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This Week in People’s History, Jan 23–29

Healthcare Gets a Powerful Woman Advocate (in 1849), Go Home Nazi! (1949), Work Shouldn't Make You Sick (1979), The Apollo Gets a New Groove (1934), Two Wins for Strike-Breaking (1914), Later for Woman Suffrage (1869), Gallows Humor (1964)

Photo of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to graduate from a U.S. medical school
Elizabeth Blackwell,

Healthcare Delivery Gets a Powerful Woman Advocate 

175 YEARS AGO, on January 23, 1849, 27 year-old Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S., when she graduated from the Geneva Medical College in upstate New York. After graduation, Blackwell went on to become an influential social reformer in New York City, where, in 1857, she founded the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children to provide healthcare to thousands of New Yorkers who could not afford to pay for it. The Infirmary she founded, which was the first U.S. hospital that was entirely staffed by women, still exists today (at least on paper), after merging with Weill Cornell Medicine.

Go Home Nazi!

75 YEARS AGO, on January 24, 1949, piano virtuoso Walter Gieseking -- who had collaborated with the Third Reich by performing frequently throughout German-occupied Europe during World War 2 -- bowed to outraged U.S. public opinion and departed the U.S. without giving any of a planned series of concerts and abandoning his first post-war attempt to concertize in the U.S. For more than 10 years before World War 2 Gieseking had toured regularly in the U.S., making solo appearances and performing with most major U.S. symphony orchestras. He had been performing in the U.S. when Germany invaded Poland, beginning the World War, and rather than request political asylum in the U.S., he returned to Germany, where he was already a member of Kampfbund fur Deutsche Kultur (Militant League for German Culture), which was closely affiliated with the Nazi party. According to a virtuoso who knew him well, Arthur Rubinstein, Gieseking had told him "I am a committed Nazi. Hitler is saving our country." During the war he performed regularly at official functions that were attended by high Nazi officials. In 1953, when the bitter recollection of the war had lost some of its edge, Gieseking performed in the U.S. for the first time since 1939.…

Work Shouldn't Make You Sick

45 YEARS AGO, on January 25, 1979, after a 52-day strike, 1300 members of the International Chemical Workers Union won a new and innovative contract at an American Cyanamid chemical plant in New Jersey. The workers had gone on strike to back up their demand that the company stop understating the plant's health hazards and concealing chemical-related illnesses detected in workers by Cyanamid's medical staff. The resulting contract was one of the chemical industry's first to require the company to provide workers with the results of all health-related environmental tests, the names of all the chemicals used in the plant, and results of any physical examinations and medical tests conducted on the plant's workers.  

The Apollo Gets a New Groove

90 YEARS AGO, on January 26, 1934, what had once been a whites-only burlesque theater on 125th Street in Harlem reopened with a new name -- Apollo -- featuring “Jazz a la Carte,” headlined by Benny Carter and his Orchestra, Ralph Cooper and Aida Ward. The new theater, which was open to anyone with the price of a ticket, quickly became a mecca for Black performers. One of the Apollo's early innovations, Amateur Night, soon launched many careers, including those of Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey and Billie Holiday.

Two Big Wins for Strike-Breaking

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110 YEARS AGO, on January 27, 1914, the House of Representatives voted to investigate two violent and drawn-out miners' strikes involving thousands of workers, one by the Western Federation of Miners in Michigan's copper mines, and the other by the United Mine Workers in Colorado's coal fields. Congress was concerned because both strikes, and the often violent strike-breaking efforts of the mine owners, were turning whole counties into danger zones where dozens of people, most of them striking workers and members of their families, had been killed. Even more strikers had been arrested and jailed, and hundreds of strikers and their families were living in makeshift tent colonies because they had been evicted from company housing. The sponsors of the Congressional probe hoped that the presence of federal investigators would help to reduce the violent disruption by shining the light of national attention on it. Before the investigations were completed, each of the unions admitted defeat and gave the strikes up.. When the results of the investigations were finally published, they found that in both cases the intransigence of the mine owners and the fire-power of the National Guard was the primary cause of the mine owners' success.

Women's Long Wait for the Right to Vote

155 YEARS AGO, on January 28, 1869, (almost exactly 80 years after the very first session of Congress) Elizabeth Cady Stanton became the very first woman to testify to a Congressional committee. Stanton was testifying about a proposed amendment to an 1867 law that had given African-American men the right to vote in District of Columbia municipal elections. Stanton urged the Senators to amend the law so that it would also permit women to vote, "and thus establish to the capital of the nation the first genuine republic the world has ever known." Congress did not heed Stanton's request, and the District's women (both Black and white) would have to wait more than 50 years to be enfranchised.…;

Whistlin' Past the Graveyard

60 YEARS AGO, on January 29, 1964, Stanley Kubrick's film, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, starring Peter Sellers and George C. Scott was released. By turning the prospect of the end of the world into laugh-out-loud comedy, Dr. Strangelove remains what it was then, the most devastating satiric put-down of military strategy in the age of nuclear weapons. The line about the likely outcome of a preemptive nuclear war -- delivered by George C. Scott, in the role of an Air Force general  -- "Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say, no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops, uh, depending on the breaks," is worth the price of admission.