all quick reads

On This Day

June 27, 1829

James Smithson passes away, putting in motion a surprising story of how this British scientist - who never set foot in the U.S. - funded one of America's most famous museums and research facilities: the Smithsonian Institution.

On This Day

Who Is James Smithson?

  • Born in 1765 in Paris as an illegitimate child. His mother was a widow and reportedly a descendent of King Henry VII; his father was a married, wealthy duke.
  • He excelled in the sciences from a young age & had a particular interest in chemistry.
  • He immersed himself in the scientific communities of London & Paris, publishing 27 papers ranging from mineral analyses to methods for making a better cup of coffee.
  • Smithson dedicated his life to science, incl. its accessibility & its application in everyday life.

On This Day

An Unexpected Endowment

  • 1826: As Smithson got older and sensed his health worsening, he traveled to London to write his will.
  • He left his estate to his nephew, who was in his early 20s - adding that if his nephew died without an heir, his estate would go to America in order to fund the development of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
  • Smithson died three years after writing his will. His nephew died six years later - without an heir.

On This Day

"... to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.

The clause in Smithson's will. The estate was valued at over $500,000 & was awarded to the U.S. in 1838. Congress debated for eight years on what to do with the money before reaching an agreement in 1846, when Pres. James Polk signed legislation establishing the Smithsonian Institution as a series of museums & research facilities.

On This Day

The Smithsonian Institution

  • Consists of 19 museums, a zoo, and many research facilities.
  • The Smithsonian is home to approx. 155 million objects, works of art, & specimens. Nearly 146 million are scientific specimens at the National Museum of Natural History.
  • The annual budget for fiscal year 2021 is approx. $1 billion, 62% of which is federally funded.
  • Items on display are wide-ranging, including Dorothy's famous Ruby Slippers and a jar of pickled woolly mammoth flesh.

On This Day

James Smithson passed away on this day in 1829. His unexpected endowment resulted in one of the world's most well-known museums... but *why* he did it still remains a mystery. Some believe his donation was intended to be a retaliation against the rigid scientific community of England; others think it served as a way to make his name known after being claimed illegitimate as a child. It is also thought to reflect his passion for democracy and access to education.

Jun 27, 2021

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On This Day

June 25, 1924

The Real-Life Rosie the Riveter is born.

Rosalind Walter *first* inspired female patriotism during WWII (and beyond).

On This Day

Rosalind “Roz” Walter

  • Born in 1924, she grew up in Long Island & Connecticut attending prep schools.
  • At 19, she began working the night shift as a riveter (drilling fasteners) on WWII fighter planes at a factory.
  • To establish how much women should get paid, the factory timed Roz while she worked. She broke all the men's records, resulting in equal pay for men & women in the factory.
  • In 1942, two men wrote a song called “Rosie the Riveter” after an article highlighting her work was published.

On This Day

All the day long,
Whether rain or shine,
She’s a part of the assembly line.
She’s making history,
Working for victory,
Rosie the Riveter.
Keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage,
Sitting up there on the fuselage.
That little girl will do more than a male will do.”

From the 1942 song "Rosie the Riveter.”

On This Day

Why It Matters

  • In 1942, *many* attempted to depict “Rosie The Riveter” as a way to recruit American women to traditionally male jobs due to a wartime labor shortage.
  • The image we *now* associate with “Rosie The Riveter” (1943 “We Can Do It!” poster) was NOT inspired by Roz, but by another woman working in a factory during WWII.
  • Another popular WWII "Rosie The Riveter" poster was painted by Norman Rockwell. It depicted a 19-year-old phone operator holding a rivet gun & eating a sandwich.

On This Day

The wartime image of "Rosie The Riveter" was only used for a few weeks by a private company in 1942 but gained popularity in the 1980s.

Roz passed away last year at 95 years old. She was a lifelong philanthropist and well known for her support of public programming. She was the largest individual supporter of NYC's local PBS station.

Jun 25, 2021

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Current Events

The Case Of The Cursing Cheerleader

What to know about students' First Amendment rights when it comes to their online behavior.

Current Events

LEGAL BACKGROUND

  • Free speech does *not* mean you can say whatever you want, whenever (or wherever) you choose.
  • The First Amendment's free speech protections means a gov’t entity cannot compel speech and other forms of expression, OR prohibit *certain* speech and other forms of expression — this is “protected speech.” 
  • Free speech prohibitions apply to gov’t actors (like a public school) — *not* private companies (like social media platforms).

Current Events

HIGH COURT PRECEDENT

  • In the 1960s a public school suspended students for wearing armbands on campus to protest the Vietnam War; the students sued and the case went to the Supreme Court.
  • The Supreme Court ruled in the students favor, writing students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
  • The court also said administrators *can* regulate on-campus speech that “materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others.”

Current Events

ABOUT THE CASE

  • A 14-year-old jr. varsity cheerleader ("B.L."), upset she didn't make her PA school's varsity squad, took her anger out on Snapchat.
  • She posted a photo of her and a friend with their middle fingers up and an expletive-ridden caption, cursing out school, cheer, etc.
  • In response, the coaches of the junior varsity cheerleader squad suspended her from the team for a year, citing team and school rules.
  • The student & her parents sued. Lower federal courts ruled in favor of the student. The case made its way to the Supreme Court.

Current Events

"It might be tempting to dismiss B. L.’s words as unworthy of the robust First Amendment protections discussed herein. But sometimes it is necessary to protect the superfluous in order to preserve the necessary."

Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the court's (8-1) majority opinion, ruling the coaches violated the student's First Amendment rights. The court noted there are special characteristics (ex: severe bullying) when a school can regulate off-campus speech that were NOT present in this case.

Current Events

"The larger problem facing us today is that our student-speech cases are untethered from any textual or historical foundation. That failure leads the majority to miss much of the analysis relevant to these kinds of cases."

Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote in a dissenting opinion that he would have upheld the suspension. He said the majority reached the "wrong result" because "a school can regulate speech when it occurs off campus, so long as it has a proximate tendency to harm the school, its faculty or students, or its programs."

Current Events

BIG PICTURE: With nearly every adolescent and teenager on at least one, if not, various social media platforms, this case leaves open a lot of unanswered questions about when and under what circumstances schools have a right to step in and discipline students' online behavior.

Jun 24, 2021

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On This Day

June 23, 1845

Texas voted in favor of joining the
United States of America.
Just 176 years later, could the state that made famous "Come & Take It" vote to leave?

On This Day

Texican --> American

  • 1836: Texas declared independence from Mexico.
  • 1845: Nine years later, Texas and the U.S. Congress voted in favor of annexation (when a new territory is added to a country).
  • What took so long? Texas first voted in favor of annexation in 1836, but the U.S. gov't opposed it because of fears of conflict with Mexico and concerns about permitting another state into the Union that allowed slavery.

On This Day

The Backstory

  • Great Britain wanted Texas to remain independent in order to preserve their trade relations and prevent U.S. expansion
  • 1843: After years of debate, U.S. Pres. John Tyler proposed annexation in order to counter competition with Great Britain.
  • 1845: After negotiations between the U.S. & Texas, Congress passed an annexation resolution. Texas accepted the offer, but added unique terms. One example: Texas' right to retain title to its public land.

On This Day

Could Texas Divorce The U.S.?

  • The U.S. Constitution maps out how a state enters the Union, but there's no legal roadmap for exiting.
  • BUT ... Texas can divide itself into smaller states. Texas asserted its independence by stipulating its ability to choose to divide into five smaller states in the 1845 resolution: “New States of convenient size not exceeding four in number, in addition to said State of Texas and having sufficient population, may, hereafter by the consent of said State, be formed out of the territory thereof ..."

On This Day

Any change to statehood would require congressional approval.

While not in an official Supreme Court opinion (or specific to Texas), the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia once weighed in on the issue of secession in the United States, replying in a 2006 letter, Justice Scalia wrote "... the answer is clear. If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede. (Hence, in the Pledge of Allegiance, 'one Nation, indivisible.')"

Jun 23, 2021

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Current Events

Into Africa

A high-profile Hollywood star visits an African nation that the U.S. government clearly warns Americans: "Do Not Travel."
What's Going On
Why It Matters

Current Events

"Do not travel to Burkina Faso due to terrorism, crime, and kidnapping ... Terrorist groups continue plotting attacks in Burkina Faso. Terrorists may conduct attacks anywhere with little or no warning. Targets could include hotels, restaurants, police stations, customs offices, areas at or near mining sites, places of worship, military posts, and schools. Kidnapping and hostage taking is a threat throughout the country."

The U.S. State Department with a Level 4 Travel Advisory issued less than a week ago for Burkina Faso, as well as neighboring country Mali - both West African nations.

Current Events

Quick News

  • Angelina Jolie visited Burkina Faso, a West African nation plagued by increasing Islamic terrorism.
  • Jolie serves as Special Envoy to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; she's highlighting the humanitarian crisis as local people and those from the surrounding area flee their homes.
  • Big Picture: Burkina Faso has confronted al-Qaeda/Islamic State terrorist groups for several years, highlighting a broader story about the rise of Islamic terrorism in Africa.

Current Events

“We insisted on staying (in Burkina Faso), (but) we stay with fear. We are too scared. Today there is not a country where there isn’t a problem. This (terrorism) problem covers all of Africa."

Fadimata Mohamed Ali Wallet, a Malian refugee in Burkina Faso – just one country in a key area called the "Sahel" that stretches across the entire continent. France recently pulled back some military assistance in Mali, prompting a local security analyst to warn: “To abandon Mali is to abandon the Sahel. It is to open Pandora’s box for Europe.”

Current Events

Why It Matters

  • Over the last decade, Islamic terrorists linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have gained ground and taken over huge swaths of land, terrorizing and murdering local people.
  • The U.S. and others have deployed military assets to fight terrorists, or train local forces.
  • Countries like Afghanistan or Yemen served as launching pads for terrorist attacks in Europe and the U.S., as terrorists found safe haven in those countries. Questions remain about if/when this terrorism threat in West Africa (and beyond) becomes more international.

Current Events

Jolie's presence comes after a particularly violent period - the worst terrorist attack in Burkina Faso's history, with the murder of 130+ people, and a particularly deadly year: Nearly 7,000 people died in the violence in 2020, the deadliest year for Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger since extremists invaded almost a decade ago. (The Washington Post). New reports suggest another neighboring country to Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, is also seeing an increase in terrorist activity, including IEDs, as the threat spreads.

Jun 22, 2021

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Quote of the Day

"The happy Union of these States is a wonder; their [Constitution] a miracle; their example the hope of Liberty throughout the world."

James Madison

Quote of the Day

On this day in 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the U.S. Constitution, making it the law of the land. In 1787, the Constitution was approved by delegates at the Constitutional Convention, who agreed it would become binding when 9 of the 13 states ratified it.

The Constitution has been amended 27 times. The first 10 amendments make up the Bill of Rights. Only one amendment was repealed - the 18th, which prohibited the making, transportation and sale of alcohol.

Jun 21, 2021

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Now You Know

Happy Father’s Day

A beloved single dad inspired it.

His daughter rallied for it.

A president made it official.

Now You Know

BACKSTORY

  • William Jackson Smart: Civil War veteran. His wife died in childbirth and he raised 6 children alone.
  • His daughter, Sonora, felt inspired to honor him after listening to a 1909 Mother’s Day sermon and rallied local support for fathers to have a day too.
  • First Father’s Day: Spokane, WA, June 19, 1910. Sonora encouraged people to honor fathers in June because his birthday was on June 5th.

Now You Know

Interesting To Note

  • While Mother’s Day became official in 1914, Father’s Day did not become *official* until 1972.
  • That said, Father’s Day was observed in various ways around the country in the decades in between.
  • 1966: Pres. Johnson declared the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day.
  • 1972: Pres. Nixon signed a prolamation designating the third Sunday in June as Father's Day.

Now You Know

Flowers For Fathers?

Original Fathers Day Gift

  • In 1910, children gifted red roses to living fathers; white roses honored deceased.
  • Americans are expected to spend about $174 on average for Father’s Day – an increase of $26 over last year’s record number. Nearly half of this increase is due to more spending on clothing, special outings, and electronics. On Mother's Day, Americans were expected to spend about $220 on average.

Now You Know

"To have a father - to be a father - is to come very near the heart of life itself." Pres. Richard Nixon's opening statement in his Father's Day proclamation in 1972 - over sixty years after Sonora Dodd began lobbying for the day. In 2009, Congress passed a resolution commending "her contribution in recognizing the importance of Father's Day and recognizing the important role fathers play in our families."

Jun 19, 2021

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Current Events

JUNETEENTH

Why June 19, 1865 marks the end of slavery in America, nearly two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
What to know about the 12th federal holiday - signed into law this week.

Current Events

Historical Context

  • 1619: Commonly marked as the start of the African slave trade in the colonies.
  • By 1690, slaves existed in every colony.
  • By 1804, all the Northern states voted to abolish slavery, but slavery persisted in the North well into the 19th century since many laws took a gradual approach.
  • In 1861, the Civil War began.
  • 1862: Emancipation Proclamation
  • 1865: 13th Amendment

Current Events

Emancipation Proclamation

Sept. 1862: Pres. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which states “all persons held as slaves… henceforward shall be free.”

  • Declared slaves free *in rebelling Confederate states* & allowed them to join the U.S. military, effective Jan. 1863.
  • The 10 states weren’t under Union control, so it couldn’t be enforced.

Current Events

13th Amendment

Jan. 1865: Congress passed the 13th Amendment, which states “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist within the United States.”

  • Officially abolished slavery in the U.S.
  • Adopted in Dec. 1865 after the required three-fourths of the states ratified it.
  • Did You Know? Due to a clerical error, Mississippi didn’t ratify the 13th Amendment until 2013.

Current Events

June 19, 1865

  • Two months after the end of the Civil War, a Union general and troops arrived in Galveston, TX to notify slaves of the end of slavery and the Civil War.
  • Although it was 2-1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery persisted in Texas and other Southern states.
  • Slavery in the U.S. didn’t end swiftly, but June 19 is observed as its official end, also known as “Emancipation Day.”

Current Events

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor…”

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger (June 19, 1865). African Americans began celebrating Emancipation Day on June 19, 1866. In 1980, Texas became the first state to celebrate it.

Current Events

Juneteenth has risen in national prominence in recent years amid a reignited conversation about race in America.

This week, Congress voted to make it a federal holiday and Pres. Biden signed the bill into law, making Juneteenth National Independence Day. the 12th federal holiday, and the first created since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.

Jun 18, 2021

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On This Day

Lady Liberty Arrives

On June 17, 1885, the Statue of Liberty arrives in New York Harbor.
Although 12M+ immigrants passed under her gaze, she was delivered (and constructed) years before Ellis Island opened.

On This Day

How Did Liberty Arrive?

  • 350 separate pieces; 214 crates.
  • A decade late. France wanted to gift “Liberty Enlightening the World” for the centennial of the Declaration of Independence (1776). Lack of funds held back production.
  • Eventually both America and France raised enough money through charity, lottery, & donations to bring “Lady Liberty” to life.

On This Day

Liberty & Immigration

  • The 151-foot-tall Statue of Liberty wasn't fully reassembled until 1886, when Pres. Grover Cleveland dedicated the statue in front of a crowd of thousands.
  • Immigration wasn’t the sole focus of statue - it was designed to celebrate America's freedom and democracy.
  • 1892: Ellis Island Immigration Station opened.
  • The famous poem “Give me your tired, your poor” was written in 1883 to raise funds for the statue, and inscribed on its base in 1903.

On This Day

This week, France is sending Lady Liberty’s “little sister” to the U.S. The smaller (9-foot-tall & 992 lb) bronze replica is retracing the journey made by her "big sister" over 130 years ago. She's set to arrive on Ellis Island in time for Independence Day (July 4th). Afterwards, she'll be installed outside the French Ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C. on Bastille Day (July 14th), where she'll live until 2031.

Jun 17, 2021

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Current Events

A New Ocean?

You likely learned about the Earth's four named oceans as a kid, but the next generation will likely know a fifth!
What To Know & Why It Matters

Current Events

Background:

  • One ocean covers 71% of the Earth.
  • Historically, we've recognized four distinct areas: Pacific, Indian, Arctic, & Atlantic.
  • Backstory: The Southern Ocean (the water surrounding Antarctica) was recognized by the Int'l Hydrographic Org. (IHO), a global body that surveys the world's waters, until the 1950s. It stopped due to lack of agreement among countries.
  • The U.S.' Nat'l Oceanic & Atmospheric Admin. (NOAA) recognized the Southern Ocean in 1999, but it is *still* not commonly used.

Current Events

"We've always labeled it, but we labeled it slightly differently [than other oceans] ... This change was taking the last step and saying we want to recognize it because of its ecological separation."

National Geographic Society geographer Alex Tait, who explained that although the Southern Ocean has been recognized by scientists and others for some time, the lack of agreement among other countries and the int'l scientific community prevented National Geographic from officially recognizing it as a unique, distinct area — until now.


Current Events

Why It Matters:

  • On June 8 (World Oceans Day), the National Geographic Society began recognizing the Southern Ocean as the "world’s fifth ocean" and naming it on maps.
  • The National Geographic Society isn't just a magazine publisher - it's a world leader in science and exploration since 1888.
  • Nat Geo has made maps since 1915; some call it a “mapping standard for a lot of other atlases and maps out there.
  • Nat Geo's decision will likely set the precedent for others around the world.

Current Events

"... it is the only ocean to touch three others and to completely embrace a continent rather than being embraced by them."

Marine biologist and National Geographic Explorer at Large Sylvia Earle describes the Southern Ocean's unique current, considered the strongest in the world; it flows in a circular motion and connects to the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans.

Current Events

"Anyone who has been there will struggle to explain what's so mesmerizing about it ... the glaciers are bluer, the air colder, the mountains more intimidating, and the landscapes more captivating than anywhere else you can go," NOAA marine scientist & Nat Geo Explorer Seth Sykora-Bodie said of the Southern Ocean. Despite Nat Geo's change, the International Hydrographic Organization still has yet to formally re-recognize a distinct "Southern Ocean" as international disagreement continues.

Jun 17, 2021

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Now You Know

"Neutral" Ground

The much-anticipated meeting between U.S. and Russian presidents will take place in a country known for its neutrality.
How did it earn that reputation?
The story of how Switzerland went from a nation of professional soldiers to a nation of peacemaking.

Now You Know

“Permanent neutrality is a principle of Swiss foreign policy. It is a generating source of peace and stability in Europe and beyond. It ensures the country’s independence and the inviolability of its territory."

Switzerland's Federal Dept. of Foreign Affairs describing its permanent neutrality principle. This long-standing principle emphasizes that Switzerland is to refrain from engaging in war, treat countries at odds with one another equally, and not supply military troops to countries in conflict.

Now You Know

Before Neutrality: The Middle Ages

  • Switzerland was not always a neutral territory. Throughout the Middle Ages, its mercenary forces (soldiers hired to serve in foreign armies) earned the Swiss a reputation for their military prowess - and in doing so, benefited its economy.
  • Problem #1: As warfare changed, Switzerland began losing battles in the early 1500s and lost their economic stability as a result.
  • Problem #2: Swiss soldiers grew weary of fighting each other in foreign wars.

Now You Know

The Shift: Congress of Vienna

  • Purpose: European countries met from 1814 to 1815 to help rebuild government order after the French Revolutionary War and Napoleonic Wars.
  • In both wars, the Swiss worked as mercenary soldiers; as a result, they found themselves at the center of debate and unable to choose sides.
  • The meeting declared Switzerland a neutral zone because of its strategic geographic location in Europe and history of fighting for different countries.

Now You Know

Modern Day Neutrality

  • Switzerland has (mostly) managed to maintain neutrality since their 1815 commitment.
  • Neutrality isn't without controversy. For example, Switzerland did not engage in combat in WWII but infamously participated in some financial dealings with Nazi Germany.
  • Switzerland still has a military (for defense purposes) but is NOT a member of NATO.
  • Switzerland is NOT part of the European Union (an economic and political union).

Now You Know

Leaders from around the world still meet in Switzerland because of the country's political neutrality. The spotlight once again falls on Geneva, known as "the capital of peace," for the meeting between Presidents Biden and Putin. Geneva is home to the UN's European headquarters, several international organizations (ex: World Health Organization), and numerous non-governmental organizations (ex: the International Red Cross).

Jun 16, 2021

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On This Day

June 14, 1777

The Continental Congress approves the design of the American flag.

The maker remains a mystery.

On This Day

The Final Resolution:

“… the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

The Continental Congress approved the official design of the national flag in 1777, during the Revolutionary War. Some suggest the British flag inspired the use of red, white and blue, though these colors came to represent virtues: purity, valor and perseverance.

On This Day

Who Made The First Flag?

  • It remains one of the great mysteries of American history.
  • Common lore suggests Betsy Ross, a seamstress in Philadelphia - the city where the Continental Congress met.
  • Surprisingly, no facts support or document this story, nor confirm a competing claim that a Congressman from New Jersey designed it.
  • Historians generally agree Ross likely knew Gen. Washington & sewed flags in her family’s shop.

On This Day

Pres. Woodrow Wilson proclaimed June 14th "Flag Day" in 1916, but it didn't become an official day until 1949 when Pres. Harry Truman signed it into law. Why does the flag get folded 13 times? Each fold has a meaning. Read more at "How To Properly Fold A Flag" on our source page.

Jun 14, 2021

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