October 17, 1913: Helen Keller on Why Men Need Woman Suffrage

Many declare that the woman peril is at our door. I have no doubt that it is. Indeed, I suspect that it has already entered most households. Certainly a great number of men are facing it across the breakfast table. And no matter how deaf they pretend to be, they cannot help hearing it talk.

Women insist on their “divine rights,” “immutable rights,” “inalienable rights.” These phrases are not so sensible as one might wish. When oneHelen Keller comes to think of it, there are no such things as divine, immutable or inalienable rights. Rights are things we get when we are strong enough to make good our claim to them. Men spent hundreds of years and did much hard fighting to get the rights they now call divine, immutable and inalienable. Today women are demanding rights that tomorrow nobody will be foolhardy enough to question. . .

The dullest can see that a good many things are wrong with the world. It is old-fashioned, running into ruts. We lack intelligent direction and control. We are not getting the most out of our opportunities and advantages. We must make over the scheme of life, and new tools are needed for the work. Perhaps one of the chief reasons for the present chaotic condition of things is that the world has been trying to get along with only half of itself. Everywhere we see running to waste woman-force that should be utilized in making the world a more decent home for humanity.…

The laws made by men rule the minds as well as the bodies of women. The man-managed state so conducts its schools that the ideals of women are warped to hideous shapes. Governments and schools engender and nourish a militant public opinion that makes war always possible. Man-written history, fiction and poetry glorify war. Love of country is turned into patriotism which suggest drums, flags and young men eager to give their lives to the rulers of the nation…

Women know the cost of human life in terms of suffering and sacrifice as men can never know it. I believe women would use the ballot to prevent war and to destroy the ideas that make war possible. In spite of an education that has taught them to glorify the military element in their ideals of manhood, they will wake to the realization that he loves his country best who lives for it and serves it faithfully. They will teach children to honor the heroes of peace above the heroes of war…

For my part, I should think that man’s chivalrous nature would cause him to emancipate the weaker half of the race. Indeed, it seems strange that when he was getting the suffrage for himself it did not occur to him to divide up with his beloved partner. Looking closer, I almost detect a suspicion of tyranny in his attitude toward her on the suffrage question. And can it be that this tyranny wears the mask of chivalry? Please do not misunderstand me. I am not disparaging chivalry. It is a very fine thing–what there is of it. The trouble is, there is not enough to go around. Nearly all the opportunities, educational and political, that woman has acquired have been gained by a march of conquest with a skirmish at every post.

October 16, 1916: Margaret Sanger Opens first Birth Control Clinic

Margaret Sanger was the sixth of eleven children born to a good Irish Catholic family in Corning, New York. Her mother, Anne Higgins, lived through 18 pregnancies, 7 of which were miscarriages, before dying at the relatively young age of fifty.

Margaret-SangerMargaret attended Claverack College and studied nursing at White Plains Hospital. In 1902, she married William Sanger and moved to Hasting, New York. They had three children in Hastings before moving to New York City in 1910. After moving to the city, Sanger began working as a visiting maternity nurse on the Lower East Side. She delivered babies in the homes of mostly poor, immigrant women who suffered from frequent childbirth, miscarriages and abortions.

“Tales were poured into my ears – a baby born dead, great relief – the death of an older child, sorrow but again relief of a sort – the story told a thousand times of death from abortion and children going into institutions. I shuddered with horror as I listened to the details and studied the reasons back of them – destitution linked with excessive childbearing. The waste of life seemed utterly senseless.”

Through these experiences, along with the death of her mother, Sanger became convinced that a woman must be free to control her own body and reproduction.

“My fight is for the personal liberty of the women who work. A woman’s body belongs to herself alone. It is her body. It does not belong to the Church. It does not belong to the United States of America or to any other Government of the face of the earth. The first step toward getting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for any woman is her decision whether or not she shall become a mother. Enforced motherhood is the most complete denial of a woman’s right to life and liberty.”

In 1912, Margaret Sanger published a series of sex education articles, “What Every Girl Should Know”, in the New York Call. These articles were suppressed because they were deemed to be obscene. In 1914, Sanger published The Woman Rebel which advocated the use of birth control techniques she had learned while in Europe. For this publication, she received her first federal indictment.

On October 16, 1916, Margaret Sanger and her sister Ethel Bryne opened a birth control clinic on Amboy Street in Brooklyn. Every morning, men and women lined up outside before the doors even opened. Sanger and Bryne, both nurses, would explain birth control techniques to both men and women and then refer the women to pharmacies where they could procure pessaries.

The Clinic operated secretly, relying on word of mouth and covert advertising to get women into the door. It served more than 100 women on its first day. On the tenth day, after serving 448 people, an undercover police woman and vice-squad officers raided the clinic and arrested Sanger for violations of the Comstock Laws.

Sanger was released from jail the following morning. She re-opened the Clinic but was arrested again and charged with maintaining a public nuisance. Two days later she again opened the Clinic but the police forced the landlord to evict Sanger and her staff, and the Clinic closed its doors a final time.

Sanger was brought to trial and convicted, but she was offered a suspended sentence if she promised not to repeat the offense. She refused to make that promise.  She was given a choice of a fine or jail sentence. She chose thirty days in the Queens County Penitentiary.

Sanger appealed her conviction, and her case journeyed through the courts for a year.The New York Court of Appeals heard the case in January of 1918. Judge Frederick Crane sustained Sanger’s conviction, but, thanks to Margaret Sanger’s willingness to confront the law, he rendered a liberal interpretation of New York State’s “Little Comstock” law, which opened the door for  physicians to legally prescribe contraception for general health reasons, which led to doctor-staffed birth control clinics, and the ability of all women, regardless of income, access to effective contraceptives.

October 15, 1860: Grace Bedell suggests Lincoln Grow a Beard

Hon A B Lincoln…
Dear Sir

My father has just home from the fair and brought home your picture and Mr. Hamlin’s. I am a little girl only 11 years old, but want you should be President of the United States very much so. I hope you wont think me very bold to write to such a great man as you arLincoln bearde. Have you any little girls about as large as I am if so give them my love and tell her to write to me if you cannot answer this letter. I have yet got four brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you, you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President. My father is going to vote for you and if I was a man I would vote for you to but I will try to get every one to vote for you that I can. I think that rail fence around your picture makes it look very pretty. I have got a little baby sister she is nine weeks old and is just as cunning as can be. When you direct your letter direct to Grace Bedell Westfield Chautauqua County New York.

I must not write any more answer this letter right off Good bye
Grace Bedell

Four days later, Lincoln replied to Grace’s letter:

Springfield, Ill Oct 19, 1860
Miss Grace Bedell

My dear little Miss
Your very agreeable letter of the 15th is received. I regret the necessity of saying I have no daughters. I have three sons – one seventeen, one nine, and one seven, years of age. They, with their mother, constitute my whole family. As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a silly affection if I were to begin it now?
Your very sincere well wisher
A. Lincoln

Shortly after this, Lincoln allowed his beard to grow. By the time he began his inaugural journey from Illinois to Washington, D.C. by train, he had a full beard. The trip took him through New York State, and included a stop in Chautauqua County where thousands gathered to greet the president-elect.

The February 19, 1861 edition of the New York World recounted the events of the day:

“At Westfield an interesting incident occurred. Shortly after his nomination Mr. Lincoln had received from that place a letter from a little girl, who urged him, as a means of improving his personal appearance, to wear whiskers. Mr. Lincoln at the time replied, stating that although he was obliged by the suggestion, he feared his habits of life were too fixed to admit of even so slight a change as that which letting his beard grow involved. To-day, on reaching the place, he related the incident, and said that if that young lady was in the crowd he should be glad to see her. There was a momentary commotion, in the midst of which an old man, struggling through the crowd, approached, leading his daughter, a girl of apparently twelve or thirteen years of age, whom he introduced to Mr. Lincoln as his Westfield correspondent. Mr. Lincoln stooped down and kissed the child, and talked with her for some minutes. Her advice had not been thrown away upon the rugged chieftain. A beard of several months’ growth covers (perhaps adorns) the lower part of his face. The young girl’s peachy cheek must have been tickled with a stiff whisker, for the growth of which she was herself responsible.”

Bedell recalled the event years later:

“He climbed down and sat down with me on the edge of the station platform,” she recalled. “‘Gracie,’ he said, ‘look at my whiskers. I have been growing them for you.’ Then he kissed me. I never saw him again.”

October 14, 1844: W. Webb recounts the Murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith

I came from Iowa to Warsaw, Illinois, three weeks before the murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. I was quite a young man, not over twenty years old, and had not much experience in life. Sharp, and some others, persuaded me to call my name Boggs, a son of Governor Boggs, of Missouri. I agreed to do so, and then Sharp circulated all kinds of mean Joseph & Hyrum Smithtales about the Mormons. He often said, in my presence, that there was a “young man that Jo Smith had his father shot,” which had a great influence to raise the prejudices of the people against the Mormons. He also persuaded me to join the company that was gathering there to meet the governor’s troops at Carthage, which I did. The time came when we had to march to Carthage. We marched about six or eight miles and met a man with orders from the governor, that we were not wanted and to return to our homes. This word enraged Capt. Sharp, as he was called, very much. He said all might go home that wanted to; but he would go to Carthage, if he had to go alone. He said Smith ought to be killed, and if he could raise men, it should be done before night; he was in jail, and now was the time. He then asked how many of those in the company would go with him to Carthage to commit this disgraceful deed. Clerk Burs, Snar Redman and Hoakes Middleton were the first to join Sharp. He then asked if the rest were all cowards. At that, about fifty or sixty went over to him, and myself with the crowd. Jack Davis said he was no coward, but he should not go in such a company, in a thing of that kind. He and several others went back. We then organized and moved for Carthage. We moved to a point of timber, west of Carthage, and waited for Williams to return, as he had gone on to see if there were any there who would oppose us. When we came to the timber, a man came to us on a large, white horse; he brought with him a note to Sharp, stating that he would not meet with any opposition. This paper was signed by W. A. Smith, the man that had charge of the company that the governor had left at Carthage to protect the Smiths until the day of their trial.

Sharp sent this man back, to learn if the guard at the jail would oppose him. The captain of the guard sent him a note, stating that their guns were all loaded with blank cartridges, and to fear no danger. This paper was signed F. Worrell.

We then marched to the jail, overrun the guard and rushed in the jail. The door of the room was closed by the Smiths so hard that we could not enter. One of our men shot through the door and a man fell back on the floor, I supposed dead, as he never made any attempt to rise. The door flew open; I saw two men in the room. We shot at them several times; at length one of them fell on the floor; the other jumped out of the window. I ran down the stairs to see where he was. When I got to him he was trying to get. up. He appeared stunned by the fall. I struck him in the face and said: “Old Jo, damn you, where are you now! I then set him up against the well-curb and went away from him.

Hoake and some other person shot him; whether it was Sharp, or not, I never could exactly learn; but I presume it was, as his gun was empty. We then left the jail. When we got a few rods from the jail, Sharp ordered all the guns loaded that were empty and he “loaded his.

I never can forget the frightened family that was in the jail. To think that a set of men would go in a house where there were two women and several little helpless children and commit the willful murder! It is too bad to think of it, and I wish I could never think of it.

Clerk said, before we got to the jail, he wished he could let the jailor know what they were going to do. Sharp said they were Jack-Mormons, and it made no difference.

I was led into this mean act by Sharp and others, at Warsaw. I can only say, I wish they had given me good advice in place of that they gave, as it has caused me to be an unhappy man ever since.

I here mention, when I went to Smith, after he fell out of the window, I dropped a pewter fife out of my hand and left it there. It belonged to a man by the name of Phelps, as I understand by some of our gang (though he was not one of our gang).

While we were in the timber, the man on the white horse brought a letter to Sharp, how to manage when he came to the jail, and spare none of them, as they were all four Mormons. This letter was signed A. Simpson. I could give the names of several more, but I will not do it at present. I will give my true name,


October 13, 1937: My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

We were sixteen at dinner last night and I was thrilled to have Franklin, Jr., and Ethel come up from Charlottesville. This was the first time I had seen Ethel since she came back from abroad and though they both told me their house was not really in order they seemed delighted with everything that they have done so far and with their household and with life in general. It is grand to be young and happy!

Eleanor RooseveltAs I looked at my two daughters-in-law, I could not help thinking how lucky we are! All the boys seem to have chosen, not only people that one can enjoy looking at, but the better you know them the more you like them. Best of all apparently we can all have good times together and I think it is a good thing for a family to be able to look back on happy times. I couldn’t sit down at table until I opened an enormous package which stretched across the arms of my chair and discovered that Jimmy and Betsy had brought me a pair of snow shoes. Jimmy remarked that he had a date with me to go up this winter to see the farm which he hopes to buy in Massachusetts and that I would certainly need them!

It occurred to us suddenly at dinner that we would like to dance afterwards and my brother and I decided that we would search the household for some one who could play the piano. At first we could put our finger on no one and the usher said he would send out to get some one. Then it occurred to us that there was a gentleman coming in to do some work who might be diverted into playing, and who had the gift of music. We corralled him and he not only played for us to dance, but later the entire party got around the piano and sang. My husband had as good a time as any one, and amused us all enormously by singing one or two old college songs.

This gay evening meant work afterwards for several of the party. Finally Secretary Morgenthau and Jimmy were told that they could go home and some of us went to bed, leaving a few of them still at their labors. When I went in to see my husband this morning, he looked at me disgustedly and said: “It was three o’clock before I went to sleep!” But I am quite sure that the good time they had earlier in the evening was worth the loss of sleep!

October 10, 1957: Ike Breakfasts with Ghana’s Finance Minister

Two black men dressed in business suits strolled into a Howard Johnson restaurant near Dover, Del. one evening in October of 1957. They went upGbedemah to the counter and ordered two 30¢ glasses of orange juice. As they were handed the juice in containers, wrapped up to take outside, the waitress explained that they could not sit down inside because “colored people are not allowed to eat in here.”

At this point one of the men produced an identity card and introduced himself as Komla Agbeli Gbedemah, the Finance Minister of the new African nation of Ghana, and asked to speak to the manager.

When the manager came out to the counter he backed up his waitress’s action because, after all, the rules were the rules. Highly insulted, Gbedemah stormed out, rebuking the manager as he left: “The people here are of a lower social status than I am, but they can drink here and we can’t. You can keep the orange juice and the change, but this is not the last you have heard of this.”

Noting that he had recently entertained Richard Nixon on the Vice President’s 1957 African tour, Gbedemah said, “If the Vice-President of the U.S. can have a meal in my house when he is in Ghana, then I cannot understand why I must receive this treatment at a roadside restaurant in America.”

IkeWord of the incident traveled quickly through the diplomatic community, and President Eisenhower, who had recently ordered federal troops to desegregate schools in Little Rock, apologized to Minister Gbedemah and invited him for a private breakfast at the White House.

Ike gave no public announcement or rebuke, but he broke bread with Gbedemah, gave him a tour of the White House, discussed the financing of an important dam project, and by his quiet action, made it clear it was high time for the nation to move past such pettiness.

Two clear policy shifts resulted from Ike’s breakfast with Minister Gbedemah. The United States shifted its stance and financed the project to build the Akosombo Dam on the Volta River, and the Howard Johnson’s restaurant in Dover, Delaware, changed its policy to serve whoever walked in the door.

October 9, 1915: President Wilson throws Pitch, Washington Post commits Error

All Washington was abuzz. The widowed President Wilson was reported to be in love again.

Hardly more than a year had passed since First Lady Edith Wilson had passed away in the White House, and the public had felt as devastated and depressed as the President himself when she died, only fifteen months after his inauguration.  wilson galt

But now, it was reported that the grieving husband had met an attractive widow, fifteen years his junior, and his mood had lifted dramatically.  Suddenly Woodrow Wilson and Edith Galt were being seen everywhere together.

She was attractive and stylish.  Her big cartwheel hats and ever-present orchid corsage proclaimed a statuesque, self-confident woman.  The President became a snappier dresser himself. They went on daily carriage rides and out to vaudeville shows. Wherever the President went, Edith appeared as well. Their photographs were printed in the newspapers.  There were even rumors that they had been seen necking in the back of the President’s chauffeur-driven Pierce Arrow.

On October 8, 1915 Woodrow Wilson and Edith Bolling Galt announced their engagement and traveled to New York City to visit a good friend of the President. The press did an excellent job covering the trip – a throng of reporters and photographers followed the engaged couple to various events and destinations throughout the city. The schedule was rather hectic and the press was disappointed that President Wilson did not purchase an engagement ring, but, all and all, the usually grim-faced President Wilson appeared with an unusually pleasant countenance–“continually wreathed in smiles,”

The next day, October 9, the engaged couple traveled to Philadelphia to watch the Red Sox take on the Phillies in the second game of the World Series. The game started five minutes late waiting for the presidential party. When the 28th U.S. president and his soon-to-be bride (also an avid baseball fan) finally arrived they were met with a thunderous roar from the 20,000 fans in attendance at the Baker Bowl.

The couple was seated in a box seat next to the Phillies dugout, which had been decked out with bunting and American flags. Woodrow Wilson, wearing a navy greatcoat, knew he was making history by being the first U.S. president to attend a World Series game. As Mrs. Galt beamed, the President waved to the crowd and threw out the ceremonial first pitch, and then the game began.

Leading off for the Red Sox in the top of the first, Harry Hooper drew a walk, and then Everett Scott popped out to first. When Tris Speaker singled to right, Hooper took third. Dick Hoblitzell took the plate, and just as the pitch was thrown Speaker broke for second, Ed Burns, the Phillies’ catcher, gunned him down, but in a daring double steal, Hooper took off for home. The throw back to the plate was on target, but the Phillies catcher, Burns, dropped the baseball, and Hooper scored.

The Red Sox never had to call on their rookie pitcher, Babe Ruth – Rube Foster pitched 9 innings of one run ball and drove in the winning run himself in the ninth inning. It was a splendid day for baseball; after the first inning bobble at the plate, both teams played errorless ball for the rest of the afternoon.

The same could not be said for the Washington Post. President Wilson and Mrs. Galt were aghast (or perhaps bemused) when they opened the newspaper that evening and read the social reporter’s account of their visit to New York City the day before.

“Both the President and Mrs. Galt were evidently pleased by the reception accorded them. They were slightly shy on their first appearance in public as an engaged couple, but acknowledged applause with smiles. They made no attempt to hide themselves, and every time they appeared in public they were side by side.
The President gave himself up for the time being to entering his fiancée. He was happy and jovial throughout the day and his usually stern face was constantly wreathed in smiles.”

The Post, meaning to write that the President “spent the evening entertaining Mrs. Galt” desperately apologized to both Edith and the President, and frantically tried to reclaim newspapers from newsstands before they were sold and read, but it was too late.

The gaffs of the press certainly did not deter the President and Mrs. Galt from continuing to express their affection for each other. They were married in a small ceremony on December 18th, 1915.

October 8, 1981: Presidents Reagan, Nixon, Ford, and Carter share a drink at the White House

October 8, 1981:  Presidents Reagan, Nixon, Ford, and Carter share a drink at the White House

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated on October 6, 1981. President Reagan, who had survived his own assassination attempt just six months earlier, decided the risk was too great for him to attend Sadat’s funeral. Instead he asked the three former presidents to serve as the American delegation.

The New York Times reported their gathering before embarking on their mission:

The former Presidents, along with Mr. Carter’s wife, Rosalynn, arrived at the White House at 6:52 P.M. They were met by Mr. and Mrs. Reagan and by several hundred White House employees who burst into applause as Mr. Carter stepped from the helicopter with a salute to the Marine guard. The applause mounted when Mr. Ford and finally Mr. Nixon deplaned, as each of them had many times in their Presidencies.

Over cocktails in the Blue Room, according to a White House spokesman, Mr. Ford and Mr. Nixon told Mr. Reagan that he was wise not to go to Cairo.

Mr. Reagan, lifting his glass in a toast to his three predecessors, said, ”Ordinarily, I would wish you happy landing, but you’re all Navy
men so I wish you bon voyage.”

4 presidents

Standing in a circle that also included Vice President Bush, the five men talked of Mr. Sadat and paid tribute to his memory. Later, just after darkness fell, they returned to the South Lawn, followed by Mrs. Carter in a dark raincoat and Mrs. Reagan in a bright red one.

As the former Presidents listened in silence, Mr. Reagan thanked them for undertaking the mission of representing the United States at the funeral, then spoke again of Mr. Sadat. At the end of the tribute, Mr. Reagan’s eyes appeared to glisten with tears. ”Anwar Sadat, a man of peace in a time of violence, understood his age,” Mr. Reagan said. ”In his final moments, he, as he had all during his days, stood in defiance of the enemies of peace, the enemies of humanity.”

Then, addressing those he called enemies of peace ”who rejoice in the death of Anwar Sadat,” Mr. Reagan added: ”In life, you feared Anwar Sadat, but in death you must fear him more. For the memory of this good and brave man will vanquish you. The meaning of his life and the cause for which he stood will endure and triumph.”

October 7, 1849: Thoreau visits the Shipwreck of the St. John

The brig St. John sailed from Galway with great hope for its cargo of emigrants looking to find new life in America. The voyage was easy and as the ship passed Cape Cod Light Captain Martin Oliver issued grog to his crew and suggested the passengers might celebrate. They had reason to be merry; they had left behind a country of starvation, disease and death, and the voyage had been less of a trial than expected. They decorated the rigging with candles and “passed the night in song and dance.”St John

Late that night, as the ship passed Scituate Light, the wind started to blow hard out of the northeast. The ship dropped anchor two miles off the coast, but in the gale the anchors failed to hold. Blown inside Minot’s Lighthouse, the Captain tried “to wear away” up to another brig lying at anchor inside the breakers at Hocksett Rock, but by then the sails were in shreds. The screaming winds pushed the ship onto a submerged ledge.

Unable to maneuver, the brig took a horrendous pounding from the surf, the hull filled and terror-stricken emigrants began to be washed overboard. The crew slashed away masts and sails to try to lighten the ship, but the St. John was firmly stuck. Within an hour the hull shattered; planks and decking and barrels of cargo, as well as the bodies of her Irish passengers, began washing ashore on the beaches of Cohasset.

Two days later Henry Thoreau left Concord with his friend Ellery Channing for a visit to Cape Cod. Having been “accustomed to…excursions to the Ponds within Concord”, Thoreau looked forward to a tour of the coast. In Boston, the companions saw handbills saying “Death! 145 lives lost at Cohasset!” The prospect of seeing a shipwreck promised a novel experience; Thoreau and Channing decided to travel by way of Cohasset.

When they arrived, Thoreau found the sea “still breaking violently on the rocks.”  He recorded the scene in his journal:
In the first cove were strewn what seemed the fragments of a vessel, in small pieces mixed with sand and sea-weed, and great quantities of feathers; but it looked so old and rusty, that I at first took it to be some old wreck which had lain there many years…  I asked a sailor if that was the St. John. He said it was. I asked him where she struck. He pointed to a rock in front of us, a mile from the shore, called the Grampus Rock, and added:

“You can see a part of her now sticking up; it looks like a small boat.”
I saw it. It was thought to be held by the chain-cables and the anchors. I asked if the bodies which I saw were all that were drowned.

“Not a quarter of them,” said he.

“Where are the rest?”

“Most of them right underneath that piece you see.”

It appeared to us that there was enough rubbish to make the wreck of a large vessel in this cove alone, and that it would take many days to cart it off. It was several feet deep, and here and there was a bonnet or a jacket on it. In the very midst of the crowd about this wreck, there were men with carts busily collecting the sea-weed which the storm had cast up, and conveying it beyond the reach of the tide, though they were often obliged to separate fragments of clothing from it, and they might at any moment have found a human body under it. Drown who might, they did not forget that this weed was a valuable manure…

A little further along the shore we saw a man’s clothes on a rock; further, a woman’s scarf, a gown, a straw bonnet, the brig’s caboose, and one of her masts high and dry, broken into several pieces. In another rocky cove, several rods from the water, and behind rocks twenty feet high, lay a part of one side of the vessel, still hanging together.. . .

A little further on a crowd of men was collected around the mate of the St. John, who was telling his story. He was a slim-looking youth, who spoke of the captain as the master, and seemed a little excited. He was saying that when they jumped into the boat, she filled, and, the vessel lurching, the weight of the water in the boat caused the painter to break, and so they were separated. Whereat one man came away, saying:—

“Well, I don’t see but he tells a straight story enough. You see, the weight of the water in the boat broke the painter. A boat full of water is very heavy,”—and so on, in a loud and impertinently earnest tone, as if he had a bet depending on it, but had no humane interest in the matter.

Another, a large man, stood near by upon a rock, gazing into the sea, and chewing large quids of tobacco, as if that habit were forever confirmed with him.

“Come,” says another to his companion, “let’s be off. We’ve seen the whole of it. It’s no use to stay to the funeral.”

October 6, 1817: Thomas Jefferson lays the Cornerstone for the University of Virginia

It is safer to have the whole people respectably enlightened than a few in a high state of science and the many in ignorance.
–Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and James Madison led a small parade of judges, attorneys, Freemasons, and a musical band to a rocky ridge about a mile west of Charlottesville, Virginia, and, with nearly everyone from the small town watching, they ceremoniously set a cornerstone in John Perry’s field.


Jefferson thought it was a fine site. “I rode to the grounds and was much pleased with their commanding position & prospect. A small mountain adjacent is included in their purchase, & is contemplated as a site for an astronomical observatory, and a very remarkable one it will certainly be. The whole purchase is of 200 acres which, besides an Observatory and building grounds, will afford a garden for the school of botany, and an experimental farm for that of agriculture.”

Virginia’s General Assembly had recently altered the charter of Albemarle Academy to establish a new school, and in another year it would officially be designated the University of Virginia. It would be another eight years before students began classes, but the vision of a truly public university had been germinating in Jefferson’s mind for years.

Jefferson had attended the College of William and Mary in the 1760s, and he served on the college’s Board of Visitors when he became Governor of Virginia. William and Mary however, had been established to train Anglican clergy as Harvard had been established to train Congregationalist ministers, and Jefferson believed that the primary focus of the curriculum should be scientific, rather than spiritual, knowledge. To Jefferson, ignorance was the enemy of freedom, and he wanted to correct the defects of educational institutions based on European models.

Keeping with these views Jefferson drew up plans for an institution which included neither church nor chapel in his design. He imagined an “academical village” clustered around a tree-lined lawn – a terraced green space surrounded by residential and academic buildings and gardens. The buildings would be classically inspired, and the focal point of the village would be the “Rotunda,” modeled after the Roman Pantheon. Construction was begun on six pavilions – professors’ residences and lecture halls, hotels for dining, and student dormitories. It was agreed that all the buildings be completed before the university opened.

Finally, Jefferson’s “Rotunda” was built, and Jefferson developed a list of 7,000 books to fill its library. On November 5th, 1824 when the Marquis de Lafayette visited as part of his grand tour, he and Jefferson and James Madison and four-hundred guests celebrated in the top floor of the almost-completed Rotunda.

Learning was to be more than students’ recitation of facts memorized from professors’ lectures. The goal was “to form the statesmen, legislators and judges, on whom public prosperity and individual happiness are so much to depend; To expound the principles and structure of government, …and a sound spirit of legislation, which…shall leave us free to do whatever does not violate the equal rights of another; to harmonize and promote the interests of agriculture, manufactures and commerce…; to develop the reasoning faculties of our youth, enlarge their minds, cultivate their morals, and instill into them the precepts of virtue and order; to enlighten them with mathematical and physical sciences, which advance the arts and administer to the health, the subsistence and comforts of human life; and, generally, to form them to habits of reflection and correct action, rendering them examples of virtue to others and of happiness within themselves.”

Thomas Jefferson was enormously proud of his contribution to Virginia’s public university. When he wrote the epitaph for his grave, he omitted the fact that he had served two terms as President of the United States. He recorded only that he was: “Author of the Declaration of American Independence, Of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and the Father of the University of Virginia.”

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