Category Archives: Today’s Birthday

Friedrich Ludwig Jahn (1778)

A German patriot and educator at a time when Europe was actively trying to free itself from Napoleonic rule, Jahn founded a gymnastic society, Turnverein, to build strength and fellowship among young people as well as help foster a nationalistic spirit among members. After Napoleon’s defeat, German leaders came to view the once-sanctioned organization as a threat and had its founder arrested in 1819 and a national ban placed on gymnastics. What now-standard gymnastics equipment did Jahn invent? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Clarence Leonidas "Leo" Fender (1909)

Few people in recent history have transformed popular music—rock and roll in particular—the way Leo Fender did. A self-taught radio repairman, Fender began inventing electronic instruments in the 1940s and is responsible for the first mass-produced solid-body electric guitar, the first widely used electric bass, and many other revolutionary instruments. His Fender Musical Instruments Corporation remains a leading manufacturer of instruments and amplifiers. Which famous bassists favor Fender? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Pamela Lyndon "P. L." Travers (1899)

Australian-born British actress, journalist, and novelist P. L. Travers is best remembered for her series of fictional children’s books about the prim, vain, imperious, acerbic, and mysteriously magical nanny Mary Poppins. The books were a great success, and Disney’s award-winning 1964 film adaptation made the author even more famous. Travers worked as an adviser on the film, but in the end she was unhappy with it and never allowed anyone related to the production to adapt her work again. Why? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Matthew Alexander Henson (1866)

Orphaned in his youth, Henson went to work on a merchant ship at the age of 12. After nearly a decade at sea, he met American explorer Robert E. Peary and became his valet and assistant for the next 22 years. In 1909, Henson accompanied Peary on the first expedition credited with reaching the North Pole. Though Peary received many honors for this achievement, Henson, an African American, was largely ignored. What did both men leave behind when they returned to mainland America from the Arctic? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

John Heathcoat (1783)

Heathcoat was not the first person to invent a lacemaking machine, but his apparatus was the first to produce an exact imitation of handmade pillow lace. Patented in 1809, it was the most complex textile machine then in existence. Heathcoat decided to capitalize on his invention by opening a lace mill, but textile workers, angry that they were being replaced by machines, attacked and destroyed it in 1816. Undeterred, he opened a new mill elsewhere. What happened to the steam plough he invented? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Susie Baker King Taylor (1848)

Born into slavery, Taylor was secretly—and illegally—educated during her childhood. As a young woman, she served as a Union army nurse during the American Civil War. She became the first African American to openly teach former slaves in Georgia and the first African-American woman to publish a memoir of her wartime experiences, Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops, Late 1st S.C. Volunteers. How did she end up with Union troops in the first place? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Edward John Eyre (1815)

Several years after immigrating to Australia from England, Eyre decided to explore his new home. His expeditions took him, often with one or more Aboriginal companions, through some of Australia’s harshest terrain. He subsequently became a British colonial official, serving for a time as a protector of Aborigines. His sympathies, however, appear not to have extended to other marginalized groups. As governor of Jamaica, Eyre authorized hundreds of executions while suppressing what uprising? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, the "Lion of Bombay" (1845)

Mehta was a leading Indian lawyer, politician, and activist during the time of British rule in India. Though he was not directly opposed to the crown, he advocated for greater Indian autonomy and self-government. He is considered the father of municipal government in Bombay and promoted education, sanitation, and healthcare reforms in the city and around India. In 1885, he helped found the Indian National Congress, and he later served as its president. What was his opinion of English culture? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Regina Jonas (1902)

After being denied ordination at least once, German Jewess Regina Jonas finally found a rabbi willing to defy convention and make her, in 1935, the first ordained woman rabbi. A victim of the Holocaust, Jonas’s story went forgotten for many years, only coming to light when some of her writings, including a document titled “Lectures of the One and Only Woman Rabbi, Regina Jonas,” were rediscovered long after her death at the hands of the Nazis. Where was she when she delivered these lectures? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Constantine I of Greece (1868)

The reign of Constantine I was a trying one. He succeeded his father as king of Greece in 1913 and was almost immediately faced with World War I. His neutralist, yet essentially pro-German, attitude caused the Allies and his Greek opponents to force his abdication and send him into exile in 1917. His leading opponent’s fall from power in 1920 opened the door for Constantine to be restored to the throne, but his homecoming was short lived. Why did he abdicate for a second time in 1922? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary