Land Run of 1889

Editor’s note: Sorry for the unintentional hiatus. Senior year is crazy, but history isn’t going to blog about itself!

As a student at a North Texas school, I know quite a few people who are going to be Oklahoma Sooners next year. But what, you may ask, are Sooners? It turns out that the University of Oklahoma’s mascot comes from a term dating back to the Land Run of 1889.

It all started in 1862, when Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, allowing people to claim up to 160 acres of public land; if the settler lived on the land and improved it for five years, then they could receive the title. Decades later, Illinois Representative William McKendree Springer wrote an amendment to the Indian Appropriations Bill in 1889 authorizing President Benjamin Harrison to proclaim the 2 million acre area known as the “Unassigned Lands” open for settlement.

The legal time of entry of these lands was set at noon on April 22, 1889. Thus, on this day in 1889, 50,000 people lined up just outside of the Unassigned Lands, loosely monitored by US troops. At noon, they made a mad dash to find and claim their land. As a result, around 11,000 homesteads were claimed, and cities, such as Oklahoma City and Guthrie, literally sprang up overnight. As you might guess, many people did not observe the “legal time of entry” and claimed their land early. These people are known as Sooners. So the Oklahoma Sooners are basically named after a bunch of dishonest settlers who thought they were above the law. How delightful!

Finally, if you have heard the University of Oklahoma’s fight song, “Boomer Sooner,” you should know that the term Boomer also comes from this time period. Boomers were simply the people who campaigned for the opening of the Unassigned Lands for settlement.

So now the next time a classmate tells me they are going to be a Sooner, I will just shake my head and tell them that they’re better than that.

“We Are the World” released, 1985

On this day in 1985, the single “We Are the World” was released by the group USA for Africa as a rallying song for famine relief in Africa. The song was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and produced by Quincy Jones and Michael Omartian. “We Are the World” was largely inspired by the success of Band-Aid’s 1984 charity song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in the United Kingdom. Thus, on January 21, after the American Music Awards, 48 musically and racially diverse artists gathered to belt out the anthem “We Are the World.”

Here is the video which features artists such as Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen, and Ray Charles. It’s 7 minutes long (how else are they going to squeeze that much star power in one video?)  but definitely worth watching. Although some criticized the song for being self-applauding or for not exploring the reasons for the famine, the song was ultimately well-received by the public and became the first certified multi-platinum single. “We Are the World” has raised over $63 million since its release and continues to have an impact in the musical industry.

With the 1985 single “We Are the World” came a resurgence in political and humanitarian themes in music. In fact, in 2010 after disastrous earthquakes occurred in Haiti, “We Are the World” was rerecorded by new artists to appeal to a younger generation. I like the message but I’m not sure how I feel about the combined musical stylings of Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Snoop Dogg, Miley Cyrus, and Justin Bieber.

Have a good weekend!

Frances Perkins Appointed Secretary of Labor, 1933

Happy Women’s History Month! To kick things off, today I will write about the first woman appointed to the United States Cabinet, Frances Perkins.

Perkins was born on April 10, 1882 in Boston and spent most of her childhood in Worcester, Massachusetts. Perkins attended college at Mount Holyoke where she studied physics and chemistry.  After that, she began to engage more in social work and earned a degree in sociology from Columbia University in 1910. The following year, she was witness to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, a devastating event in which 146 workers died. Perhaps the most tragic part of the fire was that these deaths could have been avoided with better working conditions. As a result, Perkins became a champion for workers’ rights. Years later, Perkins said that the New Deal itself had begun “in that terrible fire, on March 25th, 1911.”

Perkins was a part of the Factory Investigating Commission which was formed after the Triangle Fire. Perkins later said that the commission “made an investigation that took four years” and passed “laws the likes of which have never been seen in any four sessions of any state legislature.”  In 1919, Perkins was appointed to the Industrial Commission of the State of New York by Governor Al Smith, with whom she had previously worked for reformative legislation. In 1929, Franklin D. Roosevelt became governor of New York and appointed Perkins as the first Commissioner of the New York State Department of Labor. Roosevelt was later elected president and on this day in 1933, he appointed Perkins as the Secretary of Labor.

Perkins played an integral role in the establishment of the New Deal programs under Roosevelt. In addition, Perkins helped reduce the 54-hour work week for women to 48 hours, promoted a minimum wage law, contributed to the creation of the Social Security system, fought for laws regulating child labor, and helped establish unemployment insurance.

As former Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz said, “Every man and woman who works at a living wage, under safe conditions, for reasonable hours, or who is protected by unemployment insurance or social security, is her debtor.”

Perkins served as Secretary of Labor until 1945, and then joined the U.S. Civil Service Commission. She stepped down from public service in 1952 after her husband died, and then started a teaching career at Cornell University. On May 14, 1965, Perkins passed away, leaving behind a legacy of progressive reform.

Finally, I highly recommend the book The Woman Behind the New Deal by Kirstin Downey (or here is an NPR review of the book which provides some insight into Perkins’ character). I feel like I can only summarize Perkins’ accomplishments, while this book illustrates how hard Perkins fought for the change she instilled. Her accomplishments are impressive in their own right, but Perkins also had to work extra hard simply to be taken seriously in many situations because of her gender. Learning about Perkin’s accomplishments is inspiring, but I believe learning about her struggles is even more so.

The door might not be opened to a woman again for a long, long time, and I had a kind of duty to other women to walk in and sit down on the chair that was offered, and so establish the right of others long hence and far distant in geography to sit in the high seats.

-Frances Perkins,

US Secretary of Labor

Victor Hugo, 1802

Victor Hugo

On February 26, 1802, French Romantic novelist, poet, and dramatist Victor Hugo was born in Besançon, France. Outside of France, Hugo is best known for his novels such as Notre-Dame de Paris ( or The Hunchback of Notre Dame in English) and Les Misérables. In fact, the latter was made into a highly successful musical and then adapted into a 2012 film. However, in France, Hugo is better known for his poetic works.

Victor Hugo circa 1853-1855, via. I can just picture the photographer saying, “Quick! Act natural!” And then Hugo strikes this pose.

Influenced by the French Revolution of 1789, Hugo’s works are dominated by social and political themes (you know, like Liberté, Égalité, and Fraternité). In addition, Hugo’s father was a general in Napoleon’s army. Thus, after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Hugo never supported the French monarchy. Instead, he became an advocate for republicanism.

In 1830, the July Revolution broke out in France and a constitutional monarchy was consequently put in place. Hugo would have preferred a republic, but was nonetheless inspired by the themes of equality and freedom that powered the two revolutions. Thus, in 1831, he published The Hunchback of Notre Dame, one of his first works that included the social and political themes for which Hugo became known.

Hugo had now made a name for himself in the literary world, and in 1841 was elected to the Académie française or French Academy, a prestigious group that serves as the authority on the French language. Additionally, he began working on Les Misérables, a novel which took about 17 years to write and publish. It makes sense that it took so long considering it consists of five volumes and is one of the longest novels ever written. Ever.

Les Mis was finally published in 1862. The shortest correspondence in history supposedly occurred between Hugo and his publisher. Hugo sent a telegram with only a “?” to ask how well Les Mis was doing, as he was on vacation when it was published. His publisher sent back a “!” to signify that it was a sensation.

Does this look familiar? French illustrator Émile Bayard drew this for the original edition of Les Miserables, and it is used to promote the musical today, via.

In 1851, Hugo fled to Brussels after a coup in France, because he strongly opposed the new monarch, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte. He also lived in Britain for awhile in his exile. However, he triumphantly returned in 1870, when a republic was established.

Hugo died in Paris on May 22, 1885, and was buried in the Panthéon as a national hero who exposed the flaws of society and helped create a republic in France.

“It is nothing to die. It is frightful not to live.”
― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Zimmerman Telegram, 1917

Sorry that posts have been sparse lately. School got pretty crazy, and I acquired a stomach virus on top of that (gross!). But I’m feeling better and will post more regularly.

World War I broke out between European nations in 1914, but the isolationist United States wanted nothing to do with it. In fact, President Woodrow Wilson was reelected after running with the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” However a series of events led the US to eventually declare war on Germany. In addition to Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare against US ships, Wilson referred to the Zimmerman Telegram in his request to Congress to declare war.

The Zimmerman Telegram, via

The Zimmerman Telegram was a memo written by German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmerman to the German Minister to Mexico, von Eckhardt. First, the note stated that Germany would continue unrestricted submarine warfare despite America’s protestations. This is because although the US was neutral and would trade with all belligerent countries, they could not trade with Germany due to a British naval blockade. Germany knew their actions could provoke the neutral US into war, so then Zimmerman proposed an alliance with Mexico (and  Japan); Mexico, in turn, was promised its former territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The alliance between Germany, Mexico, and Japan would open up two new fronts and help reduce the strain on the German military.

However, British cryptographers intercepted the message and gave it to Wilson on February 24, 1917. Finally, the note was released to the press on March 1, and the US public was horrified by the telegram. Zimmerman conceded on March 3, that the leaked telegram was authentic. In addition, Germany responded by complaining that the Allies shouldn’t have been tapping their secure peace network in the first place. Germany playing the victim was not effective, and on April 6, 1917, the United States Congress approved Wilson’s decision to declare war on Germany.

Governor Elbridge Gerry Signed Bill to Redistrict Massachusetts, 1812

After looking at the title, you’re probably thinking, “Wow, a post about redistricting bills? This blog has gone downhill fast!” But what if I told you this bill was the origin of the political term “gerrymandering” which refers to strategically redistricting areas for political gain? Now it sounds a little less C-SPAN and a little more Scandal.

Elbridge Gerry, via

On this day in 1812, Governor of Massachusetts and future Vice President of the United States, Elbridge Gerry signed a bill that repositioned congressional districts. In this process, now known as gerrymandering, one tries to group together a certain demographic of voters that will most likely vote for the rival candidate. This, in turn, leads to “wasted votes” because the result of the election is pretty much predetermined. Gerrymandering also refers to reducing the wasted votes of supporting voters. As you can imagine, this process leads to some irregularly-shaped districts. The Boston Gazette noticed that the Essex County that Gerry redistricted somewhat resembled a salamander, and coined the phrase “gerrymander.”

A political cartoon of “The Gerry-Mander,” published in the Boston Centinel in 1812, via.

Gerrymandering continues today; it is technically legal but remains controversial. Currently, states redraw congressional districts every ten years because voters move to different congressional districts, thus leading to uneven populations. This means that voters that lived in a district with fewer voters would have a greater representation than those in a district with more voters. Hence, it makes sense that states would need to redistrict periodically to adjust for population changes. However, many problems arise because in most states, the state legislature, which of course has a political stake in the matter, creates these new districts.

So where should we draw the line? (Pun intended). One alternative is to have a third party redraw electoral districts instead of the state government (although, admittedly, gerrymandering could still occur). In addition, computer scientists are working on programs that could create districts based on mathematical algorithms.

There is debate over how much of an effect gerrymandering has on elections, but I do not like the principle of it: state legislatures rearranging districts so that some people’s votes are “wasted” doesn’t sit right with me. Hopefully, America can pass legislation that allocates the process of dividing districts to third parties or computer programs so that soon gerrymandering will be history.

Hitler Appointed Chancellor of Germany, 1933

The conditions of Hitler’s rise to power and establishment of a single-party state is a subject of much debate among historians. It is also the subject of a test I have tomorrow in my history class. Writing this counts as studying, right?

On January 30, 1933, Hitler appears at the window of the Chancellory and receives a standing ovation from the crowd, via

In my class there was confusion about how, exactly, Hitler came into power of Germany. Some students believed he attained power through an election. This is untrue; he ran for president of Germany in 1932, but lost to Hindenburg, who gained support from the Center and Social Democratic Parties. Other students believed he seized power through force. This is also false (although Hitler did try to seize power in the Munich Putsch of 1923). No, on January 30, 1933, President Hindenburg appointed Hitler as chancellor of Germany because he recognized the growing popularity of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), or Nazi Party, and because he believed that Hitler could be “tamed” if he were surrounded by conservative ministers. Obviously, Hindenburg grossly underestimated Hitler. Many historians believe that this marks the beginning of Nazi Germany, or the Third Reich.

So how does chancellor of the Weimar Republic become the Führer of Nazi Germany? First, the weakness of the Weimar’s constitution helped Hitler consolidate his power. Namely, Article 48 of the constitution allowed the President to take emergency measures without consulting the Reichstag, the parliamentary body. However, it did not define what constituted an emergency. As you can imagine, Hitler exploited this vague article.

On February 27, 1933, a Dutch communist supposedly set fire to the Reichstag building (some contest that the Nazis actually set the fire as pretense for an emergency decree). Then, the Nazis convinced President Hindenburg that the Reichstag fire was a sign that the Communists were plotting against the government and that he should exercise Article 48 and declare an emergency. The next day, Hindenburg signed the Reichstag Fire Decree, which suspended many civil liberties. Hitler used the decree to suppress Communist opposition.

Firefighters trying to extinguish fire at the Reichstag building, via.

In March 1933, Hitler called another election for seats in the Reichstag. He had arrested 4,000 Communist Party leaders and members and used violence and intimidation to suppress opposition to the Nazi Party. However, the Nazis won only 43.9% of the vote, which greatly disappointed Hitler.

Unfortunately, this did not stop Hitler from increasing his power. He passed an amendment to the Weimar constitution called the Enabling Act which allowed the German Cabinet (read: Hitler) to enact laws without the approval of the Reichstag or the president. To gain the “support” needed to pass the act, Hitler’s paramilitary group the Sturmabteilung (SA) surrounded the parliament and intimidated opponents. The law passed with 82.5% of the votes. The Reichstag Fire Decree and the Enabling Act essentially allowed Hitler to run a legal dictatorship.

Upon learning that Hindenburg was on his deathbed, on August 1, 1934, Hitler passed the Law Concerning the Highest State Office of the Reich, which stated that when President Hindenburg died, the powers of president and chancellor would be merged. The next day Hindenburg died and Hitler was declared Führer.

So that is a basic recap of Hitler’s consolidation of power- a series of frustrating events. Now, I have to study Hitler’s rise to power and domestic policy.