This Week in History: Brigham Young was born in 1901


Library Of Congress

With more than 13 million members on six continents, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly called the Mormon church, is one of the largest religious organizations in the world. But in 1901, when the future Mormon leader Brigham Young was born, the church did not yet exist. Young’s missionary work and leadership, both before and during his time as church president, played an important role in the growth and prosperity of the Mormon community. Seventy years after Young’s death in 1877, church membership had reached one million. Young also was largely responsible for the colonization of Utah, which became the 45th state of the United States in 1896.

Young was born on June 1, 1801, in Whitingham, Vermont. The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, also was born in Vermont, in 1805. As children, both Young and Smith moved with their families to New York, where Young eventually would learn about the Mormon faith. Young spent his earliest years on his family’s farm. He attended only about 12 days of school. As a young man, Young worked as a carpenter, glazier, and painter. In 1830, Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon and founded the Church of Christ (later the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) in New York. Young, at that time a Methodist, read the Book of Mormon soon after its publication and became interested in Smith’s teachings. In 1832, after a period of thoughtful investigation, he converted to Smith’s faith, the start of a journey that would span the rest of his life.

Young soon demonstrated his dedication to his adopted religion. In 1832, he went to Canada as a missionary. In 1833, he joined a Mormon settlement at Kirtland, Ohio. And in 1834, he traveled with a group to Jackson County, Missouri, to try to take back Mormon lands from hostile non-Mormons. In 1835, Young was made an apostle of the church, one of 12 central church leaders. In 1837, the Kirtland settlement broke up. The next year, Young moved to Missouri, where Smith had gone. But further anti-Mormon sentiment there resulted in the arrest of Smith and other church leaders. Young then led thousands of Mormons to Illinois, where they established a community at Nauvoo. In the early 1840’s, Young worked as a missionary overseas in England, and at home in New England. He had great success, converting many people in England and arranging for them to migrate to the United States. In 1841, Smith made Young president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the governing body of the Mormon church.

Smith was killed by a mob in Illinois in 1844, and Young in effect became head of the church. In 1846, facing yet more anti-Mormon sentiment in Illinois, Young led his followers on a long journey west. They settled in the Great Salt Lake Valley in what is now Utah in 1847, and Young formally was elected president of the church. Under Young’s leadership, the Mormons prospered in Utah. The U.S. government established the Territory of Utah in 1850 and made Young its first governor. In 1858, following a conflict with the U.S. government, Young stepped down as governor. But he remained an extremely powerful man in Utah until his death on Aug. 29, 1877.

Critics have accused Young of intolerance to opposition. Many people opposed his practice of polygyny (having multiple wives at once). But Young’s leadership and pioneering efforts rank him as a great colonizer of the American West and as the architect of a firmly rooted Mormon community. Mormon history records that Young brought 100,000 people to the mountain valleys, founded hundreds of settlements, and established many schools and factories. A statue of Young represents Utah in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Regarding his own reputation, Young has been quoted as saying, “I care nothing about my character in this world. I do not care what men say about me. I want my character to stand fair in the eyes of my Heavenly Father.”

Margot Fonteyn Was Born in 1919

Ballet dancers Rudolf Nureyev & Margot Fonteyn dan

© Zoe Dominic, Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Margot Fonteyn, the greatest British ballerina of the 1900’s, was born on just over a week ago today on May 18, 1919. For more than two decades, she was probably the most famous and successful ballerina in the world, celebrated for her technique, her poise, and the radiance of her character portrayals.

Fonteyn starred in the great classical repertoire, triumphing in such ballets as Giselle, Swan Lake, and The Sleeping Beauty. Perhaps her signature role was Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty. Fonteyn also danced in major ballets by such modern choreographers as Roland Pettit, Ninette De Valois, and especially Frederick Ashton. She and Ashton established a refined form of dancing that became known as the British style. In 1962, Fonteyn joined Russian dancer Rudolph Nureyev to form a celebrated partnership that extended her fame beyond the world of ballet.

Fonteyn was born in Reigate, England, as Margaret Evelyn Hookam. She began taking dancing lessons at the age of 4. Early in her career she changed her name, adapting Margaret to Margot and her grandfather’s last name of Fontes into Fonteyn. In 1928, she moved with her family to China and continued her dance training in Shanghai. Fonteyn returned to England in 1933 and joined the Sadler’s Wells School in London in 1934. The school eventually became the Vic-Wells Ballet, the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, and eventually, the Royal Ballet. Fonteyn was a guest artist with ballet companies throughout the world, but the Royal Ballet remained her artistic home until her death.

Fonteyn made her performing debut in 1934 as a snowflake in the ballet The Nutcracker. By the age of 16, she was dancing featured roles. While she was well known in the English dance world, Fonteyn did not gain international stardom until 1949, when she made a triumphant American debut in The Sleeping Beauty at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. She was extremely popular in the United States for the rest of her career. During the 1940’s and 1950’s, Fonteyn was frequently partnered with Robert Helpmann, a dancer with a powerful personality who perfectly complemented her grace and lyricism.

Fonteyn was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire (D.B.E.) in 1956. She was president of the Royal Academy of Dancing from 1954 until her death. Her memoir, Margot Fonteyn: Autobiography, was published in 1977. In 1979, Queen Elizabeth II awarded Fonteyn the title of Prima ballerina assoluta, an honor reserved for only the most exceptional prima ballerinas. Fonteyn died on Feb. 21, 1991.

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


© 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)


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.