This Week in History: Australian Artist and Writer Norman Lindsay was born in 1879

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© State Library of New South Wales

Norman Lindsay was a member of a family of artists and writers who played a central role in Australian artistic life during the early and mid-1900’s. The family included four brothers—Percy, Lionel, Norman, and Daryl—and their sister, Ruby. All the Lindsays were artists, and Norman and Lionel were also writers. Lionel and Daryl received knighthoods for their achievements.

The five Lindsays were all born in the small town of Creswick, Victoria, near Ballarat. Each of the five served an apprenticeship as a graphic artist, either working for Melbourne newspapers or illustrating books and short stories. However, each of them developed an individual style as their art matured.

Percy Lindsay (1870-1952) was the eldest of the five. He became best known for his small landscape paintings, including many scenes in and around Creswick. Percy was a skillful colorist, and many critics consider him the best of the Lindsay painters.

Lionel Lindsay (1874-1961) won an international reputation as an etcher, wood engraver, and watercolor painter. He began his career in Melbourne as a newspaper illustrator. Later, he was a journalist and art critic. Lionel helped establish the reputation of the Heidelberg School of painters. The school’s emphasis on Australian life and landscape dominated the country’s painting in the early 1900’s and greatly influenced other Australian artists throughout much of the 1900’s. Lionel was knighted in 1941.

Norman Lindsay (1879-1969) became known for his pencil drawings, watercolors, and oil paintings. He also gained a reputation as a cartoonist, illustrator, novelist, and critic. Lindsay wrote The Magic Pudding (1918), a classic of Australian children’s literature. A complete list of the books he wrote or illustrated would run to about 100 titles. They included 11 novels, 5 books of criticism and philosophy, and 2 autobiographical books. His most famous adult novel is Redheap (1930), the autobiographical story of a boy growing up in the 1890’s in an Australian town resembling Creswick.

Ruby Lindsay (1885-1919) was a talented illustrator in watercolor and pen and ink. After marrying in 1909, she moved to London with her husband, Will Dyson, and her brother Norman. In London, she established herself as a book illustrator, especially of children’s books. While visiting Ireland, she caught the influenza virus sweeping through Europe and died at the age of 33.

Daryl Lindsay (1890-1976) was successful both as an artist and as an arts administrator. As an artist he became known for his watercolor and oil painting studies of ballet dancers and horse subjects. In 1941, Daryl was appointed director of the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. Under his leadership, the gallery broadened its appeal to the general public and abandoned its hostility toward modern art. He made important purchases of both old master and modern work. Daryl retired as gallery director in 1956 and was knighted in 1957.

This week in history: Ivan IV, the Terrible, was crowned czar of Russia in 1547

Viktor Vasnetsov Czar Ivan the Terrible State Tretyakov Gallery Moscow

Viktor Vasnetsov Czar Ivan the Terrible State Tretyakov Gallery Moscow

The coronation of Ivan IV, also known Ivan the Terrible, as the czar of all Russia did not actually occur at the start of his reign. Ivan had been born in 1530, the son of Grand Prince Basil III of Moscow. When Basil died in 1533, 3-year-old Ivan was immediately recognized as the new grand prince of Moscow.

Thanks to Ivan IV’s grandfather, Ivan III, the principality of Moscow had become the dominant Russian power. Ivan III had effectively established Moscow’s independence when he stopped paying tribute to the Mongols, who had conquered the region in the 1200’s. Moscow then began to absorb rival principalities, such as Novgorod and Tver, and many boyars (high-ranking landowners) swore loyalty to Ivan. In 1472, Ivan III married Sophia Paleologa, the niece of Constantine XI, the last emperor of the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Empire, which had fallen to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, had traced its history back to the eastern half of the ancient Roman Empire. After his marriage, Ivan III introduced some Byzantine court ceremony into his own court and sometimes used the title czar (emperor). However, his main title remained grand prince of Moscow.

The childhood of the young Grand Prince Ivan IV was, well, terrible. Ivan personally witnessed acts of violence between the noble families vying for power. Young Ivan also showed his own violent tendencies. He is said to have enjoyed dropping small animals off rooftops to see them die. As a young man, he terrorized the residents of Moscow by riding through the streets on horseback and knocking over men, women, or children who had the misfortune to encounter him.

On Jan. 16, 1547, around the time he took over personal control of the government, Ivan IV became the first Russian ruler to be formally crowned as czar. He was 16 years old. This new title would be used by Russian rulers until 1918.

Initially, Ivan continued his grandfather’s work of strengthening the Moscow principality. He conquered new territory east to the Ural Mountains and south to the Caspian Sea. His attempts to expand to the northwest, however, embroiled Russia in long, useless years of warfare. Ivan established a new law code to standardize authority throughout the realm. Such centralizing of authority also occurred in other European nations at this time. However, Ivan’s pursuit of this goal became increasingly violent and terrifying.

Ivan’s first wife, Anastasia, appears to have had a stabilizing effect on his personality. When she died suddenly in 1560, Ivan’s paranoia and instability grew. He became convinced that the boyars had poisoned her, and he designed political policies to extract violent revenge. The oprichniki—his political police, dressed in black and mounted on black horses—terrorized, tortured, and murdered Ivan’s victims. They drove boyars from lands that Ivan wanted to seize and sometimes massacred entire villages. Thousands were killed. Ivan participated personally in the reign of terror. During a fit of rage in 1581, he even struck his eldest son with an iron-tipped staff, killing the heir to the throne.

Historians trying to explain Ivan’s extreme behavior have pointed to his traumatic childhood and to the possibility that a serious painful spinal disease, discovered by a modern examination of his remains, may have contributed to his instability. Many of them believe Ivan also suffered from bouts of insanity. Even those historians who admire Ivan’s positive accomplishments acknowledge that they cannot fully explain his bizarre and violent acts. While the expansion and centralization of Moscow’s government under Ivan III earned him the nickname “Ivan the Great,” Ivan IV’s achievements have been overwhelmed in historical memory by the way in which he accomplished them, resulting in the name by which he is known—Ivan the Terrible.

This Week in History: René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, French explorer, was born in 1643 (Nov. 21)

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La Salle. The name is scattered across maps of North America, yet the man it belonged to didn’t actually use it until he was more than 30 years old.

René-Robert Cavelier was born in Rouen, France, on Nov.21, 1643. As a young man, he sailed to the French settlement at Ville-Marie (now Montreal, Canada) and obtained a grant of land. But he did not stay put for long.

By the mid-1600’s, Europeans were generally aware of what lay along the eastern coast of North America. French explorers had traveled up the St. Lawrence River into the Great Lakes. Spain was colonizing Mexico. But much of the interior of what are now Canada and the United States remained a mystery. Europeans still hoped to find a Northwest Passage—a northerly water route to China that would save the long trip around South America or Africa. The settlers in New France had heard from American Indians about large rivers to the south and west. Might one of the rivers flow to the Pacific?

René-Robert Cavelier became obsessed with the idea of discovering where those rivers ran. In 1669, he sold his land and began to explore, trapping and selling furs to pay his way. In 1674, he returned to France, where King Louis XIV gave him charge of a fort on Lake Ontario and awarded him letters of nobility. Adopting the name of an estate in France owned by his family, he became René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle.

La Salle developed a successful fur trading post at the fort on Lake Ontario and then obtained royal approval to build a string of forts and to explore the Mississippi River. An earlier French expedition had followed the Mississippi south to the Arkansas River. In 1682, La Salle led a canoe expedition from the Illinois River down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. There, on April 9, he formally claimed for France all the land drained by the Mississippi River. This included (though nobody knew it yet) territory from the Appalachians to the Rocky Mountains and from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

La Salle traveled thousands of miles in his explorations, mostly by canoe. American Indians had taught the French to build sturdy canoes with cedar frames and birchbark hulls. The type of canoe probably used by La Salle was about 24 feet (7 meters) long. Heading downstream and powered by up to eight paddlers, such canoes could cover 100 miles (160 kilometers) in a day. However, major obstacles—including rapids and Niagara Falls on the St. Lawrence—required unpacking cargo and carrying it overland.

In 1684, La Salle sailed from France with over 300 colonists to start a settlement at the mouth of the Mississippi. The ships overshot their destination and landed on the coast of Texas. There, the settlers met with disease, Indian attacks, and disaster. In 1687, on an overland trek to finally find the Mississippi and head upstream to New France for help, some men mutinied and killed La Salle.

Today, counties and towns named in honor of La Salle can be found in locations as widespread as Ontario, Quebec, Illinois, and Texas. Louisiana has a La Salle Parish, and downtown Chicago has a La Salle Street. Those points on the map reflect the enormous reach of La Salle’s explorations.

This Week in History: Harvard University was founded in 1636

Harvard College (now Harvard University) founded, 1636 (Oct. 28)

Harvard College (now Harvard University) founded, 1636 (Oct. 28)

Harvard University was founded at Newtowne (now Cambridge), Massachusetts, on Oct. 28, 1636, just 16 years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. It is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, one of the richest private schools in America, and one of the world’s most prestigious universities.

The Massachusetts legislative assembly initially founded Harvard as New College, a school for educating clergymen. The school’s name was changed to Harvard College in 1639, when it was named after the school’s first benefactor, John Harvard. Harvard was a Puritan minister. He left half of his estate, including his library of over 400 books, to the college when he died in 1638. Harvard College opened that same year. The school graduated its first class of nine students in 1642.

In 1764, Harvard Hall burned down. Some 5,000 books—including all but one of John Harvard’s books and the only known portrait of him—were destroyed. Today, a statue of John Harvard stands in Harvard Yard in front of University Hall. It has become the university’s most famous landmark. More than 250 years after the fire, Harvard now houses the world’s largest university library system.

In 1775, General George Washington and his Continental Army soldiers briefly moved into Harvard’s buildings at the start of the American Revolution (1775-1783). The next year, when the Declaration of Independence was signed, the signers included eight Harvard alumni.

Harvard College was officially renamed Harvard University in 1782 after the founding of its medical school. In 1910, crimson officially became the school color. The color tradition initially started in the mid-1800’s, when the school’s rowing team donned crimson scarves during a competition so they would be more easily recognized.

Several U.S. presidents have graduated from Harvard, including John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Other notable graduates include American revolutionary leader John Hancock, philanthropist and Microsoft creator Bill Gates, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Harvard, which was founded just three days before Halloween, has its share of ghost stories. Over the years, students, faculty, and employees have reported encounters with spirits roaming the halls of some dorms and school buildings. These include Wadsworth House, which General George Washington used as his first headquarters, and Lowell Hall, named after former Harvard President Abbott Lawrence Lowell. People claim to have seen apparitions dressed in colonial uniforms walking down the halls or going through doors at Wadsworth House. Ghosts of Lowell’s sister, the poet Amy Lowell, or former House Master Elliott Perkins have reportedly been spotted silently moving around Lowell House. Amy Lowell was known to smoke cigars and, supposedly, if you stand near her portrait in Lowell House, you can sometimes smell cigar smoke.

This week in history: Canadian heroine Laura Ingersoll Secord was born on Sept. 13, 1775

Laura Ingersoll Secord was an ordinary pioneer woman of her time who did something extraordinary. Her patriotism and courage during the War of 1812 (1812-1815) made her a legendary heroine for generations of future Canadians.

Laura Ingersoll was born on Sept. 13, 1775, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, at that time a British colony. During the American Revolution, which had begun in April 1775, Laura’s father, Thomas Ingersoll, fought on the side of the American colonists against the British. In 1795, however, he moved his family to Upper Canada, a British colony in what later became southern Ontario. Upper Canada was home to many Loyalists—British subjects who left the American Colonies after the United States became independent. In Upper Canada, Laura married a merchant named James Secord. The Secords settled in Queenston, not far from Niagara Falls, and had seven children.

During the War of 1812, the United States and the United Kingdom were vying for control of Upper Canada. In October 1812, while fighting for the British, Laura’s husband was badly wounded in the Battle of Queenston Heights in Upper Canada. In an act of bravery, Laura rescued James from the battlefield and took him home to recover. In June 1813, the Secords were forced to host some U.S. soldiers in their home. Laura learned that the soldiers were planning a surprise attack on a British military post about 12 miles (20 kilometers) away at Beaver Dams. The post was under the command of the British Lieutenant James FitzGibbon. Laura’s husband was not yet well, and so he could not travel to Beaver Dams to warn the British. Again exhibiting great courage, Laura set out on June 22 to inform Lieutenant FitzGibbon of the Americans’ plan. She took a roundabout route to avoid being discovered by U.S. soldiers, walking about 20 miles (32 kilometers) through a dangerous wilderness. Some First Nations people (American Indians) helped Laura on her way, and she made it to FitzGibbon’s headquarters.

On June 24, a group of First Nations warriors allied with the British ambushed U.S. troops led by Colonel Charles Boerstler near Beaver Dams. FitzGibbon later arrived with his own men, and the Americans surrendered. This British and First Nations victory helped protect the Niagara Peninsula, a strip of land that connects Ontario and New York, from U.S. control.

After the war, Laura petitioned the British government for a military pension but was refused. She did not receive official recognition for her patriotism until 1860, when she was 85 years old. That year, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, visited Canada and learned of Laura’s courageous trek in 1813. After returning to England, Albert Edward sent Laura £100 as a reward for her service. Laura died in 1868 and was buried in Chippawa, now part of the city of Niagara Falls. Today, visitors can see her monument in Drummond Hill Cemetery.

Laura Secord has become legendary as a Canadian heroine. Stories grew up around her 1813 adventure. One story tells that she brought a cow on her walk to Beaver Dams to use as camouflage, and that she milked the cow when a U.S. sentry saw her. Another story says that she walked through the wilderness barefoot. Laura has been memorialized in various forms, including books, poems, and even two postage stamps. In 1913, 100 years after she journeyed to Beaver Dams, a Canadian chocolate company sweetened her memory by adopting her name as its own!

Laura’s portrait hangs in Ontario’s Legislative Building, and the Secord Homestead was reconstructed in Queenston, Ontario, in 1971. A statue of Laura is also part of the Valiants Memorial in downtown Ottawa. This memorial honors a number of individuals who played a role in major conflicts throughout Canadian history. In 2003, Laura was declared a person of national historic significance by Canada’s minister of Canadian heritage.

This week in history: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was born on Aug. 30, 1797

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, who was born on Aug. 30, 1797, became famous in literary history as the wife of English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and as the author of Frankenstein, perhaps the most famous horror novel in Western literature.

Portrait of Shelley. © GL Archive/Alamy Images

Portrait of Shelley. © GL Archive/Alamy Images

Mary was born in London to two famous parents. Her mother was the early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, and her father was the political philosopher William Godwin. She was largely educated at home within the stimulating intellectual environment in her parents’ household. This environment largely shaped Mary’s independent spirit as an adult.

Mary met Percy Shelley in 1812, and over a period of time they fell in love. She eloped with Shelley to France in July 1814, and they were married in 1816, after Shelley’s first wife committed suicide. After her husband was drowned off the coast of Italy in 1822, Mary returned to England and devoted herself to publicizing his writings. She published Shelley’s Posthumous Poems (1824) and edited his Poetical Works (1839). Mary’s published notes on her husband’s works as well as her Journal and letters have provided literary historians with a rich source of biographical information about her and her celebrated husband.

Mary published Frankenstein in 1818. Its full title was Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. The novel reflects a popular literary style of Mary’s day called Gothic romance. The book is credited with introducing science fiction into English literature.

In the book, Victor Frankenstein is a Swiss student of science who creates an artificial man from pieces of corpses and then brings his creature to life. The creature, who is never given a name, is despised and rejected for his terrifying appearance. It learns human ways but never finds companionship. The creature haunts Frankenstein and insists that he create a female companion. Frankenstein at first agrees but ultimately cannot go through with the creation. The creature eventually turns to evil and destroys Frankenstein.

Mary conceived the story on a stormy June night in Geneva, Switzerland, during a ghost-writing contest with friends. The novel immediately captured the imagination of English society. It was discussed in newspapers, inspired political cartoons, was adapted into dramas, and even was debated in Parliament. The nameless creature became the most famous monster in Western literature. Many critics claimed a woman could not have written such a novel and credited her husband as the author.

Mary Shelley wrote several other novels, including Valperga (1823), The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck (1830), the autobiographical Ladore (1835), and Falkner (1837). Many scholars consider The Last Man (1826) as her finest work. The novel is an account of the future destruction of the human race by a plague. Her travel book History of a Six Weeks’ Tour (1817) tells about the continental tour she and Shelley took in 1814 following their elopement as well as a description of the summer the couple spent in 1816 in Geneva, where Frankenstein was born. She also wrote many essays, book reviews, short stories, and poems.

Mary Shelley had four children, but only the fourth, her son Percy Florence Shelley (1819-1889), survived her. The first three died in infancy. Mary died on Feb. 1, 1851.

This week in history: FDR signed the Social Security Act on Aug. 14, 1935

Roosevelt signs Social Security Bill. Credit: Library of Congess

Roosevelt signs Social Security Bill. Credit: Library of Congess

Eighty years ago, on Aug. 14, 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law the Social Security Act, which formed the basis of the U.S. Social Security system. Implemented as part of FDR’s New Deal, the act set up a system of unemployment compensation and old-age and survivor’s insurance. The law also provided payments for people with disabilities and for needy children. The act was key among the New Deal programs that helped pull the United States out of the Great Depression in the 1930’s. However, of the many laws enacted during the Roosevelt presidency, the Social Security Act has had the greatest long-term impact on the country’s economy. Controversial upon being signed into law, the Social Security Act still faces challenges today.

Many opponents argued that the act would kill jobs. In addition, when the act was originally passed, it provided cash benefits only to retired workers in commerce and industry. By exempting farm and domestic workers, the law excluded two-thirds of the African American labor force from benefits. The act also excluded many women from receiving benefits. In 1939, Congress amended the act to include benefits for wives and dependent children of deceased workers. In 1950, the act began to cover many farm and domestic workers, nonprofessional self-employed workers, and many state and municipal employees. Coverage became nearly universal in 1956, when lawyers and other professional workers came under the system. Congress added disability insurance to the system in 1956 and set up Medicare in 1965.

In 1983, Congress passed legislation that sought to protect the financial health of the Social Security system over the next 75 years. For the first time, Congress reduced future benefits while it raised taxes to boost future revenue. From the mid-1960’s through the mid-1980’s, the taxpaying labor force was enlarged by the entry of the baby boom generation. Baby boomers are the group of people born during a period of high birth rates from 1946 to 1964. As a result, during the late 1900’s, the number of workers paying taxes into the Social Security system grew more rapidly than the number of retirees collecting from the system. As large numbers of baby boom retirees began collecting retirement benefits in the 2010’s, tax revenues began falling below program costs. Retirement age, which had been 65, is expected to reach 67 in 2022. The Social Security Administration estimates that if no further action is taken, trust funds will be exhausted in 2034.

In FDR’s public statement on the day he signed the act into law, he expressed concern for “young people [who] have come to wonder what would be their lot when they came to old age.” Today, many younger workers are concerned that the benefits promised to them under the Social Security Act will no longer be available to them upon their retirement. In recent years, as U.S. government leaders and lawmakers have focused on reducing the country’s deficit, critics of the program have called for a reduction in Social Security benefits as well as an increase in the retirement age.