Category Archives: Today’s Birthday

George Meredith (1828)

One of the great English novelists, Meredith wrote complex, often comic yet highly cerebral works that contain striking psychological character studies. Though he ostensibly launched a law career at age 18, he focused instead on journalism, poetry writing, and translation. Unable to earn a living this way, he began writing novels and eventually became a critical and popular success. In one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales, Sherlock Holmes asks Dr. Watson to talk about Meredith instead of what? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini (1380)

An Italian humanist and calligrapher, Poggio Bracciolini is remembered today for two reasons. As a secretary, historian, and copyist, he uncovered many forgotten and neglected Latin manuscripts—including works by Cicero and Lucretius—that might otherwise have been lost to history. He is also famous for his extraordinarily beautiful and legible handwriting, which was later developed into roman type, the predecessor of almost all non-italic fonts. Whose handwriting was the basis for italic fonts? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Leontyne Price (1927)

When she was a young girl in Mississippi, Price was given a toy piano by her parents. Her passion for music was further inflamed by a Marian Anderson performance she saw as a child. She later enrolled in Juilliard and, with her remarkable vocal range and power, went on to become one of the Metropolitan Opera’s most popular stars and the first internationally recognized African-American opera singer. What unusual fee did the soprano reportedly request for a 1981 appearance with Luciano Pavarotti? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

William Henry Harrison (1773)

As the first governor of the Indiana Territory, Harrison negotiated treaties with Native Americans that ceded millions of acres of land to the US. In response, Tecumseh organized an uprising, which Harrison engaged at the famous Battle of Tippecanoe. He went on to lead forces in the War of 1812, recapturing Detroit from the British. Originally a Virginia aristocrat, he won the 1840 US presidential election by emphasizing his tough frontiersman image, only to die of what after a month in office? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876)

Modersohn-Becker was a German painter who became an important early Expressionist despite her tragically short career. After studying in London and Paris, she helped introduce French Post-Impressionism into German art. She was greatly influenced by her stay at the artists’ colony of Worpswede and later shifted from painting landscapes to portraits and still lifes, focusing on the expression of her feelings rather than a portrayal of reality. She died suddenly at 31, shortly after doing what? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Anna of Russia (1693)

When the young Peter II of Russia died without an heir, the Supreme Privy Council offered the throne to his distant cousin, Anna, under the condition that she would place the real power in the council’s hands. She initially agreed, but then tore up the conditions, abolished the council, and restored the autocracy. She occupied herself with extravagant amusements and relied on her lover and foreign advisors to manage the state. What happened to the infant grandnephew she named as her successor? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Mary Leakey (1913)

The daughter of an artist, Leakey had little formal education, but her love of archaeology led her to work on excavations, initially as an illustrator. Digging in Africa—often with her husband, fellow archaeologist Louis Leakey—she made some of anthropology’s most significant finds, including a 20-million-year-old skull and a set of hominid footprints preserved in volcanic ash. When she was a youth, what incident resulted in her being expelled from a convent school for the second time? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Belle Starr (1848)

Though her only criminal conviction was for the theft of a horse, Starr associated with numerous criminals throughout her life and was portrayed after her death as a notorious American outlaw, earning the nickname “the Bandit Queen.” Two of her husbands were killed in the course of their respective criminal careers, and days before her 41st birthday, Starr herself was ambushed and shot in the back as she returned to her Oklahoma ranch. Her murder was never solved. Who were some of the suspects? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Rosa Parks (1913)

An icon of the US civil rights movement, Parks is often portrayed as a tired, elderly African-American seamstress who was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, after deciding on the spur of the moment not to give up her bus seat to a white man. In reality, she was a fairly young woman who had been a civil rights activist long before her arrest, which sparked an unprecedented, successful boycott of the city’s segregated bus system. How did Parks know the bus driver who had her arrested in 1955? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Antonio José de Sucre (1795)

One of the most respected leaders of the Latin American wars for independence, Sucre was a close friend and chief lieutenant of Simón Bolívar. He was an able military leader, yet he was known for his kindness to those he defeated. Against his will, he became president of the newly created state of Bolivia and soon resigned. He later returned to service to help repel a Peruvian invasion. At the age of 35, he was waylaid in a mountainous region and killed. He was buried not in Bolivia, but where? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary