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

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS

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.

This Week In History: “Buffalo Bill” Cody was born on Feb. 26, 1846

William F. Cody was a child of the frontier. Born in Iowa, he moved with his family to the new territory of Kansas when he was 8 years old. He was only 11 when his father died. Young Cody went to work as a messenger and wagon driver for a freight company. As a teenager, he enlisted in the Union cavalry during the American Civil War (1861-1865). After the war, he hunted buffalo to supply meat for railroad workers, earning the nickname “Buffalo Bill.” Cody also served as a scout for the U.S. army and as a guide for hunters who came to the prairies from out East and from Europe.

Over the years, Cody sat around many campfires listening to stories. Frontier folk in the 1800’s considered storytelling an art. You started with the truth, and then you stretched it a bit. Then you stretched it some more. Eventually, your listeners figured out they were being had. But if you were a good storyteller, they were never quite sure where the truth ended and the stretching began. That was part of the fun.

Cody’s own life became a story after he met the author Ned Buntline. In 1869, Buntline’s dime novel Buffalo Bill, King of the Border Men contained more fiction than fact, but it was a hit. More Buffalo Bill novels and even Buffalo Bill theatrical plays soon followed. In 1872, Cody was asked to portray himself in a play called The Scouts of the Plains. He became a wintertime actor and a summertime scout.

In the early 1880’s, Cody developed a show called “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.” Staged in huge outdoor stadiums, it featured roping and shooting exhibitions, a “genuine buffalo hunt,” and a (pretend) Indian attack on the (genuine) Deadwood stagecoach. By the time the show traveled to London in 1887, it included nearly 200 performers, almost 200 horses, 16 buffaloes, deer, elk, and even bears.

Some 2 million people attended “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” during its months-long London run. Of course, they knew that the Indian attacks were staged and that a real buffalo stampede would have more than 16 buffaloes. Still, where else would they see even one stampeding buffalo? The performers were not stage actors. They were American Indians, American cowboys, and Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) who had actually lived on the Great Plains. The daring riding, the fancy rope tricks, and especially the incredible shooting skills of star Annie Oakley were very real. Visitors could even walk over to a nearby tent city and hear personal tales of the American West.

So exactly how much of “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” was the “real West” and how much was stretched? Well, nobody was quite sure. That was part of the fun.

This Week In History: American battleship Maine exploded in the harbor at Havana, Cuba, on Feb. 15, 1898

The USS Maine, a battleship of what is now known as the “pre-dreadnought class,” was commissioned in 1895—a few months after Cuban revolutionaries, inspired by the exiled writer José Martí, launched a series of uprisings against Spanish rule. In January 1898, the Maine steamed into the harbor of Havana, Cuba—only 100 miles (161 kilometers) south of Key West, Florida. Its purpose was to protect U.S. lives and property as conditions in Cuba deteriorated under martial law.

At about 9:40 on the night of Feb. 15, 1898, more than five tons of powder magazines ignited aboard the Maine as it lay at anchor in the harbor. The resulting explosion virtually obliterated the fore (front section) of the ship, killing some 260 of the ship’s crew. Only about 100 sailors survived.

The explosion shattered windows throughout Havana. The Maine burned and quickly began to sink. In the harbor, shock and chaos reigned for days. Divers searched the twisted wreck for survivors and for the cause of the explosion. Such searches proved to be mainly in vain.

News of the Maine shocked and outraged the American public. Many U.S. newspapers, specifically those owned by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, accused the Spanish government of sabotaging the vessel. On February 17, just two days after the incident, the front page of Hearst’s New York Journal blared the headline: “Destruction of the War Ship Maine Was the Work of an Enemy.” The paper offered a $50,000 reward for “the Detection of the Perpetrator of the Maine Outrage!” Though an official Navy investigation had barely gotten underway, the paper’s stories insisted that Navy officers were unanimous in blaming the Spanish for the explosion. Pulitzer’s New York World was a bit more cautious that day with its headline “Maine Explosion Caused By Bomb Or Torpedo?” It reported details of the ongoing investigation and stated that American officials were ready to act against Spain if the investigation determined the explosion was not an accident. Encyclopedia editors at the time noted that 1898 marked the 75th anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine, in which President James Monroe had warned the monarchs of Europe to avoid interfering with the nations of the Western Hemisphere.

Newspapers and such “war hawks” as Teddy Roosevelt—then assistant secretary of the Navy—began to urge the country toward war. The cry “Remember the Maine” became a call for war with Spain. The Spanish denied any involvement in the incident. They claimed that an explosion inside the ship caused the disaster. But a naval court of inquiry concluded that a submarine mine had caused the explosion. The administration of U.S. President William McKinley concluded that Spain should no longer control Cuba’s affairs. At first, McKinley tried to avoid war by offering to purchase Cuba through diplomatic channels. When Spain rejected this offer, McKinley moved toward war. The Congress of the United States approved a declaration of war against Spain on April 25, 1898.

American forces dominated the Spanish before an armistice was reached in August. Spain gave up its claim to Cuba in a treaty signed in December. The United States had entered the war proclaiming that its fight was for Cuban sovereignty, but its troops would occupy Cuba for four more years. In 1902, the island was granted its independence after its representatives were forced to accept the principles of the Platt Amendment, which gave the United States broad powers to intervene in Cuba’s affairs.

The recovered bodies of the sailors killed in the Maine explosion were initially buried in Havana. A year later, the bodies were disinterred and reburied in the United States. Most were laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. The USS Maine Mast Memorial at the cemetery contains the battleship’s main mast.

In 1910, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began a project to investigate and raise the Maine. The vessel was resunk about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) off of Havana in March 1912.

In 1976, Admiral Hyman G. Rickover published a study of the Maine incident based on research by several U.S. Navy experts. The study concluded that the most likely cause of the explosion was that heat from an undetected fire in a coal bin exploded a nearby supply of ammunition. In the years following the Rickover report, an independent investigation claimed that evidence supported the theory that the ammunition was set off by an external mine. Other reports, however, reiterated support for the coal-bin theory. The mysteries of the Maine seem unlikely to ever be revealed.

This Week in History: Elizabeth Blackwell, the first American woman to earn a medical degree, was born in 1821.

The role of physician, as with many other careers, was once largely closed to women. But that situation changed with the success of pioneers such as Elizabeth Blackwell, the first American woman to earn a medical degree. Blackwell was born on Feb. 3, 1821, in Bristol, England, and came to New York with her family at the age of 11. Growing up, she first studied to become a teacher, at the time one of the limited career options considered suitable for women. Blackwell turned to medicine after talking to a friend who was dying. The friend suggested that the worst of her suffering would have been spared if her physician had been a woman.

A physician who was a family friend allowed Blackwell to study medicine with him for about a year. However, he cautioned her that although women were not explicitly barred from medical schools, no such institution would agree to a woman joining its ranks. Blackwell applied to all the medical schools in New York and Philadelphia and several others across the United States. In 1847, after dozens of rejections, Blackwell was finally accepted to medical school at Geneva College in New York, despite the reluctance of the school’s students and faculty. In 1849, she became the first woman to receive an M.D. degree from an American medical school.

Following her graduation, Blackwell traveled to Europe for practical training in hospitals there. When she returned to New York in 1851, she encountered much prejudice. Few patients came to see her, and hospitals barred her from their wards. Male doctors ignored her. Eventually, however, Blackwell earned the respect of the medical community and of the public.

In 1857, Elizabeth and her younger sister, Emily Blackwell, opened their own hospital in New York City. The hospital, called the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, was staffed entirely by women and primarily served the poor. The sisters later expanded the hospital to include a medical school for women. Elizabeth Blackwell returned to England in 1869, where she spent the rest of her life campaigning to open the medical profession to women.

In 1949, the American Medical Women’s Association established the Elizabeth Blackwell Medal to honor her achievements. The medal is awarded each year to the woman physician who has made the most outstanding contribution to the cause of women in medicine. Elizabeth Blackwell died on May 31, 1910.