ON THIS DATE IN TEENAGE HISTORY (1875), fourteen-year-old Agnes Beckwith swam from London to Greenwich on England’s Thames River, a publicized five-mile trek that made her the first female “public jock,” according to a 1975 Sports Illustrated story. “For a powerful man the feat may not be an over-difficult one,” wrote a London paper the next day, “but it is a test of some endurance for a slight young girl.” Beckwith has been credited with promoting swimming as a competitive sport for females.
A LOOK AT SOME phenomenal young women.
ON THIS DATE IN TEENAGE HISTORY (1866), eighteen-year-old Vinnie Ream (above) landed a $10,000 commission to create a statue of President Abraham Lincoln, who had been assassinated 16 months earlier. More than 100 politicians and national figures had signed a petition sent to the U.S. House Committee on Public Building and Grounds that said, “The undersigned, being personally acquainted with Miss Vinnie Ream, take great pleasure in endorsing her claims upon public patronage.” This triggered a raucous protest from many artists, journalists, and political foes of her Capitol Hill backers, with one newspaper reporter claiming Ream used “feminine wiles” to win her commission. She completed the statue in 1869 and unveiled it in 1871. Art critic Lorado Taft called Ream’s Lincoln an “extraordinary work for a child” and said it is “really far more dignified than many of its neighbors in the National Hall of Statuary.”
ON THIS DATE IN TEENAGE HISTORY (1968), eighteen-year-old John Steptoe had his first children’s book, Stevie, published in LIFE magazine. An African American writer-illustrator, Steptoe had written the story about a boy named Bobby plagued by a smaller kid named Stevie. “So Steve moved in, with his old crybaby self,” says Bobby. “Why I gotta put up with him?” By the end of the book, Stevie is gone and Bobby feels the loss. “He was kinda like a little brother,” he says. “Little Stevie.” Written in what LIFE described as “ghetto English,” John’s first book launched what the magazine called “an adventuresome new era of realism in children’s books.” “The story, the language, is not directed at white children,” said the author, who began writing and illustrating Stevie at sixteen. “I wanted it to be something black children could read without translating the language, something real which would relate to what a black child would know.”
ON THIS DATE IN TEENAGE HISTORY (1965), seventeen-year-old Fred DeLuca opened a sandwich shop called Pete’s Super Subs with a partner, Dr. Peter Buck, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. DeLuca planned to study medicine in college and wanted to make some board-and-tuition money. He put his college plans on hold when Pete’s Super Subs, which he renamed Subway, rapidly expanded. In 2011, Subway surpassed McDonald’s with more than 33,000 worldwide outlets. DeLuca, who eventually earned a degree in psychology from the University of Bridgeport, had a net worth of $1.8 billion in 2011, according to Forbes.
ON THIS DATE IN TEENAGE HISTORY (1956), the Clinton Twelve integrated a formerly all-white high school in east Tennessee. A pair of white supremacists stirred up an angry anti-integration mob during the first week of school at Clinton High, making the mornings difficult for the 12 African American students. “Let me tell you, it definitely wasn’t a good time with all those people calling us the n-word,” remembered Alfred Williams 50 years later. In May of 1957, Clinton 12 member Bobby Cain became the first African American to graduate from a formerly all-white public school in the South.
ON THIS DAY IN TEENAGE HISTORY (1346), sixteen-year-old Edward the Black Prince commanded a wing of the English army to victory over France at the Battle of Crécy. Watching from a hilltop, England’s Edward III waved away an earl who insisted the king’s son needed help against a numerically superior French force. “Is he dead? Or so wounded he cannot help himself?” asked the king. When the earl said no, Edward III said, “Let the boy prove himself a true knight and win his spurs.” After the battle the king greeted his son by saying, “Prince, you are the conqueror of the French!” Turning to face the other soldiers who had gathered around him, King Edward yelled, “Cheer, cheer for the Black Prince! Cheer for the hero of Crécy!”