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What in the World? November History Lessons You Can Teach at Home (Part 1)

by David Engle | Oct 29, 2020 | 11 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 new, regular blog series, we’re going to look at world history by month, with two 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 took a look at historic October events here and here. So, let’s get started with November!

November 1, 1995: The first all-race government elections were held in South Africa, finally marking the end of apartheid.
Yes, you read that correctly. It took until 1995–only 25 years ago–for South Africa to hold an election that allowed all races to vote, and the impact was immediate. But first, some background and a brief history on apartheid. Since 1948, when the National Party gained power in South Africa, the country used a legislation system that segregated White people from all other races–this system was called “apartheid.” Under apartheid, the all-white National Party government decreed that all non-white South Africans (which represented the majority of the population) were forced to live separately from Whites and use separate public facilities. This controversial and racist policy lasted until 1991, when President F.W. de Klerk and renowned activist Nelson Mandela joined forces to repeal apartheid legistlation and create a new South African consititution, which earned both men the Nobel Peace Prize.

Fast-forward to 1995 when millions of South Africans of all colors turned out for local government elections, which saw the Nelson Mandela-led African National Congress win with 71 percent of the votes. This election featured nearly 700 metropolitan, urban, and rural councils, and the winners created combined areas that had previously been separated by race (as was the law of apartheid). Mr. Mandela, the South African president, stated after the victory that, “Our country is today a democracy in the complete sense of the word. The people of South Africa have spoken. They have shown their resolve to unite the nation.” Given the racial discord that still exists today (even in our own country), this event is a perfect jumping-off point for lessons discussing racism, Nelson Mandela, equality, and civil rights, as well as the history of South Africa and apartheid.

November 2, 1795: James K Polk is born.
On this date, the future 11th President of the United States was born in Pineville, North Carolina. While maybe not quite as well known as presidents such as Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, the Roosevelts, and many others, President James K. Polk accomplished quite a bit during his four years in the White House. Some of the events that occurred during his presidency include the addition of Texas, Iowa, and Wisconsin; the 1849 Gold Rush; the Mexican-American War, which resulted in the acquisition of California and the Southwest; the acquisition of the Oregon Territory; and the opening of the White House to the public. Known as one of the hardest-working presidents in history, Mr. Polk’s oversight of the expansion of the United States west of the Mississippi River and all the way to the west coast may have been his most noteworthy accomplishment. Lots of lessons to take from President Polk–the westward expansion, Manifest Destiny, and the Gold Rush, just to name a few!

November 4, 1922: King Tut’s tomb is discovered at Luxor, Egypt.
One of the most famous and important archaeological discoveries in history occurred nearly 100 years ago in Egypt when British archaeologist Howard Carter uncovered a stairway leading to a sealed door in the Valley of the Kings–this led to the much-sought-after tomb of King Tutankhamen (better known as King Tut) after years of searching. The enormous tomb, which was found mostly intact, revealed much about the 19-year-old Tutankhamen, who became pharaoh at age nine. Within the tomb were precious works of art, ancient Egyptian artifacts and furniture, and of course, the golden sarcophagus of King Tut himself. Many of those items are now housed in Egypt’s National Museum in Cairo, available for the public to see and admire. The quest to find King Tut’s tomb and its subsequent discovery made Egyptian culture and fashion quite popular around the world and turned King Tutankhamen into a household name. Explore ancient Egypt and its art, culture, and history. And work some lessons about archaeology into your school day as well.

November 4, 1979: Iranian militants storm U.S. Embassy in Teheran and take hostages.
On this day, more than 500 Iranian students, protesting not only the admission of Iran’s deposed Shah into the United States for cancer treatment but also the perceived Western (American) interference in Iranian affairs, stormed the U.S. Embassy in Teheran and took 66 hostages, most of them American diplomats and embassy employees. This event also marked the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini, an anti-American cleric who was the driving force behind this revolution. The Iranian hostage crisis dragged on for 444 days, when the hostages were finally released on January 21, 1981, the same day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as the newest President of the United States. Many experts believe the hostage crisis was a major contributing factor toward Jimmy Carter being voted out of office after just one term, as he was unable to secure the freedom of the American hostages. This is a good opportunity to teach more about politics in the 1980s, conflict in the Middle East, and the Iran Contra Affair, which occurred later in President Reagan’s time in the White House.

November 6, 1860: Abraham Lincoln elected President of the United States.
One of the most beloved and popular American presidents, Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President of the United States–and the first Republican president–on this date. Honest Abe emerged victorious with 180 of a possible 303 electoral votes, though he only received 40 percent of the popular vote (it was a four-way race). And the rest is history. The abolition of slavery, the championing of women’s voting rights, the bloody battles of the Civil War, the establishment of Thanksgiving as a national holiday, the building of the Republican party. President Lincoln accomplished quite a bit in his time in office, before his life was tragically taken by John Wilkes Booth when he was shot at Ford’s Theatre in 1865, just a week after the Civil War ended. He’s been memorialized countless times, most notably on Mount Rushmore and with the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, as well as having his birthday recognized each year as a national holiday. Abraham Lincoln’s life and presidency offer so many lessons, from his childhood to the Emancipation Proclamation to the Gettysburg Address.

November 7, 1967 and 1989: The first African American mayor and governor are elected.
November 7 is quite the momentous date in the history of African American politics. On this day in 1967, Carl Stokes became the first Black mayor of a major city in American history, winning the election in Cleveland, Ohio. Twenty-two years later, on the same date in 1989, L. Douglas Wilder won the Virginia gubernatorial election to become the first African American governor in US history.

Carl Stokes won the Cleveland mayoral election as a Democrat in 1967 and went on to serve four years in office. During his time as mayor, Mr. Stokes expanded city jobs to Blacks and women and worked to revitalize impoverished Cleveland neighborhoods and restore the Cuyahoga River in the aftermath of its 1969 fire. Once he left office, Mr. Stokes continued to make history, becoming New York City’s first Black anchorman, winning a regional Emmy for his work at WNBC. After returning to Cleveland to work as a lawyer and municipal judge, Mr. Stokes was appointed by President Bill Clinton to be the US Ambassador to the Republic of the Seychelles, a position he held for nearly two years. Mr. Stokes passed away from cancer in 1996 at the age of 68.

L. Douglas Wilder won a dramatically close election to become Virginia’s 66th governor in November of 1989. His victory made him the first elected African American governor in United States history. A lawyer by trade, Mr. Wilder made his way through the ranks of Virginia politics, serving two separate terms in the Virginia state senate before becoming lieutenant governor of Virginia in 1986. Moving into the Governor’s Mansion in 1990, Mr. Wilder served for four years, highlighted by the improvement of Virginia’s transportation system and infrastructure, and the ordering of all state agencies and universities to divest themselves from investments in South Africa due to their controversial apartheid laws (see above). About 10 years after leaving the governor’s office, Mr. Wilder was elected as the mayor of Richmond, taking office in 2005 and remaining until 2009. After leaving politics, Mr. Wilder served as an adjunct professor in public policy at Virginia Commonwealth University and founded the United States National Slavery Museum. These two pioneering politicians offer plenty of material to study, including historic firsts for Blacks, politics, and the history of both Cleveland and Virginia.

November 7, 1867: Marie Curie is born.
It’s difficult to overstate how important Marie Curie’s contributions were–and still are–to the world we live in today. Born in Warsaw, Poland in 1867, Madame Curie struggled to find higher education in her homeland, so she moved to Paris, where she graduated from the University of Paris with two degrees in 1894. It was in Paris that she met Pierre Curie, a fellow scientist. They would eventually not only marry, but they’d win a Nobel Prize in Physics (along with Henri Becquerel) in 1903 for their work on discovering radiation, giving Madame Curie the honor of becoming the first female Nobel Prize winner. She wasn’t finished, however–she was awarded the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of the elements polonium and radium, making her the first person in history to earn two Nobel Prizes; she remains one of only two who have received the honor in separate fields. More importantly, Madame Curie’s discoveries continue to impact how we live–she created a mobile X-ray unit to help soldiers in World War I (it’s estimated that a million soldiers were treated with her mobile X-rays), and her findings are still used in modern medicine. Madame Curie died in 1934 from what is thought to be long-term exposure to radiation. If you were to try to read her manuscripts, you would need to wear quite a bit of protective gear, since the documents are still radioactive to this day. So many topics to dig into here–more about Marie Curie herself, physics, chemistry, radiation and how it’s used in medicine today, the periodic table of elements, and pioneering women who broke through the gender barrier to make history.

November 8, 1519: Cortes conquers Mexico.
Many thought Hernan Cortes’ mission to Mexico was cancelled. Instead, he defied orders and traveled to what is present-day Mexico in 1519 where he found an Aztec civilization. While the native Aztecs thought Cortes was a god and treated him and his men quite well, Cortes proceeded to kidnap the Aztec leader, Emperor Montezuma II, and hold him hostage. Though Aztec soldiers prevented Cortes from destroying the city of Tenochtitlan, he and his men returned in 1521 to destroy the city and end the Aztec empire. Cortes may be best known for his “burn the ships” strategy. To avoid any uncertainty as to where his men’s loyalties lied, he ordered his own ships to be destroyed so no one could escape. The idea was to push forward and never retreat. Cortes stated that if they were leaving, it would be in someone else’s ships. And the tactic worked, as he and his men took down the brutal Aztec empire. This is an exciting lesson in and of itself, but it also opens the doors to teaching about other explorers, conquistadors, the Aztec empire, and Mexican history.

November 10, 1775: The United States Marine Corps is founded in Philadelphia.
In an effort to support the naval forces in the Revolutionary War, the United States Marine Corps was created (sort of) and its headquarters were established by Captain Samuel Nicholas in the Tun Tavern on Water Street (how appropriate!) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Why “sort of”? Because those Marines were actually called the Continental Marines, which were disbanded at the end of the war. There was no Marine Corps of any kind until 1798, when President John Adams signed into law a congressional act that “re-created” the United States Marine Corps, which would join the Army and Navy as official US military branches. For a time, the birth of the USMC was celebrated on July 11, commemorating the day in 1798 that John Adams signed the bill. However, in November of 1921, the official birthday of the Marines was changed to November 10, 1775, to commemorate the original Marine Corps. That day is still celebrated by US Marines, and it’s highlighted by parades, drill team performances, speeches, and the famous Birthday Ball in Washington, D.C., which culminates in the cutting of the birthday cake. Use this event to look at key events in the American Revolution, our other military branches, as well as legendary and famous Marines.

November 11, 1885: General George S. Patton is born.
While we’re on the topic of the military, 11/11 is an important day in American history–General George S. Patton was born on this day in 1885 in San Gabriel, California. Before he embarked upon one of the most successful military careers in US history, General Patton was a world-class athlete, having placed fifth in the pentathlon in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. His decorated military career began in earnest in 1915, as he led cavalry patrols against Pancho Villa in Mexico. General John J. Pershing was impressed by the young Patton, who was promoted to captain by General Pershing upon leaving Mexico.

During World War I, Patton was the first officer assigned to the American Expeditionary Force tank corps because of his expertise in the field of tank warfare. But it was during World War II that Patton truly earned his stripes. In 1943, he led the United States Army to an improbable victory at the invasion of Sicily. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, impressed by Patton’s performance, appointed him as the commander of the 3rd US Army on D-Day in 1944. Under General Patton’s leadership, the 3rd Army plowed through France, taking one town after another along the way. But he wasn’t finished quite yet. In 1945, General Patton’s army crossed the Rhine River into Germany and captured 10,000 miles of enemy territory within 10 days, thus liberating Germany from the Nazis. In December of that same year, General Patton was gravely injured during a car crash near Mannheim, Germany, and tragically passed away 12 days later at a hospital in Heidelberg. To this day, General George S. Patton is still considered one of the greatest field generals in military history. Not only can you teach more about General Patton, but this is a great segue into lessons about other great generals of the US military, World Wars I and II, and the United States Army.

November 15, 1777: The Articles of Confederation are adopted by the Continental Congress.
By this time, the colonies had been free from British rule for nearly a year. But they weren’t quite the United States of America just yet. Rather, the 13 colonies were closer to 13 independent nations that did work together for a common cause but more or less operated independently otherwise. But these 13 colonies needed a set of rules that all would abide by when they collaborated. The result was the Articles of Confederation, which created a semi-government for all of the colonies, though individual power still rested with each colony. While the Articles of Confederation weren’t necessarily the strongest laws ever created, they were the first laws adopted by the individual colonies, and they paved the way for the US Constitution.

There were 13 articles created by the Founding Fathers, and though it wasn’t a long-lasting document, it helped establish the first government of the colonies that would eventually become the United States of America when the Constitution was ratified in 1788, and many of those governing principles still apply to our laws and government today. Lots of interesting lessons here, from the Founding Fathers to our modern government.

November 15, 1864: General Sherman and his troops burn down Atlanta and begin March to the Sea.
A hero to some, a villain to others. General William Tecumseh Sherman was a Union general who was instrumental in ending the Civil War with his March to the Sea, from Atlanta to Savannah and then into the Carolinas. General Sherman was not the typical career military type who was born to fight in wars. Prior to the Civil War, he held several different jobs, such as a banker, president of a streetcar company, a lawyer, and a superintendent of what is now Louisiana State University, among others. His only military experience was having graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point in 1840. It was with his brother’s help that he secured a commission in the US Army. Soon after, he led the First Battle of Bull Run, and though the Union were defeated, President Abraham Lincoln promoted him to brigadier general of volunteers. He went on to serve under General Ulysses S. Grant in the Army of West Tennessee and won the Battle of Shiloh in 1862 and took Vicksburg–and control of the Mississippi River shortly thereafter.

In September of 1864, Sherman and his troops captured Atlanta, a Confederate center of industry. On the way out, that November, Sherman set the city ablaze, nearly burning the entire city in the process. From there, he and his troops made their March to the Sea bound for Savannah, destroying everything in their path. This plan showed Sherman’s military brilliance as they marched in secrecy, tearing down infrastructures, transportation, civilian property, as well as military targets, all of which combined to bring the Confederate army to its knees. This became known as “scorched earth” policy. Sherman easily took Savannah in December of 1864 before heading into South Carolina and burning Columbia to the ground. As his troops reached North Carolina, Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, effectively ending the war, thanks in large part to General Sherman’s daring and highly successful campaign. He became an instant hero to the Union and a despised figure to much of the South. Many Southerners loathe William Tecumseh Sherman to this day. Along with General Sherman, you can teach lessons about other battles of the Civil War, military strategy, and Ulysses S. Grant.

That does it for historical figures and events through the first half of November. Stay tuned for the second half of the month, 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.
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