Little Bits of History

February 7

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 7, 2017

1854: The Swiss State passes a law enacting the establishment of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich). The Swiss Federal State was founded in 1848 and a commission was set up under Federal Councillor Stefano Franscini in 1851 with the goal of establishing higher education opportunities for the citizens. On this day, the law called for a “federal polytechnical school in association with a school for higher education in the exact, political and humanistic sciences”. On October 16, classes began at various sites throughout Zürich and the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) Zürich was in business. It, along with its sister school EPFL (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne) are the basis for the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology Domain (ETH Domain). The two schools are joined by four federal research institutes.

ETH Zürich is consistently rated as one of the top universities of the world, currently holding the 5th spot in engineering and science and technology. It ranks after MIT, Stanford University, Cambridge University, and National University of Singapore. Their most famous alumni is Albert Einstein and he along with 20 other students, professors, or alumni have been Nobel Prize recipients. The school remains known by the diminutive Poly from its original name: Eidgenössische polytechnische Schule. ETH is and always has been a federal school run by the government. This was an issue before its founding as liberals saw this as a way for conservatives, in control of the government, to gain even more power. The University of Zürich remains a cantonal institution run by the local canton, rather than the federal government.

Between 1905 and 1908, President Jérôme Franel restructured the institute and made it a real university with the ability to bestow doctorates and the first were given in 1909. The name changed to the current iteration in 1911. In 1924, further restructuring give ETH 12 departments, but today, there are 16 available. For citizens of Switzerland, the admission process is not by selection and any who wish to attend may do so if they passed the Matura, a high school exit exam. Foreign students are required to pass either a reduced or comprehensive exam but some European applicants are waived.

Each year is divided into two semesters and after the freshman year is complete and before the sophomore year begins, a block examination covering all subjects taken the first year must be passed. They do not offer final exams at the end of the class. Only about half of all students pass this test called the Basisprüfung. Many drop out rather than try again. The structure remains for ensuing years, but with a higher success rate. It usually takes six semesters to receive a Bachelor of Science and three to four more for a Master of Science degree with the final semester devoted to writing a thesis. About 18,500 students attend.

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. – Benjamin Franklin

The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change. – Carl Rogers

Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death. – Albert Einstein

The foundation of every state is the education of its youth. – Diogenes


Up In Smoke

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 7, 2015
After the fire

After the fire

February 7, 1904: The John Hurst and Company building in Baltimore, Maryland is on fire. The building was in the western part of downtown Baltimore and fire was reported at 10.48 AM on this Sunday morning. It quickly spread. It was soon apparent the fire spread faster than the city firefighters could work and they put out calls for help via telegraph. By 1.30 PM units from Washington, D.C. arrived at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad station at Camden Street. They decided to create a firebreak by bringing down buildings with dynamite in the hopes of stopping the spread. It did not work and the fire raged until 5 PM on Monday, February 8.

There were 1,231 firefighters, both professional paid Truck and Engine companies as well as volunteers from surrounding counties and out of state fire companies which arrived via the rail system. Over 1,500 building were destroyed in the 140 acres affected. From North Howard Street, the fire spread through the retail shopping area up to Fayette Street and then winds blew the fire eastward. Winds whipped the blaze in erratic fashion and the fire missed then newly-built 1900 Circuit Courthouse, the historic Battle Monument, and the old Baltimore City Hall. Flames traveled as far south as the north side of the harbor. It is considered to be the third most devastating fire in the US after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the San Francisco Earthquake Fire of 1906.

One of the reasons the fire was able to burn for more than 30 hours was the non-standardization in firefighting equipment. Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. as well as units from New York City, Virginia, Wilmington, and Atlantic City responded to the call for help. They were still using horse drawn pumpers which, although primitive by our standards, would have helped contain the blaze. Their hose couplings did not fit with Baltimore’s fire hydrants. Many fire fighting systems were patented and by 1903 there were over 600 sizes and variations of hose couplings in America. Although standardization was desired from 1870 onward, no city wanted to abandon their own system and pay for the standardized upgrades.

Over $150 million (about $3.84 billion today) worth of damages were caused by the fire. Baltimore was offered help in rebuilding, but the Mayor declined. A city building code was finally adopted and enforced and that along with demands from insurance companies insuring the newly constructed buildings provided a safety net to ensure another blaze like this one never happened again. A national standard for fire hydrant and hose couplings was adopted by the National Fire Protection Association but it was slow to be adopted. In fact, by 2004 only 18 of the 48 most populous American cities had complied.

To suppose that the spirit of our people will not rise to the occasion is to suppose that our people are not genuine Americans. We shall make the fire of 1904 a landmark not of decline but of progress. – Mayor Robert McLane

As head of this municipality, I cannot help but feel gratified by the sympathy and the offers of practical assistance which have been tendered to us. To them I have in general terms replied, ‘Baltimore will take care of its own, thank you.’ – Mayor Robert McLane

One of the great disasters of modern time had been converted into a blessing. – The Sun of Baltimore reporting on September 10, 1906

When I came out of it at last I was a settled and indeed almost a middle-aged man, spavined by responsibility and aching in every sinew, but I went into it a boy, and it was the hot gas of youth that kept me going. – HL Mecken on surviving the fire

Also on this day: Pluto v. Neptune – In 1979, Pluto moved inside Neptune’s orbit.
Finally – In 1971, Switzerland gives women the vote.
The Little Tramp – In 1914, Charlie Chaplin first plays The Little Tramp in the  Kid Auto Races at Venice.
Mud March – In 1907, the Mud March took place in London.
Bonfire of the Vanities – In 1497, Girolamo Savonarola began a bonfire of the vanities.

Bonfire of the Vanities

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 7, 2014
Fra Girolamo Savonarola (assumed)

Fra Girolamo Savonarola (assumed)

February 7, 1497: Fra Girolamo Savonarola institutes a bonfire of the vanities. This was not the first of these events as they had been around for decades. The focus of the bonfire was to rid the city of Florence of objects which might induce the natives to sin. These included such things as cosmetics and mirrors as well as fine dresses, playing cards, and even musical instruments. Also included were books, especially on secular topics as well as art when it was not religious in nature. All these things could lead the unwary into sin and cause God to turn from the city and lead them into chaos as Renaissance Florence was fighting for its survival.

Sandro Botticelli was a famous Florentine painter who had studied under the patronage of Lorenzo de’Medici. He was part of what became known as the “golden age” of art. He is said to have been so moved by Savonarola’s preaching that he destroyed several of his paintings which were based on classical mythology during this bonfire. Botticelli was such an ardent follower that he stopped painting and thus had no income and fell on hard times. He died in 1510 and his work was eclipsed for longer than most of his contemporaries. His most famous painting is probably The Birth of Venus, which apparently would have distressed him greatly.

Savonarola was born in 1452 and was a Dominican friar, entering the order in 1475. He denounced clerical corruption which was rampant at the time as well as despotic rule and the exploitation of the poor. He became quite popular with the masses. He predicted trouble for his adopted home – Florence. Trouble came in the form of Charles VIII of France’s invasion of persent-day Italy and threatening Florence. On December 10, 1494 Savonarola preached a new sermon, Florence’s victory and greater glory. As a cleric, he was ineligible to hold public office but this did not keep him from exerting support for those who would follow his plans.

Things were going well until Savonarola accused Pope Alexander VI of corruption. The Pope banned Savonarola from speaking in public but the ban was ignored so the Pope excommunicated him, a fate worse than death for a religious person. Savonarola’s message became more extreme, strident, and onerous and eventually the Florentines tired of his teachings and turned against him. Savonarola hinted at performing miracles and was arrested for heresy, along with two other supporting friars. Under torture Savonarola confessed to having invented prophecies and visions. He recanted, confessed again, and was finally found guilty and sentenced to death. He and his compatriots were hanged while fires were set beneath the gallows to consume the corpses so that no relics would remain.

The truest characters of ignorance are vanity and pride and arrogance. – Samuel Butler

Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves; vanity, to what we would have others think of us. – Jane Austen

The herd seek out the great, not for their sake but for their influence; and the great welcome them out of vanity or need. – Napoleon Bonaparte

Ladies of Fashion starve their happiness to feed their vanity, and their love to feed their pride. – Charles Caleb Colton

Also on this day: Pluto v. Neptune – In 1979, Pluto moved inside Neptune’s orbit.
Finally – In 1971, Switzerland gives women the vote.
The Little Tramp – In 1914, Charlie Chaplin first plays The Little Tramp in the  Kid Auto Races at Venice.
Mud March – In 1907, the Mud March took place in London.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 7, 2013
 anti-suffrage poster (translation The Mother got into politics! - Women's Voting Rights - No)

Anti-suffrage poster (translation: The Mother got into politics! – Women’s Voting Rights – No)

February 7, 1971: Women in Switzerland are given the right to vote. The struggle began centuries earlier. The history of women’s suffrage has been sketchy and sporadic. In some regions, women got the vote before universal suffrage was enacted so women of the upper classes were voting before men or women of the lower classes. In some areas, women were granted the right to vote only to have the right rescinded at a later date.

The first voting women were female taxpaying guild members living in Sweden in 1718. Forty years later they lost their voting privileges. The 19th century was a time of sweeping change and many large and small nations began to permit women in the polling areas. Sometimes, women were granted the vote only in local elections. The move was toward giving women the right to a say in their governance. By the 20th century’s end, most nations that held elections had all adults voting, but still some countries kept women out of the voting booths. There are still countries without elections or with them, but not universal suffrage.

The women of Zurich presented a petition to authorities in 1886 asking they be given a voice. They were silenced. In 1893, the Swiss Association of Female Works again asked for the right to vote and was again denied. More unions and women’s groups banded together, raising their voices in cries for equality. During a general strike in 1918, women’s suffrage was a central demand. Swiss Parliament instructed the government “to prepare the introduction of women’s right to vote.” It took decades to find the manpower for this job.

After the Second World War, women who had kept the economy going during the previous years felt empowered enough to again demand the right to vote, without effect. During the Cold War, with fear of Communists invading the country mounting, women were pressed into service as air-raid wardens, but were still too irresponsible to be given the vote. In 1962, Switzerland wanted to join the European Council, but did not meet standards – universal suffrage. On this date, with a vote of 66% yes and 34% no, women received the vote. However, there were still cantons with a “no” majority. It wasn’t until 1985 that a referendum to the Constitution was added giving equal rights to women.

“I think it’s about time we voted for senators with breasts. After all, we’ve been voting for boobs long enough.” – Claire Sargent

“Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.” – John Quincy Adams

“People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote – a very different thing.” – Walter H. Judd

“Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.” – George Jean Nathan

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Having a say in one’s government is prized by many. There are several different types of voting rights. Universal suffrage means that voting is not restricted by sex, race, social status, or wealth. However, there still are restrictions and these usually are that of citizenship, age, mental capacity, and criminal records. More women around the world are now able to vote but there are still places where they are not included. There is something called “censitary suffrage” which means that although more people can vote, the votes themselves are not counted as equal. There are places with compulsory suffrage where those eligible to vote, MUST vote. There are also exclusions based on religion in certain regions and much more prevalent in times past. A say in governance seems to be more pervasive today than long ago, but the right is not yet universal.

Also on this day: Pluto v. Neptune – In 1979, Pluto moved inside Neptune’s orbit.
The Little Tramp – In 1914, Charlie Chaplin first plays The Little Tramp in the  Kid Auto Races at Venice.
Mud March – In 1907, the Mud March took place in London.

Mud March

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 7, 2012

Millicent Fawcett

February 7, 1907: More than 3,000 women slog through the mud. It was the first large march organized by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). The weather was cold and the London streets were full of mud. The women left Hyde Park and made their way to Exeter Hall. The march and the NUWSS were led by Millicent Fawcett. Ms Fawcett was helped with organizing the event by Lady Strachey, Lady Balfour, and Keir Hardie. Phillipa Strachey, daughter of Lady Strachey, was one of the leaders of the procession and helped bring together the 40+ organizations included for the demonstration.

The NUWSS was a group of suffragists as opposed to suffragettes. The former were “committed by definition to non-military activity” while the latter employed military tactics of protest. The NUWSS was formed in 1897 by the merger of three groups and Fawcett was the leader for 22 years. In 1903 the Women’s Social and Political Union broke away to form a more militant group. Even with the split, the NUWSS grew and by 1914 there were greater than 100,000 members in more than 400 branches. NUWSS, unlike the militant group, permitted men to join in the fight for women’s rights.

Dame Millicent Fawcett, nee Garrett, was both suffragist and feminist. She came from a liberal family and was charged, by her sister and when she was just 13, to turn to politics and get women the vote. Her sister became the first female doctor in Britain. Millicent met and married Henry Fawcett, a Liberal Member of Parliament. He was blind and his wife worked as his secretary and amanuensis. She was permitted to attend political meetings with her husband and gained an insight into politics. She also wrote a dozen books and numerous articles on a variety of topics. She is considered to have been instrumental in the creation of the 1918 laws giving at least some women the right to vote.

The Fawcett Society was named for Millicent. They have been “closing the inequality gap for women since 1866” when Millicent first began her life’s work. They have a vision of a society blind to gender with men and women receiving equal representation in public life, equal pay and pensions, and equality within the justice system. While great strides have been made in 140 years, there is still work to do. Women earn less per hour than men. Women make up less than 20% of MPs and only 4% of directors of the top 100 UK companies are women. There is an abysmal record for the prosecution of rapists in the UK.

The London weather did its worst against us; mud, mud, mud, was its prominent feature, and it was known among us afterwards as the “mud march.” – Millicent Fawcett

A gay enough procession by most accounts, despite the weather. Little touches of red and white splashed its length with rosettes and favours, posies bound with red and white handkerchiefs programmes, and above the line, white banners with vivid scarlet lettering. – Lisa Tickner

Democracy does not guarantee equality of conditions – it only guarantees equality of opportunity. – Irving Kristol

Equality of opportunity is freedom, but equality of outcome is repression. – Dick Feagler

Also on this day:

Pluto v. Neptune – In 1979, Pluto moved inside Neptune’s orbit.
Finally – In 1971, Switzerland gives women the vote.
The Little Tramp – In 1914, Charlie Chaplin first plays The Little Tramp in the  Kid Auto Races at Venice.

The Little Tramp

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 7, 2011

Charlie Chaplin, The Little Tramp

February 7, 1914: Charlie Chaplin first plays The Little Tramp in the Keystone Studio movie, Kid Auto Races at Venice. Chaplin was hired directly from his vaudeville act and starred in the eleven minute movie about a “baby-cart race.” The Tramp got in the way of the camera ruining the photographer’s shots. He got in the way of the racers, causing confusion. All the action takes place in Venice – California.

Chaplin was born in London in 1889 to two actors. His parents divorced when he was still quite young. His father left Hannah, his mother, and Sidney, his half-brother, along with Charlie to fend for themselves. This they did for a time, but Hannah was eventually institutionalized for a mental illness and the boys were placed in a workhouse while she was away. She improved and was release, but relapsed. Charlie was sent to live with his now alcoholic father and unfriendly stepmother.

Charlie toured with a group of boys called “8 Lancaster Lads” when he was 9-years-old. This was when he first met Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy fame. He continued to entertain while growing up and came to the USA in 1912 with the Karno troupe. He liked it so much, he stayed. He was soon hired by Keystone Studios, famous for the slapstick antics of the Keystone Kops. In two months time, Chaplin filmed 8 movies, all silent films. He lamented the innovation of the talkies, but finally did work in the field.

Politically, Chaplin always leaned toward the left. He got into trouble with McCarthy during the era of the red scare. Although he lived in the US from 1914-1952, he always maintained his British citizenship. In 1952, Chaplin left for a vacation abroad and J. Edgar Hoover took the opportunity to block his re-entry into the country. He did come back, victorious, to accept an Academy Award in 1972. Chaplin made 82 films, many of which he both wrote and directed. He died in his sleep in Switzerland on December 25, 1977 at the age of 88.

“Action is more generally understood than words. The lift of an eyebrow, however faint, may convey more than a hundred words. A truly capable actor must possess a thorough grounding in pantomime.”

“I did not have to read books to know that the theme of life is conflict and pain. Instinctively, all my clowning was based on this.”

“Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.”

“I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the make-up made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked onto the stage he was fully born.” – all from Charlie Chaplin

Also on this day:
Pluto v. Neptune – In 1979, Pluto moved inside Neptune’s orbit.
Suffragettes – In 1971, the women of Switzerland were finally given the vote.


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Pluto v. Neptune

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 7, 2010

Hubble computer generated map of Pluto, false color and among the highest resolutions possible at the time

February 7, 1979:  Neptune becomes the furthest planet from the sun as Pluto moves inside Neptune’s orbit for the first time since either planet was known to science. Since the writing of this article, Pluto has been downgraded and is no longer considered a planet. So Neptune is always the furthest planet from the sun.

Pluto was the ninth and smallest of the planets of the solar system. Today it is called a dwarf planet and is the second-largest entity so designated in the solar system. Eris is about 27% larger than Pluto and was discovered in January 2005. Eris is three times farther out from the sun than Pluto. Pluto is about 18% of Earth’s size, measuring about 1423 miles. Pluto has its own moon, Charon, which is about half the size of the planet and two smaller moons were discovered in 2005.

Pluto has an eccentric orbit that has caused some scientists to claim that it is not a true planet. The small planet is the largest body in the Kuiper belt. This belt is similar to the asteroid belt found between Mars and Jupiter. Unlike that smaller area, the Kuiper region is much larger, about 20 times wider with about 20-200 times more mass. This second belt of debris was also left over from the solar system’s formation and the bodies are mostly rock and metal although there are some frozen volatiles as well. This belt is not only home to Pluto, but two other bodies designated as dwarf planet, Haumea and Makemake.

Pluto’s orbit is not on the same plane as the rest of the Solar system, but inclined by more than 17º as well as being eccentric by ~0.25, meaning it’s oval pattern is different as well. This means that the two planets’ paths don’t actually cross in the three dimensions. Pluto again became the farthest former planet on February 11, 1999.

“It used to be that Pluto was a misfit. Now it turns out that Earth is the misfit. Most planets in the solar system look like Pluto, and not like the terrestrial planets.” – Alan Stern

“It may very well be that solar systems like our own are probably not rare in the galaxy. They may actually be a very common case.” – Alan Boss

“This comet formed at very edge of the solar system … out by Pluto … and spent all its lifetime out there until recently it came into the inner part of the solar system, where we could sample it.” – Don Brownlee

“The solar system is not a stable and quiet place.” – Jack Lissauer

Also on this day, in 1971 the women of Switzerland were finally given the vote.

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