This Week In History: Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii was born in 1838

Liliuokalani, Queen of Hawaii, full-length portrait. Credit: Library of Congress

Liliuokalani, Queen of Hawaii, full-length portrait. Credit: Library of Congress

Aloha oe, aloha oe
E ke onaona noho i ka lipo
One fond embrace,
A ho i a e au
Until we meet again 

Farewell to you, farewell to you
The charming one who dwells in the shaded bowers
One fond embrace,
‘Ere I depart
Until we meet again

The lyrics to the song “Aloha Oe,” and their lovely accompanying melody, are familiar to many who visit America’s 50th state, the Pacific island paradise of Hawaii. But few know that the song was composed by Hawaii’s last reigning monarch, Queen Liliuokalani, a woman who played a pivotal role in the tumultuous times that accompanied Hawaii’s transition from monarchy to American possession.

Liliuokalani (pronounced lee LEE oo oh kah LAH nee) was born in a grass house in Honolulu on Sept. 2, 1838. She came from a long line of Hawaiian rulers, going back many years to the unification of the islands in the late 1700’s. The Kingdom of Hawaii, under King Kamehameha III, adopted a constitution in 1840. The young girl, known as Lili’u or Lydia, attended a boarding school for royal children, where she learned to read and write in both Hawaiian and English from Christian missionaries. The practices and values of this religion would remain with her for the rest of her life. American missionaries had first arrived in Hawaii in 1820. Europeans were also familiar with the islands. Captain James Cook of the British Navy had landed there in 1778.

Unfortunately, the newcomers to the islands brought unfamiliar diseases to Hawaii. A measles epidemic struck when Lili’u was 10, and a smallpox epidemic occurred a few years later, killing thousands of Hawaiians. Still, Hawaiians—including Lili’u—intermarried with haoles (foreigners). Lili’u married John Owen Dominis, an American, on Sept. 16, 1862.

Hawaii became an enormously popular place for the growth and export of sugarcane during the mid-1800’s, especially after the outbreak of the American Civil War (1861-1865). The secession of cane-growing Southern states boosted the demand for sugar from Hawaii, and sugar exports helped Honolulu to become a boomtown. The sugar planters and other non-native residents of Hawaii became a strong economic and political force.

Several Hawaiian kings died following short reigns in the 1860’s and early 1870’s, and no named heir was prepared to ascend to the throne in 1874. After a bitter battle between pro-British and pro-American supporters of two rival candidates, Lili’u’s brother, David Kalakaua, was elected to become king in February 1874. However, many sugar planters resented Kalakaua’s expenditures on a new palace, a navy, and frequent travel. They also criticized his ties to people they considered unstable foreign adventurers. In 1887, they forced Kalakaua to accept a constitution that severely restricted his powers. After King Kalakaua’s younger brother and heir apparent died in 1877, he named Lili’u as his successor. He gave her the royal name Liliuokalani, meaning Lili’u of the heavens.

King Kalakaua died in 1891, and Liliuokalani became queen. Queen Liliuokalani tried to create a new constitution that would increase her power. But the American settlers who controlled most of Hawaii’s wealth disapproved of her efforts and staged a revolt. A republic was established in 1894, and Liliuokalani was forced to abdicate in 1895. The leaders of the republic accused her of participating in an attempted rebellion that would have restored her to the throne. She was imprisoned for eight months in Iolani Palace in Honolulu, the palace her brother had built.

United States President Grover Cleveland tried to restore Liliuokalani to her throne. However, he failed to do so. He later wrote that he was “ashamed of the whole affair” that resulted in Hawaii’s annexation to the United States. Hawaii became a U.S. territory in 1898.

Liliuokalani died of a stroke on Nov. 11, 1917, at her home in Honolulu. She had no children. However, the former queen left as a legacy her many musical compositions, her writings, and a trust that today still cares for orphaned children in Hawaii.

This Week in History: Spanish explorers arrive off the east coast of Florida in 1565

Portrait of Pedro Menendez de Aviles. Credit: Library of Congress

Portrait of Pedro Menendez de Aviles. Credit: Library of Congress

On Aug. 28, 1565, the feast day of Saint Augustine, the Spanish explorer Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés—with about 800 soldiers, sailors, and settlers—sighted land on the east coast of what is now Florida. A little over a week later, he sent some of his soldiers ashore. Historians think the men were greeted by Timucuan Indians and began fortifying a small Indian village at the site. On September 8, Menéndez came ashore with the rest of his expedition and formally founded the settlement as St. Augustine. The settlers soon built a mission, Nombre de Dios, meaning Name of God in Spanish. This was the first Christian mission in North America. Some historians believe the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León had previously visited the St. Augustine area in 1513.

Spain ruled St. Augustine for more than 200 years. During the late 1500’s, St. Augustine served as Spain’s military headquarters in North America. The English naval commander Sir Francis Drake looted and burned the settlement in 1586. Spain ruled St. Augustine until 1763, when the British gained control. Spain again ruled the settlement from 1783 until 1821, when Florida became a territory of the United States. St. Augustine is the oldest permanent settlement established in the United States by Europeans.

This week in history: Marshall Field I, American merchant, was born in 1834


Portrait of Marshall Field. Credit: Library of Congress

When someone mentions “Marshall Field,” what springs to mind—at least for most Chicagoans—is an image of the city’s world-famous Beax-Arts department store with its landmark twin clocks jutting out a block apart above State Street.

But few people know the story of the man who founded the company that bore his name. Marshall Field I was born on a farm in Conway Township, Massachusetts, probably on Sept. 18, 1834. He came to Chicago in 1856 and obtained a job with a dry goods firm. In 1865, Field bought an interest in merchant Potter Palmer’s rival business. By 1881, Field gained control of the firm, and it became known as Marshall Field and Company.

Field introduced many new merchandising strategies. For instance, he marked prices on the merchandise and let customers exchange goods if they were dissatisfied. The company developed new advertising methods and window displays to attract customers. It was the first store to sell bargain goods in its basement.

Field’s slogan was “Give the Lady What She Wants,” and he made an effort to attract women to his store. He hired young women as salesclerks, opened a restaurant in the store, and offered lounges, restrooms, a library, a nursery, and telephones to customers. Customers could also check their coats, write letters on complimentary Marshall Field stationery, and hold meetings at the store.

Field was also quoted as saying, “I was determined not to remain poor.” By the 1880’s, he was the richest man in Chicago. Although not known for his generosity, Field made important philanthropic contributions later in his life. These included a gift of land as a site for a new University of Chicago. He also contributed about $9 million to establish the Field Museum in Chicago, one of the world’s largest natural history museums. Field died on Jan. 16, 1906. Successive generations of Fields continued the retail merchandising enterprise and expanded into publishing. (In fact, the Fields owned World Book, Inc., the publisher of The World Book Encyclopedia, from 1945 to 1978.)

A year after Field’s death, architect Daniel Burnham completed construction on the southwest corner of the State Street store. Also in 1907, the store’s famous stained glass dome, designed by Louis C. Tiffany, was built. Although the store appears to be one building, it is actually made up of five different structures, which have been seamlessly integrated into a single entity. The original State Street store, which opened in 1868, was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871; a second building at that location was also destroyed by fire in 1877. The building that stands today was built in parts between 1893 and 1914, designed by Burnham and Company. The 12-story building is the second-largest store in the world. It was declared a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. It was designated a Chicago Landmark in 2005.

Marshall Field and Company grew to become a major chain store before being acquired by Federated Department Stores of Cincinnati in 2005. In 2006, the nameplate of Macy’s went up on more than 400 stores across the United States, including the former Marshall Field’s stores.

As the new Macy’s sign went up on the former Marshall Field’s flagship store on State Street, loyal Field’s customers protested, holding signs that read “Field’s is Chicago” and buttons bearing the message “I Want My Marshall Field’s.” To this day, a local group works through its website,, to “bring back Marshall Field’s in quality, service, and name” by holding rallies and distributing leaflets and flyers.


This Week in History: Construction begins on the Berlin Wall in 1961

East German Workers Near The Brandenburg Gate Reinforce The Wall Dividing The City, 10/1961. Credit: NARA

East German Workers Near The Brandenburg Gate Reinforce The Wall Dividing The City, 10/1961. Credit: NARA

On the morning of Aug. 13, 1961, Berliners awoke to the sounds of a massive construction project. All along the border separating East and West Berlin, streets were ripped up, and temporary barricades and barbed wire fences were emplaced. A few days later, construction of the Berlin Wall began in earnest. The completed wall eventually contained concrete slabs stacked 12 to 15 feet (3.7 to 4.6 meters) high. Pipes, barbed wire, and other obstacles were installed atop much of the wall. Armed guards were ordered to stop anyone trying to cross from east to west. They began patrolling the wall, aided by guard dogs, barbed wire, electric alarms, mines, and trenches. On August 22, the first of more than 170 people died trying to cross over the Berlin Wall.

At that time, East Berlin was the capital of the Communist-controlled German Democratic Republic (East Germany). West Berlin was an isolated state of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). During the 1950’s, travel between the two parts of Berlin had been largely unrestricted. As a result, West Berlin offered an opportunity for many thousands of East Germans to escape Communism. In 1961, East Germany, backed by the Soviet Union, built the Berlin Wall to stop the massive emigration.

For the next few decades, the Berlin Wall—and its major crossing point, Checkpoint Charlie—symbolized the intense nature of the rivalry between Communist and non-Communist nations during the Cold War. In 1989, East Germany became the site of widespread demands for more freedom. In response, the East German government finally ended its restrictions on emigration and travel to the West by its citizens. The East Germans opened the wall in November and soon began to tear it down. In October 1990, East and West Germany were united into the non-Communist country of Germany. Berlin was reunited into a single city. By 1992, nearly all the Berlin Wall had been removed. Several sections remain standing as memorials, but most of the wall was broken up for use in roadbeds and other construction projects. Parts of the wall were sold to museums and private individuals.

This week in history: American statesman, educator, civil rights advocate, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche was born in 1904

Portrait of Bunche. Credit: Library of Congress

Portrait of Bunche. Credit: Library of Congress

Ralph Bunche (pronounced “bunch”) became internationally famous as the first person of color to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Bunche helped with the formation of the United Nations (UN) and served as a UN diplomat for more than 20 years. His negotiating skills were legendary. As undersecretary for political affairs, he directed peacekeeping operations in Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. He served as undersecretary-general of the organization from 1955 to 1971, the highest-ranking American official in the world body.

Bunche is perhaps best known for negotiating a difficult armistice in 1949 in the bitter conflict between the newly formed nation of Israel and its neighboring Arab countries, which refused to recognize Israel’s existence. It was the most important assignment of Bunche’s career. Bunche was principal secretary of the UN Palestine Commission that carried out the partition of Palestine to create Israel in 1948. The day after Israel’s formation, Arab armies from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Transjordan (today called Jordan) attacked the new Jewish nation to destroy it. Following months of virtually ceaseless negotiations, Bunche obtained a temporary peace in what is dubbed the First Arab-Israeli War. It marked the UN’s first actual success in halting a war. Bunche’s heroic efforts brought him worldwide acclaim, and he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950.

Bunche was the first African American to receive the prestigious Peace Prize. For his achievement, Dr. Bunche, as he was called, was widely hailed throughout the United States. He was honored with a ticker tape parade in New York City and a “Ralph Bunche Day” in Los Angeles. He appeared on the cover of most of the leading magazines, and he was overwhelmed with constant requests to speak or lecture. Numerous schools nationwide were named after Dr. Bunche. He also received dozens of honorary doctorate degrees (69 in all) and other awards, including the Spingarn Medal in 1949 from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1963.

Ralph Johnson Bunche was born in Detroit, Michigan, on Aug. 7, 1904. Bunche was orphaned when he was about 12 and was raised by his maternal grandmother in Los Angeles. Because of his race, Bunche was enrolled in only “practical” courses in intermediate school in preparation for a vocational job, until his strong-willed grandmother demanded that he be given academic courses to prepare him for college. In high school, Bunche was an intelligent, all-around athlete, excelling in football, basketball, baseball, and track, while also excelling in academics. He was the valedictorian of his graduating class. Bunche graduated summa cum laude from the University of California at Los Angeles. He earned a master’s degree and a doctorate from Harvard University. While working on his doctorate, Bunche began teaching at Howard University in 1928 and chaired the school’s political science department for more than 20 years. He also taught at Harvard and was a board member or trustee of several colleges and universities. In 1938, Bunche reportedly barely escaped from a lynch mob in Alabama while gathering material for the book An American Dilemma, about U.S. race relations, with the Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal.

Although Bunche was generally considered to be a moderate, some people saw him as a radical intellectual during his time at Howard University. He spoke out against racial prejudice and segregation in speeches and publications. He also criticized the social system in the United States. Although he was critical of established black organizations, at the same time, he supported the Urban League and the NAACP and was very active in the civil rights movement. His international fame did not stop him from participating in the 1963 March on Washington or marching in the front line with Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1965 in Montgomery, Alabama. As a member of the “Black Cabinet,” Bunche consulted with President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration on minority issues. When he was asked by President Harry Truman to join Truman’s cabinet as assistant secretary of state, Bunche turned the president down, saying Washington, D.C., was a “Jim Crow” town in which he had no desire to live again or subject his children to its racist and segregationist policies. Jim Crow refers to practices, institutions, or laws that discriminated against African Americans. Bunche dealt with racial prejudice throughout his life, despite his high-level position. The experience helped shape the man, educator, and statesman that he became. Bunche retired from the United Nations due to ill health shortly before his death in New York City on Dec. 9, 1971.

The American Astronomer Maria Mitchell was born this week in 1818

Courtesy of Nantucket Historical Association

Courtesy of Nantucket Historical Association

The pioneering female astronomer and educator Maria Mitchell was born on Aug. 1, 1818, in Nantucket, Massachusetts. Her work included the study of sunspots and of moons around other planets in the solar system. In 1847, she discovered a comet, later called “Miss Mitchell’s Comet,” earning her a prize from the King of Denmark.

Mitchell lived at a time when educational opportunities for women were extremely limited. She was largely self-educated. Mitchell attended primary school, but did not earn a college degree. Her education was furthered while working as a librarian for 20 years. In 1848, she became the first woman member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She later became a fellow of the society. In 1865, she became the first astronomy professor at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. She remained at Vassar until one year before her death in 1889.

The 1800’s saw great changes in thinking on human rights. Among these changes were a number of gains for women’s rights. Maria Mitchell helped to bring this movement into the scientific world. When she learned her male colleagues at Vassar made more money, she demanded equal pay and got it.

This Week In History: U.S. civil rights symbol Emmett Till was born in 1941

If Emmett Till were alive today, he would be 73 years old—two decades older than Barack Obama, who became in 2009 the first African American president of the United States. As fate would have it, the racially motivated murder of the black teenager in 1955 helped launch the civil rights movement that many believe helped make Obama’s historic election possible.

Till was born on July 25, 1941, in Chicago. On Aug. 24, 1955, while visiting relatives in Mississippi, Till and several other black teenagers went to a country store in Money. A white couple, Roy and Carolyn Bryant, owned the store. Witnesses reported that Till spoke to Carolyn Bryant and may have whistled at her. On August 28, two men kidnapped Till from his great-uncle’s home. His body was found in the Tallahatchie River three days later. He had been badly beaten and shot in the head. A metal fan had been fastened to his neck with barbed wire, apparently to weigh the body down.

At Till’s funeral in Chicago, his mother, Mamie Till, insisted that her son’s coffin be left open. She said, “Let the world see what I have seen.” The funeral attracted thousands of mourners. Newspapers and magazines aimed at African American readers published photographs of the funeral.

Two white men were charged with the murder, but they were acquitted by an all-white jury. The men later admitted to the crime.

Nearly 60 years later, in 2012, when neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African American teenager returning from a Florida convenience store, many people compared the incident to the Till murder case. Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, claimed self-defense and was acquitted of manslaughter in 2013. The verdict ignited civil rights protests around the country and fueled debate about racial profiling and vigilante justice.

Soon after the shooting, President Obama attracted attention when he commented that “if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” After the ruling, Obama further commented that “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.  And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”

Although Obama’s election to the presidency stood as an example of the progress that came from the civil rights movement sparked by the Till case, the Martin shooting was an indication to many people that racial tensions still linger in many areas of American society today.