This Week in History: Deborah Sampson, American soldier, born in 1760

Deborah Sampson, woman who served in the American Revolution while disguised as a man, born, 1760. (December 17)

Deborah Sampson, woman who served in the American Revolution while disguised as a man, born, 1760. (December 17)

On Dec. 17, 1760, Deborah Sampson was born in Plympton, Massachusetts. She was a descendant of William Bradford, a Plymouth Colony governor, yet she grew up in poverty. She worked during her teenage years as an indentured servant, and she later became a schoolteacher. However, she would become best known for her service as a soldier in the American Revolution (1775-1783).

When the American Revolution began, Sampson, like many Americans, wished to support the patriot cause. However, at that time, women were not allowed to serve in the military. Undeterred, Sampson chose to disguise herself as a man. She concealed her physique, made herself men’s clothing, and practiced behaving as a man. Finally, under the name Robert Shurtleff, she enlisted in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment of the American army in May 1782.

Sampson fought in several battles and was wounded at least twice. She was shot multiple times, and once reportedly removed a bullet herself. She hid a leg wound so that doctors would not discover she was a woman. About June 1783, Sampson was hospitalized in Philadelphia because of a high fever, and her identity was discovered. General George Washington ordered that she be given an honorable discharge.

After her war experience, Sampson returned to Massachusetts, married, and had children. A book about Sampson’s army experiences, The Female Review, was published in 1797. In 1805, the United States Congress awarded her a pension because of her military service and wounds. Sampson died on April 29, 1827.

This Week in History: Phi Beta Kappa was founded on Dec. 5, 1776

Phi Beta Kappa is a college and university honor society. It was founded during the American Revolution (1775-1783) at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. A group of five students gathered in the Apollo Room at the Old Raleigh Tavern. One of these students, John Heath, proposed that there should be a society for more serious-minded students, those who achieve high academic records and demonstrate integrity of character. The founders chose the name ΦBK, the Greek letters for the society’s motto, “Love of learning is the guide of life.” The Greek initials formed the name Phi Beta Kappa. It was the first American fraternity with a Greek-letter name.

Phi Beta Kappa was originally organized as a secret society. The founders believed secrecy was necessary so that members could freely discuss any topic they chose to in literature and philosophy. The group had an oath of secrecy, a badge and a seal, a motto in Greek and Latin, a code of laws, an elaborate initiation, and a special handshake. These became essential characteristics of the Greek social fraternities and sororities that followed. During the 1800’s, the organization abandoned secrecy. Phi Beta Kappa became an honor society with a mission to champion education in the liberal arts and sciences, to recognize academic excellence, and to embrace freedom of thought and expression.

Today, Phi Beta Kappa has chapters at nearly 300 colleges and universities throughout the United States and more than half a million members. Both men and women can belong, and membership is for life. New members are elected—primarily by Phi Beta Kappa college faculty—from seniors and juniors with outstanding academic records. Each year, about 1 student in 100, nationwide, is invited to join Phi Beta Kappa. The honor society counts some of the most notable names in the world among its ranks, including nearly 140 Nobel laureates; 38 U.S. Supreme Court justices—including 7 of the 9 current justices; and 17 U.S. presidents, including Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush are the sons of Phi Beta Kappa members. All of these people have one thing in common: the pursuit of excellence. And for more than two centuries, the members of Phi Beta Kappa have done just that, though today, laptops have replaced quill pens.

This week in history: Iconic baseball player Joe DiMaggio was born this week in 1914


Joe DiMaggio, who was born on Nov. 25, 1914, was one of the greatest and most popular players in baseball history. DiMaggio played his entire career, from 1936 to 1951, with the New York Yankees. He was nicknamed “the Yankee Clipper” because of his graceful fielding as an outfielder. He was also called “Joltin’ Joe” because of his powerful hitting.

DiMaggio had a lifetime batting average of .325 and hit 361 home runs. His record of hitting safely in 56 consecutive games in 1941 is one of the most enduring in baseball history. DiMaggio played in 10 World Series and was voted the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1939, 1941, and 1947.

DiMaggio was a superhero in American sports before television was available to spread the popularity of celebrities. Americans eagerly followed his playing career and personal life through newspapers and on radio. DiMaggio’s brief marriage to actress Marilyn Monroe in 1954 caused a national sensation. More than 15 years after DiMaggio retired as a player, Paul Simon’s hit song “Mrs. Robinson” could still nostalgically capture the hold that the baseball great had on the American imagination:

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you,
What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson,
“Joltin Joe” has left and gone away.

Joseph Paul DiMaggio was born in Martinez, California. He died in Hollywood, Florida, on March 8, 1999. Two of his brothers, Dominic and Vincent, also played major league baseball. DiMaggio was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955, the first year he was eligible.

10 Little-known facts about Thanksgiving


Thanksgiving Day is right around the corner, and this day of giving thanks and remembering the blessings of life is steeped in history and traditions.

American Indians and English pilgrims held the very first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Colony in 1621; today people celebrate this day with family, feasting, and prayer.

Here are some facts you may not know:

  1. The journey – The people we now call Pilgrims were Separatists—that is, Puritans who had separated from the Church of England.  The group left England in the Speedwell and a larger ship, the The Speedwell proved unseaworthy, and the fleet returned to England twice. The Mayflower set sail, and finally, in December 1620, the Plymouth Colony was founded by English Pilgrims at the site of a deserted Wampanoag Indian village called Patuxet.
  2. The first meal– The very first English settlers who came to America had a hard time during their first year and many of them died during the winter. But in the spring of 1621, a Patuxet Indian named Tisquantum—called Squanto by the English—showed them how to plant traditional Native American crops of corn and pumpkin in addition to their European peas, wheat, and barley.
  3. Three-day festival – In early autumn of 1621, the governor of Plymouth, William Bradford, organized a festival to give thanks to God for the survival of the colony and for their first harvest. Tradition holds that the colonists invited Massasoit, the Wampanoag chief, although some versions of the story claim he came to negotiate a new land treaty. He arrived with about 90 of his people and contributed five deer to the feast. Foods served probably included duck and turkey; a corn porridge called nasaump;and a pumpkin dish called
  4. Thanksgiving dates – During the American Revolution, the Americans observed eight special days of thanks for victories and for being saved from dangers. In 1789, President George Washington issued a general proclamation naming November 26 a national day of Thanksgiving.
  5. State by state – For many years the United States had no regular national Thanksgiving Day. But some states had a yearly Thanksgiving holiday. By 1830, New York had an official state Thanksgiving Day, and other Northern states soon followed its example. In 1855, Virginia became the nation’s first Southern state to adopt the custom.
  6. Thanksgiving Thursdays – Sarah Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, worked many years to promote the idea of a national Thanksgiving Day. Then President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November 1863, as a “day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.” Each year afterward, the president formally proclaimed that Thanksgiving Day should be celebrated on the last Thursday of November.
  7. A federal holiday – In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt set Thanksgiving one week earlier to help businesses by lengthening the shopping period before Christmas. After this incident, in 1941, Congress ruled that the fourth Thursday of November would be observed as Thanksgiving Day and would be a legal federal holiday.
  8. Gobble! – Most traditional Thanksgiving dinners include turkey. Male turkeys are called toms, female turkeys are known as hens, and baby turkeys are called poults. American Indians raised turkeys for food as early as A.D. 1000!
  9. Around the world – Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving Day on the second Monday in October. Europeans have also held autumn harvest festivals and feasts for centuries.
  10. Festivals like Thanksgiving – For thousands of years, people in many parts of the world have held harvest festivals. The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is a celebration of the end of the rice harvest; this usually occurs in August or September.

These fun facts­—and much more—can be found in World Book Online, your answer for fast, reliable information.

This Week in History: Lorena Ochoa, leading LPGA golfer, was born in 1981


Lorena Ochoa is a Mexican golfer who became one of the leading players on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour. Ochoa was named the Player of the Year in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009. She was the first person other than Annika Sorenstam of Sweden and Karrie Webb of Australia to win the Player of the Year award since 1996. Ochoa’s success made her a sports hero in Mexico.

Ochoa was born on Nov. 15, 1981, in Guadalajara, in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. She began playing golf at the age of 5. The Guadalajara Country Club was located near her home, and playing there helped her to develop her golf skills very quickly. As a youngster, she was the first player to win the Junior World International Championship and the World Junior Golf Championship for five straight years.

Ochoa studied sports psychology at the University of Arizona in 2001 and 2002. There, she joined the golf team and was a star player. She won the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Player of the Year award in both years. Ochoa won the 2003 Nancy Lopez Award, given to the best female amateur golfer from the previous year. Ochoa turned professional in 2002 and was named the Rookie of the Year on the LPGA tour in 2003. In 2004, she became the first Mexican-born player to win a tournament on the LPGA tour.

During 2006, Ochoa led the LPGA tour with six tournament victories. She also finished second six times. In 2006, 2007, and 2008, Ochoa earned more prize money than any other woman on the tour and also won the Vare Trophy, awarded to the golfer with the lowest scoring average. In 2007, Ochoa won the Women’s British Open, becoming the first Mexican-born player to win a major championship on the LPGA tour. She won her second major championship, the Kraft Nabisco title, in 2008.

Lorena Ochoa has been involved in many activities besides playing golf on the LPGA tour. She established the Lorena Ochoa Golf Foundation, which participates in charitable causes and promotes family and golf activities. The foundation operates the Lorena Ochoa Golf Academy at a course in California. The academy provides instruction for players of all ages.

Ochoa married Andres Conesa on Dec. 4, 2009, and the couple had their first child, Pedro Conesa Ochoa, on Dec. 8, 2011. In 2010, Ochoa announced she was retiring from competitive golf. She ended her career with 27 LPGA tournament victories and over $14 million in winnings. She continued to host the annual Lorena Ochoa Invitational, a professional women’s tournament held in Mexico, as well as the Lorena Ochoa Charity Classic in California. The charity tournament funds a school for underprivileged children in Guadalajara.

This Week in History: Gunpowder Plot to blow up the English Houses of Parliament failed, 1605

Guy Fawkes Day in the United Kingdom; Gunpowder Plot to blow up the English Houses of Parliament failed, 1605. (November 5)

Guy Fawkes Day in the United Kingdom; Gunpowder Plot to blow up the English Houses of Parliament failed, 1605. (November 5)

Around midnight of Nov. 4, 1605, English government officials captured Guy Fawkes in a cellar beneath the House of Lords with 36 barrels of gunpowder, matches, and a fuse. Fawkes was part of a daring conspiracy to murder King James I, his family, and parliamentarians during the opening session of Parliament on Nov. 5, 1605. If Fawkes had succeeded in lighting the fuse to the gunpowder, the resulting explosion could have killed hundreds of people.

There were 13 men involved in the conspiracy that became known as the Gunpowder Plot. The leader of the plan was Robert Catesby of Warwickshire. Catesby and the other conspirators were members of the Roman Catholic Church who resented the English government’s hostility toward their religion. If they were successful in blowing up the king and Parliament, they aimed to take over the country and install a leader sympathetic to Catholics.

In March 1605, Catesby’s group rented a cellar beneath the House of Lords and began filling it with barrels of gunpowder that were concealed with wood and coal. The plot was exposed several months later, however, when Lord Monteagle, a member of the House of Lords, received an anonymous letter warning him to avoid Parliament on opening day. The conspirator who wrote the letter was probably Sir Francis Tresham, Monteagle’s brother-in-law and friend.

The letter said:

“My lord, out of the love I bear to some of your friends, I have a care of your preservation, therefore I would advise you as you tender your life to devise some excuse to shift your attendance at this parliament, for God and man have concurred to punish the wickedness of this time, and think not slightly of this advertisement, but retire yourself into your country, where you may expect the event in safety, for though there be no appearance of any stir, yet I say they shall receive a terrible blow this parliament and yet they shall not see who hurts them, this counsel is not to be condemned because it may do you good and can do you no harm, for the danger is past as soon as you have burnt the letter and I hope God will give you the grace to make good use of it, to whose holy protection I commend you.”

Monteagle, alarmed, shared the letter with government authorities. On November 4, officials searched the cellar beneath the House of Lords and found the gunpowder and Guy Fawkes. Fawkes was sent to the Tower of London, where he was interrogated and tortured for two days. Four conspirators were killed trying to escape arrest, and one died in prison. The rest, including Fawkes, were tried and executed on Jan. 31, 1606.

The Gunpowder Plot led Parliament to pass more anti-Catholic laws, and hostility in England toward Catholics remained strong for more than a century. The British hold a festival every November 5 in which they burn Guy Fawkes in effigy. By custom, guards search the vaults beneath the Houses of Parliament before each new session.