This Day In History: 11/23/1936 - Life is First Published

This Day In History: 11/23/1936 - Life is First Published

Watch what happened in history on November 23 by viewing this video of This Day in History. It would allow a song to be played for the price of one nickel. On November 23, 1945, the United States stopped rations after World War II. However, sugar rations still existed. On November 23, 1973, Yvonne Burke became the first woman to give birth to a child while in Congress. On November 23, 1936, the first issue of Life Magazine was published. Their goal was to see life and see the world. Photojournalism was able to send messages that words simply could not.


Almost all the first Africans who arrived in the New World were slaves. They came from several regions of the African West Coast.
Their ways of living were described by slaves themselves, in some narratives. They had to work either in plantations or in town.

Slavery was an important issue facing Churches, as slaves were allowed to meet for Christian services. Some Christian ministers, such as J. D. Long, wrote against slavery.
Rural slaves used to stay after the regular worship services, in churches or in plantation “praise houses”, for singing and dancing. But, slaveholders did not allow dancing and playing drums, as usual in Africa. They also had meetings at secret places (“camp meetings”, “bush meetings”), because they needed to meet one another and share their joys, pains and hopes. In rural meetings, thousands slaves were gathered and listened to itinerant preachers, and sang spirituals, for hours. In the late 1700s, they sang the precursors of spirituals, which were called “corn ditties”.

So, in rural areas, spirituals were sung, mainly outside of churches. In cities, about 1850, the Protestant City-Revival Movement created a new song genre, which was popular for revival meetings organized by this movement, temporary tents were erected in stadiums, where the attendants could sing.

At church, hymns and psalms were sung during services. Some of them were transformed into songs of a typical African American form: they are "Dr Watts”.

The lyrics of negro spirituals were tightly linked with the lives of their authors: slaves. While work songs dealt only with their daily life, spirituals were inspired by the message of Jesus Christ and his Good News (Gospel) of the Bible, “You can be saved”. They are different from hymns and psalms, because they were a way of sharing the hard condition of being a slave.

Many slaves in town and in plantations tried to run to a “free country”, that they called “my home” or “Sweet Canaan, the Promised Land”. This country was on the Northern side of Ohio River, that they called “Jordan”. Some negro spirituals refer to the Underground Railroad, an organization for helping slaves to run away.

NEGRO SPIRITUALS AND WORK SONGS

During slavery and afterwards, workers were allowed to sing songs during their working time. This was the case when they had to coordinate their efforts for hauling a fallen tree or any heavy load. For example, prisoners used to sing "chain gang" songs, when they worked on the road or some construction. But some "drivers" also allowed slaves to sing "quiet" songs, if they were not apparently against slaveholders. Such songs could be sung either by only one or by several slaves. They were used for expressing personal feeling, and for cheering one another.

NEGRO SPIRITUALS AND THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD

The Underground Railroad (UGRR) helped slaves to run to free a country. A fugitive could use several ways. First, they had to walk at night, using hand lights and moonlight. When needed, they walked (“waded”) in water, so that dogs could not smell their tracks. Second, they jumped into chariot, where they could hide and ride away. These chariots stopped at some “stations”, but this word could mean any place where slaves had to go for being taken in charge.

So, negro spirituals like “Wade in the Water”, “The Gospel Train” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” directly refer to the UGRR.


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Anne Bradstreet and the New World

Anne Bradstreet, along with her husband and her father, and such others as John Winthrop and John Cotton, were in the Arbella, the lead ship of eleven that set off in April and landed in Salem Harbor in June of 1630.

The new immigrants including Anne Bradstreet found conditions much worse than they'd expected. Anne and her family had been relatively comfortable in England now, life was harsher. Yet, as a later poem of Bradstreet's makes clear, they "submitted" to God's will.

Anne Bradstreet and her husband moved around quite a bit, living in Salem, Boston, Cambridge, and Ipswich before settling in 1645 or 1646 in North Andover on a farm. Beginning in 1633, Anne bore eight children. As she noted in a later poem, half were girls, half boys:

Anne Bradstreet's husband was a lawyer, judge, and legislator who was often absent for long periods. In 1661, he even returned to England to negotiate new charter terms for the colony with King Charles II. These absences left Anne in charge of the farm and family, keeping house, raising the children, managing the farm's work.

When her husband was home, Anne Bradstreet often acted as hostess. Her health was often poor, and she had bouts of serious illness. It is likely that she had tuberculosis. Yet among all this, she found time to write poetry.

Anne Bradstreet's brother-in-law, the Rev. John Woodbridge, took some of her poems to England with him, where he had them published without her knowledge in 1650 in a book titled The Tenth Muse Lately Spring Up in America.

Anne Bradstreet continued to write poetry, focusing more on personal experience and everyday life. She edited ("corrected") her own version of the earlier works for republication, and after her death, a collection titled Several Poems including many new poems and a new edition of The Tenth Muse was published in 1678.

Anne Bradstreet also wrote prose, addressed to her son, Simon, with advice on such things as how to raise "Diverse Children."

Cotton Mather mentions Anne Bradstreet in one of his books. He compares her to such (female) luminaries as "Hippatia" and the Empress Eudocia.

Anne Bradstreet died on September 16, 1672, after a few months' illness. While the cause of death is not certain, the likelihood is that it was her tuberculosis.

Twenty years after her death, her husband played a minor role in the events surrounding the Salem witch trials.

Descendants of Anne Bradstreet include Oliver Wendell Holmes, Richard Henry Dana, William Ellery Channing, and Wendell Phillips.


In January 1809, the African American community of New York celebrated the first anniversary of the slave importation ban passed by Congress. That celebration, however, would be the last. By the following year it was clear that the law prohibiting the “foreign” slave trade was &hellip Read More (1809) William Hamilton, “Mutual Interest, Mutual Benefit, and Mutual Relief”

In October of 1811, before the dedication of the first house of worship for African American Presbyterians in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Reverend John Gloucester, founder and Pastor, had the following address circulated throughout the surrounding neighborhood and all friendly to his cause. The cost of 200 &hellip Read More (1811) John Gloucester, “Dedication of the First African Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia”


About the Folklore Project and the Life Histories

Within the Federal Writers' Project, material relating to folklore and social-ethnic studies was collected and shaped through the efforts of John A. Lomax, Benjamin A. Botkin, and Morton Royce. The activity documented in writing traditional statements, expressions, songs, essays, stories, and the like, with tilt toward accounts of frontier and pioneer life. The Folklore Project filed its material under the general headings "traditional" and "life histories."

The Writers' Project staff variously described the life histories as life sketches, living lore, industrial lore, and occupational lore. The narratives were meant to reflect the ordinary person's struggle with the vicissitudes of daily living.

This American Memory presentation is limited to the Folklore Project life histories. Similar accounts may be found in the Social-Ethnic portion of the WPA collection these may be digitized in the future.

At the time, Botkin said, the collected lore and narratives were to be used as the basis for anthologies which would form a composite and comprehensive portrait of various groups of people in America. The entire body of material provides the raw content for a broad documentary of both rural and urban life, interspersed with accounts and traditions of ethnic group traditions, customs regarding planting, cooking, marriage, death, celebrations, recreation, and a wide variety of narratives. The quality of collecting and writing lore varies from state to state, reflecting the skills of the interviewer-writers and the supervision they received.


Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

Sigmund Freud © Freud was an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, who created an entirely new approach to the understanding of the human personality. He is regarded as one of the most influential - and controversial - minds of the 20th century.

Sigismund (later changed to Sigmund) Freud was born on 6 May 1856 in Freiberg, Moravia (now Pribor in the Czech Republic). His father was a merchant. The family moved to Leipzig and then settled in Vienna, where Freud was educated. Freud's family were Jewish but he was himself non-practising.

In 1873, Freud began to study medicine at the University of Vienna. After graduating, he worked at the Vienna General Hospital. He collaborated with Josef Breuer in treating hysteria by the recall of painful experiences under hypnosis. In 1885, Freud went to Paris as a student of the neurologist Jean Charcot. On his return to Vienna the following year, Freud set up in private practice, specialising in nervous and brain disorders. The same year he married Martha Bernays, with whom he had six children.

Freud developed the theory that humans have an unconscious in which sexual and aggressive impulses are in perpetual conflict for supremacy with the defences against them. In 1897, he began an intensive analysis of himself. In 1900, his major work 'The Interpretation of Dreams' was published in which Freud analysed dreams in terms of unconscious desires and experiences.

In 1902, Freud was appointed Professor of Neuropathology at the University of Vienna, a post he held until 1938. Although the medical establishment disagreed with many of his theories, a group of pupils and followers began to gather around Freud. In 1910, the International Psychoanalytic Association was founded with Carl Jung, a close associate of Freud's, as the president. Jung later broke with Freud and developed his own theories.

After World War One, Freud spent less time in clinical observation and concentrated on the application of his theories to history, art, literature and anthropology. In 1923, he published 'The Ego and the Id', which suggested a new structural model of the mind, divided into the 'id, the 'ego' and the 'superego'.

In 1933, the Nazis publicly burnt a number of Freud's books. In 1938, shortly after the Nazis annexed Austria, Freud left Vienna for London with his wife and daughter Anna.

Freud had been diagnosed with cancer of the jaw in 1923, and underwent more than 30 operations. He died of cancer on 23 September 1939.


Olaudah Equiano (c.1745 - 1797)

Olaudah Equiano, c.1789 © Equiano was an African writer whose experiences as a slave prompted him to become involved in the British abolition movement.

In his autobiography, Olaudah Equiano writes that he was born in the Eboe province, in the area that is now southern Nigeria. He describes how he was kidnapped with his sister at around the age of 11, sold by local slave traders and shipped across the Atlantic to Barbados and then Virginia.

In the absence of written records it is not certain whether Equiano's description of his early life is accurate. Doubt also stems from the fact that, in later life, he twice listed a birthplace in the Americas.

Apart from the uncertainty about his early years, everything Equiano describes in his extraordinary autobiography can be verified. In Virginia he was sold to a Royal Navy officer, Lieutenant Michael Pascal, who renamed him 'Gustavus Vassa' after the 16th-century Swedish king. Equiano travelled the oceans with Pascal for eight years, during which time he was baptised and learned to read and write.

Pascal then sold Equiano to a ship captain in London, who took him to Montserrat, where he was sold to the prominent merchant Robert King. While working as a deckhand, valet and barber for King, Equiano earned money by trading on the side. In only three years, he made enough money to buy his own freedom. Equiano then spent much of the next 20 years travelling the world, including trips to Turkey and the Arctic.

In 1786 in London, he became involved in the movement to abolish slavery. He was a prominent member of the 'Sons of Africa', a group of 12 black men who campaigned for abolition.

In 1789 he published his autobiography, 'The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African'. He travelled widely promoting the book, which became immensely popular, helped the abolitionist cause, and made Equiano a wealthy man. It is one of the earliest books published by a black African writer.

In 1792, Equiano married an Englishwoman, Susanna Cullen, and they had two daughters. Equiano died on 31 March 1797.


LIFE’s First Cover Story: Building the Fort Peck Dam, 1936

“If any Charter Subscriber is surprised by what turned out to be the first story in this first issue of LIFE,” the magazine’s editors wrote in the Nov. 23, 1936 issue, “he is not nearly so surprised as [we] were. Photographer Margaret Bourke-White had been dispatched to the Northwest to photograph the multimillion dollar projects of the Columbia River Basin. What the editors expected were construction pictures as only Bourke-White can take them. What the editors got was a human document of American frontier life which, to them at least, was a revelation.”

Thus the men and women behind what would become one of the longest-lived experiments—and one of the greatest success stories of 20th-century American publishing—introduced themselves, and their inaugural effort, to the world.

In her riveting 1963 autobiography, Portrait of Myself, Bourke-White recalls the heady experience working for LIFE on the debut issue, and on countless subsequent assignments for what would become one of the indispensable weeklies of the past 100 years:

A few weeks before the beginning, Harry Luce called me up to his office and assigned me to a wonderful story out in the Northwest. Luce was very active editorially in the early days of the magazine, and there was always that extra spark in the air. Harry’s idea was to photograph the enormous chain of dams in the Columbia River basin that was part of the New Deal program. I was to stop off at New Deal, a settlement near Billings, Montana, where I would photograph the construction of Fort Peck, the world’s largest earth-filled dam. Harry told me to watch out for something on a grand scale that might make a cover.

“Hurry back, Maggie,” he said, and off I went. I had never seen a place quite like the town of New Deal, the construction site of Fort Peck Dam. It was a pinpoint in the long, lonely stretches of northern Montana so primitive and so wild that the whole ramshackle town seemed to carry the flavor of the boisterous Gold Rush days. It was stuffed to the seams with construction men, engineers, welders, quack doctors, barmaids, fancy ladies and, as one of my photographs illustrated, the only idle bedsprings in New Deal were the broken ones. People lived in trailers, huts, coops anything they could find and at night they hung over the Bar X bar.

These were the days of LIFE’s youth, and things were very informal. I woke up each morning ready for any surprise the day might bring. I loved the swift pace of the LIFE assignments, the exhilaration of stepping over the threshold into a new land. Everything could be conquered. Nothing was too difficult. And if you had a stiff deadline to meet, all the better. You said yes to the challenge and shaped up the story accordingly, and found joy and a sense of accomplishment in so doing. The world was full of discoveries waiting to be made. I felt very fortunate that I had an outlet, such an exceptional outlet, perhaps the only one of this kind in the world at that time, through which I could share the things I saw and learned.

Long after Margaret Bourke-White’s remarkable photos from the Depression-era wilds of Montana graced the pages of that first issue of LIFE—one of her characteristically monumental “construction pictures” (as the editors put it) served as the cover image for that issue—LIFE.com presents the Fort Peck Dam feature in its entirety, along with a number of Bourke-White photos that did not appear in the original cover story.

Here is a portrait of a community brought together by circumstance, i.e., by FDR’s New Deal, in a barren place, in an unimaginably hard time, for the express purpose of building one of the chief engineering marvels of the age. (Fort Peck Dam is still, today, the highest of all the major dams along the great Missouri River.) Bourke-White’s photos, meanwhile, capture the vast scale of the audacious project and the far more intimate scope of the human capacity for finding joy or, at the very least, a kind of rough pleasure and fellowship wherever one can, whatever the odds.

So, while LIFE’s “charter subscribers” and its editors might have been surprised “by what turned out to be the first story” in the magazine’s history, in retrospect Bourke-White’s tale seems, with its heroic overtones, its astonishing photography and its focus on the human aspect of a superhuman effort, an apt introduction to LIFE’s mission and its method.

Workers on Montana’s Fort Peck Dam blew off steam at night, 1936.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

In Wheeler, near Fort Peck, Montana, Frank Breznik (left) was the law. He had previously been a traveling salesman in Atlantic City.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

Wheeler, Montana, was one of the six frontier towns around Fort Peck.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

The area’s latest hotspot was a town called New Deal.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

LIFE’s first issue declared, “The only idle bedsprings in New Deal are the broken ones.”

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

Beneath a “No Beer Sold to Indians” sign, a woman tossed back a drink.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

Life in the cowless cow towns was not cheap for its day.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

Lt. Col. T. B. Larkin was the head of the dam project.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

Bar X, Montana, 1936.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

The only alcohol that could be sold legally was beer by the glass, but at Ruby’s Place and others like it, liquor was also sold at a back bar.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

One-fourth of the Missouri River would run through this steel “liner.”

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

Major Clark Kittrell was the No. 2 man on the Fort Peck Dam project.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

Ed’s Place, Montana, 1936.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

Ruby, second from the left, was the founder of the town of Wheeler—and its richest woman. She had come to Montana with experience in the Klondike.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

Drinking at the bar Finis, Montana, 1936.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

Drinking at the bar Finis, Montana, 1936.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

Mrs. Nelson washed New Deal, Montana, without the aid of running water.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

One of the several frontier towns near the site of the Fort Peck Dam, Montana, 1936.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

Men and women in one of the several frontier towns near the site of the Fort Peck Dam, Montana, 1936.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

A bar in a town near the Fort Peck Dam, Montana, 1936.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

A bar in one of the several frontier towns near the site of the Fort Peck Dam, Montana, 1936.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

A bar in one of the several frontier towns near the site of the Fort Peck Dam, Montana, 1936.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

Workers in one of the several frontier towns near the site of the Fort Peck Dam, Montana, 1936.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

Wood was for sale in one of the several frontier towns near the site of the Fort Peck Dam, Montana, 1936.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

A beauty shop near the site of the Fort Peck Dam, Montana, 1936.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

One of the several frontier towns near the site of the Fort Peck Dam, Montana, 1936.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

Men worked on the construction of Fort Peck Dam, Montana, 1936.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

Construction of Fort Peck Dam, Montana, 1936.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

Construction of Fort Peck Dam, Montana, 1936.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

Construction of Fort Peck Dam, Montana, 1936.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

Construction of Fort Peck Dam, Montana, 1936.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

Construction of Fort Peck Dam, Montana, 1936.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

Construction of Fort Peck Dam, Montana, 1936.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

First LIFE cover November 23, 1936.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection


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