen? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Arthur Rimbaud (1854)

Rimbaud may have put down his pen when he was just 19 to lead an international vagabond life as a merchant and trader, but in his few years as a poet, the precocious young Frenchman managed to create a literary legacy that would have a lasting influence on the symbolists and subsequent modern poets. He put his verbal virtuosity on display in works like “The Drunken Boat,” A Season in Hell, and Illuminations. Who shot and wounded Rimbaud during one of their many lovers’ quarrels? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Carlo Urbani (1956)

In February 2003, Urbani, an Italian physician employed by the World Health Organization (WHO), was called to examine a man hospitalized in Hanoi, Vietnam, with what was initially thought to be the flu or pneumonia. Recognizing that it was in fact a new and highly contagious disease, Urbani immediately notified the WHO, prompting a rapid global response that ultimately saved many lives, though sadly not his own. The doctor himself soon succumbed to the disease he had identified. What was it? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Pierre Trudeau (1919)

As prime minister of Canada from 1968–79 and 1980–84, Trudeau advocated a strong federal government and took a determined stand against the Quebec separatist movement. Despite his opposition to Quebec’s independence, he supported Canadian sovereignty and secured for the country a new constitution in 1982 that precipitated its official independence from Britain. He also had French adopted as an official state language. How did Trudeau figure into an alleged plot to assassinate Fidel Castro? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Mae Carol Jemison (1956)

Born in America at a time when being black and female were considered distinct disadvantages, particularly in the scientific community, Jemison nevertheless had big dreams and intense drive. She studied medicine and was a practicing physician until the late 1980s, when she made history by becoming the first black female astronaut. In 1992, she skyrocketed to fame aboard the US space shuttle Endeavour as the first African-American woman in space. Why did she resign from NASA the next year? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Oscar Wilde (1854)

Wilde was an Irish poet, novelist, and playwright who mocked social conventions and scandalized English society with his unorthodox ideas and conduct. He is best known for his sophisticated, witty plays, among them Lady Windermere’s Fan and The Importance of Being Earnest, as well as his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, about a handsome young man who purchases eternal youth at the expense of his soul. Why did Wilde spend his final years living abroad under an assumed name? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Marie Carmichael Stopes (1880)

A Scottish paleobotanist whose first marriage was annulled—and allegedly never consummated—Stopes went on to publish a controversial yet highly influential sex manual, Married Love, in 1918. Thereafter, she became a pioneer in the field of family planning, opening the first birth-control clinic in the British Empire in 1921. Stopes helped break down taboos and improve women’s reproductive health, but her support of what field of reproductive science has somewhat marred her reputation? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Hannah Arendt (1906)

Jewish political philosopher Hannah Arendt fled Germany for France and then the US following Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. Her reputation as a scholar and writer was firmly established with the publication of The Origins of Totalitarianism, which linked Nazism and Communism to 19th-century imperialism and anti-Semitism. Her next major publication, The Human Condition, likewise received wide acclaim. What controversial concept did she put forth in her Eichmann in Jerusalem? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Rudolf Ludwig Karl Virchow (1821)

A German pathologist, anthropologist, and statesman, Virchow contributed to nearly every branch of medical science, was a member of the Prussian lower house and later the Reichstag, and was a leader of the liberal party opposed to Bismarck. He coined the terms “thrombosis” and “embolism” and supported emerging ideas on cell division and metabolism. His many contributions earned him the appellation “Father of Modern Pathology.” What was the “Sausage Duel,” and how was Virchow involved in it? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Luciano Pavarotti (1935)

Originally a schoolteacher, Pavarotti only began his vocal training in his 20s but nevertheless became one of the most successful tenors of all time. He made his professional debut in 1961 and then debuted at La Scala in 1965 and the Metropolitan Opera in 1968. A popular favorite, Pavarotti was noted for the rich and ringing clarity of his voice as well as for his immense personal charm. At the peak of his career, his concerts drew hundreds of thousands of attendees. Where did he last perform? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary