The Most Interesting Book of All


bashkirtseff.jpgON THIS DATE in 1858, Ukrainian-born artist and author Marie Bashkirtseff was born. At thirteen she began a diary that would eventually be published under the title, I Am the Most Interesting Book of All. Called “a book without parallel” by one reviewer, Bashkirtseff’s journal described the author’s galloping ambition: at fifteen she wrote, “What Am I? … Nothing! What do I want to be? … Everything!” “At thirteen when she begins, (she) talks and writes like a woman of thirty,” marveled Lady Louisa Knightley in 1880. “Her self-introspection, her cynical frankness, her burning ambition, her extraordinary ability, are absolutely phenomenal.” A feminist as well as an author and artist, Bashkirtseff lived much of her brief life in Paris. She died of tuberculosis at age twenty-five.

The Girls Choir of Harlem

in 1997, sixteen-year-old soprano Lezlie Watson and 52 other members of the Girls Choir of Harlem made their concert debut at the Alice Tully Hall of the Lincoln Center in New York. While the Boys Choir of Harlem, formed in 1968, had performed for the Pope and recorded an album, the girls’ choir had struggled to attract corporate sponsors and other sources of funding since reassembling in 1989. The singers, wearing full-length, plum-colored gowns, began the concert by singing “in perfect German,” according to The New York Times, from Schumann’s “Country Song,” Opus 29, No. 1. “Their voices were equally at home with composer Robert Schumann’s romantic moodiness and the joyful refrains of ‘He’s Got The Whole World in His Hands,’” raved the Staten Island Advance in a review of the sold-out performance.

The Betsy Ross of Texas


CALLED “THE BETSY ROSS of Texas,” Joanna Troutman was actually a seventeen-year-old farm girl from Georgia when she presented a lone star flag to Col. William Ward of the Georgia Battalion on November 18, 1835. The hand-made flag with the five-pointed star and the words “LIBERTY OR DEATH” flew in the company of 150 Georgia volunteers who fought for Texas in the war of independence against Mexico. On March 8, 1936, Troutman’s flag flew over an independent Texas. In 1913, 34 years after her death, Texas governor Oscar B. Colquitt had Troutman’s remains brought to Texas for burial in the Texas State Cemetery.

A teenage Dalai Lama


ON THIS DATE in 1950, fifteen-year-old Tenzin Gyatso was recognized as the 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people. His nation’s all-powerful eastern and northern neighbor, China, had assured that his first year as Dalai Lama would be challenging by invading Tibet in October of that year. Along with some 80,000 other Tibetans, Gyatso fled the country after a failed uprising in 1959. He established a government-in-exile in northern India, where he has worked to secure self-rule for Tibet through non-violent means. That mission brought him the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize.

By his own admission, Gyatso may be “the most popular Dalai Lama of all,” a status he attributes to Tibet’s neighbor. “If the Chinese had treated the Tibetans like real brothers, then the Dalai Lama might not be so popular,” he once said.

Motorcycle rider


ON THIS DATE in 1885, sixteen-year-old Paul Daimler may have become the world’s first motorcycle rider when he rode a two-wheeled motorized machine invented by his father, Gottlieb Daimler, near their home in southern Germany.

The motorcycle had two extra stabilizing wheels and only traveled about seven miles per hour,
 which is slower than a running chicken. There was an element of danger, though. Daimler’s sister later test-drove the bike and crashed into a tree

The great Alice Coachman


ON THIS DATE in 1923, Alice Coachman was born in Albany, Georgia. One of the finest female athletes of all time, she won the first of first of 10 straight high jump titles as a fifteen-year-old in 1939. She is celebrated for being the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal, which she accomplished at the 1948 London Games.

A gold medal and 31 track and field titles from 1939 to 1948 should have made Coachman world famous to this day, but two factors worked against her. First, the 1940 and 1944 Olympics were canceled due to World War II, preventing her from competing on a national stage in her prime (she was also a sprinter and long-jumper). Also, the 1948 Olympics occurred before the advent of television, meaning only those in attendance saw her jump.

Alice Coachman in 1948.

Growing up in segregated Albany, Georgia, Coachman had to train on dirt roads because the city’s track facilities were off limits to African Americans. She competed barefoot in the 1939 AAU championships and established a series of high jump records before finally getting her Olympic opportunity at the 1948 London Games.

“I didn’t know I’d won,” said Coachman, who had a back injury yet still set a record with a jump of 5-feet-61⁄8. “I was on my way to receive the medal and I saw my name on the board. And, of course, I glanced over into the stands where my coach was, and she was clapping her hands.”

Sacagawea joins expedition

Layout 1

ON THIS DATE in 1804, sixteen-year-old (estimated age) Sacagawea was engaged to join the Lewis and Clark Expedition with French-Indian trader and interpreter Toussaint Charbonneau, the father of her unborn son.

A Shoshone Indian, Sacagawea’s role in the 8,000-mile exploration of the West is often exaggerated, with one biographer decrying how she “has been portrayed as a woman whose abilities as a scout and a trailblazer were outstripped only by her physical beauty.”

Sacagawea did, however, make important contributions to the expedition. On one occasion, she leaped into a river to save supplies and papers after a storm tipped over a boat, and another time she interpreted and otherwise aided in the purchase of horses from the Shoshone tribe when the expedition desperately needed them.

Nearly everything we know about her comes from the journals of Meriwether Lewis, who praised Sacagawea’s “fortitude and resolution,” and William Clark, who called her his “pilot.”

At the end of the journey Charbonneau received $500.33 and 320 acres for his labor. Sacagawea received nothing.

When Sacagawea died at age twenty-five, Clark adopted her two children, a boy named Jean Baptise (that she carried during the journey) and a girl named Lisette.