This week in history: The Royal Flying Doctor Service began in Australia in 1928

A hundred years ago, many people living in the vast inland areas of Australia led isolated lives. A farmer who became sick or a miner who got injured had little chance of seeing a doctor. Most likely, they could not even reach a location with telephone or telegraph service to call and ask for medical advice.

John Flynn was a Presbyterian minister who wanted to help the people living in Australia’s remote areas. In 1912, he became head of the church’s newly formed Australian Inland Mission (AIM). The organization’s goal was to minister to the spiritual, medical, educational, and social needs of the people in the outback. Under Flynn’s guidance, AIM soon organized ministers called patrol padres, some of whom even traveled by camel between communities in the dry interior regions. AIM also began to establish small nursing hostels, where people could come to receive medical care from a nursing sister. However, medical care still remained out of reach for many.

On May 15, 1928, Flynn realized a longtime dream with the start of AIM’s Aerial Medical Service, which eventually became the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The service began with a rented timber-and-cloth biplane named Victory. Patients and medical personnel rode in a cabin that could carry as many as four people. The pilot sat in the open behind the cabin. With only a compass and incomplete maps as navigational tools, the pilot often had to use fence lines and other landmarks to find the way. The landing strip might be a narrow track or an open field. The first flight left Cloncurry, Queensland, on May 17 to aid an injured person at Julia Creek. In its first year, the Aerial Medical Service flew more than 17,400 miles (28,000 kilometers) in some 50 flights and helped more than 200 patients.

In 1929, the Australian engineer Alfred Traeger invented a radio transmitter and receiver run by a generator that got its power from foot pedals similar to those on a bicycle. Now people beyond the reach of any telephone or telegraph could call for emergency medical aid. In the 1950’s, the radio network of the Flying Doctor Service was made available for Australia’s new School of the Air program, which made it possible for schoolchildren in remote areas to communicate with teachers by radio.

Today, the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) is a private, nonprofit service that continues to provide medical care free of charge to people in Australia’s outback regions. Its aircraft provide 24-hour emergency care, as well as transportation for patients to or between hospitals. Operating from bases around the county, the planes fly more than 16 million miles (26 million kilometers) each year. Each plane is outfitted like a hospital emergency room. (The pilots now get to sit inside.) The number of patients helped, including those treated at RFDS clinics and through electronic and telephone consultations, is around 280,000 each year.

Australians have honored John Flynn by putting his picture on the country’s 20-dollar note (bill). Other images associated with the Royal Flying Doctor Service also appear on the note. They include Victory, a compass, Traeger’s pedal radio, a body chart invented to help patients describe their injuries or pain, and even a camel representing the early days of the Australian Inland Mission.

This week in history: Mother’s Day became a public holiday in the United States in 1914

Mothers Day

May 4, 2015.

The path to the establishment of Mother’s Day as an official public holiday was an oddly long one in the United States. The American writer Julia Ward Howe made the first known suggestion for a Mother’s Day in the United States in 1872. She suggested that people observe a Mother’s Day on June 2 as a day dedicated to peace. She held an annual Mother’s Day meeting in Boston.

Mary Towles Sasseen, a Kentucky schoolteacher, also started conducting Mother’s Day celebrations in 1887. She often spoke of having Mother’s Day celebrated as a national observance. In 1904, Frank E. Hering, a football coach at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, proposed setting aside a day in honor of motherhood in a speech to the Fraternal Order of Eagles in Indianapolis. Hering was inspired after observing how dutifully students wrote home to their mothers.

Scattered observances continued until Anna Jarvis of Grafton, West Virginia, began a campaign for a nationwide observance of Mother’s Day in 1907. She recommended the second Sunday in May in memory of her own mother, who had died on May 8, 1905. Her effort was supported by the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton. At a General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1912, a delegate from Andrews Church introduced a resolution recognizing Anna Jarvis as the founder of Mother’s Day. It suggested that the second Sunday in May be observed as Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day finally received national recognition on May 4, 1914. On that day, a joint resolution of Congress was passed recommending that the federal government observe Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May. President Woodrow Wilson signed the resolution into law five days later. The next year, President Wilson proclaimed Mother’s Day an annual national observance.

In the United Kingdom, Mothering Sunday is the fourth Sunday in Lent. On this day, people who live away from home often visit their mothers. The customs of Mothering Sunday go back at least as far as the 1600’s. Australia observes Mother’s Day on the same date as does the United States. Many other countries celebrate a version of Mother’s Day, usually in the spring.

World War I Quiz

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Boats carrying troops to shore on the morning of the Anzac Cove landing. Credit: Australian War Memorial

Boats carrying troops to shore on the morning of the Anzac Cove landing. Credit: Australian War Memorial

This week in history: William Booth, English reformer and founder of the Salvation Army, was born in 1829

Present day Salvation Army fundraisers. © Shutterstock

Present day Salvation Army fundraisers. © Shutterstock

The next time you find yourself standing in the aisle of a Salvation Army thrift store holding a 69-cent pair of corduroys, a five-dollar designer dress, and a shopping basket full of other unbelievable bargains, you can send a note of mental gratitude to the memory of William Booth. Never heard of him? Booth was an English minister and social reformer who founded the Salvation Army, a worldwide church and charitable organization. Of course, Booth’s original intention was not to delight shoppers with a keen eye for a great deal, but rather to bring the Christian gospel to the needy and others on the fringes of society.

Booth was born on April 10, 1829, in Sneinton, a suburb of Nottingham, an industrial city in central England. He grew up in poverty. Originally a member of the Church of England, Booth converted to Methodism when he was 15. As a teenager, he and his friends held meetings at which they preached and urged people to recommit themselves to Jesus Christ. During the 1850’s, Booth began traveling throughout London, preaching to the poor and homeless. He also became a Methodist minister and married Catherine Mumford, who would help him found the Salvation Army. However, Methodist leaders did not agree with Booth’s methods of ministry, and Booth left the church in 1861. He began traveling around England, holding revivalist meetings to awaken interest in Christianity. His revivals included the Hallelujah Band, a group of converted “sinners” recruited to help convert others.

In 1865, Booth set up a tent in a Quaker cemetery in London’s East End and began holding revival meetings. His services were a success and he drew followers. At first, Booth aimed to convert people to Christianity and direct them to established churches. But many such churches were not welcoming to Booth’s converts, who included destitute people, criminals, and others with morally questionable pasts. Booth then founded an independent religious organization called the Christian Mission and established facilities to aid the poor. In 1878, he renamed the organization the Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army took on a semimilitary structure with military ranks and uniforms. Booth was the first general (director) of the army. He organized revival meetings on street corners with stirring music by Salvation Army bands. Many people ridiculed Booth’s showmanship and his sympathy for social outcasts and the poor. But the Salvation Army rapidly grew into a religious institution of international importance. Booth’s wife and eight children all worked in the army. Two of their children, William Bramwell Booth and Evangeline Cory Booth, served as generals. Booth died on Aug. 20, 1912. By that time, the Salvation Army was doing work in parts of Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North and South America, and the Pacific region.

Today, the Salvation Army operates in more than 100 countries. It is organized around corps community centers. Commanding officers who are ordained ministers direct these centers, which provide religious services, counseling, moral education, and other social services. The Salvation Army also operates many hospitals; addiction rehabilitation centers; homeless hostels; homes for children, the elderly, and mothers and babies; and day-care centers. In addition, its workers visit people in prison and provide services to armed forces and disaster relief. So, when you purchase that next great bargain at your local thrift shop, you also will be contributing to William Booth’s legacy of charity.

This Week In History: German statesman Otto von Bismarck was born in 1815

Otto von Bismarck, a Prussian politician, soldier, and prince, was at the center of Prussian and German affairs during the second half of the 1800’s. As prime minister of Prussia, Bismarck provoked three wars to force the unification of several German states—with Prussia at the head—into the German empire in 1871. Then, as chancellor of Germany, he pursued treaties to balance the distribution of power among European nations. A staunch conservative monarchist, Bismarck declared that the great problems of his time must be settled by “blood and iron” instead of by speeches and resolutions. Yet, circumstances led him to create a national welfare state and introduce universal male suffrage. Bismarck’s aggressive yet pragmatic actions—and attitudes—heavily influenced Germany well into the 1900’s.

Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck was born on April 1, 1815, in Schönhausen, in the Prussian province of Saxony. The son of a noble family, he studied law at the universities of Göttingen and Berlin. Bismarck served as an officer in the Prussian army before being elected to the Prussian Diet (national assembly). In 1849, his speeches against liberal revolutionaries gained him the favor of King Frederick William IV. Bismarck then represented Prussia in the Diet of the German Confederation from 1851 to 1859. He served as ambassador first to Russia and then to France. He was recalled to Prussia in 1862 to become prime minister and secretary of foreign affairs.

To unify the German states, Bismarck fought a war against Denmark in 1864; the Seven Weeks’ War against Austria in 1866; and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. Germany’s harsh peace treaty with France instilled a spirit of revenge among the French, a spirit that sped the path to war in later years.

In January 1871, the king of Prussia was crowned Wilhelm I, emperor of Germany. Bismarck became chancellor and the head of the government of the new German empire. He was soon known as the “Iron Chancellor.” Bismarck’s success in attaining German unity and national power was based on effective military policy, extraordinary political cunning, and considerable diplomatic skill. He devoted his skills to the establishment of treaties that fortified the position of Germany in Europe. He created the Triple Alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy and created an effective treaty with Russia. He also established the principle that Germany should never fight a two-front war.

To appease considerable Catholic and Socialist opposition within Germany, Bismarck made a number of liberal reforms. He introduced a national health care system, accident insurance, and old age pensions, and he gave the right to vote to all German males. Conversely, Bismarck also created exploitative colonies in Africa.

Wilhelm II, who became emperor in 1888, was jealous of Bismarck’s fame. He forced the aged chancellor to resign in 1890. Bismarck retired to his estates at Friedrichsruh, where he died on July 30, 1898.

In the years following Bismarck’s death, Wilhelm II guided Germany away from Bismarck’s policies. The emperor alienated Italy, Russia, and the United Kingdom, and led Germany into World War I (1914-1918), a horrific war with two fronts, east and west. Following Germany’s defeat in the war, the right-wing National Socialists (Nazis) distorted Bismarck’s views to promote and install a new nationalist, antidemocratic government. The Nazis then plunged Europe into World War II (1939-1945)—a tragic war that Germany again fought, and lost, on essentially two fronts.

The famous German battleship Bismarck, sunk during World War II, was named for the “Iron Chancellor,” as were a popular brand of pickled herring, a pastry, and the capital of North Dakota. Several other towns bear Bismarck’s name, as do an archipelago, a sea, and a mountain range.

This week in history: Tennessee Williams was born in 1911


Portrait of Williams. AP Photo

Tennessee Williams, who was born on March 26, 1911, was one of America’s most famous, most honored, and most controversial playwrights. Williams won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1947 for A Streetcar Named Desire and in 1955 for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Williams’s explosive, frequently violent dramas broke with the dramatic conventions of his day, transforming the American stage. The playwright brought a new level of sexual frankness and violence to American drama. He was sometimes accused of sensationalism in his depiction of psychological and physical violence, but his best dramas remain works of originality and power.

Williams was an emotional writer who filled his works with vivid, often painful autobiographical references to his early life, including his poor health as a child, his mentally ill sister, his neurotic mother, and the overbearing father who finally abandoned his family. Although most of his settings are realistic, Williams’s writing is poetic, and his plays often deal in symbols, sometimes taken from Greek mythology. He often portrayed eccentric outsiders and conflicts between illusion and reality. Some of his best plays portray characters, especially women, suffering from fear and loneliness. He also wrote about the greed and deception that can infect relationships, especially within a family.

Williams completed his first play in 1937 and wrote for the theater until his death in 1983, but his most successful plays appeared from 1944 to 1961. Other than his Pulitzer prizewinners, Williams’s major plays include The Glass Menagerie (1944); Summer and Smoke (1947); The Rose Tattoo (1951); Camino Real (1953); Orpheus Descending (1957); Suddenly Last Summer and Period of Adjustment, Williams’s only light comedy (both 1958); Sweet Bird of Youth (1959); and The Night of the Iguana (1961).

In addition to his plays, Williams wrote two novels, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1950) and Moise and the World of Reason (1975). His Memoirs was published in 1975. The autobiography provides an unsparing and revealing record of his love affairs with both men and women. Memoirs also describes Williams’s wanderings through the cities of America and Europe and his addiction to drugs and alcohol, which ultimately contributed to his death.

Williams’s short fiction appeared in five collections during his lifetime, notably Hard Candy (1954) and One Arm and Other Stories (1967). His poetry was published in In the Winter of Cities (1956) and Androgyne Mon Amour (1977). A collection of personal essays titled Where I Live appeared in 1978.

Williams’s plays inspired some of the most famous productions and performances in American stage and motion picture history. Several of his major plays were directed by the great American stage and film director Elia Kazan. Filmed adaptations of his plays featured such stars as Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Paul Newman, and Elizabeth Taylor. Brando became an international star for his brilliant performance as the brutal and cynical Stanley Kowalski in the stage and movie versions of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Thomas Lanier Williams was born in Columbus, Mississippi, and grew up in St Louis. In the late 1930’s, he adopted the nickname “Tennessee.” Williams died on Feb. 23, 1983.

This week in history: Wealthy American industrialist and railroad sleeping car builder George Pullman was born on March 3, 1831

Pullman is chiefly remembered for inventing the railroad sleeping car. However, he also built one of America’s first company towns, the town of Pullman, Illinois, where thousands of workers built the sleeping cars. The town later became part of Chicago’s Far South Side. Later still, the area was declared a Chicago landmark district and a national historic landmark. In 2015, United States President Barack Obama designated the Pullman Historic District as a national monument.

George Mortimer Pullman was born in Brocton, New York. He was the third of Lewis and Emily Pullman’s ten children. However, many of his siblings died in infancy. In 1845, Pullman quit school after the 4th grade and began working in a general store for $40 a month. In 1848, he moved to Albion, New York, where he became a building mover—moving buildings out of the way so the Erie Canal could be widened.

In the 1850’s, Pullman went to Chicago to help raise buildings to allow a new sewer system to be installed underneath. The system was also meant to help control flooding in the area, which had once been a marsh. In some instances, entire city blocks had to be elevated about 6 to 10 feet on massive beams and jacks. Pullman’s elevation work was done so smoothly that he was called a hero and a genius.

Pullman soon moved on to his next venture—the one that would make him a fortune as well as nationally famous: the luxury railroad sleeping car business. In 1858, Pullman and a business partner built the first two sleeping cars. Then he began creating bigger and more elaborate cars that could be converted from day to night use, with sleeping berths separated by curtains.

In 1867, Pullman organized the Pullman Palace Car Company (later shortened to the Pullman Company) to build his sleeping cars. He soon operated sleeping cars on all major railroads. Pullman introduced elegant dining cars with their own kitchens, beautiful parlor cars with individual reserved seats, and hotel cars with an attached kitchen and dining car. He also introduced enclosed vestibules for direct connection between cars. The Pullman cars offered first-rate service using newly freed house slaves as chambermaids, entertainers, porters, and waiters. After one of his sleeping cars was included in President Lincoln’s funeral train in 1865, Pullman’s business grew rapidly.

In 1880, Pullman built a new manufacturing plant south of Chicago, near Lake Calumet. He also built a town next to it and required his workers to live in it. The town, which Pullman named after himself, featured hundreds of brick homes, a bank, a church, a hotel, a library, offices, a post office, a restaurant, a school, a theater, and numerous shops. At its peak, some 20,000 people lived, shopped, and worked in Pullman. Pullman ruled over the town with a heavy hand.

In 1894, in the midst of a depression, Pullman drastically cut jobs, wages, and working hours. But he refused to lower the rents or the cost of food in his town. Criticisms mounted and soon erupted into a violent strike by rail workers that left hundreds of railroad cars burned and a number of people dead and others injured. The bitter labor dispute also caused a nationwide blockade of railroad traffic as rail workers refused to handle any trains that included a Pullman car. Eventually, federal troops were sent in to break the strike and get the trains moving again. Pullman was forced to give up ownership of his town, and it was annexed to Chicago.

Pullman was a bitter and hated man when he died from a heart attack on Oct. 19, 1897. He was 66 years old. He was buried at Graceland Cemetery on Chicago’s North Side. Pullman feared angry employees would dig up his body or steal it and hold it for ransom. So he made arrangements to be buried in a lead-lined coffin sealed in a concrete block and placed in an eight-foot-deep grave with 18-inch thick reinforced concrete walls. Eight steel rails, bolted together, were placed above the casket, which was then sealed in tarpaper and asphalt. The grave was covered with a final layer of concrete. Today, the towering Corinthian column above Pullman’s grave remains one of the most elaborate grave monuments at Graceland.