This Week In American History: March 3rd - March 9th

This Week In American History: March 3rd - March 9th

March 3

1845

Congress reins in President John Tyler’s zealous use of the presidential veto, overriding it with the necessary two-thirds vote. This marked Congress’ first use of the Constitutional provision allowing Congressional veto overrides and represented Congress’ parting gift to Tyler as he left office. Tyler used the presidential veto 10 times on a variety of legislation during his administration; the frequency of his use of the veto was second only to that of Andrew Jackson, who employed it 12 times during his tenure.

1887

Anne Sullivan began teaching six-year-old Helen Keller, who lost her sight and hearing after a severe illness at the age of 19 months. Under Sullivan’s tutelage, including her pioneering “touch teaching” techniques, Keller flourished, eventually graduating from college and becoming an international lecturer and activist. Sullivan, later dubbed “the miracle worker,” helped Helen Keller became a public speaker and author; her first book, “The Story of My Life” was published in 1902. She was also a fundraiser for the American Foundation for the Blind and an advocate for racial and sexual equality, as well as socialism. From 1920 to 1924, Sullivan and Keller even formed a vaudeville act to educate the public and earn money. Helen Keller died on June 1, 1968, at her home in Easton, Connecticut, at age 87, leaving her mark on the world by helping to alter perceptions about the disabled.

1931

President Herbert Hoover signed a congressional act making “The Star-Spangled Banner” the official national anthem of the United States. On September 14, 1814, Francis Scott Key composed the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner” after witnessing the massive overnight British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Maryland during the War of 1812. Key, an American lawyer, watched the siege while under detainment on a British ship and penned the famous words after observing with awe that Fort McHenry’s flag survived the 1,800-bomb assault.

March 4

1789

Government under the U.S. Constitution began when the first session of the U.S. Congress is held in New York City. However, it isn't until September 25, after several months of debate, that the first Congress of the United States adopts 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution—the Bill of Rights—and sends them to the states for ratification. This action led to the eventual ratification of the Constitution by the last of the 13 original colonies: North Carolina and Rhode Island.

1953

Ernest Hemingway completed his short novel The Old Man and the Sea. The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and became one of his bestselling works. The novella, which was first published in Life magazine, was an allegory referring to the writer’s own struggles to preserve his art in the face of fame and attention. Hemingway had become a cult figure whose four marriages and adventurous exploits in big-game hunting and fishing were widely covered in the press. But despite his fame, he had not produced a major literary work in a decade before he wrote The Old Man and the Sea. The book would be his last significant work of fiction before his suicide in 1961.

1960

After 20 years of marriage, actress Lucille Ball divorced her husband and collaborator, Desi Arnaz. The breakup of the couple, stars of the hit sitcom I Love Lucy and owners of the innovative Desilu Studios, was one of the highest-profile divorces in American history at the time. Though the two were, by all accounts, deeply in love for most of their lives, the relationship was always tumultuous, due to both of them being in showbusiness and to Arnaz's womanizing and problems with alcohol. Though the divorce was reportedly contentious, the two remained close for the rest of their lives, which they each spent in showbusiness.

 

March 5

1770

A mob of American colonists gathered at the Customs House in Boston and began taunting the British soldiers guarding the building. The protesters, who called themselves Patriots, were protesting the occupation of their city by British troops, who were sent to Boston in 1768 to enforce unpopular taxation measures passed by a British parliament that lacked American representation. One of the British soldier fired, which lead to the events of the Boston Massacre and the deaths of five colonists. The deaths of the five men are regarded by some historians as the first fatalities in the American Revolutionary War.

1963

The Hula Hoop, a hip-swiveling toy that became a huge fad across America when it was first marketed by Wham-O in 1958, was patented by the company’s co-founder, Arthur “Spud” Melin. An estimated 25 million Hula Hoops were sold in its first four months of production alone. The Hula Hoop was inspired by a wooden hoop that Australian children twirled around their waists during gym class. Wham-O began producing a plastic version of the hoop, dubbed “Hula” after the hip-gyrating Hawaiian dance of the same name, and demonstrating it on Southern California playgrounds. Hula Hoop mania took off from there.

  

1966

Near the very height of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, American popular-music fans made a #1 hit out of a song called “The Ballad Of The Green Berets” by Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler. Sadler was exactly what his name and uniform implied he was: a real-life, active-duty member of the United States Army Special Forces—the elite unit popularly known as the Green Berets.

March 6

1820

President James Monroe signed the Missouri Compromise, also known as the Compromise Bill of 1820, into law. The bill attempted to equalize the number of slave-holding states and free states in the country, allowing Missouri into the Union as a slave state while Maine joined as a free state. Additionally, portions of the Louisiana Purchase territory north of the 36-degrees-30-minutes latitude line were prohibited from engaging in slavery by the bill. In the end, the Missouri Compromise failed to permanently ease the underlying tensions caused by the slavery issue. The conflict that flared up during the bill’s drafting presaged how the nation would eventually divide along territorial, economic and ideological lines 40 years later during the Civil War.

1836

After 13 days of fighting, the Battle of the Alamo came to a gruesome end, capping off a pivotal moment in the Texas Revolution. Mexican forces were victorious in recapturing the fort, and nearly all of the roughly 200 Texan defenders—including frontiersman Davy Crockett—died. Meanwhile, Sam Houston, commander of the Texas forces, was building and developing his army in Harris County. “Remember the Alamo!” became their rallying cry as an urgent reminder to avenge their earlier defeat. On April 21, Texas and Mexico fought again at the Battle of San Jacinto. Texas was victorious this time, and won independence from Mexico, bringing the Texas Revolution to an end.

 1981

CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite signed off with his trademark valediction, "And that's the way it is," for the final time. Over the previous 19 years, Cronkite had established himself not only as the nation's leading newsman but as "the most trusted man in America," a steady presence during two decades of social and political upheaval. Cronkite relinquished the anchor's chair at the age of 65 because CBS mandated that its employees retire at that age. He remained in public life for many years, writing a syndicated column and regularly hosting the Kennedy Center Honors. Due both to his near-universally recognized credibility and to the century-defining events he reported to the nation, Cronkite remains a singular figure, quite possibly the most respected television news journalist in American history. He died in 2009.

March 7

1923

The New Republic published Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” The poem, beginning with the famous line “Whose woods these are, I think I know. His house is in the village though,” has introduced millions of American students to poetry. Like most of Frost’s poetry, “Stopping by Woods” adopts the tone of a simple New England farmer contemplating an everyday site. Frost was a prolific writer and taught and lectured at Amherst, University of Michigan, Harvard, and Dartmouth, and read his poetry at the inauguration of President Kennedy. Although he never graduated from a university, he had collected 44 honorary degrees before he died in 1963.

1965

A 600-person civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery led by civil rights activists John Lewis and Hosea Williams ends in violence when marchers are attacked and beaten by state troopers and sheriff’s deputies. The day's events became known as "Bloody Sunday." Martin Luther King, Jr. completed the march, along with 25,000 demonstrators, on March 25, under the protection of the U.S. military and the FBI. The route is now a U.S. National Historic Trail. Prodded by what President Johnson called “the outrage of Selma,” the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law five months later, with the purpose to “right that wrong.” Lewis became a U.S. congressman from Georgia in 1986; he died in 2020.

  

2010

Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Academy Award for best director, for her movie “The Hurt Locker,” about an American bomb squad that disables explosives in Iraq in 2004. After making history by winning the directing prize, Bigelow said, “I hope I’m the first of many [women], and of course, I’d love to just think of myself as a filmmaker. And I long for the day when that modifier can be a moot point.” “The Hurt Locker,” which starred Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty, also won Oscars for best picture, film editing, sound editing, sound mixing and original screenplay.

March 8

1982

Speaking to a convention of the National Association of Evangelicals in Florida, President Reagan publicly referred to the Soviet Union as an evil empire for the second time in his career. He had first used the phrase in a 1982 speech at the British House of Commons. Some considered Reagan’s use of the Star Wars film-inspired terminology to be brilliant democratic rhetoric. Others, denounced it as irresponsible bombast. Reagan’s aggressive stance toward the Soviet Union became known as the Reagan Doctrine. He warned against what he and his supporters saw as the dangerous trend of tolerating the Soviets’ build-up of nuclear weapons and attempts to infiltrate Third World countries in order to spread communism.

  

1965

The USS Henrico, Union, and Vancouver, carrying the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade under Brig. Gen. Frederick J. Karch, took up stations 4,000 yards off Red Beach Two, north of Da Nang. These more than 4,000 Marines would wade onto shore and be the first U.S. combat troops in Vietnam. Deployed to secure the U.S. airbase, freeing South Vietnamese troops up for combat, the situation escalated quickly.

1993

The Music Television Network (MTV) aired the first episode of the animated series Beavis and Butt-Head, which offered audiences rude and crude buddy humor in the tradition of The Three Stooges, Cheech and Chong, and Wayne and Garth of Saturday Night Live and the Wayne’s World movies. Despite the mixed critical response, the show earned MTV’s highest ratings. It also sparked a heated controversy over the influence of TV programs on impressionable young children.

March 9

1862

One of the most famous naval battles in American history occurred as two ironclads, the U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia, fight to a draw off Hampton Roads, Virginia. The battle between the Virginia and the Monitor continued for four hours, with the ships circling one another, jockeying for position as they fired their guns. The cannon balls simply deflected off the iron ships. In the early afternoon, the Virginia pulled back to Norfolk. Neither ship was seriously damaged, but the Monitor effectively ended the short reign of terror that the Confederate ironclad had brought to the Union navy. The battle signaled a new era of steam-powered iron ships.

1959

The first Barbie doll went on display at the American Toy Fair in New York City. Eleven inches tall, with a waterfall of blond hair, Barbie was the first mass-produced toy doll in the United States with adult features. The woman behind Barbie was Ruth Handler, who co-founded Mattel, Inc. with her husband in 1945. After seeing her young daughter ignore her baby dolls to play make-believe with paper dolls of adult women, Handler realized there was an important niche in the market for a toy that allowed little girls to imagine the future. Since 1959, over one billion dolls in the Barbie family have been sold around the world and Barbie is now a bona fide global icon.

1996

The legendary cigar-chomping performer George Burns died at his home in Beverly Hills, just weeks after celebrating his 100th birthday. Burns' success started to flourish in 1922 when he teamed up with fellow performer, Gracie Allen, whom he would spend the rest of his life married to. The 1920s were a golden era for vaudeville performers, and Burns and Allen were one of the greats. In 1988, Burns won an award for lifetime achievement from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He wrote two best-selling autobiographical works, along with eight other books that earned him his well-deserved reputation as an invaluable first-hand observer of the history of 20th century entertainment.

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