Archive for the ‘Arts’ Category

On November 29, 1832, Louisa May Alcott was born in Germantown, PA.  She shared a birthday with her father, Amos Bronson Alcott, an American educator and transcendentalist.  Her family moved to Massachusetts when she was two years old, and she spent her childhood surrounded such family friends as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.  Alcott embarked upon her own literary career with a selection of stories called Flower Fables in 1849, and she gained critical recognition in 1863 for Hospital Sketches, a collection of her letters home to Massachusetts while serving as a nurse in Washington, D.C. during the Civil War.  She is, of course, best known today for her semi-autobiographical novel, Little Women, a celebrated classic of children’s literature.

Home of Louisa May Alcott in Concord, Massachusetts. Image courtesy of the J. Willard Marriott Library at The University of Utah.

In addition to her literary career, Alcott was also an outspoken abolitionist and later became an advocate for women’s suffrage.  You can learn more about Alcott’s life, philosophy and politics at Opening History where several of her lesser known works are available through University of Pennsylvania’s A Celebration of Women Writers Collection.


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Though the exact date of his birth is unknown (and presumed to be sometime during the latter half of 1867), Scott Joplin’s birthday has historically been observed and celebrated on November 24. Joplin was an American composer and pianist best known for his Ragtime compositions.  During the late 1890s and early 1900s, he composed “The Maple Leaf Rag,” “The Entertainer,” and many of his most enduring works.  Toward the end of his life, he focused on composing and producing an opera, Treemonisha, which proved a failure in 1915.  Long after Joplin’s death, however, Treemonisha was revived to critical acclaim, and he was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1976.

Cover art of sheet music for "The Maple Leaf Rag." Image courtesy of the University of Indiana.

At Opening History, you can find audio recordings and notated sheet music of Scott Joplin’s works through the Louisiana State Museum Jazz Collection and Indiana University’s Sam DeVincent Collection of American Sheet Music, respectively.

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On October 23, 1925, Johnny Carson was born in a small town in Iowa.  From an early age, Carson expressed an interest in performance and entertainment, beginning with magic tricks that he performed as “The Great Carsoni.”  After a brief career in the military, he returned to the Midwest where he studied radio and speech at the University of Nebraska.  Following his graduation, he began a successful career in broadcasting that led him from Omaha, Nebraska to Los Angeles, California.  He is, of course, best remembered for hosting The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson for thirty years from 1962-1992. Through his work in television, he became a household name and a true American icon.

Johnny Carson and Jack Benny receive key to the city of Anaheim from Mayor Pebley on January 12, 1967. Image courtesy of the Anaheim Public Library, accessed through Calisphere.

You can find more on the history of television and broadcasting at Opening History.

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On October 18, 1773, Phillis Wheatley was emancipated from slavery in the wake of her first publication, a book of poetry entitled Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.  Wheatley was the first African-American poet and the first African-American woman ever to publish.  The broadside below is an elegiac poem in honor of George Whitefield, composed by Wheatley at age 17.

Elegiac poem, on the death of that celebrated divine, and eminent servant of Jesus Christ, the reverend and learned George Whitefield. By Phillis, a servant girl, of 17 years of age, belonging to Mr. J. Wheatley of Boston... Image courtesy of Connecticut History Online.

More poetry by Phillis Wheatley may be found through Opening History in A Celebration of Women Writers, American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera, and Connecticut History Online.

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Eugene O’Neil’s Birthday

On this day in 1888, the American playwright Eugene O’Neil was born in New York City. His plays have earned him several Pulitzer prizes for drama and a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1936. O’Neil’s plays were known for including vernacular and portraying characters on the edge of society.

WPA poster for "Emperor Jones." Image courtesy of the Library or Congress's Posters from the WPA, 1936-1943 collection.

To see more popular posters from the Great Depression, visit the The By the People, For the People: Posters from the WPA, 1936-1943 collection, which include items publicizing health and safety programs; cultural programs including art exhibitions, theatrical, and musical performances; travel and tourism; educational programs; and community activities in seventeen states and the District of Columbia.

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Happy Birthday Mickey Rooney

Mickey Rooney is 91 today, September 23, 2011. In this photo from the Louisiana State Museum Jazz Collection, he’s pictured auditioning for Sharkey Bonano, sometime in the 1940s, in front of a sign for the patented “cure-all” Hadacol vitamin elixir. Rooney was one of many celebrities featured on Hadacol’s Good Will Caravan, the U.S.’s last traveling medical show, before Hadacol’s financial collapse in the early 50s.

Sharkey Bonano auditions Mickey Rooney

Sharkey Bonano auditions Mickey Rooney (1940s), courtesy the Louisiana State Museum Jazz Collection

You can find more on this and other interesting episodes in U.S. history at Opening History.

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A national Thanksgiving Day is observed in the United States as recommended by President George Washington and approved by Congress. On November 26, 1941 U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill establishing the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day in the United States.

The image below, courtesy of Western Waters Digital Library, depicts in “sign language” (or pictographs) how Thanksgiving day is celebrated by the American Indians. Theodore Lambie, young Sioux, created this picture for the readers of “Indians at Work,” official publication of the Indian service, in 1937.
American Indian Thanksgiving

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