This Week In History: Sir John Alexander Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, was born in 1815


Sir John MacDonald, first prime minister of Canada after the Confederation, born, 1815. (January 11)

To what extent can one individual influence a nation’s political history? In the case of John Alexander Macdonald, quite a lot. Macdonald, known as “Canada’s Patriot Statesman” and as the father of modern-day Canada, was a driving force in forming and keeping intact a new nation. If Macdonald had not been born, what sort of creature would present-day Canada be? Would it even be a cohesive independent nation? Or would it comprise part of the United Kingdom, or perhaps of the United States? Former Canadian Senator Hugh Segal (b. 1950) said of Macdonald that without him, “we’d be a country that begins somewhere at the Manitoba-Ontario border that probably goes throughout the east. Newfoundland would be like Alaska and I think that would also go for Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C.” So who was Macdonald and what did he do that so affected the story of his fledgling nation?

Macdonald was born on Jan. 11, 1815, in Glasgow, Scotland. His family was not wealthy or politically prominent. John’s father, Hugh, moved his family to Upper Canada, a British colony in what is now Ontario, in 1820. John proved to be a bright student and finished his formal schooling at the age of 14. He went on to study law and was admitted to the bar of Upper Canada in 1836. Macdonald began his political career when he was elected as an alderman in Kingston in 1843. Kingston was the capital of the fairly new Province of Canada, formed from Upper Canada and Lower Canada (part of present-day Quebec) in 1841. In 1844, Macdonald easily won a seat as a Conservative in the province’s legislature. During the late 1850’s and early 1860’s, he served as co-premier of the Province of Canada. He became known for his ability to see beyond party lines and for his talent for building consensus. In 1864, Macdonald helped establish a coalition of three distinct political parties that agreed to cooperate and govern the Province of Canada together.

In the early 1860’s, the British provinces in North America were considering the idea of confederation. Factors that gave force to this idea included the instability of provincial governments, a desire to expand westward, and fear of U.S. expansion from the south. During a series of conferences from 1864 to 1866, representatives from New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and the Province of Canada met to discuss and form a plan for confederation. Macdonald was largely responsible for drafting this plan. Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island initially rejected the plan, but the other provinces joined together to form the Dominion of Canada in 1867. The Province of Canada became two provinces—Ontario and Quebec. The governor general of the new nation asked Macdonald to become its prime minister, and Queen Victoria knighted Macdonald.

Macdonald served as prime minister from 1867 to 1873 and from 1878 to 1891. He held the office for nearly 19 years and won six majority governments, more than any other prime minister. As prime minister, Macdonald worked tirelessly to expand and strengthen the new nation. His governments fought separatists, bought large areas of land to increase Canada’s area, put down rebellions against westward expansion, and built the Canada Pacific Railway to connect eastern and western Canada. British Columbia, Manitoba, and Prince Edward Island all joined the Dominion during Macdonald’s first administration. Macdonald later worked to protect Canada’s developing economy with the National Policy, which imposed high tariffs on American goods. In addition, his government established the North-West Mounted Police, a precursor to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, to protect and maintain order in western Canada.

Macdonald died on June 6, 1891, after suffering a stroke. He was 76 years old and had won his final election only three months earlier. Macdonald was buried in a simple grave in Kingston, Ontario. His second and only surviving son, Hugh John Macdonald, became premier of Manitoba in 1900. In 2002, Canada’s government established January 11 as Sir John A. Macdonald Day.

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.