THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: JANUARY 29, 1929

The First US Guide Dog School Incorporated

first-us-guide-dog-schoolIn 1927, a young man named Morris Frank (1908-1980) read an article about dogs being trained as guides for blinded veterans of World War I. Frustrated by his own lack of mobility as a blind person, he was inspired to write its author for help. Dorothy Harrison Eustis (1886-1946) was an American training German shepherd police dogs in Switzerland, and when she received Morris Frank’s letter, she agreed to help him. He promised he would return to the United States and spread the word about these wonderful dogs.

On June 11, 1928, having completed instruction in Switzerland, he arrived in New York City, proving the ability of his dog, Buddy, by navigating a dangerous street crossing before throngs of news reporters. His one-word telegram to Mrs. Eustis told the entire story: “Success.” The Seeing Eye was born with the dream of making the entire world accessible to people who are blind.

The Seeing Eye was incorporated in Nashville, Tenn., on Jan. 29, 1929. In 1931, the organization relocated to Whippany, N.J., because the climate in the northeast was more suitable for training dogs.

On June 5, 1965, the cornerstone was laid for the current headquarters in Morris Township, N.J. Renovations to the Washington Valley headquarters were completed in 2013. The 60-acre campus is home to the administrative offices, student residence, veterinary clinic and kennels. In 2001, a breeding station was built on 330 acres in Chester, N.J., which houses the adult breeding dogs and puppies until they are 8-weeks-old. An additional training center is located in downtown Morristown.


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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: JANUARY 23, 1849

Elizabeth Blackwell Receives Her Medical Degree

elizabeth-blackwell-medical-degreeElizabeth Blackwell embraced the idea of women’s medical education on the grounds of egalitarianism and women’s rights. On 23 January 1849 she graduated from the orthodox Geneva Medical College, becoming the first woman anywhere to receive a medical degree. Blackwell was born in Bristol, England, in 1821. Her family had immigrated to the United States in 1832. After her father’s death she taught school to help support her family. She pursued a medical education at the behest of a female friend who suffered from a painful gynecological problem for which she was embarrassed to seek medical treatment. She began to read medical works on her own and studied privately with a physician in Charleston, South Carolina, before applying to medical schools. She applied to all and was rejected by all except Geneva Medical College in New York. There, the trustees and faculty decided to put it to a vote of the students, expecting a unanimous negative response that would send a clear message to the presumptuous Blackwell. The students, although no great advocates of women’s rights, conspired to play a joke and turn the tables on their teachers. They voted unanimously to accept Blackwell in 1847. Blackwell’s graduation in 1849 gave further impetus to the movement to establish an orthodox women’s medical college. The Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania became the first such institution when it opened in Philadelphia in 1850.

“Women’s Medical Education.” American Eras. Vol. 5: The Reform Era and Eastern U. S. Development, 1815-1850. Detroit: Gale, 1997. 340. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web.


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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: JANUARY 15, 1759

The British Museum Opens

british-museumThe British Museum, in London, comprehensive national museum with particularly outstanding holdings in archaeology and ethnography. It is located in the Bloomsbury district of the borough of Camden.

Established by act of Parliament in 1753, the museum was originally based on three collections: those of Sir Hans Sloane; Robert Harley, 1st earl of Oxford; and Sir Robert Cotton. The collections — which also included a significant number of manuscripts and other library materials — were housed in Montagu House, Great Russell Street, and were opened to the public in 1759. The museum’s present building, designed in the Greek Revival style by Sir Robert Smirke, was built on the site of Montagu House in the period 1823–52 and has been the subject of several subsequent additions and alterations. Its famous round Reading Room was built in the 1850s; beneath its copper dome laboured such scholars as Karl Marx, Virginia Woolf, Peter Kropotkin, and Thomas Carlyle. In 1881 the original natural history collections were transferred to a new building in South Kensington to form the Natural History Museum, and in 1973 the British Museum’s library was joined by an act of Parliament with a number of other holdings to create the British Library. About half the national li- brary’s holdings were kept at the museum until a new library building was opened at St. Pancras in 1997.

After the books were removed, the interior of the Reading Room was repaired and restored to its original appearance. In addition, the Great Court (designed by Sir Norman Foster), a glass-roofed structure surrounding the Reading Room, was built. The Great Court and the refurbished Reading Room opened to the public in 2000. Also restored in time for the 250th anniversary of the mu- seum’s establishment was the King’s Library (1823–27), the first section of the newly constituted British Museum to have been constructed. It now houses a permanent exhibition on the Age of Enlightenment.

Among the British Museum’s most famous holdings are the Elgin Marbles, consisting mainly of ar- chitectural details from the Parthenon at Athens; other Greek sculptures from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus and from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus; the Rosetta Stone, which provided the key to reading ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs; the Black Obelisk and other Assyrian relics from the palace and temples at Calah (modern Nimrūd) and Nineveh; exquisite gold, silver, and shell work from the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur; the so-called Portland Vase, a 1st-century-CE cameo glass vessel found near Rome; treasure from the 7th-century-CE ship burial found at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk; and Chinese ceramics from the Ming and other dynasties.

“British Museum.” Britannica School. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2015. Web. http://library.eb.com/levels/ high/article/16526


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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: JANUARY 7, 1955

Marian Anderson Performs with the Metropolitan Opera

marian-andersonMarian Anderson (1897–1993), internationally acclaimed operatic contralto, was born in the “Negro Quarter” of South Philadelphia and was recognized at an early age for her musical talents. By the age of six she was singing at her family church —  the Union Baptist Church on Fitzwater and Martin Streets — and her earliest musical education and voice lessons, as a teenager, were provided through the generosity of her church and members of her community. Studying first under local contraltos, by 1920 Anderson began to study under Giuseppe Boghetti, benefiting from a fundraising concert sponsored by the Union Baptist Church.

In the 1920s, Anderson established her career singing in African American communities around the United States, making her first recording of spirituals in 1924, winning a contest to sing with the New York Philharmonic in 1925, and performing at Carnegie Hall in 1928. By the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s, she performed at concert halls and with opera companies across Europe and Asia. Anderson, like her mentor Roland Hayes, valued the legacy of African American music and established a repertoire in excess of 100 African American spirituals from which she would choose closing numbers for her recitals. This element, which became a signature of her concert performances, has become a tradition continued since by many well-versed African American classical singers, including Jessye Norman, William Warfield, and Kathleen Battle.

Anderson returned from performing and studying around the globe with a newfound fame and recognition of her talent. In 1938, she made an intensive tour of the Southern states, with over 70 concert dates and was awarded an honorary doctorate of music from Howard University. In 1939, her manager booked Anderson to perform in concert at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. When the management of Constitution Hall reported that the original concert date was previously booked and that the hall was unable to make another booking for Ms. Anderson, it became publicly known that the owner of the concert hall, the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.), held a policy that did not allow African American artists to perform on its stage. The D.A.R.’s public discrimination against the world-renowned singer drew widespread criticism. The public resignation of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt from the D.A.R. and her comments about the group’s policy in her weekly newspaper column elevated awareness of the slight against Anderson to an international level. Through the secretary of the interior, the Roosevelt administration invited Anderson to give a concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. On April 9, 1939, Easter Sunday, Anderson performed live from the Lincoln Memorial for 75,000 people, with an audience of 1 million plus watching the live televised broadcast. Anderson was a recipient of the Spingarn Medal that same year.

For the balance of her career, Anderson was a prominent figure performing around the world and representing the United States as a sort of “good will” ambassador. That role became official in 1958 when Anderson was officially designated as a delegate to the United Nations. Throughout the Cold War, though, Anderson’s strong beliefs and work as a civil rights and peace activist sometimes put her at odds with the U.S. government and African American community leaders. Signing the World Peace Appeal (Stockholm Appeal) of 1950, an antinuclear movement from the Eastern Bloc countries, was highly suspect during the Cold War. Even while carrying out her UN duties or speaking on U.S. policy, Anderson made her personal views known as well. For example, after delivering a policy statement in 1955 on her delegation’s position to the General Assembly concerning the U.S. position on the newly formed Nigeria’s claim on the Cameroons, Anderson did not hesitate to publicize her opposition to that policy. She also broke ranks by speaking publicly about race relations in America while on a concert tour in Asia.

Anderson broke many race barriers in the United States. She became the first African American to sing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1955. In 1961, Anderson once again sang in Washington, D.C., when she performed the National Anthem at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. In 1963, President Kennedy presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She began her farewell tour the next year — with her starting venue at Constitution Hall — and retired from singing in 1965. In 1972, she received a Peace Prize from the United Nations. Marian Anderson passed away in 1993 at the age of 96 and is buried in Eden Cemetery in Philadelphia.

Aldrich, Jane M. “Anderson, Marian.” Encyclopedia of African American History. Ed. Leslie M. Alexander and Walter C. Rucker. Vol. 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2010. 134-136. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web.


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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: JANUARY 1, 1892

Ellis Island Opens as Immigration Depot

ellis-island-opens-immigration-depot-american-historyFrom 1892 to 1954, Ellis Island was a gateway for more than 12 million immigrants seeking access to the United States’ way of life. Because of its historical significance and proximity to the statue, the site was declared part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument in 1965, but the land and its buildings remained in decay and disrepair. After a $1 million cleanup grant by the federal government for the bicentennial in 1976, $165 million was raised in private donations to restore the main building, including the huge Great Hall, which was opened as a museum for visitors in 1990.

The federal government established its first immigration center at the site in 1890, using ballast from incoming ships as landfill to double the island in size. In 1892, Annie Moore from Ireland, age 15, was the first immigrant recorded to come through Ellis Island proper (for a few years before this, immigrants were processed at Castle Garden, still considered part of the Ellis Island experience today). In 1897, the original wooden buildings burned to the ground. While some records were lost, none of the ship manifests were lost as they were stored elsewhere. The main building that exists today was opened in 1900, and 389,000 immigrants were processed through it in the first year alone. The record number in one day occurred in 1907, with 11,747. By 1917, Congress required all immigrants over age 16 be literate, and quotas began a few years later.

An estimated forty percent, or over 100 million Americans, can trace their ancestry through at least one man, woman, or child who entered the country through Ellis Island. During the peak years, thousands of immigrants arrived each day. Each immigrant was checked for diseases, disabilities, and legal problems, and each name was recorded. In the confusion and with so many languages entering the country, many of the clerks wrote names based on English phonetic spellings or quick approximations, and many of these names have stayed with families to this day. People in steerage class on the crossing steam-ships were asked to board ferries that brought them to the Ellis Island facilities. There, they stood for hours in long lines reaching up the long stairs to the Great Hall, complete with children and all the belongings they had brought with them, awaiting inspection and passage through Ellis Island to the trains or boats that would take them to New York City or upstate New York, or on to other areas of the country. About two percent, or 250,000, did not pass the inspections and were turned around to go back to their countries of origin.

The open-door policy of immigration did not always exist at Ellis Island. In the 1920s, quotas were enacted; later, immigration processing was moved overseas. During World War II, the facility was used to house enemy aliens. Finally, the entryway was closed in 1954 and offered for sale as surplus government property, until the National Park Service took it over during the Johnson administration in 1965.

Today, thousands of visitors include a trip to Ellis Island with their visit to the Statue of Liberty. Ferries bring them to the hallowed island, much as they did years ago with their ancestors. A passenger database helps them locate their ancestors’ records.

Kirk, Connie Ann. “Ellis Island.” Dictionary of American History. Ed. Stanley I. Kutler. 3rd ed. Vol. 3. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003. 188-189. U.S. History in Context. Web.


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