May Day

At times the 8-hour workday feels unbearably long, doesn’t it? And yet it’s nothing compared to what many workers endured in the seventeenth century. It was not unusual for employees to be stuck at work-intensive jobs for 10-16 hours a day, and by 1884 America’s labor force had had enough.

Eight hour workday strike

In October 1884, a Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions convention came to the unanimous decision that an 8-hour workday should become standard on May 1, 1886. When that day came, thousands of workers went on strike to support the effort. Chicago led the movement, with over 30,000 strikers and perhaps twice as many general supporters flooding the streets to aid in the protest.

For several days the strikers surprised the populace with their peaceful marches and demonstrations. But on May 3, 1886, there was an incident at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company in Chicago. Despite strike leader August Spies’ pleas for calm, strikers surged toward the building to confront strikebreakers. Police fired into the crowd, killing two.

McCormick riot and revenge circular

The next day saw a rally at Haymarket square to protest the police violence. Movement leaders Spies, Albert Parsons, and Samuel Fielden spoke to the gathered crowd (on the condition that the violent speech be removed from the “Revenge!” fliers like the one described above) and for a while all remained peaceful. But then a police force arrived and ordered the rally to disperse. A lone protester lobbed a homemade bomb at them, killing one officer instantly and mortally wounding six more.

Public opinion turned against the 8-hour movement and the connected protesters, and a wave of arrests were made. Among the arrested were rally speakers Spies, Fielden, and Parsons. Five others who had not been at the rally were also arrested and included in the remarkably unjust trial that followed: Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Michael Schwab, Louis Lingg and Oscar Neebe.

Trial ends in death sentences

All were sentence to death but Neebe, whose punishment was 15 years in prison. Schwab and Fielden appealed for a life sentence instead, which they were granted. Lingg killed himself the night before the execution, taking his fate into his own hands. The remaining four were hanged. They became international martyrs for the cause, and many prominent people spoke out openly and angrily against the conditions of the trial and sentencing.

The whole Haymarket debacle was a hitch in the American labor movement’s progress, but it did strengthen the resolve to continue fighting for the 8-hour day. An international celebration was created, to be observed every May Day as a commemorative event for those who died and were executed during those May 1886 strikes.

International Workers Day

This International Workers Day is still an official holiday in many countries around the world, though it is rarely thought of anymore in the United States.

If you’re interested in learning more, search Newpapers.com for contemporary articles about the riots, strikes, and the “anarchist trial.” There’s a lot to be found on this topic and many others, and the browse page is great for stumbling upon history’s random tidbits.

 

Looking Back: Chernobyl

It’s been 30 years since one of Chernobyl’s four nuclear reactors exploded and spread radioactive particles miles in every direction. The April 26, 1986, disaster killed over 30 people directly, while thousands more were evacuated from the surrounding area. Decontamination and health care costs were and continue to be extensive, and the longer-term effects from the catastrophe continue to be seen today.

Take a look below at some articles published in the days and years following the incident::

Nuclear

Soviet Union's report

Early reports: 2 people killed

Chernobyl Cartoon

1986 cartoon reflects public sentiment on the disaster at Chernobyl

Chernobyl

No reason for concern

Chernobyl

Chernobyl: Disaster Continues

Find more on Chernobyl and other historic disasters on Newspapers.com.

Miss Perfect Posture

Beauty contests have been a tradition in the United States for nearly a century. Contests with names like “Miss Universe,” “Miss United States,” and “Miss [name of any city, really]” have attracted leggy and service-oriented ladies since the first Miss America pageant in 1921. But there have also been several other beauty contests with rather unique qualifications. One of these is Miss Perfect Posture.

Rib cage drawings show the effects of correct and incorrect posture

These posture-perfect competitions, sponsored by those in the chiropractic industry, sought out women with well-balanced stances and beautifully aligned spines.

Seeking perfect postures

Often contestants stood on two scales—one foot on each—and if the numbers came out even the lady in question had excellent posture. Sometimes the straight-backed hopefuls were also submitted to full-body x-rays to determine exactly how perfect their postures were, a practice which would not fly today.

Miss Perfect Posture Contest

In the end, only one could be named Miss Perfect Posture.

Miss Perfect Posture (1959)

Winner of Perfect Posture Contest

There were (are) a lot of other bizarre beauty competitions out there—Miss Drumsticks, Miss World’s Most Beautiful Ape, and Miss Atomic Bomb to name just a few. Search Newspapers.com for more on any of these pageants or browse to find articles and history that are more your style.

Titanic Disaster

In the frozen pre-dawn hours of April 15, 1912, the passenger liner RMS Titanic was swallowed by the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. Just two hours and forty minutes after an iceberg ripped through the rolled steel hull plates on Titanic‘s starboard side, the massive ship and most of her passengers sunk out of sight.

Giant Liner Titanic Sinks

1800 Lives Lost

Steamer Titanic

It was one of the most fatal maritime disasters to happen during a time of peace. The oversights that caused so many deaths, and the misinformation that followed, prompted outrage, particularly from family and friends who ached to know if their loved ones had survived—or why they hadn’t.

Titanic disaster

Wireless from the Carpathian

Not Enough Boats

The disaster cost thousands of lives, millions of dollars, and—fortunately—led to major improvements in maritime safety regulations, some of which are still around today.

Find more headlines from this infamous disaster on Newspapers.com.

Happy 100th Beverly Cleary!

Today, beloved children’s book author Beverly Cleary turns 100 years old.

Happy Birthday Beverly Cleary!

Beverly Cleary

Cleary worked as a librarian before turning to writing books. In her many interviews, some of which can be found in the newspapers linked here, she mentions that during her time tending the shelves she came to the realization that not many books represented children as they were—messy, imperfect, adventurous and clever. Children had trouble finding characters they related to, and she had trouble finding books to recommend. She decided she wanted to create characters who experienced childhood like she had, in a neighborhood much like the one she’d grown up in. And so Cleary’s characters—like Ribsy, Ralph, Henry, Beezus and Ramona—well-known now by so many, were born. And real-life children loved them.

Cleary turned the light bulb of reading on

In 1975 Cleary was thanked for her lasting impression on children’s literature when she was granted the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. It was the first of several more awards to come.

Beverly Cleary given Wilder Award, 1975

Perhaps her best-known character, and one of the best-known children’s book characters of all time, is Ramona Quimby, a spunky little girl with a whole bunch of curiosity. Did you grow up with Ramona? Try your hand at this quiz (click the image for a larger version):

Ramona Quimby Quiz

Though Cleary has since decided not to publish any more books, she has never stopped championing the importance of reading.

Cleary's advice

Find more on Beverly Cleary on Newspapers.com. Make a search on her name, characters, awards, or on something else entirely—it’s up to you!

Dr. Barry

It’s no secret that back in the day, career-oriented women had a rough time. Many tried, despite cultural expectations, and were discouraged by family, friends, and men in their fields from continuing. Some managed to stick to it through the opposition and make an impact as a 19th century woman. And some found it necessary to give up the whole “woman” thing altogether, like Dr. James Barry.

Dr. James Barry posed as a man

Dr. Barry was born Margaret Ann Bulkley, but chose to live as a man in order to be accepted as a student and become a surgeon. The secret of Barry’s identity was only revealed after his death.

Woman Who Lived As An Army Doctor

Though Barry was apparently a pretty rough character who often got into conflicts (some of which led to duels), he was also known to be an excellent surgeon with good bedside manner. His insistence on better conditions and diets for all patients, including the poor, was also a large aspect of his character.

Find more articles about Dr. Barry and other similar figures in history using Newspapers.com‘s search page.

A Day For Fools

Happy April Fool’s Day, one and all. In honor of this sometimes beloved, sometime detested holiday, have a look at these prank day articles from around the turn of the century. How much has changed after over 100 years of tricks?

'Tis April Fool's Day

The first April Fool? Or are fools too eager to guess?

A Reasonable Solution

The day of April 1

Perhaps the best trick

Please Kick Me

Well, at least they’re polite

More sensible ideas

What do you think—are the “old stale” traditions of April 1st finally fading out? Or do you find April Fool’s Day to be just as full of vexation and trickery as it ever was?

Find more articles about this silly holiday by making a search on Newspapers.com.

The Woman Who Birthed Bunnies

In light of both Easter and the upcoming April Fools’ Day, this odd tidbit of history seems especially appropriate.

Mary Toft's Rabbit Birth Hoax

Mary Toft, or Tofts, was a young woman who claimed that she had given birth to rabbits. She rationalized this by explaining that she and her friends had been startled by a rabbit in a field and chased it. It made Mary obsess over rabbits so much that she miscarried and delivered at least 9 rabbits with the help of her physician. This logic is based on the idea, somewhat prevalent at the time, that a pregnant woman should steer clear of pets because their proximity might physically affect her baby.

Her ruse was so effective that even her physician was played:

Mary Toft deceived her doctor

But eventually she was discovered and imprisoned for her deception. The physicians who believed her were ridiculed, and the Toft family received no profit from the hoax.

Happy Easter

Find more clippings like these by making a search on Newspapers.com.

Care for a taxi dance?

In the 1920s a craze for taxi dance halls swept across the United States. Young women were paid by the dance to be partners for men—young and old, immigrant and outcast—who had the time, money, and inclination to spin around the dance floor but were often excluded elsewhere.

Taxi-Dance Hall

The taxi dance halls were so named because, much like paying for a ride in a taxi, the girls who worked as dancers earned more money the longer they danced. Often those employed as taxi dancers were looked down on, judged for selling their time and company, even if it was only to dance. But they often made very good wages that paid for college tuition, in addition to the usual life expenses.

Taxi Dance Girls

Taxi Dance girls

Thousands of men patronized the taxi dance halls each week. Though they were much more inclusive than the more formal halls, most still did not allow black patrons, and some were even more exclusive. But there were not nearly so many objections to this fact as there were to the women who worked there and the types of men who attended. By the 1930s there were several movements to shut down the halls altogether and rid the country of the boisterous, informal, unpoliced spaces. By the 1960s the taxi dance halls had almost completely disappeared.

Make a search on Newspapers.com for more clippings like these.

The Lady Lovelace

If there’s one thing a young countess in mid-1800s England seems unlikely to throw herself into, it’s probably math. Or perhaps computers. Or how about…computer programming? So you might be surprised by the person credited with creating the first algorithm intended to be performed by a machine: Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace—or as she is more commonly known, Ada Lovelace.

Ada was far more interested in mathematics and science than in arts and poetry. This is likely due to her upbringing, as her father, the famous poet Lord Byron, left her mother shortly after Ada’s birth. As a result, Ada’s education and interests brought her into the company of many scientists and mathematicians, who found her to be very intelligent.

She worked with mathematician Charles Babbage and once translated an article on Babbage’s analytical engine, just for kicks. Babbage encouraged her to add her own notes on the engine, and in these notes Ada included an algorithm to be used by the engine in computing—the first computer program.

Ada Lovelace's work

In November of 1852 Ada Lovelace died, like her father, at a very young age—only a few weeks away from her 37th birthday.

Lady Ada Lovelace Death

Find more on Ada Lovelace and other notable people on Newspapers.com using the search or browse pages.