Homeschooling Resources at Your Fingertips

What in the World? January History Lessons You Can Teach at Home (Part 4)

by David Engle | Jan 26, 2021 | 15 min read

This is a fascinating world we live in. When you step back and look at it, something historic has happened literally every single day. Sure, some events are bigger and more important than others, but think about it…history is made every day.

In this regular blog series, we’re going to look at world history by month, with a few blog posts each month that list momentous events in the history of the world–and inspiration for lessons that you can teach your children at home!

We just finished the first, second, and third parts of January. To finish up January, here’s part four…enjoy these historic dates in January!

January 26, 1880: General Douglas MacArthur is born in Little Rock, Arkansas. There are only a handful of American generals throughout history who are so well known that you only need to reference them by their last name. Lee, Custer, Eisenhower, Sherman, Patton, Schwarzkopf, Washington, Grant, MacArthur. Douglas MacArthur grew up on military bases and outposts, so perhaps he was destined for military greatness. MacArthur graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point at the top of his class in 1903 and served in the armed forces upon graduation. By 1917, he was a brigadier general leading the 42nd “Rainbow” Division in France during World War I. In 1930, President Herbert Hoover named MacArthur chief of staff of the US Army, with the rank of general. After finishing his term as chief of staff in 1935, MacArthur was tasked with creating an armed force for the Philippines, which became a commonwealth of the United States that year. After learning in 1937 that he was scheduled to return to America for duty, General MacArthur abruptly resigned from the military stating that he had not yet finished his job in the Philippines. He stayed behind in the island nation, working as a civilian servant to Philippine President Manuel Quezon.

MacArthur was called back into active duty in 1941, as Japan was becoming a global threat. On December 8, 1941, the day after the Pearl Harbor attacks, MacArthur’s air force was destroyed by Japanese fighters in a surprise attack before invading the Philippines. MacArthur’s troops were forced to the Bataan peninsula, where they struggled to survive. In March of 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent for General MacArthur, his family, and members of his staff, who all fled the Philippines to Australia. But not before MacArthur uttered one of the famous wartime quotes in history…”I shall return.” The following month, General MacArthur was appointed supreme commander of Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific and also received the Medal of Honor for his defense of the Philippines. As promised, he returned to liberate the Philippines–in 1944, as he swam to the shore, he stated, “I have returned.” By December of that year, MacArthur was named general of the US Army and given command of all Army forces in the Pacific. He accepted Japan’s official surrender on September 2, 1945. His fight was far from over, however.

In June 1950, North Korean communist forces invaded South Korea, which signaled the start of the Korean War. General MacArthur was placed in charge of the American-led coalition of United Nations troops, who successfully forced North Korean troops to the Chinese border. MacArthur met with President Harry S. Truman, who worried that the communist government of the People’s Republic of China might see the invasion as a hostile act and become involved in the conflict. MacArthur, however, convinced him the chances of a Chinese intervention were slim. In November and December of 1950, a powerful force of Chinese troops crossed into North Korea and drove the US troops back into South Korea. At this point, MacArthur asked Truman for permission to bomb communist China and use forces from Taiwan against the People’s Republic of China. Truman unequivocally denied these requests, leading to a very bitter and public dispute between the president and the general. In April 1951, President Truman removed Douglas MacArthur from his command for insubordination. The American public was outraged, but once the dust settled, Americans realized that MacArthur’s strategy may have resulted in World War III. Regardless, he was welcomed home that month as a national hero and honored with parades and ceremonies across the country. General Douglas MacArthur died at the age of 84 in 1964. Use this lesson to learn about other famous generals and the battles they led.

January 27, 1756: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is born in Salzburg, Austria. Quite possibly the world’s most famous composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart demonstrated his prodigious musical talent at the age of five, when he created his first composition and showed tremendous ability playing the harpsichord and violin. Just a year later, young Mozart played for the public for the first time, and from there he and his sister traveled across Europe with their father to play in the courts of London, Paris, The Hague, and Zurich. In late 1769, Mozart and his father left for Italy, playing several performances until 1771; between this period and his last stay in Italy in 1773, he wrote three operas before returning home to Salzburg. Once home, Mozart began working with several genres of music, composing symphonies, sonatas, serenades, and string quartets, mostly for violin. By 1776, however, Mozart turned his attention to the piano, inspiring him to write the masterpiece Piano Concerto Number 9 in E Flat Major in early 1777–at the age of 21.

By 1781, Mozart settled in Vienna and continued composing, performing, teaching, and writing music for publication. His opera, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, was an immediate success, and Mozart–along with his wife and two children–reaped the financial rewards, living in luxury in Vienna through the early and mid-1780s. In fact, 1784 was Mozart’s most successful in terms of performance. However, by 1785, Mozart’s lavish lifestyle began to catch up with him and he found himself in financial trouble despite his success. He collaborated with Venetian composer Lorenzo Da Ponte, with whom he wrote The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, each of which proved successful and popular. But it wasn’t enough to sustain him, and by the end of the 1780s, Mozart’s troubles were increasing as he was performing less and making less money. He attempted to resuscitate his career by performing in Germany, but those efforts ultimately failed; at this point, Mozart began to suffer from depression. Always resilient, Mozart bounced back, however; between 1790 and 1791, he created some of his most famous works, including The Magic Flute, the Clarinet Concerto in A Major, the unfinished Requiem, and the final piano concerto in B flat. He regained popularity with many performances of his works, and he began to climb out of his financial hole. Unfortunately, his physical health began to deteriorate and by November of 1791, Mozart was bedridden. On December 5, 1791, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died at the young age of 35–the cause of death is still a mystery to this day. At the time of his death, Mozart was considered one of the best–if not the best–of all time and proved to be a major influence on composers such as Beethoven. All told, Mozart created more than 600 compositions, including 41 symphonies, 16 operas, 27 piano concerti, five violin concerti, 19 masses, and 25 string quartets. Delve into Mozart’s famous works and dig deeper into why his music had such a profound impact on so many people. This is also a perfect opportunity to learn more about the importance of art and music in Vienna during this period.

January 28, 1986: The US Space Shuttle Challenger explodes just seconds into its flight, killing everyone aboard. This is another one of those events, especially for those who grew up in the 1980s, that is seared into the memories of Americans–just like people knew exactly where they were when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, most people remember in detail what they were doing when the Challenger space shuttle exploded. Most shuttle launches came and went without the fanfare that accompanied the Challenger; the reason for this is that this particular flight marked the first time an “ordinary” citizen would be launched into space.

The actual mission for this 10th Challenger flight was to launch the second Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS-B). But this flight meant much more, as it was to include the winner of a nationwide contest meant to highlight the importance of teachers and further the interest of high-tech careers for students–the winner was Christa McAuliffe, a teacher from Concord, New Hampshire. During this shuttle flight, Ms. McAuliffe was scheduled to teach two lessons while orbiting in space; upon returning, she would then travel the United States and teach kids across the country for nine months. Sadly, this was not to be. Just 73 seconds after lift-off, a technical failure caused a massive explosion that instantly killed all seven passengers on board. What made this tragedy even more devastating was that the explosion was broadcast live on TV across the country–school teachers, in a show of support for their fellow teacher, wheeled televisions sets into classrooms for students to view the historic event. Unfortunately, they witnessed history in a much different sense–a tragic loss of life that led to the grounding of the NASA Space Shuttle program. Through the years that followed, several investigations were conducted to find out what exactly went wrong, and this would be an opportunity to look into those investigations and determine what happened to cause the Challenger tragedy. The history of the NASA Space Shuttle program is also a relevant topic to look at.

January 29, 1843: William McKinley is born in Niles, Ohio. William McKinley performed quite a few presidential “firsts.” He was the first president to use a telephone and also the first president to ride in an automobile while in office. But he did accomplish quite a bit more. The 25th President of the United States first served in Congress, doing so for 14 years before being elected as Governor of Ohio in 1891. During McKinley’s years in office, foreign policy was a dominant issue. In 1898, the US battleship Maine exploded in Havana’s harbor, which led President McKinley to urge Congress to intervene–this led to the Spanish-American War. During the brief war, American forces destroyed Spanish fleets in Santiago Harbor, took Manila in the Philippines, and occupied Puerto Rico. Soon after, the Treaty of Paris was signed, giving the United States the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam while granting Cuba its independence. All of these events opened the doors for the US to play an active role in world affairs. Among those events was the Boxer Rebellion, during which nationalists began an uprising against foreign intervention in China.

President McKinley was reelected in 1900 and was inaugurated in January of 1901. Shortly thereafter he embarked on a tour that ended in September in Buffalo, New York. He gave a speech to 50,000 people at the Pan-American Exposition on September 5 and stood in a receiving line following his warmly received words. It was then that he was shot twice in the chest at point-blank range by an anarchist from Detroit. Surprisingly, the president’s prognosis was good; however, his wounds became infected, and President William McKinley succumbed eight days after being shot. He was the third president to that point to be assassinated. Take a further look at how McKinley’s policies paved the way for America to become more involved in global matters and how that looks in today’s climate.

January 30, 1948: Mahatma Gandhi is assassinated in New Delhi, India. An inspiration for the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi was an Indian nationalist renowned for his non-violent civil disobedience as a way to affect change–particularly in his quest to have India declared independent from British rule. Born as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on October 2, 1869, Mahatma Gandhi left India for London when he was 18 to pursue studies in law. It was during this time that he committed to a meat-free diet and began to study other world religions. Gandhi returned to India in 1891, but he struggled to find his way as a lawyer. So, in 1893, he set sail for South Africa to try his hand at law there. What he quickly found was relentless racial discrimination and segregation from White British and Boer authorities. One event in particular made a profound impact on Gandhi–in June of 1893, he was encountered by a White man who objected to Gandhi’s presence in the first-class section of a train they were riding (Gandhi had a ticket). Gandhi refused to move to the back of the train, so he was forcibly removed and thrown off the train. This event made him determined to fight the “deep disease of color prejudice” through non-violent means, and propelled him to become a global leader in the fight for civil rights.

By 1897, Gandhi was running a successful legal practice in South Africa. The Boer War broke out at this time, and Gandhi created an all-Indian ambulance corps of more than 1,000 volunteers to help the British cause. His rationale? If Indians were to be granted the same citizenship rights as the British, they had to carry their weight as well. In 1906, Gandhi organized his first mass civil-disobedience movement, called “Satyagraha” (“truth and firmness”), as a response to the South African Transvaal government’s new restrictions on the rights of Indians, including the refusal to recognize Hindu marriages. Years of protests took place, leading to the government imprisoning hundreds of Indians in 1913, Gandhi included. But it worked–feeling pressure, the South African government accepted a compromise negotiated by Gandhi and General Jan Christian Smuts, which recognized Hindu marriages and abolished poll taxes on Indians. In 1915, Gandhi founded an ashram in India and led a life devoted to prayer, fasting, and meditation. At this time, he became known as “Mahatma,” which means “great soul.” In 1919, Gandhi led another civil disobedience campaign in response to a new British law. Though Gandhi’s protests were civil and calm, the British military responded with violence, leading to the Massacre of Amritsar, where nearly 400 unarmed Indian protestors were shot with machine guns fired by British troops. This was the last straw for Gandhi.

From this point on, Gandhi dedicated his life to boycotting British rule; this included urging Indian government officials to resign, for students to stop attending government schools, and for citizens to stop purchasing British goods and paying taxes. In fact, Gandhi began making his own cloth on a spinning wheel, which came to symbolize Indian independence. In 1922, Gandhi was arrested for sedition and sentenced to prison, where he remained until 1924. Upon his release, he began a three-week fast to promote unity between Hindus and Muslims before leaving politics behind for six years. His return to activism in 1930 was marked by the Salt March, which protested Britain’s Salt Acts that banned Indians from collecting or selling salt. The peaceful Salt March was a 240-mile trek to the Arabian Sea, where he would collect salt as an act of defiance. This act inspired mass civil disobedience across India, leading to approximately 60,000 imprisonments–including Gandhi’s. The Salt March elevated Gandhi’s status around the world, and he would be awarded Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” honor in 1930. Through the next decade, Gandhi led more peaceful protests for Indian independence, culminating in his “Quit India” movement, which pushed for the immediate withdrawal of the British from India as World War II raged on. Shortly after, violence broke out amongst Indian Hindus and Muslims, denting Gandhi’s hopes for a unified India. Even as he tried to end the fighting, many Hindus viewed Gandhi as a traitor for his sympathetic attitude toward Muslims. This would eventually be the demise of Gandh–-on January 30, 1948, he was shot and killed by a Hindu extremist who could not accept Gandhi’s sympathy toward Muslims. Gandhi was 78. Explore the influence Gandhi’s non-violent means of protest had on future human rights advocates.

January 30, 1972: British troops kill 13 Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland, an event known as “Bloody Sunday.” In August of 1971, during what was already a violent and chaotic time in Northern Ireland, a new law was created, giving authorities the power to imprison citizens without a trial. To protest for civil rights, 15,000 people gathered in the Creggan area of Derry on the morning of January 30, 1972 in an event organized by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. Troops were deployed to oversee the march, which was supposed to head to the Derry city center. Some skirmishes broke out between young protestors and the Army, resulting in paratroopers moving in to make arrests. The fights grew more violent, with stones being thrown at soldiers and tear gas and rubber bullets being returned by the soldiers. Within a few minutes, the paratroopers began to make as many arrests as possible–just a few more minutes later, shots were fired. According to the Army, 21 soldiers opened fire, discharging a total of 108 rounds. Thirteen men died, dozens more were wounded. Fueled by their outrage, an angry crowd burned down the British Embassy in Dublin.

The following day, the government announced that an inquiry would be made into the shootings. But it was mostly for show–a tribunal cleared the soldiers and British authorities of wrongdoing, infuriating the victims’ families. It took more than 25 years for further action to be taken, when British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that a new inquiry would be held. The findings wouldn’t be revealed until 2010–37-plus years after Bloody Sunday–but it was determined that the victims did nothing that warranted the shootings and that no warning was given to the demonstrators before the shots were fired. Following this inquiry, the Police Service of Northern Ireland opened a murder investigation, which was completed in 2016. When all was said and done, one soldier was prosecuted for the murders of two men and the attempted murders of four more men. Bloody Sunday remains one of the darkest days in Northern Ireland’s history, and this event can serve as a starting point as you look at other protests in history, from the Boston Tea Party to the racial demonstrations of 2020.

January 30, 1882: Franklin Delano Roosevelt is born in Hyde Park, New York. Though his bust is not carved into Mount Rushmore alongside Washington, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Jefferson, one could make a very strong argument that the likeness of Franklin Delano Roosevelt deserves the honor. Widely considered one of the greatest American presidents, FDR graduated from Harvard and aspired to be a great politician just like his fifth cousin–Mount Rushmore honoree Theodore Roosevelt. But prior to attending Columbia Law School, Franklin married Eleanor, who would go on to achieve greatness of her own as perhaps the most influential first lady in history. In 1910, Roosevelt entered politics by winning a state senate seat in New York; after only three years in office, FDR was appointed assistant secretary of the US Navy by President Woodrow Wilson, a position he held for seven years. In 1921, at the age of 39, Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio. As he took months off from public service to focus on treatment of his polio, Eleanor spoke publicly throughout New York to maintain her husband’s reputation. He returned to public life in 1924 at the Democratic National Convention, and four years later he won the governor’s race in New York–just in time for the Great Depression of 1929. To help New Yorkers find employment in a ravaged economy, FDR created the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration. He was reelected in 1930 and just two years later accepted the Democratic nomination for president; he defeated incumbent Herbert Hoover easily.

When FDR took office in 1933, the Depression had reached levels never seen before, with 13 million Americans unemployed. During his inaugural address, the first ever broadcast on radio, President Roosevelt famously declared, “This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and prosper…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” During his first 100 days, FDR made several radio addresses, called “fireside chats,” in which he spoke directly to Americans to boost confidence. Perhaps his most important and well-known program was called the New Deal, which included several pieces of legislation and programs designed to provide economic relief and create new jobs across the nation. He also formed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to protect bank accounts as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to regulate the stock market in an effort to prevent another market crash. By 1935, the economy began to strengthen, and it was then that FDR announced his Second New Deal, which included the formation of the Social Security Act and the Works Progress Administration. FDR rode these accomplishments to a landslide reelection in 1936. His second term wasn’t quite as successful as the first, with the economy experiencing a downturn and conservative lawmakers offering resistance to some of his reforms. Late in this term, World War II began to intensify as Germany seized France. Roosevelt won a third term in 1940, and in early 1941 met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to form a vision of a post-war world. The US remained spectators while providing assistance as World War II continued–until December 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. After this “day that will live in infamy,” FDR met with Congress, who declared war on Japan. He formed an alliance with Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to battle the Axis Powers of Japan, Italy, and Nazi Germany.

In 1944, as the Allies were gaining momentum in the war, Roosevelt won an unprecedented fourth term as president. In February 1945, he met with Churchill and Stalin at the Yalta Conference, where Stalin agreed to enter the war against Japan (Germany was close to surrendering). They also worked to build the foundation of the organization that would become the United Nations. In April 1945, he visited Georgia, where years ago he had established a center for people dealing with polio. While there, he suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage and died on April 12, 1945. His vice president, Harry S. Truman, succeeded him as president. Study other great presidents and how they managed to help the country get through difficult times such as economic depressions and wars.

January 31, 1919: Baseball legend and pioneer Jackie Robinson is born in Cairo, Georgia. What Jackie Robinson did for Black athletes–and Black people as a whole–can’t possibly be overstated. The hatred, pain, and violence he endured for the benefit of others make him a larger-than-life figure and a true civil rights pioneer. Born into a family of sharecroppers and raised by a single mother in a predominantly White neighborhood, Jackie showed exceptional athleticism at an early age. He used those abilities to star at UCLA, where he became the first student-athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, football, basketball, and track. Because of financial troubles, he was forced to leave school early; at that point he joined the US Army. After a few years and an honorable discharge, Jackie played baseball in the Negro Leagues for a season before going on a barnstorming tour of the Midwest with the legendary Kansas City Monarchs. His playing ability–but also his cerebral personality–caught the attention of Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey, who asked Jackie to consider signing with the Dodgers. This was a critical decision, as appearing in a Major League Baseball game with the Dodgers would make Mr. Robinson the first Black player to break the color barrier. This distinction carried with it an immense amount of responsibility, attention, and resentment–hatred, even. But Jackie was the right person to peacefully handle all of the negatives that came with such an enormous positive.

After one season with the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers’ top farm team, Jackie debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. It didn’t take long for him to impress on the field–he finished his rookie season with a .297 batting average, 12 home runs, and a league-high 29 stolen bases to earn the National League Rookie of the Year Award. What’s especially incredible about this feat is that he played at such a high level despite enduring constant harassment by fans and opposing players and coaches. Racial slurs and death threats were relentlessly being thrown Jackie’s way, but he handled it all with dignity and grace–and his teammates noticed. He quickly won them over as he continued his incredible play on the field. In just his third season, Jackie won the National League Most Valuable Player Award by hitting .342, stealing 37 bases, and collecting 124 RBIs. During Jackie’s 10 seasons with the Dodgers, the team won six pennants and the 1955 World Series. He retired with a career .311 batting average and more than 1,500 hits. But more importantly, he served as an inspiration and role model as well as a civil rights icon during the 1940s and 1950s and beyond. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962 and just 10 years later died at the age of 53…but not before inspiring generations of African American kids to play baseball and deal with prejudice and racism in the heroic way Jackie did. His impact on baseball is still felt to this day–his legendary number 42 was retired by every single team in Major League Baseball and is only worn once a year, by every single player in baseball, on April 15, the anniversary of Jackie’s debut. Dig deeper into Jackie’s career and his impact on society as a whole; watch the excellent movie, 42, which chronicles his difficult journey to the major leagues and what he faced while there. You can also look at other famous civil rights pioneers such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., just to name a couple.That does it for January’s historical figures and events! I hope you had fun teaching (and learning about) all these timely topics. Stay tuned for February’s important dates and events, coming soon! In the meantime, check out our partner site,, for more fun and factual lessons!


David Engle
Hello, and thanks for reading! I’m David Engle--dad, husband, sports fan, and writer/editor. As a father for the last 18 years (father of two for the last 14), I consider myself to be pretty well-versed in all things related to education, childhood, and parenting, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to share some insights and knowledge with fellow parents. I have been a professional writer and editor for a quarter of a century (it pains me to admit that) and have been writing in the educational space for a number of those years. I reside in southern New Jersey with my wife, two kids, two dogs, and three cats. Never a dull moment.
Personalized Education Like No Other!
Check Out Our Most Recent Posts