The Education of President Harry S. Truman

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Though young Harry Truman spent his early years living with his parents and siblings on his grandfather’s farm, his family soon moved to nearby Independence, Missouri. From that point on, Harry thought of Independence as his hometown.

His mother Mattie, a well-educated woman, favored the move because Independence had better schools. She read aloud to Harry and gave him a love of books and music. By age five, he could read simple sentences. Harry’s reading ability made school easier for him. He also knew how to get along with his teachers and parents to get what he wanted. “I used to watch my mother and father closely to learn what I could do to please them, just as I did with my schoolteachers and playmates,” Harry said later.

Harry had a special reason for wanting to be judged for his behavior. A kid wearing glasses was a rare thing in a farm town, and Harry’s schoolmates teased him. Since he was also not very tall, they called Harry “little four-eyes.” Despite some teasing, Harry earned the respect of the other kids. He didn’t participate in many sports because of fear of breaking his expensive glasses, but he knew how to settle an argument with words instead of fists. His sense of fairness made him a popular referee during games.

Still, there was no doubt that Harry had different goals from his classmates. He enjoyed reading so much that he claimed to have read all the books in the Independence public library. Favorite books included biographies of military leaders like Andrew Jackson and Robert E. Lee. He admired these men for their honesty, a trait he was later known for as president.

Harry’s love of piano playing set him apart, too since girls and not boys usually took music lessons. His parents thought his talent should be encouraged, so Harry received piano lessons for as long as his father could afford them. When he graduated from high school, Harry hoped to go to college, join the military, or become a concert pianist.

Unfortunately, Harry’s father John Truman made some bad investments. Harry’s hopes to attend college or even continue piano lessons were dashed. Instead, he worked various jobs. He eventually became a bank clerk and made a good salary. Once again, his duty to his family called him away. His mother inherited the family farm and his father asked Harry to help him run it. Under Harry’s careful management, the farm made a profit.

Although he finally had some success, there were no signs that Harry Truman would become a famous politician and future president. His future mother-in-law said to her daughter Bessie, “That farmer boy is not going to make it anywhere.” Years later, “that farmer boy” proved her wrong.

How did Children Play on the American Frontier?

In the 1800s, thousands of families traveled to the western territory of the United States. Many traveled in covered wagons from Missouri to Oregon or California. A religious group called the Mormons left Iowa for Utah. The U.S. government’s Homsetead Act encouraged families to move with promises of free land. By the 1840s, Oregon fever gripped the nation and people left on the Oregon Trail to become homesteaders. Although pioneer kids couldn’t bring all their old toys with them, they found new ways to play when they arrived in their new homes.

Homesteader_NE_1866

Homesteaders, 1866

Like girls today, nineteenth century girls liked to play with dolls. If a girl’s family had money, she might get a store bought doll made of porcelain or wax. Bettina Bush, the daughter of a doctor in North Dakota, played with several dolls that wore colorful dresses. She and her friend, Mary Margaret French, loved playing in the cellar with their “children.” Most pioneer families could not afford such expensive toys so girls played with dolls made from rags or cornhusks. A good imagination helped a lot. Even if a girl got a nice doll, she often couldn’t get other toys. For example, one young girl built her doll a house out of paper.

Boys on the frontier often tried to copy the tasks that their fathers did. Two young boys in Montana built a small house out of the scraps left over from the family’s cabin. A popular game for boys out West was playing horse. If a family didn’t have a live horse, the boys improvised. Lorin Brown said, “Cupping small milk cans in our hands, we lived on all fours for three or four years. We were the bucking bronc, the race horse, and the fancy saddled gate horse.”

Both girls and boys enjoyed the farm animals that their families kept, even if the animals meant more chores. A young girl from North Dakota and her brothers looked forward to the arrival of new colts and calves on the family farm so “we could pet them and spoil them.” Other children made pets out of baby chicks and lambs. Even full-grown chickens were used in games. One brother and sister pair from Wyoming practiced “roping the chickens” the way a cowboy roped cows.

When they had to play indoors, frontier children read books and put on theater shows. Mormon children in Utah had a theater built for them where they could sing and dance while their families watched. Girls and boys also took advantage of public libraries in their communities whenever possible. Though favorites included Robinson Crusoe, many children secretly read books their parents didn’t like. These books had titles like Peck’s Bad Boy.

Play sometimes depended on the location where kids lived. For example, kids in Wyoming and Montana towns used hills for sled and toboggan runs. Kids who grew up near railroad tracks spent hours playing engineer or conductor. Though they didn’t always have much money for toys, frontier children still managed to have fun.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

At 4:45pm on Saturday March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the eighth floor of a factory in New York City. Workers had finished their work on shirtwaists–the women’s blouses produced in the Triangle Factory–and were ready to collect their paychecks. They were interrupted by shouts of “Fire!” Samuel Bernstein, one of the managers, tried to throw buckets of water on the fire, but the material used to make shirtwaists was highly flammable.

Bernstein got nowhere with the water buckets. When he attempted to turn on a fire hose, no water came out. He and the women working on the eighth floor realized they had to escape the flames. They pushed each other toward one of the exits, but the door was locked. Finally, someone came with a key and opened it. One of the girls used the telephone to warn the owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, on the tenth floor.

Escape Attempts

Horse-drawn fire engines raced to the scene. Unfortunately, their hoses could not reach the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors of the Asch building where the factory was located. Some people from the eighth floor managed to get down from the stairwells to safety. Workers on the tenth floor tried to escape the flames by climbing up on the roof. The quick thinking of a professor teaching a class in the building next door saved them. When he saw the flames, the professor and his students set up ladders so that employees could climb from the factory roof to the roof of the school.

Trapped Workers

Not everyone could find an escape route. Some tried climbing onto the fire escape, but it collapsed under the weight of so many people. With the flames trapping them inside, many workers decided to jump out the factory windows. Firefighters held nets below in an attempt to catch the jumpers. The nets weren’t strong enough. No one who jumped survived. After half an hour, the firemen managed to stifle the flames by taking their hoses inside the building. By that time, 146 people were dead.

At ten feet tall, the building was one of New York’s skyscrapers. Hundreds of people worked long hours at the sewing machines, sitting elbow-to-elbow and receiving little pay. Most of the workers were female Italian and Russian immigrants, though some men worked there, too.

Call for Fire Safety in Factories

After the tragedy, many people called for better safety standards for factories as well as better working conditions. Survivor Pauline Cuoio Pepe said, “We [the survivors] didn’t sleep right, always afraid. We were also angry. ‘What did they close the door for? What did they think we were going out with? What are we gonna do, steal a shirtwaist? Who the heck wanted a shirtwaist?’”

Owners Harris and Blanck were criticized for not following fire safety procedures. They kept doors locked while workers were inside, the fire hoses didn’t work, stairways were too narrow, and the fire escape didn’t reach the ground. New York State government officials set up a commission to study factory safety. Among other improvements, the commission required tall buildings to have sprinkler systems. Many laws passed to increase the safety of workers in factories as a result of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. As committee member Frances Perkins stated years later “they [the Triangle Factory workers] did not die in vain and we will never forget them.”

The History of the Easter Egg

If you celebrate Easter, you’re probably planning to dye Easter eggs this month. But do you know how the egg became a symbol of Easter?

Eggs are often associated with new life. Ancient civilizations believed that the world began with the cracking of an enormous egg. The ancient Egyptians, for example, thought that the sky and the earth produced the egg that created
the universe. People in ancient Persia, Greece, and China gave each other gifts of eggs during spring festivals to celebrate the new growing season.

Since people did not always write things down in ancient times, we can’t know for certain whether the idea of Easter egg came from an older civilization. Supposedly eggs were dyed and eaten at the ancient spring festivals. The first record of the term Easter egg didn’t show up in Western European books until the fifteenth century. Some historians believe that missionaries living in Persia or Greece brought the tradition of coloring eggs to the West.

During the Middle Ages, no one ate meat during the winter. The people were both trying to conserve food and observe the custom of fasting for Lent. In addition to giving up meat, they also didn’t eat eggs. Instead, they saved their eggs and brought them in baskets to church, where a priest blessed the eggs.

When the Easter holiday arrived, people were allowed to eat eggs again. This was considered such a treat that eggs were given as presents. Children sometimes received an egg for Easter from their parents, or they went from house to house begging for eggs like America’s trick-or-treaters on Halloween.

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Belarusian Easter Eggs

Decorating Easter eggs became an art, especially in Eastern Europe. Many of the eggs were dyed red to symbolize the blood of Christ, but other colors such as yellow appeared, too. In Poland and Russia, girls made elaborate designs on their Easter eggs. Some popular symbols included a sun for good luck, a deer for good health, and flowers for love and beauty. Other eggs had crisscrossed lines or checkerboard patterns.

Immigrants from Europe brought the art of decorating Easter eggs with them when they settled in America. Games involving Eater eggs that were popular hundreds of years ago are still played today. One games is the Easter egg roll. In this game, the goal is to roll as many eggs as possible without cracking the shells. The White House in Washington, D.C. hosts an annual Easter Egg Roll.

The first White House Egg Roll started during James Madison’s presidency. At the time, it was held on the grounds of the Capital. One account of the event states, “at first the children sit sedately in long rows; each has brought a basket of colored hard-boiled eggs, and those on the upper terrace send them rolling to the line next below…and as the sport warms, those on top who have rolled all the eggs they brought finally roll themselves, shrieking with laughter.”

The game was discontinued in 1878 because of the wear and tear on the Capital lawn, but started again during the presidency of Rutherford Hayes. Hayes’ wife allowed the children to use the White House lawn. With the exception of the Civil and World Wars when the game was not held, the White House Egg Roll became a tradition that remains to this day.

The Shamrock: A Symbol of St. Patrick’s Day

Next month on March 17, many people in Ireland and the U.S. will observe St. Patrick’s Day. You’ll probably see people wearing hats, shirts, and pins with shamrocks on them. But do you know how the shamrock became a symbol of St. Patrick’s Day?

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According to legend, Saint Patrick, after whom the holiday named, used shamrocks as a symbol of Christianity. St. Patrick converted many Irish people to the Christian religion around 432 A.D. Depending on what legend you believe, St. Patrick may have used the shamrock’s three leaves to explain the concept of the Trinity to the Irish. He pointed out that although
the shamrock has three leaves, it is still one plant. Similarly, the Christian god is made up of three persons (The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost).

Whether or not the story is true, shamrocks resemble the Christian cross, especially when drawn in the Celtic style. The similarity to a cross and the sign of spring remain two reasons why the shamrock is still worn today.

In ancient Ireland, the shamrock was a sacred symbol. The three leaves on the shamrock made it really special because people at the time believed that three was a magic number. Good things supposedly happened in threes. If one good thing happened, a person could expect two more. Historians discovered that the Celts also used the shamrock to help them grow crops. The shamrock’s three leaves represented three goddesses. By burning the leaves and spreading the ashes over their fields, farmers expected to grow many crops. In addition to the number of leaves on the shamrock, it also served as a sign of the coming spring.

In the nineteenth century, the Irish used the shamrock as a symbol of rebellion against English rule. Wearing a shamrock during this period was a serious statement of Irish national pride and was punishable by hanging.

The Irish also developed the custom of “drowning the shamrock.” Families with servants put shamrocks in a bowl and covered them with Irish whiskey. When the family finished drinking, the remainder of the whiskey was given to the servants. Despite the custom of drowning the shamrock, St. Patrick’s Day is not dedicated primarily to drinking in Ireland. Instead, people spend the day visiting family and attending church services.

George Wasington Carver: The Life of the Peanut Man

Interesting Facts about George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver, 1910

George Washington Carver, 1910

As a young slave in Diamond Grove, Missouri,

  • George Washington Carver knew very little about his parents. His mother’s name was Mary, but she and George were kidnapped when George was young and he never saw her again. His father died before George’s birth. After the Civil War ended, their former owners, Moses and Susan Carver, raised George and his
    brother Jim.
  • Young George got sick often as a child, so he did mostly household chores with Susan. The Carvers treated George like their own child, giving him free time to explore the woods on the family farm. They also taught him to read and George spent a lot of time with his spelling book.
  • George wanted to learn the names of plants, trees, animals, and flowers. Since he couldn’t find the answers in his spelling book, George sought other opportunities to go to school. His determination helped him walk eight miles to the Lincoln school for black children. Unfortunately, George soon discovered that the teacher didn’t know much more than he did.
  • George went to Kansas to finish his education, but he learned more about racial hatred there than anything else. At Ft. Scott, he saw a black man lynched and burned. Though he left Ft. Scott, he stayed in Kansas to finish high school.
  • To pay for his education, George worked a variety of jobs, including helping a black family with their laundry business.
  • Although he was accepted into Highland College in Kansas, when he arrived he was turned away because of the color of his skin. Eventually he graduated from Iowa State Agricultural College.
  • After graduation, George got an offer from Booker T. Washington to teach agriculture at Tuskegee Institute. He took the job because “It has always been the one ideal of my life to be the greatest good to the greatest number of ‘my people’ as possible.”
  • While at Tuskegee, George came up with new ways to help poor black farmers. For example, many farmers were only planting cotton, a crop that used up a lot of nutrients in the soil. George suggested that farmers plant crops like peanuts, which would nourish the soil. He said they should plant peanuts one year, and then plant cotton the next year.
  • After farmers started taking George’s advice, they had way too many peanuts. George had a solution, though—he found more than 300 uses for peanuts, including peanut milk and peanut soap!

Ida B. Wells: African American Activist

Before Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., other African-Americans fought for black rights in the South. One of these activists was a young woman named Ida B. Wells.

Photo of Ida B. Wells

Photo of Ida B. Wells

Although she was born a slave in 1862, Ida B. Wells had advantages that other slave children did not. Unlike most slaves, both of Ida’s parents could read. They taught their oldest daughter Ida to read when she was very young. After the Civil War ended and slaves were freed, Ida’s parents got involved in the politics of the Republication Party, which promoted the rights of free blacks. Her parents died from yellow fever when Ida was just a teenager, but she inherited their interest in education and equal rights for blacks.

Ida went to college and became a teacher in Memphis, Tennessee. One day, she purchased a first-class ticket on the train and went to sit in her seat. A white conductor came up to her and told her to move to the black section, which didn’t have first-class accomodations. Ida refused and was removed from the train. She sued the railroad company and won her case in a lower court, but the railroad won in an appeal.

Although she didn’t make much money at first, Ida had a passion for writing. Eventually, she edited her own newspaper, which she named Free Speech. She wrote about the poor quality of schools for blacks and the need for black people to stand up for their rights. One incident, the lynching of a good friend Tom Moss, changed Ida’s life.

Moss owned a grocery store on the edge of the white and black parts of the town. In 1892, he and two other black men were shot when they tried to defend Moss’ store from a white mob.

After Moss’ death, Ida changed her position on black self-defense and told her readers to save their money so they could leave Memphis. Her articles were so effective that the city’s economy started to suffer because of the lack of black customers. Blacks who remained in Memphis started walking to work instead of paying to ride the streetcars that were owned by whites. The owners of the streetcar company asked Ida to tell her readers to start riding the cars again. Instead, she wrote an article calling for a black boycott of the streetcars.

Her friend’s death inspired Ida to expose the evils of lynching through writing and speeches. In one pamphlet, called “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All its Phases,” Ida wrote, “The mob spirit has increased with alarming frequency and violence. Over a thousand black men, women and children have been thus sacrificed the past ten years. Masks have long been thrown aside and the lynchings of the present day take place in broad daylight.”

During a trip to the Northeast, the offices of her paper were destroyed by a mob. While in New York, she learned that some whites threatened to kill her if she returned to Memphis. As she encouraged her former readers to do, Ida settled in the North. She continued to write and give speeches about the injustice of lynching. She traveled extensively throughout the North and even brought her anti-lynching campaign to England.

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The History of Valentine’s Day

Everyone knows that Valentine’s Day is a holiday when people show love family and friends. Some people send cards, candy or flowers to each other. But do you know how Valentine’s Day got its name?

The ancient Romans dedicated February 14 as a day of love. On that day, Romans honored Juno, the goddess of women and marriage. If they praised Juno, Romans believed that the goddess would help young men and women find their future wives and husbands. On February 14, the boys each drew a girl’s name from a container. When all the girls’ names were picked the next day, each boy paired up with the girl whose name he chose for another holiday to honor the god Lupercus. Older adults hoped that each pair of boys and girls would fall in love during the festival.

As Christianity spread across Europe, church officials didn’t want to honor the Roman gods, but they knew that the yearly celebration of love was very popular. In A.D. 486, Pope Gelasius replaced the Roman holiday with another festival. He named it after the Christian saint of love, Saint Valentine.

Painting of St. Valentine Kneeling

Painting of St. Valentine Kneeling

Saint Valentine is a mysterious figure. Some historians think that at least three different people in history shared the name Valentine. One legend says that Valentine was a Christian priest during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. Claudius had a hard time getting soldiers to fight his wars, so he forbid young men from marrying. Valentine disagreed with the emperor and performed secret marriages. When Claudius discovered Valentine’s actions, he threw the priest in jail. In this legend, Valentine was killed on February 14.

In another legend, Emperor Claudius wanted everyone to pray to the Roman gods. Valentine refused because he believed in the Christian religion. Claudius imprisoned Valentine for his disobedience. While Valentine was in jail, he fell in love with the prison guard’s blind daughter and gave her a note before he was killed. Suddenly, the girl could see again.

As time passed, people associated St. Valentine with lovers, and his day became a time when people hoped to find their sweethearts.

The Childhood of Meriwether Lewis

Interesting facts about Meriwether Lewis’ Childhood

• Lewis was named after his mother, whose last name was Meriwether before she married William Lewis.

• A British prisoner of war camp surrounded the Lewis home in Albemarle County, Virginia during the Revolutionary War. Though widowed, Lewis’ mother Lucy knew how to shoot a gun, and she kept British soldiers away from the house.

• Lewis grew up close to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia. Later, the fact that they were neighbors and shared an interest in natural science led Jefferson to make Lewis his personal secretary when he became president.

• Both Lewis’ father and stepfather were officers in the Revolutionary War. After her first husband’s death, Lewis’ mother remarried and the family moved to Georgia. Georgia had even more wooded areas than Virginia. While living in Georgia, Lewis learned to perfect his hunting skills until his mother sent him back to Virginia for school.

• Lewis’ cousin had this to say about Lewis when they went to school together: “He was always remarkable for perseverance…of a martial temper and great steadiness of purpose, self-possession and undaunted courage.” Characteristics like perseverance and courage would later help Lewis when Jefferson sent him and William Clark to explore the Louisiana Purchase.

• Because his father died when Lewis was very young, he had more responsibilities than other boys his age. Though he enjoyed school most of the time, he had to stop his formal education so he could take care of the property he inherited as the oldest son. This meant learning to farm from his uncles, and managing the family slaves. Lewis thought he would always be a farmer or maybe a military officer until Jefferson asked him to be his secretary in the Washington, D.C.

• Lewis was a devoted son who wrote often to his mother whenever they were apart. His writing skills would be important when describing plants and other new things he saw during the Lewis and Clark expedition. His later writings were remarkable because he could make really boring topics interesting.