MARCH 4: Accident survivor swings strike

Above: Massachusetts militiamen confront strikers during the 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike.

ON THIS DATE in 1912, 30,000 mostly immigrant textile mill workers won national sympathy for their strike when a partly bald fourteen-year-old girl from Lawrence, Massachusetts, told a U.S. Congressional hearing about the workplace accident that nearly took her life.

The twelfth child called before the panel, Camella (sometimes spelled Carmela) Teoli described starting at the American Woolen Company at age thirteen and losing part of her scalp when her hair got caught in a textile machine two weeks later. The girl, along with two pieces of her sliced-off scalp, had to be rushed to a hospital, where she remained for seven months.

Testifying before Congress was no easy task for Teoli, according to grandson Frank Palumbo Jr., author of 2011’s Through Carmela’s Eyes. He told that his grandmother’s home was fire bombed and thugs who wished to prevent the family from letting Teoli testify beat his great-grandfather. Palumbo said Helen Taft, first lady to the president, took the girl to the White House and tried to ease her

Bruce Watson, author of Bread and Roses: Mills, Migrants, and the Struggle for the American Dream (2006) found that Teoli’s courage before Congress played well in Washington. “Gradually it dawned on the panel that these were not children at all … but apprentice adults who had left childhood at the mill gates,” he wrote.

The press picked up Teoli’s story and public sentiment swung to the strikers, who had been attacked by police serving the interests of mill owners before the congressional hearings took place. The owners eventually agreed to raise wages, pay overtime, and rehire the strikers.

MARCH 3: “These are the bodies Yale is exploiting”

mag_nh_titleix01_576Above: Chris Ernst reads a statement to Yale’s Joni Barnett on March 3, 1976.

YALE’S MALE ROWERS called their female counterparts “sweat hogs” in the mid-1970s because the women, with limited access to post-practice showers, had to sit in their hot, smelly outfits for a half hour or more after workouts.

Chris Ernst, nineteen-year-old captain of the women’s rowing team, decided enough was enough on March 3, 1976. Title IX, an amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1972, prohibited discrimination based on gender at U.S. schools and colleges, so Ernst arranged a demonstration in which she and 18 other female rowers marched into the office of Joni Barnett, Yale’s director of women’s athletics, and stripped to the waist. Written in blue marker on their bare chests and backs were five letters and two Roman numerals: “Title IX.”

The protest generated national publicity due to the presence of a reporter from The New York Times who wrote about the demonstration and repeated Chris’ statement that “These are the bodies Yale is exploiting.” Within two weeks, Yale’s female rowers had new locker rooms and shower facilities, and the attention they received advanced the cause of equal athletic rights for females throughout the U.S.

MARCH 2: “When will this accursed thing end?”


 Above: Andersonville Prison, commonly called “Hell on earth.”

ON THIS DATE in 1864, fifteen-year-old Billy Bates and seventeen-year-old Dick King escaped from the infamous Civl War prison in Andersonville, Georgia.

Confederate officer Henry Wirz commanded this pit of inhumanity, where an estimated 13,700 Union prisoners died in just 13 months. Considered a monster by some and a post-war scapegoat by others, Wirz reportedly tried to punish Bates after a failed escape by having the half-starved prisoner strung up by his thumbs. Wirz shot and killed a captive who tried to give Bates water, and then fired two two bullets into the dangling boy’s leg.

Bates spends the next eight months recovering — and digging. He and King carved a narrow tunnel, just 18-by-24 inches wide, that extended beyond the prison walls. They needed little wiggle room because the camp’s starvation diet has reduced Bates to just 60 pounds and King to 64 pounds.

After tunnelling out of Andersonville, the two spent three weeks foraging for food and heading for Union lines. In April of 1864, Bates and King receive an audience with President Lincoln and describe the ghastly conditions at Andersonville. Lincoln’s response: “My God, when will this accursed thing end?”

Wirz was tried and executed as a war criminal at the close of the Civil War.

MARCH 2: “Claudette gave us all the moral courage …”


SIXTY YEARS AGO TODAY, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin refused to surrender her Montgomery, Alabama, bus seat to a white passenger. Her defiance of a law requiring black passengers to give up seats to white passengers occurred nearly nine months before Rosa Parks did the same.

The results, however, couldn’t have been more different. While Parks’ action made her an admired figure in the Civil Rights Movement. Colvin’s refusal to move resulted in a physical struggle with two white policemen who kicked her, slapped handcuffs on her, and verbally abused her. She would be convicted of violating the bus segregation law, disturbing the peace, and assaulting the two policemen.

Colvin’s family stood by her after the arrest, as did her pastor. “I’m so proud of you,” said the Reverend H.H. Johnson, as quoted in Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Phillip Hoose, 2009). “I think you just brought the revolution to Montgomery.”

Colvin’s classmates at Booker T. Washington were not so gracious. Many mocked her in the hallways by chanting, “It’s my constitutional right! It’s my constitutional right!” — words Colvin had spoken during her arrest. “We should have been rallying around her and being proud of what she had done, but instead we ridiculed her,” one of her classmates said five decades later.

Some Montgomery citizens admired Colvin’s stand against racial injustice, including a white woman supporter who said, “I just can’t explain how this little girl was so brave … it was a miracle.”

More than six months after Colvin’s arrest another black teenager, Mary Louise Smith, refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, and 41 days after that, police arrested Parks. That arrest brought about the Montgomery Bus Boycott and resulted in a 1956 Supreme Court decision declaring racial segregation on public transport unconstitutional.

Fred Gray, a lawyer who represented both Colvin and Parks, said, “I don’t mean to take anything away from Mrs. Parks, but Claudette gave us all the moral courage to do what we did.”

March 1: East L.A.’s Latino students revolt


“We were fed up, you know?” Bobby Verdugo told the Los Angeles Times in 2008, recalling the frustrations that resulted in nearly 20,000 Latino students walking out of five East L.A. schools on March 1, 1968.

The Chicano student walkout, which began on March 1, was primarily a protest of academic prejudice in schools where students of Mexican origin or descent were steered away from taking college-prep courses. At the time, Mexican-American students composed just 2% of national college enrollment, and a well-organized force of teenaged activists demanded change.

64175One of those activists, 18-year-old Moctesuma Esparza, would produce a 2006 documentary titled Walkout: The True Story of the Historic 1968 Chicano Student Walkout in East L.A. With 11 others, Moctesuma in 1965 oganized an action force that brought Mexican-American students together and resulted in the 1968 walkout, a demonstration that is often credited with launching the Chicano movement.

Police arrested and charged 13 people, including Moctesuma, with conspiracy to disturb the peace and attacked countless others. “These were high school kids who were peacefully protesting for their rights,” Moctesuma told Democracy Now! in 2006. “And they were brutalized.”

One year after the walkouts, UCLA’s enrollment of Mexican-American students increased from 100 to 1,900, according to the Los Angeles Times. Over the next decade, the percentage of Latino college students nationwide increased from 2% to 25%.

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March 1: Real Tintin launches journey

 Palle Huld and Tintin.

ON THIS DATE in 1928, fifteen-year-old Danish adventurer Palle Huld began a much-publicized around-the-world voyage that may have inspired the artist Hergé to create the comic character Tintin. Both Huld and Tintin had red hair and wore plus fours, i.e, baggy knickers that reached just below the knee.

A Denmark newspaper sponsored Huld’s trip on the centennial of Jules Verne’s birth (Verne had authored Around the World in Eighty Days in 1873). The rules stated that Huld had to make the trip alone, return within 46 days, and use no airplane travel.

Forty-four days after embarking, Huld returned to a hero’s welcome in Copenhagen, the largest city and capital of Denmark. He told of his adventures in 1929’s A Boy Scout Around the World. That same year Hergé debuted the Tintin character in a children’s supplement of a Danish newspaper. Tintin would appear in a series of books that have sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.