‘Crusade against grasping landlords’

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ABOVE: Frail? Pauline Newman was one tough labor activist.

ON THIS DATE in 1907, The New York Times reported on a “frail-looking little woman” who had gathered 400 females in what a sub-headline called a “crusade against grasping landlords.”

Led by sixteen-year-old Pauline Newman, the New York strikers sought a reduction of 18 to 20 percent in rents due to a depression that had thrust more than 100,000 people out of work. After 15 days, the strike ended with 2,000 families receiving lowered rents The strike also introduced the concept of rent control, which would be implemented in the 1930s.

Two years later, Newman helped organize the Uprising of the 20,000, an 11-week general strike in New York’s shirtwaist industry.

She worked for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union  for more than 70 years and was also active in the women’s suffrage movement.

The Tinker protest

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In 1965, Mary Beth Tinker and her brother John were suspended from classes at North High School in Des Moines, Iowa for wearing black armbands to protest the war in Vietnam. They went to court to challenge the school’s policy. When this picture was taken, three years later, their case had just been accepted by the Supreme Court, which eventually ruled 7-2 in their favor.

ON THIS DATE IN 1965, Mary Beth Tinker, thirteen, John Tinker, fifteen, and Christopher Eckhardt, sixteen, were suspended from their Iowa schools for wearing black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. The parents of the students took the case to court in Tinker v. Des Moines. Thirty-eight months after the original protest, the Supreme Court ruled by a 7-2 vote that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” In other words, students are protected by the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee.

‘De-liver the let-ter!’

 

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FIFTY-FOUR YEARS
ago today, sixteen-year-old Gladys Horton and the Marvelettes delivered Motown’s first number-one single, “Please Mr. Postman.” The 1961 chart-topper was distinguished by Horton’s emphatic vocals as she sang, “De-liver the let-ter, the sooner the bet-ter!”

Horton created the group with five friends from a Detroit high school, with one member leaving to make it a four-girl act. “We only started singing together because Gladys asked us,” recalled Katherine Schaffner, one of the founding members. Originally called the Casinyets, a contraction of “can’t sing yet,” the band was signed by Berry Gordy’s Detroit-based Motown label, changed its name to The Marvelettes, and recorded “Please Mr. Postman” a month before Horton’s sixteenth birthday.

The Marvelettes enjoyed moderate follow-up success to “Please Mr. Postman” before their brief reign as Motown’s top girl group was eclipsed by the Supremes, whose first smash hit, “Where Did Our Love Go?” had been initially offered to Horton’s group. “Please Mr. Postman” was covered by the Beatles in 1963 and the Carpenters in 1975.

Pickford becomes a star

 

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ON THIS DATE
in 1907, a fifteen-year-old Canadian actress named Gladys Louise Smith became Mary Pickford. A nearly destitute stock player, she got her biggest career break when a big-time Broadway producer named David Belasco cast her in The Warrens of Virginia, a Civil War tale that debuted on December 3, 1907. Belasco insisted, however, that she change her name from the mundane Gladys Louise Smith to the more glamorous Mary Pickford.

After 380 performances in The Warrens of Virginia, Pickford starred in Belasco’s A Good Little Devil. She then appeared in a series of Hollywood films before a 1914 movie called Hearts Adrift made her a star. For more than a decade, the tiny (a fraction over five-foot tall) actress was the biggest female star in Hollywood. “America’s Sweetheart” helped organize United Artists in 1919, married the dashing Douglas Fairbanks in 1920 (her second marriage), and won the second Academy Award for best actress for 1929’s Coquette.

Pickford retired from films after 1933’s Secrets. She lived much of her later life in seclusion and died in 1979 at the age of eighty-seven.

One lawman > 80 cowboys

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Above: the real Elfego Baca, left, and actor Robert Loggia portraying Baca in 1958.

ON THIS DATE in 1884, a nineteen-year-old semi-lawman fought off 80 rampaging cowboys during a 30-plus-hour attack in the New Mexico territory. Elfego Baca, a Mexican American who had never been formally deputized, killed four cowboys and wounded eight more in the shootout; somehow, he emerged from it unscathed.

The Baca-vs-cowboys saga began the previous day when a drunken hellraiser named McCarty fired shots at two Mexicans, making them “dance” in the town of Frisco. Baca arrested the cowboy, which incensed McCarty’s pals. When one cowboy, backed by others, demanded McCarty’s release, Baca said he’d count to three and start shooting if the men didn’t disperse. As good as his word, he said “one- two-three” and opened fire, killing one and injuring another.

The next day, the 80 remaining Anglo cowboys came after Baca. After the first volley of shots, the self-styled deputy retreated to a small Mexican hut. For 33 to 38 hours (stories differ), the cowboys fired on the hut and Baca fired back through an 18-inch opening beneath the door. Using shotguns and buffalo guns, the cowboys blasted away at the roof, making it collapse, but the occupant seemed unfazed: the next morning, onlookers saw him calmly cooking his breakfast though the ruins of the hut.

Eventually a pair of lawmen convinced the cowboys and deputy to give up the fight. After surrendering to the Justice of the Peace, Baca was tried for the murder of the four cowboys. The key piece of evidence was the door to the adobe hut, which was brought to court and shown to have 367 bullet holes in it. Acquitted on grounds of self-defense, Baca would later serve as a marshal, district attorney, school superintendent, and mayor.

In 1958 Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color broadcast a one-hour episode titled “The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca.” Robert Loggia starred as the death-defying deputy.