Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USZ62-54231]
George Gershwin was an American composer and pianist, most notably known for his compositional pieces including Rhapsody in Blue
(1924) and An American in Paris
(1928). He was born into a family of Russian parents, named Moishe Gershowitz and Rosa Bruski. His parents left Russia to move to the United States and changed their names to sound more American not long after their arrival. Rosa, who had moved to New York before Moishe, changed her name to Rose and when he joined her later; she had him take the name, Morris. In addition to the change of their first names, Morris soon changed his family name from Gershowitz to Gershwin.
On September 26, 1898, George Gershwin, the second oldest of four children, was born in Brooklyn, New York. George, who was named after his grandfather, Jacob, was often only called George growing up, which influenced him to legally change his name to George later on. Surprisingly, young George didn’t show an immediate interest in music. That is, not until age ten, when he was entranced by the sounds that played from his childhood friend, Maxie Rosenzweig’s violin. After experiencing this musical epiphany, the sound of music would change for him from that day on. He would play it and create it, but first, he needed to learn it. To his parents’ delight, he began with the piano that was given to his older brother, Ira.
As a young teenager, George stopped attending public school to work at the night club, Tin Pan Alley in New York City. While only making a meager wage, he published his first song, When You Want ‘Em, You Can’t Get ‘Em, When You’ve Got ‘Em, You Don’t Want ‘Em (1916) at age seventeen. Over the next four years, he would make a real name for himself, publishing the local, commercial hit song, “Rialto Ripples” and the national hit song, Swanee (1919), the latter of which was sung by the famous Broadway singer of the time, Al Jolson. In the first half of the 1920s, George collaborated with songwriter and music director, William Daly, on a host of successful Broadway musicals, including Piccadilly to Broadway (1920) and Our Nell, further establishing himself in the industry.
Despite his success in the United States, George was interested in expanding his musical talents by going abroad to learn composition in a more classical fashion. He traveled to Europe, settling in Paris for a short period of time. While he stayed there, he sought out the teachings of renowned music teachers Nadia Boulanger and Maurice Ravel, both of whom rejected his apprenticeship, fearing that classical composition would derail his jazz-influenced style. Yet, their rejections certainly didn’t derail his motivation to continue writing; he wrote An American in Paris in 1928 which was based on his Parisian experiences. While popular in the U.S. and most of Europe, it was met with mixed reviews from his French listeners.
Back in the States, Gershwin began work on writing operas, his first of which was Blue Monday, followed shortly by Porgy and Bess (1935). Neither opera had gained him the commercial success he had received from previous work so he moved to Hollywood, California in pursuit of new kinds of work. In 1936, he was hired by RKO Pictures to write the music for the motion picture Shall We Dance, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The composition was over an hour in length and had taken George months to write. Although the movie didn’t meet its goal at the box office, on the whole, it was well received by the public.
The following year brought complications for George, including recurring headaches and unusual behaviors that were soon witnessed by his family, friends, and fans. He performed his popular piano piece, Piano Concerto in F with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, but his performance was disrupted by a combination of his loss of coordination and blackouts while on stage. Eventually, he checked into a hospital in Los Angeles to be examined for his recent headaches and uncharacteristic behavior. Initially, his doctors didn’t find a justifiable reason to detain him so they released him with a diagnosis of likely hysteria. However, not long after his release, he had returned to the hospital after passing out during work on what would become his last composition, Goldwyn Follies. His second bout at the hospital had revealed to his doctors that his strange behavior and pains were not caused by likely hysteria but a brain tumor in his head. The severity of his diagnosis had rushed his doctors to seek the help of leading neurosurgeon, Dr. Walter Dandy. Unfortunately, Dr. Dandy was 3,000 miles away on vacation in Maryland and didn’t make it in time for George Gershwin’s untimely death on July 11, 1937 at the age of 38.
Learn more about George Gershwin at the New York State Library. Here are a few titles to get you started:
-George Gershwin : a bio-bibliography
Carnovale, Norbert. 2000.
Greenberg, Rodney. 1998.
-The music of Gershwin
Gilbert, Steven E. 1995.
Catch it while it’s available. The New York State Library presents its August 2013 Exhibit: Behind the March on Washington.
Image Source: NYSL
The year 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that was led by a small but major group of civil rights and labor leaders and attended by supporters that numbered in the hundreds of thousands. It was a bright and sunny day in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, August 28, 1963, spirits were energized and eager as the sound of thousands upon thousands of voices melted together from a crowd of civil rights participants that wrapped around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, filling in every nook and cranny from the Washington Monument to the marble staircase of the Lincoln Memorial. A reported 200,000 to 300,000 people were present at the National Mall on that warm late-summer day to hear the strong and moving words that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave in the unforgettable speech, “I Have a Dream.” The march and the speech were pillars in the movement for civil rights as racial equality was all but a reality one-hundred years after the historic signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln. Although black people had acquired the constitutionality of freedom after the Union won the Civil War, the treatment they got from their fellow white countrymen hadn’t changed much in the way of social, political, and economic equality. Therefore, the march for civil rights was on the move.
Special Events and Communications Coordinator, Patricia Jordan, organized an array of books from out of the State Library’s collections to highlight the significant figures and events behind the march. In addition to Martin Luther King, Jr., Asa Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and vice-president of the AFL-CIO; and Bayard Rustin, a prominent activist in the Freedom Ride Movement and the Civil Rights Movement; and many other labor and civil rights leaders, were active contributors in the planning and success of this monumental day. “Behind the March on Washington” inspires and educates as the State Library’s patrons get a closer, more in-depth view, both, in person and online, of a time that shaped and continues to shape American history.
Visit the New York State Library before the month is over to see the August 2013 Exhibit on the 7th floor and check out the Library’s collections on the leading figures and events behind the Civil Rights Movement. Also, visit the State Library’s online to view the exhibit and catalog. Here are some titles to get you started:
-Encyclopedia of African American history, 1896 to the present : from the age of segregation to the twenty-first century
Finkelman, Paul. 2009
-The Civil Rights Act : background, statutes and primer
Capozzi, Irene Y. 2006
-Massive resistance : the white response to the civil rights movement
Lewis, George. 2006
-Resolving racial conflict : the Community Relations Service and civil rights, 1964-1989
Levine, Bertram J. 2005
Image Source: Public Domain
Lucille “Lucy” Ball was born on August 6, 1911 in Jamestown, New York. Her parents, Henry Durell Ball and Desiree “DeDe” Evelyn Hunt, moved the young Ball around often for the first three years of her life. Henry was a telephone lineman for Bell Telephone Company which required his services in New York State as well as places as far away as Michigan and Montana. After DeDe became pregnant in late 1914, Henry died from typhoid fever a few months later. Frederick Henry Ball was born in the summer of 1915 and was raised along with Ball by their mother and maternal grandparents in Celeron, New York. Ball’s grandfather was an eccentric man, who was fond of the theatre and vaudeville shows. He often took Ball and the family to the shows and encouraged Ball to audition for plays at her school.
During her early adolescence, Ball began playing small roles in school and community plays, but her talents on the stage had really shone out for a person of her age. When she was 14, Ball started dating a 23-year-old man, named Johnny DeVita. Although DeDe did not approve of her relationship, Ball continued to date the nine-year older man for over a year. Since DeDe knew how passionate Ball was for show business, she gave her an ultimatum: she would enroll her in an acting school in New York Cityif she stopped dating DeVita. Ball agreed.
In 1926, Ball attended John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts and started working in the city as a model for Hattie Carnegie. She fell ill by an unknown disease which caused her to quit working for a few years. In 1932, she began working again, landing roles in small Broadway productions, under the name “Diane Belmont.” While she had it easy maintaining her modeling career, she found it difficult maintaining her acting career, but her modeling jobs enabled her to continue a living in New York City. Unfortunately for Ball, productions that were set for the stage eventually fell through or failed to draw in a crowd, which left Ball without work. In spite of her losses in New York City, she landed a small part in the film, the Roman Scandals (1933) and a bounty of other small roles which encouraged her to move to Hollywood where she would work with Fred Astaire, Katherine Hepburn, the Marx brothers, the Three Stooges and many other established actors.
In 1938, she was cast on the one-season hit show, The Wonder Show, where she met show announcer, Gale Gordon, a longtime friend and professional colleague. In 1940, Ball signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) for a number of films, but never received the recognition she worked hard to gain. Notwithstanding, she often took roles in many low-budget commercial motion pictures which eventually gained her the nickname, “Queen of B’s.” The same year, Ball met her future husband of twenty years and co-creator of the I Love Lucy show, Desi Arnaz, while shooting the film, Too Many Girls. They eloped after six months of dating. In 1943, she landed the female lead as Madame DuBarry in DuBarry was a Lady with Red Skelton and Gene Kelly. The film featured Ball with the debut of her popular and iconic fire red hair.
Although CBS wasn’t thrilled about adding the I Love Lucy show to their line-up, it debuted on their network in 1951 as an instant hit. When Ball and Arnaz developed the concept of doing a show together, their marriage was on the mend due to such factors as working apart from one another often while on location for a job, but the show was an attempt to fix their marriage problems. The I Love Lucy was jointly created and owned by Ball and Arnaz under the name Desilu Productions company. It aired until 1957, producing six seasons with 181 episodes, and guest starring famous actors and friends of Balls, including John Wayne, Cornel Wilde, Harpo Marx, George Reeves, Bob Hope, Orson Welles and many more.
Ball and Desi had two children during the production of the I Love Lucy show. Right before Ball turned 40, she gave birth to Lucie Desiree Arnaz. A year and a half later, she gave birth to Desi Arnaz, Jr. Her second pregnancy was written into the storyline of the show, but not without sparking up a media frenzy. Her pregnancy caused a conflict with the network because plaintiffs wrote letters to the studio, expressing the controversial nature of the subject matter. Although at the time, it wasn’t considered appropriate for women to be featured pregnant on television, CBS allowed Ball’s pregnancy in the script as long as the actors referred to it as “expecting.” After the show ended, Ball, Arnaz and their costars Vivian Vance and William Frawley, who played their neighbors and landlords, the Mertzs, continued the I Love Lucy saga in a collection of one-hour specials, called the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. Also produced under the Desilu Productions company, the hour-long comedy special aired occasionally from 1957 to 1960.
In 1960, Ball and Arnaz divorced after twenty years of a strained relationship. In the latter half of Ball’s career, she bought out Arnaz’s share in Desilu Productions and continued producing and starring in shows made by her company, including The Lucy Show (1962-68); Here’s Lucy (1968-74); and Life with Lucy (1986). A year later, Ball was introduced to Gary Morton by co-star Paula Stewart of the Broadway musical Wildcats. Morton was a stand-up comedian who told Ball he had never seen one episode of her comedy shows due to his busy schedule. Ball married Morton in 1961, recruited him into her production company, and taught him the television business. Ball and Morton remained married for nearly 30 years.
On April 18, 1989 Lucille Ball was diagnosed with dissecting aortic aneurysm, after experiencing sharp pains in her chest and being rushed to the hospital. She underwent heart surgery and was on her way to recovery, showing a heightened amount of health and energy, but only a week later, Ball woke up in the middle of the night from sharp back pains and lost consciousness. The doctors were unable to revive her, claiming that she had suffered from a second aneurysm. On April 26, 1989, Lucille Ball died in Hollywood, California.
You can learn more about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz at the New York State Library:
-I Love Lucy [electronic resource]
United States, Federal Bureau of Investigation. 2003.
-Lucille Ball [computer file]
United States, Federal Bureau of Investigation. 1998.
-Desi Arnaz [electronic resource]
United States, Federal Bureau of Investigation. 2003.
Image Source: Public Domain
Edward Hopper was born in Nyack, New York on July 22, 1882. His parents, Garrett Henry Hopper and Elizabeth Griffiths Smith, were middle class merchants in the business of dry-goods. Hopper and his only sibling Marion were raised in a strict Baptist home. Growing up in the Hopper home, the household was dominated and run by the women in Edward’s life: his grandmother, mother, sister, and housemaid. Hopper and his sister attended both private and public schools, where he showed an exceptional talent in drawing from a very young age. His parents recognized his talent and encouraged it by providing him with a variety of art supplies. As he entered adolescence, his artistic skills only progressed as he began producing beautiful oil paintings. By the age of thirteen, he made his first signed oil painting, called the Rowboat in Rocky Cove.
Later, he spent six years studying at the New York Institute of Art and Design with renowned artists and teachers, William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri, who contributed to his new outlook on art, life, and philosophy. However, his newfound outlook didn’t come without presenting challenges for the young Hopper, who had to learn how to get used to sketching nude models after growing up in a conservative home. Eventually, Hopper would be painting nudes and women as the main subject of art throughout his career in addition to still lifes, landscapes, portraits, and self-portraits.
While in New York City, hardships compelled Hopper to seek out work with steady pay in order to maintain a living. One of his first jobs was with an advertising agency making commercial illustrations for a popular magazine. Illustration in the commercial field was a genre of art he came to resent, so he fled to Europe on occasion to escape the mainstream scene of his work. In Europe, he further developed his artistic skills by painting architecture, streets, and café scenes. While many of his contemporaries were following the popular and new art style, cubism, Hopper was creating art in the style of realism.
After returning from Europe, Hopper had struggled to find a defining artistic style that would make him stand out among other realist artists. He stayed briefly in New York City before he moved to Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he began painting nature and landscapes as well as his first lighthouse painting, called Squam Light. Lighthouses would later become the subject for many of his future paintings. In 1913, he sold his first painting called Sailing at the Armory Show, held by the International Exhibition of Modern Art, a three-city exhibition that took place at the U.S. National Guard’s armories in New York City, Chicago, and Boston. Soon, he would move back to New York City and settle into the apartment in Greenwich Village where he lived the rest of his life.
He continued doing commercial art for work and delved into new mediums of art on the side, such as etching. Although his art hadn’t made a name for him after several years of trying and many paintings later, by 1923, Hopper finally gained the recognition he worked hard for. He met his wife Josephine Nivision, a fellow artist, while on a trip back to Gloucester; she was enamored with him and admired his work. Later, she would be the primary model he used in his paintings as well as his manager. With her help, his career was soon soaring. Many museums around New England began purchasing his old commercial watercolors in addition to his more personal oil paintings which enabled him to make a comfortable living creating the art he wanted to rather than needed to.
Many of Hopper’s most popular artworks came out of the early ‘40s, including Girlie Show (1941), Nighthawks (1942), and Morning in a City (1944). Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Hopper’s health began to decline. He underwent many surgeries for his prostate, but also suffered with other health complications. In spite of his health, he kept busy painting. In 1963, he painted the Sun in an Empty Room, which appears exactly as it is called. Four short years later, Edward Hopper died in his studio apartment in New York City on May 15, 1967. Several of his paintings are exhibited in renowned museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Learn more about the art and life of Edward Hopper at the New York State Library:
-Edward Hopper, 1st ed.
Troyen, Carol. 2007
-Edward Hopper : the watercolors
Mecklenburg, Virginia M. (Virginia McCord). 1999.
-Edward Hopper and the American imagination
Lyons, Deborah. 1995.
-Edward Hopper : an intimate biography
Levin, Gail. 1995.
Image Source: Library of Congress
July 4th is celebrated annually in the United States of America as Independence Day. Although the official vote for independence occurred on July 2nd by the Continental Congress in 1776, July 4th became the day in which Americans celebrate their independence from British rule. The Continental Congress served as the government for the thirteen American colonies from 1774 to 1789. In June of 1776, Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee had proposed the motion of separating from Great Britain before the Congress. However, debate on the topic would lead to the postponement of voting on the motion. Later, when the Congress returned to Lee’s proposition for independence, they appointed a small committee to draft a formal statement addressing their intentions for leaving the Crown. The committee was represented by five delegates from the thirteen colonies, including Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, and Robert R. Livingston of New York. Initially, when battles of the Revolutionary War first broke out in 1775, many colonists were not interested in separating from the Crown entirely; it wasn’t until the following year when Great Britain became more aggressive that the colonists started fighting for their freedom. On July 2, 1776 the motion for independence was passed by a landslide of votes. While nearly unanimous, New York initially voted against the separation, apprehensively remaining loyal to the Crown, but later voted in favor of independence.
John Adams was a firm believer that Independence Day should have been designated on July 2nd, considering that was when the majority vote had passed. In fact, he foresaw that July 2nd would “‘be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival’ and that the celebration should include ‘Pomp and Parade…Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other’” (History.com, 2013). Unfortunately, Adams’ wishes weren’t carried out and July 4th was chosen as the day for celebrating our nation’s independence from Great Britain. He often refused invitations to Independence Day celebrations in later years as an indirect protest against the holiday’s designation. Still, July 4th was a significant day because it was the day that the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Congress. As the war waged on, colonists began celebrating the fourth of July as our nation’s birthday in 1776 and the tradition has continued into the present date.
Find useful resources about Independence Day and our forefathers at the New York State Library.
-My American Revolution, 1st ed.
Sullivan, Robert. 2012.
-Signing their lives away : the fame and misfortune of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence.
Kiernan, Denise. 2011.
-Patriot pirates : the privateer war for freedom and fortune in the American Revolution, 1st Vintage Books ed.
Patton, Robert H. (Robert Holbrook). 2009.
Image Source: Wikipedia
Lou Gehrig was born on June 19, 1903 in Yorkville, New York City, New York. He was the second oldest of four children from his German immigrant parents. Henrich, his father, was a sheet metal worker and Christina, his mother, was a maid. His mother’s earnings were the primary income for the family because his father was in and out of work due to his abuse of alcohol. At a young age, Gehrig helped support his family after his two sisters died from whooping cough and the measles and his brother died in infancy.
At the age of seventeen, Gehrig received recognition for his talents playing baseball while attending Commerce High School. Playing against Chicago’s Lane Tech High School at Cubs Park (now Wrigley Field), he hit a grand slam out of the park in front of 10,000 visitors on June 26, 1920. Commerce won the game that night with a score of 12 to 6. Gehrig graduated from high school in 1921 and enrolled in Columbia University on a football scholarship. In college, he majored in engineering and played both football and baseball. Briefly, he played on a summer professional baseball team under the false name, Henry Lewis. After a dozen games with the Hartford Senators, his identity was discovered and he was banned from playing on any college sports team during his freshman year. In his sophomore year at Columbia, he went back to sports, playing as a fullback for the football team and as first baseman and pitcher for the baseball team. Although Gehrig completed two years at Columbia, he never graduated from the university.
Yankee scout Paul Krichell had followed Gehrig’s amateur career for a while, impressed by his skills and techniques, including his powerful left-handed hitting. In June of 1923, Gehrig had signed a Yankee contract. He was introduced on the team as a pinch hitter mid-way through the season and played in 23 games, but not in the World Series of that year. Four years later, Gehrig would be renowned for the greatest season ever played by a batter with an average of .373 at bat and 218 hits, including 52 doubles, “18 triples, 47 home runs, a then-record 175 runs batted in (surpassing teammate Babe Ruth’s 171 six years earlier), and a .765 slugging percentage” (Wikipedia, 2013).
Although Gehrig was often overshadowed by his iconic teammate, Babe Ruth, he is remembered for setting many major league records during his baseball career, some of which were only broken or tied within recent years. He had hit the most career grand slams (23) until this record was tied by Alex Rodriguez in 2012 and he played the most consecutive games (2,130) until this record was beat by Cal Ripken, Jr. in 1995.
In 1934, Gehrig was struck with his first lumbago attack. Although he finished the game that day, he needed a pinch runner to take his place. The media speculated that this might have been an early sign of what was to come later. In 1937, Gehrig’s stats stood at .351 batted and .643 slugged. However, by 1938, Gehrig’s stats started to decline with his health, with an average of “.295 at bat, 114 RBIs, 170 hits, .523 slugging percentage, 689 plate appearances with only 75 strikeouts, and 29 home runs” (Wikipedia, 2013). Although his stats were still above average, they were not representative of an all-star player.
A year later, while the Yankees were playing in Chicago, Gehrig flew to Rochester where he was diagnosed with having amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (AML); a new disease at the time that became otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease and, of which, there is still no known cure. In June 1939, Gehrig turned 36 and he was suffering with progressive paralysis and speaking and swallowing difficulties and facing a life expectancy of no more than three years. A month after his diagnosis, he retired from Major League Baseball and his uniform number 4 was retired by the New York Yankees. On June 2, 1941, seventeen days before his 39th birthday, Lou Gehrig died in his home in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx, New York.
Source: Petr Kratochvil, Public Domain, via Public Domain Pictures
The United States celebrates Father’s Day every third Sunday of June to show our dads how truly special they are to us. Moms aren’t the only parent making daily sacrifices for their children; dads make just as many. Father’s Day began in the early twentieth century as a complementary holiday to Mother’s Day. After learning about Anna Jarvis’ successful campaign for Mother’s Day at a morning sermon, Sonora Smart Dodd eagerly sought out the Spokane Ministerial Alliance for a day to honor fathers. Dodd was born in Sebastian County, Arkansas on February 18, 1882, but her family moved and settled in Spokane, Washington in 1887. After her mother died while giving birth to her youngest brother, Marshall, Dodd and her five siblings were raised by her father, William Jackson Smart, a farmer and veteran of the Civil War. Dodd was the oldest and only daughter of the Smarts, and at age 16, she helped her father raise her younger brothers after her mother’s untimely passing.
On June 19, 1910, in Spokane, one of the first unofficial events of Father’s Day took place at the YMCA with Dodd and many other local celebrators. Originally, Dodd requested that the holiday occur on June 5th, the day of her father’s birthday, but her pastor had not prepared a sermon in time for that date so the event was pushed to the third Sunday of June. Three years after its successful debut in Spokane, a bill regarding the occasion was introduced in Congress, but it didn’t receive the same attention as Mother’s Day. In fact, Father’s Day went without much mention until a few renowned parties of interest attempted to inaugurate it as an official holiday. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson visited Spokane to give a speech at a Father’s Day celebration. On his return to D.C., he requested to Congress that the event be commemorated officially. Unfortunately, Congress didn’t approve his request; they feared that the outcome might only lead to a commercialization similar to Mother’s Day. Another early attempt occurred in 1924 by President Calvin Coolidge, who discussed changing the unofficial status of the holiday with Congress, but he never followed through with issuing a national proclamation to make the change happen.
In spite of the initial success of Father’s Day in Spokane and among various cities in the US, by the 1920s, the holiday was virtually forgotten. What’s more, Dodd had become very involved in her studies at the Art Institute of Chicago so she, too, stopped promoting it. However, when she returned to Spokane in the 1930s, she resumed her efforts. With intentions to make Father’s Day a national celebration, she sought the help of commercial trade groups that specialized in men’s products, including the Father’s Day Council, an organization founded by the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers. Unfortunately, the commercial promotion only discouraged the public from taking the holiday seriously. For several decades, the media mocked it at any given opportunity, but the Council persisted in spite of the negative publicity. In fact, they used it to their advantage by playing on the jokes in their advertisements for Father’s Day.
Still, the struggle to formalize Father’s Day continued into the latter half of the twentieth century. In addition to Wilson and Coolidge, many political players supported it and partook in its inception. In 1957, Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine argued that Congress had overlooked the sacrifices fathers contribute to parenting for 40 years. Nearly 10 years later in 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued a national proclamation in honor of fathers and fatherhood, designating the third Sunday of June as Father’s Day. Finally, in 1972, President Richard Nixon signed it into law. Dodd’s hard work had paid off; she would live to celebrate Father’s Day alongside the nation. Four years prior to her passing in 1978, she was honored at the Expo ‘74 World’s Fair in Spokane.
Image Source: Library of Congress
Memorial Day is observed annually on the last Monday of May in memory of the American soldiers, who gave their lives in the protection and service of the United States. Originally, Memorial Day was called Decoration Day following the years of the Civil War and was observed in memory of fallen Union and Confederate soldiers. On May 5, 1868, Major General John Logan, head of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organization of veteran Union soldiers, proclaimed Decoration Day to be observed on May 30th in his General Order No. 1. What’s more, historians suggest that Maj. Gen. Logan chose the month of May as it is a signification of spring; a timely season for the arrival of new flowers throughout the country which could be used to decorate the gravestones of the war dead. Subsequently, the first official observance of Decoration Day occurred May 30, 1868 at ArlingtonNationalCemetery in WashingtonD.C.
During and after the Civil War, women in the North and South had decorated the gravestones of fallen soldiers with flowers, wreaths, and other decorative ornaments. Many cities in the United States have since claimed to be the founding place of which Memorial Day first took place, but multiple concurrent events actually occurred in relation to the war. Because people have decorated the gravestones of their deceased family and friends to honor their memory since ancient times, Memorial Day was designated in a similar respect. Although the question of a physical founding site is debatable, on May 5, 1966, Congress and Lyndon B. Johnson declared Waterloo, New York as the official “birthplace” for Memorial Day. Historic accounts in Waterloo indicate that one hundred years prior to this designation, a memorial event was held to honor the veterans of the Civil War.
In 1913, Union and Confederate veterans gathered for a four-day reunion at the site of the Battle at Gettysburg. The reunion occurred on the 50th anniversary of the bloodiest and most infamous battle of the Civil War. Remembrance was addressed with parades, reenactments, and speeches, one of which was delivered by President Woodrow Wilson. After the First World War, Decoration Day was observed in a manner of broader expression in order to include every American soldier who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Throughout the 20th century, Decoration Day began to be commonly referred to as Memorial Day, but the former is still used in some regions of the U.S.
In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act (UMHA) to change the original date of Memorial Day from May 30th to the last Monday of every May in order to allow for a more convenient three-day holiday weekend. Consequently, some veteran organizations, including The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), have publicly opposed the date-change, arguing that the change promotes commercialization of the holiday rather than the value of its origins. In 1971, Memorial Day was officially declared a national holiday and moved to the last Monday of May.
With the arrival of the new spring season of every year in May, we celebrate our mothers for every contribution and sacrifice they make for us. Similar to this time of year, our mothers take away the cold, dark, and dreariness of a long wintertime and bring us into the bright, beautiful colors of spring. The Tulip Festival in Albany, New York, is one event in particular that reflects this special time of year.
Image Source: Jenny Diaz
The first Mother’s Day, as a national holiday, began from the efforts of the mother-daughter duo, Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis and Anna Jarvis. Ann Marie was a social activist in West Virginia before, during, and after the time of the Civil War. She recognized the hardships on her community as a result of the war and responded by organizing clubs to assist in their needs. As early as 1858, she organized clubs for women called, Mothers’ Day Work Clubs. These clubs put able-bodied women to work and assisted in improving the living conditions of afflicted families. Among other things, Ann Marie and her club members raised money to buy medicine and bring in hired-help to children with ill-stricken mothers. Dr. James Edmund Reeves, the brother of Ann Marie, supported his sister’s cause by providing medicine and medical training to the women in her clubs. During the war, many were conflicted by supporting the efforts of the Union or the Confederacy, but Ann Marie disregarded such divisions, welcoming her aid to suffering soldiers on both sides of the fence.
Until the day she died, Ann Marie continued working toward a day that would observe mothers for all the sacrifices they make for their families and the community at large. When Ann Marie passed away in 1905, her daughter Anna distributed 500 white carnation flowers to every woman in the congregation of her mother’s church, St. Andrews. The following year, she held a memorial in honor of her mother’s contributions to the community. Inspired by her mother’s tireless efforts, Anna campaigned tirelessly in order to attain a national holiday for mothers in America. In 1914, Anna and her mother’s efforts would finally be recognized by President Woodrow Wilson, who signed an official measure establishing Mother’s Day as an annual holiday to be observed on every second Sunday in the month of May. As a result, Mother’s Day was a success across the country.
Although Anna envisioned Mother’s Day to be a quaint familial holiday, celebrated with small gatherings and carnations worn symbolically as a badge, the success of the day turned out to be a little different than was expected. Florists, greeting card companies, and other commercial organizations took the holiday and capitalized on the idea. Anna protested against its growing commercialization, arguing in regard to its impersonal nature, but Mother’s Day would remain to be celebrated commercialized or not. In the end, perhaps, it’s not how we celebrate Mother’s Day, but what and who we’re celebrating it for, our mothers, the most priceless women in the world.
Want to learn more about the origins of Mother’s Day? Visit the New York State Library and browse the catalog for these titles:
-Joint Resolution Designating September 27, 1987, as “Gold Star Mothers Day.”
United States. 1987.
-Mother’s day: its history, origin, celebration, spirit, and significance as related in prose and verse
Rice, Susan Tracy. 1936.
-Mother’s day and father’s day book; containing recitations, songs, exercises, toasts, plans for banquets, and a play
Moffett, Paul. 1935.
Image Source: Bobbie Peachey
Since its inception in 1970, Earth Day has been celebrated annually on April 22. Earth Day is a national holiday on which people engage in activities and events in observance of environmental causes. Over forty years ago, the first Earth Day was celebrated in hundreds of schools, colleges, and universities across the nation after United States Senator Gaylord Nelson called for an environmental teach-in. The teach-in was a peaceful demonstration suggesting the need for environmental reform.
Earth Day would eventually lead to a host of reformative acts necessary to protect the environment, such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Endangered Species Act, etc. Prior to regulatory environmental protection, factories pumped out toxic black gas clouds into the sky and dumped tons of toxic waste into our nation’s waters. What’s more, the loss of plant and animal species was occurring at a dangerously rapid pace. Since the 1970s, the United States has passed dozens of environmental laws to support safer industrial practices, strengthen ecological protection, and maintain an all-around healthier Earth. In fact, in December of 1970, President Richard Nixon formed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in response to the need of cleaner air, water, and land. Today, the EPA works to ensure the safety of human and environmental health in every pocket of the United States.
Every effort counts! Join in the Earth Day festivities by implementing conservational practices into your daily routine at home, work or out-and-about. New York State recommends these Earth Day Tips (Learn more about NYS Earth Day Tips, here):
don’t wash dishes with the water running
use reusable dishes for meals
wash and dry only full loads of laundry
turn off the water while brushing your teeth
switch off unnecessary lights
compost leaves and grass clippings
recycle motor oil, antifreeze and car batteries
send electronic copies whenever possible
change air and oil filters regularly for your car
bring your own tote or reusable bag to the grocery store
(like your local library) share books, cassettes, magazine, and videotapes with friends, hospitals, and prisons
Get active! Visit the New York State Library for all your research needs on environmental protection acts, conservation, and greener practices. Browse the catalog to find these titles:
- Hot, flat, and crowded : why we need a green revolution– and how it can renew America 1st ed.
Friedman, Thomas L. 2008
- The Endangered Species Act : how litigation is costing jobs and impeding true recovery efforts : oversight hearing before the Committee on Natural Resources, U.S. House of Representatives, One Hundred Twelfth Congress, first session, Tuesday, December 6, 2011
United States. Congress. House. Committee on Natural Resources author.
- The great experiment in conservation : voices from the Adirondack Park 1st ed.
Porter, William F. 2009