John’s Believe It Or Not… April 30th

Marguerite Bourgeoys teaching three young children.

It’s Monday! Did You Know…

* 1658 – Marguerite Bourgeoys opens Ville Marie’s first school for French and native children

Marguerite Bourgeoys was born in Troyes, then in the ancient Province of Champagne in the Kingdom of France, on 17 April 1620. The daughter of Abraham Bourgeoys and Guillemette Garnier, she was the sixth of their twelve children. Marguerite came from a middle-class and socially connected background, her father being a candle maker and coiner at the royal mint in the town. Her father died when she was very young, and her mother followed when Marguerite was 19.

Marguerite was not only one of the most famous people who was supporting the education of children (especially girls), she had the courage and mindset of her own. She had a rough life growing up. When she was about 15 years old, Marguerite decided to let herself make her own choices despite the fact of what her family was going through. Later on, Marguerite became well known as a lecturer in her early ages.

In February 1653, Bourgeoys set sail on the Saint-Nicholas from her native France along with approximately 100 other colonists, mostly men, who had been recruited and signed to work contracts.

Upon her arrival in the port of Quebec City on the following 22 September, Bourgeoys was offered hospitality with the Ursuline nuns there while transportation to Ville-Marie (now Montreal) was arranged. She declined the offer and spent her stay in Quebec living alongside poor settlers. This hints at her character and the future character of her congregation in Montreal – a secular and practical approach to spreading God’s will. She arrived in Ville-Marie on 16 November.

Though this period of Bourgeoys’ life in New France pales in comparison to her later years in terms of expansionary scope and influence, it is often seen as much more intimate. Bourgeoys would have known practically everyone in the colony. However, she also faced difficult struggles during her first years there. There were no children to teach due to the high levels of infant mortality, which frustrated her plan to provide education. Despite this, she took it upon herself to help the community in any way she could, often working alongside the settlers.

During these early years, Bourgeoys did manage to make some significant initiatives. In 1657 she persuaded a work party to form in order to build Ville-Marie’s first permanent church – the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Counsel (French: Bonsecours). She was provided with a vacant stone stable by de Maisonneuve in April 1658 to serve as a schoolhouse for her students. This was the beginning of public schooling in Montreal, established only five years after Marguerite’s arrival. Today a commemorative plaque marks the site of the stable school in Old Montreal. It can be found on a wall just below the southwest corner of Saint-Dizier and Saint-Paul Streets.

Soon after receiving the stable, Bourgeoys departed for France with the goal of bringing back more women to serve as teachers for the colony. Her success in doing exactly that put her in a position where she was able to house and to care for the “King’s Daughters,” or Filles du Roi, as they are known in Quebec (orphan girls sent by the Crown to establish families in the colony) upon their arrival from Europe. Marguerite and her four companions were also responsible for examining the male settlers who arrived seeking a wife.

Drawing of 1st School in Montreal Ville Marie
1st School in Montreal Ville Marie (archivesvirtuelles-cnd.org)

* 1945 Adolf Hitler commits suicide

On this day in 1945, holed up in a bunker under his headquarters in Berlin, Adolf Hitler commits suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule and shooting himself in the head. Soon after, Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allied forces, ending Hitler’s dreams of a “1,000-year” Reich.

Since at least 1943, it was becoming increasingly clear that Germany would fold under the pressure of the Allied forces. In February of that year, the German 6th Army, lured deep into the Soviet Union, was annihilated at the Battle of Stalingrad, and German hopes for a sustained offensive on both fronts evaporated. Then, in June 1944, the Western Allied armies landed at Normandy, France, and began systematically to push the Germans back toward Berlin. By July 1944, several German military commanders acknowledged their imminent defeat and plotted to remove Hitler from power so as to negotiate a more favorable peace. Their attempts to assassinate Hitler failed, however, and in his reprisals, Hitler executed over 4,000 fellow countrymen.

In January 1945, facing a siege of Berlin by the Soviets, Hitler withdrew to his bunker to live out his final days. Located 55 feet under the chancellery, the shelter contained 18 rooms and was fully self-sufficient, with its own water and electrical supply. Though he was growing increasingly mad, Hitler continued to give orders and meet with such close subordinates as Hermann Goering, Heinrich Himmler, and Josef Goebbels. He also married his long-time mistress Eva Braun just two days before his suicide.

In his last will and testament, Hitler appointed Admiral Karl Donitz as head of state and Goebbels as chancellor. He then retired to his private quarters with Braun, where he and Braun poisoned themselves and their dogs before Hitler then also shot himself with his service pistol.

Hitler and Braun’s bodies were hastily cremated in the Chancellery garden, as Soviet forces closed in on the building. When the Soviets reached the Chancellery, they removed Hitler’s ashes, continually changing their location so as to prevent Hitler devotees from creating a memorial at his final resting place. Only eight days later, on May 8, 1945, the German forces issued an unconditional surrender, leaving Germany to be carved up by the four Allied powers.

Adolf Hitler’s bunker, Berlin, 1945.
Adolf Hitler’s bunker, Berlin, 1945. (Pinterest)

* 1948 Original Land Rover debuts at auto show

The Land Rover, a British-made all-terrain vehicle that will earn a reputation for its use in exotic locales, debuts at an auto show in Amsterdam on April 30, 1948.

The first Land Rover, known as the Series 1, was the brainchild of Maurice Wilks, the head designer for the British car company Rover, of which his brother Spencer Wilks was the managing director. Maurice Wilks used an old American-made Willys-Overland Jeep to do work at his farm in England. However, the Jeep was plagued by mechanical problems and Wilks decided to design a more reliable vehicle. He intended it to be used for farm work and be more versatile than a tractor. The resulting Land Rover, known as the Series 1, had a boxy, utilitarian design, four-wheel drive, and a canvas roof. Such features as passenger seat cushions, doors, a heater and spare tires were initially considered extras and cost more. The rugged Land Rover was well-received by the public and ended up being used not just for agricultural work, but by police forces, military organizations, aid workers in remote places and travelers on expeditions where road conditions were poor or non-existent. In 1976, the 1 millionth Land Rover rolled off the assembly line in Solihull, Birmingham, England.

In 1970, the Range Rover, a more comfortable, luxurious version of the Land Rover, launched. The Discovery, a less expensive version of the Range Rover made its public debut in 1989; it was marketed to a younger, less conservative audience than Range Rover buyers. By that time, the company had experienced ownership changes: In 1967, Rover became part of Leyland Motors (later called British Leyland). British Aerospace later acquired Land Rover. In 1994, BMW acquired the Land Rover business. Next, in 2000, the Ford Motor Company purchased Land Rover for $2.7 billion. In 2008, Ford, which was experiencing a sales slump due to the worldwide economic crisis, sold Land Rover, along with another British-based brand, Jaguar, to Tata Motors of India for some $2.3 billion.

On April 30th, 1948 the very first Land Rover made its public debut at an auto show in Amsterdam.
On April 30th, 1948 the very first Land Rover made its public debut at an auto show in Amsterdam. (Jalopnik)

* 1927 The first American federal prison for women opens

The Federal Industrial Institution for Women, the first women’s federal prison, opens in Alderson, West Virginia. All women serving federal sentences of more than a year were to be brought here.

Run by Dr. Mary B. Harris, the prison’s buildings, each named after social reformers, sat atop 500 acres. One judge described the prison as a “fashionable boarding school.” In some respects the judge was correct: The overriding purpose of the prison was to reform the inmates, not punish them. The prisoners farmed the land and performed office work in order to learn how to type and file. They also cooked and canned vegetables and fruits.

Other women’s prisons had similar ideals. At Bedford Hills in New York, there were no fences, and the inmates lived in cottages equipped with their own kitchen and garden. The prisoners were even given singing lessons.

Reform efforts had a good chance of success since the women sent to these prisons were far from hardened criminals. At the Federal Industrial Institution, the vast majority of the women were imprisoned for drug and alcohol charges imposed during the Prohibition era.

Federal Prison Camp, Alderson, WV. Originally called The Alderson Reformatory in 1927 when it opened, this was the first Federal facility for women.
Federal Prison Camp, Alderson, WV. Originally called The Alderson Reformatory in 1927 when it opened, this was the first Federal facility for women. (WTOP.com)

* 1933 Willie Nelson is born

Willie Nelson’s sound and his look revolutionized country music, making him one of that genre’s most recognizable faces, and if his winning personality weren’t enough reason to like him, then his good-natured struggles with the IRS would be. But before Willie Nelson became a legend or an icon, he was simply one of the most talented singer-songwriters of his generation. He began his musical training at the age of six and wrote his first song at the age of seven in Abbott, Texas, where he was born on this day in 1933.

Like so many other musicians of his generation, whether black or white, whether country or rock and roll, Willie Nelson started out performing gospel music. The grandmother and grandfather who raised Willie were music teachers, so he and his sister Bobbie were able to lead their small-town church from a very early age. “We were basically the only musicians in the church,” Nelson recalls. “We played every song every Sunday. Monday nights was choir practice, Wednesday night was prayer meetings, and Thursday night was singing conventions in Hillsboro. So every day was gospel music.”

Given this environment, the subject matter of the first song Willie Nelson ever sold makes perfect sense. Nelson had traveled west to Vancouver, Washington, in 1956, following short stints in the Air Force, in college and in various Texas radio stations as a disk jockey. While working as a DJ in Vancouver, he had recorded a Leon Payne song called “Lumberjack” and hawked copies of it over the air. Though this did nothing to further his ambitions of being a performer, he soon returned to Texas and managed to sell a song he’d written himself called “Family Bible.” The country-tinged gospel song became a hit in 1960 for Claude Gray, and while it netted Willie Nelson only $50 in cash, it encouraged him to pursue songwriting rather than performing as a way into a musical career. Later that year, after one astonishing week in Houston when he wrote the eventual country hits “Funny How Time Slips Away” and “Night Life,” as well as the genre-crossing Patsy Cline classic “Crazy,” he moved to Nashville, where he landed a job in a music-publishing company and begin his slow road to stardom.

Photo taken during an exclusive documentary on how Willie Nelson changed music history with his beat-up Martin acoustic, Trigger.
Photo taken during an exclusive documentary on how Willie Nelson changed music history with his beat-up Martin acoustic, Trigger. (thatericalper.com)

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology  http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php

* This Day In History – What Happened Today                        http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/

* Wikipedia                                                                   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marguerite_Bourgeoys            

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Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December, 2013, and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (http://fiorabooks.com), to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

9 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… April 30th”

  1. It is interesting that the US spent countless years searching for Adolf Hitler. Makes one wonder if he and Eva really took their own lives. The women prison sounds like a good idea. The Range Rover concept gave birth to some other similar vehicles. The Toyota FJ 40 Land Cruiser was one such development. Love Willie. Thanks, John

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that’s fascinating that people hunted for Hitler for many years. Another unanswered question in history. As I read about that prison, I thought that we’d likely have far fewer prisoners returning to prison if they were treated with dignity and trained according to their interests and talents. Kindness goes a long way toward changing hearts. There sure are a number of people who enjoy those offroading vehicles. Thanks, John!

      Like

    1. I’m sure there are a lot of women from earlier times who did heroic things that we never heard about. Having said that, I personally think all women are heroic knowing that as they rise from their beds each day, they will be faced with more instances of misogyny and male chauvinism than anyone should.

      Liked by 1 person

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