This Week in History: Feb 7-13

This is the Sacagawea Interpretive Center in Salmon, Idaho. Sacagawea was the guide for the Lewis and Clark expedition. Courtesy of Wikimedia

In 1776, future first lady Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, Founding Father John Adams, to “remember the ladies” when drafting the government of the new United States. Well, Mrs. Adams, in “This Week in History,” that is exactly what we are doing. This week, we pay tribute to five famous female figures of history who had undeniable impacts on our shared culture and way of life. So, let’s dive in! 

On Feb. 11, 1805, Sacagawea, the Shoshone guide of the Lewis and Clark expedition, gave birth to her first child. 

History’s ultimate working mother, Sacagawea first met Merriwether Lewis and William Clark in the early winter of the same year near present-day Bismark, North Dakota. A daughter of a Shoshone chief, she was captured and sold into slavery by a rival tribe and was bought by French-Canadian fur trader, Toussaint Charbonneau, would made her his wife. Not exactly a love match if you ask me. Nine months later, she gave birth to their first son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau. 

Just two months later, the legendary expedition began and young “Pompey” came with them, strapped on Sacagawea’s back in a cradle the entire trip. The journey would not have been possible without Sacagawea’s invaluable knowledge of the landscape, languages and customs. Plus, her sheer presence, and that of her newborn baby, assured the tribes they met that they came in peace.

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A portrait of Emma Goldman. She was a women’s rights activist and social justice reformer who was arrested in New York City. Courtesy of Wikimedia

On Feb. 11, 1916, Emma Goldman, the early 20th century women’s rights activist and social justice reformer, was arrested in New York City. 

The Progressive Era was a time of tremendous change and activism throughout the U.S. as the nation plunged forward into the modern era. While the economy was growing like never before and men like Andrew Carnegie and Cornelius Vanderbilt built pleasure palaces on Fifth Avenue, their workers were left in abysmal conditions in unsanitary tenement housing, working almost 12-hour days for very little pay. 

Goldman, a Jewish immigrant from Russia, entered into the factory workforce and quickly learned the grueling ways of the industrialized American economy. Seeing her fellow immigrant workers lose faith in the American Dream pushed her into advocacy, demanding labor reform and workers’ rights. While factory owners and politicians dismissed her as a radical, her powerful oratory skills convinced many workers to speak out against their mistreatment. 

Goldman was a strong advocate for women’s rights as well. Having spent time as a midwife and nurse, she sought to make contraceptives available to women so they may choose to have children and be able to have a greater say over their lives. Since contraceptives and information about them were illegal, Goldman was arrested and subsequently deported back to Russia.  

Her legacy would continue, however, as her activism resulted in America’s first birth-control clinic to open in Brooklyn, New York in the same year. This organization would eventually become the modern-day Planned Parenthood.

On Feb. 6, 1952, 70 years ago, Queen Elizabeth II took the British throne at the age of 27 after the death of her father, King George VI. 

The year 2022 marks the 70th anniversary of Elizabeth II’s ascension as monarch of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. Her father, a beloved ruler who reassured the nation during the grim days of the Second World War, succumbed to illness and died at a young age, thrusting his shy daughter Elizabeth and her husband Philip Mountbatten into the global spotlight.

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Queen Elizabeth during her visit to Australia. She took the throne after her father’s death in 1952. Courtesy of Wikimedia

Seventy years on the throne means that Elizabeth II has served longer than any other monarch in all of British history. She will be honored by the people of the United Kingdom and the Realms of the Commonwealth with a four-day Platinum Jubilee celebration to take place in early June. The festivities will include several soirees, a parade and a national pudding baking competition with judges including Dame Mary Berry (of the “The Great British Baking Show”) and the head chef of the Buckingham Palace cooking staff. 

On Feb. 10, 1957, 65 years ago, Laura Ingalls Wilder, the beloved author the “Little House” series, died at age 90 in Mansfield, Missouri. 

Born in 1867 as the second daughter of Charles and Caroline Ingalls, Wilder traveled throughout the Midwest as a child, living in small agrarian communities on what was then the American frontier. After working as a school teacher for the majority of her adult life, Wilder began writing her experiences as a plucky farmer’s daughter in a series of children’s books that became the “Little House” series throughout the 1930s. 

The nine novels, one of which was published posthumously by Wilder’s daughter, comforted audiences of the Great Depression who clung to the heartfelt story of a family learning to make do with what little they had.  

In the 1970s, “Little House on the Prairie” aired for nine seasons, starring Melissa Gilbert as Laura, and Michael Landon as Charles Ingalls, thus telling Wilder’s heartfelt story to another generation. 

On Feb. 11, 2012, 10 years ago, Whitney Houston, the 1980s and 90s pop superstar, died at age 48 in Beverly Hills, California. 

Known for her stunning vocals and beauty, the six-time Grammy Award-winning and 22-time American Music Award-winning artist was found dead in her hotel room bathtub after an accidental drowning. She also had heart disease and cocaine was later found in her system. 

Houston’s career began while she was in high school, singing background vocals for major 1970s stars like Chaka Khan and modeling for several national magazines, even become one of the first Black models to be featured on the cover of “Seventeen.” 

In the mid-1980s, she was signed by a record label and released three consecutive albums which included the timeless singles, “Saving All My Love For You,” “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” — the ultimate party anthem of the 80s and beyond. 

The year 1992 saw Houston on the silver screen in the leading role of “The Bodyguard” opposite Hollywood-regular Kevin Costner. While fairly successful at the box office, the true success of this film was the release of its soundtrack, which included Houston’s legendary rendition of “I Will Always Love You.” The powerful ballad became the best-selling single by a female artist in music history and remains well-known to this day. 

While the later years of Houston’s life were marred by an unhappy marriage and substance abuse, Houston’s legacy transcends the boundaries of her brief career, influencing an entire generation of female musicians, from Mariah Carey to Jennifer Hudson, and bringing the love ballad back onto the radio.

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