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This week in history we celebrate a wide range of individuals who influenced our lives in one way or another, from Charles Lindbergh to Oliver Brown, from Levi Strauss to Oscar Wilde to Lewis and Clark.
Lewis & Clark Expedition Begins
In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson completed the Louisiana Purchase, buying a stretch of land from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. The purchase doubled the size of the United States, but the land and its inhabitants were relatively unknown. Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to lead the Corps of Discovery Expedition across the new territory. Their mission was to explore and map the land, study its plants and animals, and establish relations with Native tribes.
Lewis and Clark’s expedition left Camp Dubois, Illinois, this week in 1804 and arrived at the Pacific Ocean in Oregon the following year. Shortly after they left Illinois, the expedition met a Shoshone woman, Sacagawea, and her French husband. Sacagawea was invaluable to the expedition as an interpreter and diplomat working with Native tribes as the expedition worked its way west.
The expedition returned to St. Louis in 1806. The endeavor was a huge success. They mapped the terrain from the Mississippi to the Pacific, cultivated relations with dozens of Native tribes, established a presence for the U.S. in the new territory, and brought back countless plant, animal, and rock samples for study.
Oscar Wilde Released from Prison
Oscar Wilde, renowned playwright, poet, and novelist, was released from prison this week in 1897. Born in Dublin in 1854, Wilde was one of the most famous authors of his time. Often satirical or religious in nature, his plays and novels were regularly the toast of London and Paris. His most famous works include The Picture of Dorian Gray, Lady Windermere’s Fan, and The Importance of Being Earnest.
In 1895, Wilde sued the Marquess of Queensberry for libel when the Marquess accused Wilde of sodomy. The trials that followed exposed the fact that Wilde was homosexual, a crime at that time in England. Oscar was arrested and sentenced to two years in prison at hard labor. The court cases were celebrity trials covered extensively in the press and left Wilde bankrupt.
Prison was harsh on Oscar Wilde, who suffered illnesses and injuries that contributed to his early death in 1900. In the few between his release and his death, Wilde published articles and other literary works calling for prison reform.
May 18, 1896: Supreme Court Decides on Segregation
This week marks the anniversary of two critical decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court on segregation in America. The first started in 1892, when a black man, Homer Plessy, was arrested for boarding a whites-only passenger train car in Louisiana. On May 18, 1896, the Supreme Court ruled that the state law requiring “equal, but separate” accommodations for white and black passengers did not violate the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law. The case of Plessy v Ferguson became the legal cornerstone for Jim Crow laws and segregation across the South for the next sixty years. It is often considered one of the worst and most consequential rulings in Supreme Court history.
The precedent set in Plessy v Ferguson was effectively annulled on May 17, 1954, when the Supreme Court ruled on the case of Brown v Board of Education. The case was brought when another black man, Oliver Brown, challenged the Kansas law requiring his daughter to ride a bus to a blacks-only school when there was a whites-only school much closer to home. This time, the Supreme Court ruled that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” and their existence violated the Constitution’s 14th Amendment. The ruling set the first legal precedent making segregation illegal.
May 20, 1873: Levi Strauss & Co Receive Patent
On May 20, 1873, businessman Levi Strauss and tailor Jacob Davis received a patent for denim work pants reinforced with copper rivets at the stress points. Initially, they employed seamstresses working from home to produce the “waist overalls,” later opening their first factory in the 1880s. The patent expired in 1890 and other manufacturers began producing similar pants, but by then Levi had branded his denim waist overalls with the “501” name.
Modern blue jeans as we know them didn’t appear until the 1920s and remained work pants worn by lumberjacks and railroad workers until the 1950s. After that, jeans became a cultural icon, defining subcultures from greasers to hippies to rockers. Today, denim blue jeans with copper rivets are worn around the world by people ranging from celebrities to scientists to farmers, with over one billion pairs of Levis sold every year.
May 20, 1927: Charles Lindbergh Crosses the Atlantic
Charles Lindbergh was an American aviator and pioneer in the early days of aviation. He was an officer in the U.S. Army Air Service and later a pilot for the U.S. Air Mail service in St. Louis. On May 20, 1927, Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field in New York in his monoplane The Spirit of St. Louis. Thirty-three hours later he landed in Paris, having completed the first solo trans-Atlantic flight in history. The flight won him the Orteig Prize, a widely-publicized contest with a $25,000 reward offered by businessman Raymond Orteig.
Lindbergh was a national hero and was awarded the Medal of Honor and Distinguished Flying Cross by President Calvin Coolidge, as well as the Legion of Honor from France. His flight led to a boom period in commercial aviation as well as air mail. Today, Lindbergh’s flight from New York to Paris is known as one of the most influential flights in history.
Your obscure holidays of the week:
This week we celebrate odd holidays like Eliza Doolittle Day with fans of the hit Broadway play My Fair Lady. On Be a Millionaire Day, we think like millionaires, act like millionaires, and live as extravagantly as possible. Morel Mushroom Day celebrates the highly desired, culinary wild mushrooms with festivals where people participate in tastings, hunts, seminars, and craft shows.
Most important this week is Mother’s Day. Remember to honor all those special women in your life that do so very much for us all.
May 14: Mother’s Day, Morel Mushroom Day, Dance Like a Chicken Day, Decency Day, Lilac Sunday
May 15: Day of Families, Chocolate Chip Cookie Day, Sliders Day, Nylon Stocking Day, Straw Hat Day, Supply Chain Professionals Day, Police Officer’s Memorial Day
May 16: Mimosa Day, BBQ Day, Sea Monkey Day, Biographers Day, Piercing Day, Day of Light, Love a Tree Day, Wear Purple for Peace Day
May 17: World Telecommunication Day, Turn Beauty Inside Out Day, Same-Sex Marriage Day, Pack Rat Day
May 18: Museum Day, Visit Your Relatives Day, I Love Reese’s Day, Buy a Musical Instrument Day, No Dirty Dishes Day
May 19: Bike to Work Day, Pizza Party Day, Accounting Day, Scooter Day, Endangered Species Day, Boy’s Club Day, Plant a Vegetable Garden Day
May 20: Human Resources Day, Weights and Measures Day, Eliza Doolittle Day, Rescue Dog Day, Bee Day, Fiddle Day, Amelia Earhart Day, Armed Forces Day, Be a Millionaire Day, Pick Strawberries Day
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