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 two or three 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!
March 1, 1961: President John F. Kennedy establishes the Peace Corps.
It all started with a seemingly innocent question while John F. Kennedy was on the campaign trail in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was 2:00 am on October 14, 1960 when JFK was about to retire for the night. But 10,000 eager students had gathered to hear the presidential candidate speak, so Kennedy decided to speak to them on the steps of the Michigan Union. The future president posed a couple of questions to the group: “How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world? On your willingness to do that, not merely to serve one year or two years in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country, I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete. I think it can! And I think Americans are willing to contribute. But the effort must be far greater than we have ever made in the past.” Little did he know that he just proposed the establishment of one of the largest international volunteer organizations in the world.
On March 1, 1961, shortly after being inaugurated as president, JFK signed an executive order establishing the Peace Corps. Just a few days later, R. Sargent Shriver was appointed its first director, and volunteers began serving in five countries that same year. In less than six years, Shriver had developed programs in 55 countries with more than 14,500 volunteers. Since 1961, the Peace Corps has seen nearly quarter of a million citizens serve as volunteers, and to this day, the Peace Corps is still changing lives in 60 countries across the world, whether it’s by fighting hunger, battling diseases, protecting the environment, or improving access to technology. The organization calls itself “a service opportunity for motivated changemakers to immerse themselves in a community abroad, working side by side with local leaders to tackle the most pressing challenges of our generation.” And it all began with a challenge to college students. Take a deeper look at the Peace Corps (or other similar organizations) and learn about some important initiatives they’ve helped with over the years.
March 2, 1793: Soldier and politician Sam Houston is born in Virginia.
You’ve probably heard the name but couldn’t place what exactly Sam Houston did. His life story is a fascinating one. Born in Virginia and raised in rural Tennessee after his father died in 1807, Sam Houston soon ran away from his family when he was in his mid-teens. He was taken in by a tribe of Cherokee Indians, with whom he lived for nearly three years. Houston took on the Native name Black Raven and became quite experienced in the customs, skills, and language of the Cherokees. His intimate knowledge of and relationship with Native Americans was unusual for a White man at that time. Upon his return home, he served during the War of 1812 and because of his rapport with the Cherokee Indians, he was designated to oversee the relocation of the Cherokee from Tennessee to Arkansas in 1817. Houston returned to Nashville and served as a US Congressman from 1823 to 1827, at which time he was elected governor of Tennessee. In 1829, after an unsuccessful marriage, Houston returned to the Cherokees, who formally adopted him as part of their tribe. Witnessing the fraud perpetrated by government officials upon the Natives, Houston traveled to Washington, DC to expose these acts; in 1832, President Andrew Jackson sent Sam to Texas to negotiate Indian treaties for the protection of US border (at Mexico) traders.
It was in Texas that Sam Houston truly made a name for himself. At that time, settlers and the Mexican government were battling for control of the area. Sam, with his years of government experience, established himself as a community leader and was chosen to be the commander in chief of the Texan army as they fought Mexican soldiers. On April 21, 1836, Houston and a group of about 900 Texans surprised and defeated what was estimated to be up to 1,300 Mexicans under Antonio López de Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto. This shocking victory gained Texas its independence and led to Houston being elected as president of the Republic of Texas. During that time, he was influential in gaining the admission of Texas to the United States in 1845. His popularity propelled him to victory as one of the new state’s first two senators, serving as a Union Democrat from 1846 to 1859. But Sam did not share all the views of Texans at that time; as governor of Texas (elected in 1859, he became the only American to be elected governor in two states), he tried to prevent the secession of Texas from the Union in 1861, and he also refused to swear his allegiance to the Confederacy. This led to his removal from office. He eventually settled in Huntsville, Texas, where he lived with his wife and children. He would become ill and pass away at the age of 70 in 1863. Despite being shunned by several Texas leaders during his later years, Sam Houston is undeniably one of the most important figures in Texas’ history. Many businesses and institutions bear his name to this day, including Sam Houston State University and the city of Houston, Texas, one of the largest in the country. Use Sam Houston’s story as inspiration to learn more about the Texas Revolution.
March 3, 1847: Alexander Graham Bell is born in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The first telephone conversation? “Mr. Watson, come here…I want to see you.” That was it. Those were Alexander Graham Bell’s first words into his new invention, the telephone, which would change the world in ways he never imagined. Bell never had any grand plans for the telephone–his primary mission was to help the deaf; he came up with the idea for “electronic speech” when visiting his deaf mother in Canada. From a young age, Alexander had a knack for solving problems through his own ideas and inventions. By the time he was 16, he was, alongside his father, working with the deaf. Shortly thereafter, young Alexander assumed control of his father’s business operations in London. In 1870, the Bell family relocated to Ontario, Canada, where Alexander set up a workshop and continued to study the human voice. While working on a device called the harmonic telegraph, Bell became sidetracked with another project–the transmission of the human voice over wires. Around 1874, Thomas Watson joined Bell as the “maker” while Bell served as the “idea man.” Their partnership led to a patent of the idea for voice transmission in 1876, though a device to make it a reality had yet to be created. In 1876, that reality came true, as Alexander Graham Bell uttered those famous words to Mr. Watson in the first telephone call in history. With a successful device in place, Bell traveled to demonstrate the telephone for the public. He established the Bell Telephone Company in July of 1877.
As famous and important as the telephone is, Bell was known for much more than that single invention. He dedicated his remaining years to scientific research and discovery, and created the Volta Laboratory in Washington, DC for that purpose in 1880. In the 1890s, Bell turned his attention to aviation and helped create several flying machines, including the Silver Dart, the first powered aircraft ever flown in Canada. He also dedicated time to hydrofoil boats and even set a speed record for one. Bell continued with his true passion, working with the deaf (at this point he had already married a deaf woman), and established the American Association to Promote Teaching of Speech to the Deaf in 1890. He also turned National Geographic into what it is today, as he assumed the presidency of the then-obscure National Geographic Society in 1898. Bell also co-founded Science magazine. In 1915, Alexander was invited to make the first transcontinental telephone call, when, from New York, he rang his associate Mr. Watson in San Francisco. Mr. Bell passed away at his home in Nova Scotia, Canada in 1922 having left a major imprint on the world that still impacts life today. Study other famous inventors (like Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and Marie Curie, for example) and other inventions that changed the world.
March 5, 1770: The Boston Massacre occurs, an early event leading up to the Revolutionary War.
In March of 1770, tensions were already high. In 1767, the British Parliament passed the Townshend Acts, a series of measures that taxed goods imported to the American colonies; since the colonists had no representation to push back against the taxes, they were furious. Fast-forward to 1770, where a group of young boys are gathered to protest in front of a shop owned by a Loyalist, citizens who remained loyal to the British even after the Townshend Acts had passed. As the hours passed, the crowd grew larger and more aggressive. As a warning, a Loyalist fired a shot that accidentally struck a child, who was killed. To the colonists, this was a tipping point. On March 5, just 11 days after the boy was shot, a group of colonists were harassing a small band of British soldiers, shouting at them and throwing rocks and snowballs. Once again, the group increased in both size and hostility. Fearing for their safety, one soldier fired into the crowd, leading the other soldiers to fire shots as well. When the dust settled, five colonists were dead and six were injured. What started as a street fight turned into a deadly massacre. One of the victims was a young, African American former slave named Crispus Attucks, who through his death became one of the earliest icons of the American Revolution.
The Sons of Liberty put together a vicious propaganda campaign against the British, calling the event “The Bloody Massacre”, with Paul Revere publishing an engraving of the event as it was depicted through a decidedly colonist lens. After massive public outcry, the British soldiers were put on trial…and defended by colonist John Adams, which caused quite an uproar among Boston citizens. Adams ultimately won the case, with six British soldiers found not guilty (on the argument of self-defense) and two found guilty of a lesser manslaughter charge. This only escalated the tension levels and led to events such as the Boston Tea Party, which directly led to the Revolutionary War. Explore other events that led to the American Revolution and why Bostonians were so infuriated by British occupation in the city.
March 6, 1836: The Battle of the Alamo ends with a Mexican victory.
It was one of the most difficult battles in North American history and a pivotal part of the Texas Revolution. On February 23, 1836, Mexican President General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna ordered a siege on the Alamo Mission near what is now San Antonio, Texas. Since December of 1835, about 200 Texans had been occupying the Alamo, surely no match for the 1,000 Mexican troops descending upon the fort. Much to everyone’s surprise, the outnumbered and outmatched Texans put up quite the fight–for 13 days! Between the first day of the siege and March 6, both sides exchanged gunfire…but it was during the early morning hours of March 6 that the inevitable finally occurred. Mexican troops breached the Alamo and flooded the mission, surprising many of the Texan defenders, who had been asleep. For more than an hour, hand-to-hand combat ensued between the Texans and Mexicans, and by the time it was over, nearly all 200 Texans had died–including Davy Crockett and James Bowie. Those Texans who didn’t die in battle surrendered, only to be executed by Santa Anna.
While the Mexican army prevailed, they sustained several casualties. As they marched east, the commander of the Texas forces, Sam Houston (remember him from a few minutes ago?), was putting together his army in anticipation of a showdown with the victorious Mexicans. The Battle of San Jacinto took place on April 21, 1836, with Sam Houston using “Remember the Alamo!” as his army’s battle cry. This tactic proved successful as the Texans defeated the Mexicans, ending the Texas Revolution and gaining independence from Mexico as the Republic of Texas. Though the Texans lost the Alamo on March 6, 1836, the incredible fight they showed was–and still is–an inspiration to Americans. The words “Don’t Mess with Texas” never rang more true than they did between February and April of 1836.
March 6, 1475: Renaissance artist Michelangelo is born in Tuscany, Italy.
By the time Michelangelo was 13 years old, his artistic talents were crystal clear. He was sent to Florence to serve as an apprentice to the well-known artist Domenico Ghirlandaio. Not long after, he was invited to attend the Medici family’s prestigious Humanist academy. He studied under the famous sculptor Bertoldo di Giovanni and by the time he was 18 years old, he had already created two masterpieces–Madonna of the Stairs (1491) and Battle of the Centaurs (1492). In 1497, French Ambassador Cardinal Jean Bilhères de Lagraulas commissioned Michelangelo’s Pietà, soon to be recognized as one of the artist’s greatest carvings, for the chapel of the King of France. In 1501, the Guild of Wool commissioned Michelangelo to complete an unfinished project that had started 40 years earlier. This project, which was finished in 1504, was called David and became one of the most famous pieces of art in the world–a 17-foot-high nude statue of the biblical hero, carved out of the most stunning marble.
As Michelangelo’s star was rising, so was that of fellow artists-and artistic rivals–such as Leonardo da Vinci and Donato Bramante. During this time, Michelangelo was called to Rome by Pope Julius II to create him a tomb, a project with a five-year timeline. However, this project was interrupted when the Pope commissioned him for a different project–one that involved painting, which was not Michelangelo’s strength. Rumor has it that Bramante convinced the Pope to have Michelangelo commissioned for this project. Why? Because Bramante, who was a bitterly jealous competitor, saw this as an opportunity for Michelangelo to fail since he was more adept at sculpting than painting. If Michelangelo failed at this project, surely he’d fall out of favor within the art community. So, Michelangelo begrudgingly accepted the project–the painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It took him four years and was the most ambitious project he’d ever work on, but the end result…one of the greatest masterpieces of Western Art. The monumental scene, depicting stories from the Old Testament, is still revered today–not exactly what Bramante had in mind. Michelangelo would work on many other projects over the next few decades, but the largest was his work on the St. Peter’s Basilica dome, which he assumed from his former rival Bramante in 1546 and would not be completed until after his death. He lived to the age of 88 and passed away in 1564 at his home in Rome. Along with da Vinci and Raphael, Michelangelo is considered one of the giants of the Renaissance movement, whose work is still considered a destination for art lovers around the world. Take a closer look at some of the other great artists of the Renaissance, and examine their rivalries with one another.
That does it for the first of three parts of historical figures and events for March. Stay tuned for the next part, coming soon! In the meantime, check out our partner site, Elephango.com, for more fun and factual lessons!