The Writer's Almanac for May 4th
LISTEN & get the daily poem
Today is the birthday of Agnes Fay Morgan, born in Peoria, Illinois (1884). She studied chemistry in college, and received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. But job prospects for female chemists were bleak, so she took a position in the Home Economics department at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1915. She was an associate professor of "household science," specifically nutrition. She made it her mission to bring the element of science into the program, which was typically dismissed as "women's work." When she was made chair of the department, she increased the rigor of the program and worked to have it taken seriously. While other home economics programs were little more than instruction on the art of gracious living, Morgan required all of her students to have a solid foundation in physical and biological science. In 1960 — six years after Morgan retired — the Home Economics Department was renamed the Nutritional Sciences Department, and a year after that, their building was renamed Agnes Fay Morgan Hall. Even after she officially retired, she never gave up her research, and continued to show up to her Berkeley office on a regular basis until her death in 1968.
Morgan, with her background in chemistry applied to the field of nutrition, wrote more than 250 scientific papers. She was responsible for much of what we know about the vitamins in food. She also proved the link between vitamin deficiencies and poor health conditions; showed certain vitamins' effect on hormones; and analyzed the effects of heat and processing on the stability of vitamins and proteins.
It's the birthday of the man who said, "Education is our only political safety. Outside of this ark, all is deluge." The father of American public education, Horace Mann (books by this author), was born on this day in Franklin, Massachusetts, in 1796. He grew up without much money or schooling, and what he did learn, he learned on his own at his local library, which had been founded by Benjamin Franklin. He was accepted into Brown University and graduated in three years, valedictorian of his class.
He was elected to the state legislature in 1827, and 10 years later, when Massachusetts created the first board of education in the country, he was appointed secretary. Up to this point, he hadn't had any particular interest in education, but when he took the post he dedicated himself to it wholeheartedly. He personally inspected every school in the state, gave numerous lectures, and published annual reports advocating the benefits of a common school education for both the student and the state. He spearheaded the Common School Movement, which ensured all children could receive a basic education funded by taxes.
He was elected to the United States Congress in 1848 after the death of John Quincy Adams, and in his first speech, he spoke out against slavery. He wrote in a letter later that year: "I think the country is to experience serious times. Interference with slavery will excite civil commotion in the South. But it is best to interfere. Now is the time to see whether the Union is a rope of sand or a band of steel."
When he left politics, he moved to Ohio to accept a position as president of Antioch College. "I beseech you to treasure up in your hearts these my parting words," he told one graduating class: "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity."
Peter Minuit landed on the island of Manhattan on this date in 1626. Dutch fur traders had established a trading post on nearby Governors Island a few years earlier. In 1625, construction began on Manhattan Island in the form of a citadel, Fort Amsterdam. The Dutch West India Company appointed Minuit Director of the Colony of New Netherland. He arrived to find a small village already in place, with more land being cleared. There were stands of hickory, oak, and chestnut trees among the grasslands and salt marshes. Times Square was a red maple swamp. A creek ran through Midtown. On the west side of the island, there was a cemetery, a small farm, an orchard, and two wealthy estates. Most of the houses were built along the East River, since its shore was more protected from winds than the shore of the Hudson. The main street was built over an old Indian path running from the southern tip of the island north to what is now City Hall Park. First, it was called Heere Straat, or Gentlemen's Street, but it eventually came to be known as Breede Wegh — which became the name we know it by today, Broadway.