THE FIRST GLIMPSE of the Mormon Promised Land looked none too promising to some of the 148 travelers who arrived at the valley of the Great Salt Lake on July 24, 1847. “Weak and weary as I am, I would rather go 1,000 miles farther than stay in such a forsaken place as this,” said Harriet Young, thirty-three, one of Mormon leader Brigham Young’s many wives. Nineteen-year-old Clara Young (also called Clarissa), Harriet’s daughter and another of Brigham Young’s wives, saw the bare-looking valley and concluded, “Things do not look dreary to me … There aren’t any trees, but they can be planted.”
Mormons drove wagons down Emigration Canyon into the Salt Lake Valley.
Clara Young’s can-do attitude typified the Mormon spirit after the 1,300-mile journey from Nauvoo, Illinois. One of three women, 143 men, and two children on the historic trip, she was happy to settle where members of her Christian sect could live and worship in peace after suffering persecution in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, where Mormon founder Joseph Smith had been murdered.
Although they follow most tenets of Christianity, Mormons adhere to other sacred texts as well as the Bible, and originally practiced polygamy. The differences in their ways of worship made them a target of fierce bigotry in the early days of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Within five years of the first arrival in Salt Lake, 16,000 Mormons had settled in the valley, and by 1869 the population exceeded 80,000. In 1890 the church outlawed polygamy, and in 1896 the territory of Utah entered the Union as the 45th state.
ON THIS DATE in 1870, sixteen-year-old Lottie McAlice defeated Maggie Lew, also sixteen, in what some have called the first women’s rowing race. McAlice’s triumph in a regatta on the Allegheny was “the beginning of women in sports,” a rowing race director told the Pittsburgh Tribune in 2008.
McAlice, who had honed her rowing technique by ferrying her father across the Allegheny River to and from work each day, got off to a fast start and won the mile-and-three-eighths race by 70 yards. Her prize was a gold watch and chain valued at $150.
In 2006, a Lottie McAlice Race, open to female rowers between fourteen and eighteen, was established on the Allegheny.
ON THIS DATE in 1847, fifteen-year-old Hanson Gregory invented the donut — maybe. How he did it is a matter of debate.
According to one story, the donut debuted when Gregory, a shipboard baker’s apprentice, was steering a sea vessel while eating a fried pastry. When a sudden storm rocked the boat, Gregory stuck the treat on a spoke of the steering wheel, knocking out the middle. He decided he liked his pastries without the center and — voilá! — the donut was born.
There’s a hole in that story, in more ways than one. What was a baker’s apprentice doing piloting a ship? In a storm? While munching on a snack? Gregory did eventually become a ship’s captain, but a fifteen-year-old inventing the donut by divine accident in a seastorm is a tale that’s harder to swallow than a soggy-centered pastry.
The account the eighty-four-year-old Gregory told the Washington Post in 1916 is less cinematic but more palatable. There was no storming sea, just a family kitchen in Maine. Watching his mother make fried cakes, Gregory asked why the centers were always so soggy. She said they never got cooked properly. “Well,’ I says to myself, ‘Why wouldn’t a space inside solve the difficulty?” After what he called “a great inspiration,” Gregory “cuts into the middle of that donut the first hole ever seen by mortal eyes!” Were they good? “Well, sir, them donuts was the finest I ever tasted. No more indigestion – no more greasy sinkers – but just well-done, fried-through donuts.”
“Of course a hole ain’t so much,” Gregory told the Post, “but it’s the best part of the donut — you’d think so if you had ever tasted the donuts we used to eat.”
Later, the donut-maker became the youngest sea captain on the Maine coast. He performed well in his second career and is said to have received a medal from the Spanish queen for a rescue of Spanish soldiers.
ON THIS DATE in 1861, eighteen-year-old Janeta Velázquez fought under the name of Harry Buford at the Civil War’s first Battle of Bull Run.
Loreta Velazquez, without and with her soldier’s disguise.
Sorting fact from fiction is difficult with Velázquez, who wrote an 1876 autobiography titled Women in Battle that was filled with exaggerations. She was apparently born in Cuba, raised in New Orleans, and fought for the Confederate Army in several Civil War battles, including the first Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861. According to Smithsonian.com, about 400 women disguised as men fought in the Civil War.
Married in 1856, Velázquez enlisted in 1861 without the knowledge of her soldier-husband, who was off fighting when she donned a beard, mustache, and adopted the name Harry Buford. She claimed to have recruited a battalion of 236 soldiers for the Confederate army before seeing action in the first Battle of Bull Run.
Bored of camp life, she later departed for Washington to spy for the South, using both male and female disguises. Velázquez returned to the Confederacy and fought in other major battles, including the 1862 Battle of Shiloh, where she sustained an injury from a stray shell and was revealed to be a woman. According to her autobiography, she retired as a soldier after that but continued to spy for the South.
ON THIS DATE in 1848, eighteen-year-old Charlotte Woodward signed the Declaration of Sentiments at the historic women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Of the 68 women who signed the declaration, she was the only one who lived to see women granted the vote in 1920.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton addresses the first woman’s rights convention in 1848.
In 1848, Woodward worked in her Waterloo, New York, home, sewing gloves “for a miserable pittance which, after it was earned, could never be mine. I wanted to work, but I wanted to choose my task and I wanted to collect my wages.” At the time, U.S. women had no legal rights to their paychecks, which could be confiscated by husbands or fathers.
A Declaration of Sentiments and 11 resolutions proposed at the Seneca Falls convention made the radical (for the time) assertion that women had a natural right to equality in all spheres. One third of the 300 or so who attended the conference signed the sentiments and resolutions, including 32 men.
Woodward later married and was residing in Philadelphia when the 19th amendment passed in 1920. Illness and failing eyesight prevented the ninety year old (she may have been ninety-one) from ever voting.
ON THIS DATE in 1941, hundreds of young men, many still in their teens, gathered in Tuskegee, Alabama, to form the first all-African American flying unit. “We were just eighteen-year-old kids,” William Hopson told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2002, addressing the initial inexperience of what became known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
Before 1941, racism had prevented African Americans from piloting military aircraft, and prejudice still played a role as nearly 1,000 young men trained as pilots, navigators, bombardiers, and more at the Tuskegee Army Airfield. The U.S. army segregated blacks from whites in World War II, and the Tuskegee cadets had to contend with overcrowded classrooms stateside and harassment from racist flyers and officials when they fought overseas. “We knew that we always had to be better than anyone else,” Joe Gomer told the Star Tribune.
About 450 of the Tuskegee trainees fought overseas, and the all-African American units compiled a formidable combat record. According to the official site of the U.S. Air Force, the Tuskegee Airmen destroyed or damaged more than 409 German airplanes and 950 ground units. They also sank a battleship destroyer and flew more than 200 bomber escort missions. One-hundred-and-fifty lost their lives in World War II.
Today, the Tuskegee Airmen are celebrated for their valor and for proving that African Americans could fly and fight with the best of them. In 1998, President Clinton approved a law that established the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site at the spot where the servicemen trained for aerial combat.
ON THIS DATE in 1960, fifteen-year-old Brenda Lee reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 with “I’m Sorry,” a song that would remain atop the charts for three weeks.
Just 4-foot-9 inches tall, Lee belted out rock, country, and holiday hits in a voice that sounded 10-feet tall. At eleven, the Atlanta native signed with Decca records, and four years had a series of hot-selling singles. “I’m Sorry” was the number six single of 1960, “I Want To Be Wanted” was number 21, and “Sweet Nothin’s” came in at number 34.
Lee also had a 1960 hit with “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree,” a holiday standard that she originally recorded in 1958.
No flavor-of-the-month teen star, “Little Miss Dynamite” placed 50 singles on the pop charts between 1960 and 1973. In 2002, she became the first female inducted into both the rock and roll and country music halls of fame.