Category Archives: In history

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, better known as Mahatma Gandhi, was the fourth child of the prime minister of the tiny city-state of Porbandar, a city between Bombay and Karachi. After the death of Gandhi’s father in 1885, the family sent Mohandas to Great Britain and study law, with the hope that he might enter the civil service of local Indian princes.

Gandhi returned to India in 1891 to open a legal practice. For a variety of reasons, especially Gandhi’s own shyness and diffidence, the practice was a failure, first in his native region and then in Bombay. In 1893, a case required him to go to South Africa.

On the train from the port to Pretoria that first evening, Gandhi was literally kicked off for trying to sit in the first-class compartment when a white passenger objected to his presence. This event helped Gandhi overcoming his shyness and he began speaking and organizing meetings. At first, his goal was to protect Indian workers and traders in South Africa and then to expand their rights.

When Gandhi returned to India in 1914, where he became one of the leaders of the Indian independence movement. From the 1920s through the early 1930s, he was the movement’s leading planner, and throughout the interwar period he served as a bridge between rival religious factions, the various Hindu castes, the growing Westernized upper-middle class, and the masses working in the fields.

In India, he implemented his philosophy of nonviolent protest, which he called satyagraha (soul force). At times he might organize a section of the country to hold a general work stoppage or bring the entire Indian Empire to a halt as he fasted for an end to the terrible conditions of the so-called untouchables, rioting, or other problems besetting the country as a whole.

It was Gandhi’s belief that satyagraha was the only way to win independence from Britain honorably, for if a free India was born in violence, it might never recover. Therefore, Gandhi had to spend almost as much time establishing, and then maintaining, as strict a control over his own people as was possible as he did in winning independence from the British. The first was harder than the second, since the British could use the internal quarrels of the various Indian groups as an excuse to keep ultimate power in their own hands, no matter what reforms they might offer. Therefore, as the 1930s ended, the independence movement had not really come much closer to its goal after two decades of struggle. Gandhi had staged impressive demonstrations such as the march to protest the Salt Tax in March and April of 1930, started numerous publications, written scores of articles, unified the various factions, and won concessions from the British after some bloody riots and reprisals, but India was not independent.

World War II would prove decisive for the fate of India. While Gandhi and his followers preferred the British and the Americans to the Nazis and Japanese, for the most part they refused to cooperate with the Allies unless India was given its independence. Gandhi and many of his closest followers spent most of the war in custody. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League and a former follower of Gandhi, used the war to make the Muslim League independent of Gandhi and the Indian National Congress (the umbrella organization for most of the pro-independence organizations). By backing the Allies when most Indian groups refused, Jinnah was setting the stage to proclaim a separate Muslim state whenever India was granted independence.

When World War II was over, the Labour Party under Clement Attlee came to power in Great Britain. One of their goals was to establish the Indian Empire as an independent dominion within the British Commonwealth. The divisions that Gandhi had managed to unite within the Indian independence movement now came forward as the probability of independence came closer. Gandhi was committed to a united India, but the Muslims, the rulers of most of northern India before the British came but an overall minority, were inspired by Jinnah to seek a separate country for those areas with a Muslim majority. Although the British offered a plan for a confederated India that might have satisfied Muslim demands while maintaining a united Indian government, few of the Indian leaders of either side, including Gandhi, were willing to trust the British plan in 1946. The result was an India divided on religious lines, India and Pakistan becoming independent dominions in 1947.

When a divided India became inevitable, Gandhi basically kept silent on the plan, devoting the rest of his life to quelling the religious unrest that welled up in 1947 and 1948, as Muslims and non-Muslims (many of them unwillingly) left their homes and made their way to areas where they would be in the majority. Hundreds of thousands of people died from violence, disease, and malnutrition during the riots and forced marches and in the relocation camps. Gandhi made his way to some of the worst scenes of conflict, pleading, arguing, and fasting to bring the violence to an end. Although he nearly died from the fasting and was often threatened by mobs, he was finally able to bring the worst of the violence to an end by the beginning of 1948. Religious and ethnic tensions remained, but there was, in general, peace among Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, and the other groups.

On January 30, 1948, Nathuram Godse, a thirty-five-year-old high-caste Hindu newspaper editor and a refugee from Muslim violence, bowed in respect before Gandhi, who was on his way to a prayer meeting in New Delhi, when he shot Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi three times, killing him almost instantly.


Lewis, Terrance L. “Mahatma Gandhi.” Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2013.

A History of Santa Claus

Santa Claus developed from religious traditions and secular Christmas practices. The character’s earliest influence is the fourth-century Turkish Christian bishop St. Nicholas who was known for being a kind and generous man. For example, there is a well-known story that St. Nicholas saved three daughters from being sold into prostitution by supplying them with dowries so they could secure husbands.

St. Nicholas died in the mid-fourth century and December sixth became his feast day. Into the Renaissance, parents celebrated St. Nicholas Day by giving their children gifts. St. Nicholas was given qualities that resembled the Norse god Odin; an old man with a white beard who could fly and who encouraged children to practice moral behavior. St. Nicholas remained a popular saint throughout Europe until the Protestant Reformation of the mid-1500s, when changing religious attitudes discouraged Christians from honoring saints.

The Dutch, however, never stopped appreciating St. Nicholas. To continue honoring him, they invented the character of Sinterklaas, whose name was the Dutch nickname for St. Nicholas. Men dressed up as Sinterklaas by donning the robes and mitre and distributing candy and other treats to children and the poor. Dutch families  and friends gathered to celebrate the saint on the night of December 5, the day before St. Nicholas Day. Children would then leave their shoes by the fireplace so that Sinterklaas would leave presents in them by the next morning.

These Sinterklaas traditions arrived in the United States, particularly in the New York region, by the late 1700s as it was settled by the Dutch. It was in the United States that St. Nicholas started to modernize and transform into what he would become, the Christmas character known as Santa Claus, with this name being derived from the Dutch Sinterklaas.

Christmases in early America were raucous, alcohol-driven celebrations and were not accommodating to children. In the early 1800s, several American writers and other figures were determined to reinvent Christmas as a family holiday, and used the Dutch St. Nicholas traditions to produce the Santa Claus figure.

These efforts included: Washington Irving’s book History of New York (1809) that described St. Nicholas as a man wearing a three-cornered hat and red waistcoat, smoking a pipe, and flying through the air in a wagon delivering presents to good children. The 1821 poem “The Children’s Friend” brought the emerging Santa Claus into modernity by describing a man dressed in furs carrying a birch rod (that could be used to punish disobedient children) and sitting in a sleigh being pulled by a reindeer. Clement Clarke Moore composed the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” better known as “The Night Before Christmas” that  described a fat, jolly Santa Claus who rides a flying sleigh.

Thomas Nast, a cartoonist, was responsible for standardizing the image of Santa Claus in Harper’s Weekly in the late 1800s. Nast portrayed Santa Claus as an obese, white-bearded, Caucasian old man wearing a red suit and furs and smoking a pipe. Nast images of Santa showed him carrying a sack full of toys and indicated Santa Claus could be contacted by writing to the North Pole.

Santa Claus was modernized once more in the early 1930s, when the Coca-Cola Company sought a realistic Santa image for one of its magazine advertisements. The company employed illustrator Haddon Sundblom to create the image. This Santa Claus first appeared in a 1931 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Later advertisements depicted the Santa figure delivering toys, reading a child’s letter, and visiting with children who waited for him to arrive at their home.


Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2016, “Santa Claus.”

Nast, Thomas Harper’s Weekly, 1881.

History of Native American Heritage Month

In 1915, the annual Congress of the American Indian Association formally approved a plan concerning American Indian Day. It directed its president, Rev. Sherman Coolidge to call upon the country to observe such a day. Coolidge issued a proclamation on Sept. 28, 1915, which declared the second Saturday of each May as an American Indian Day and contained the first formal appeal for recognition of Indians as citizens.

The year before this proclamation was issued, Red Fox James rode horseback from state to state seeking approval for a day to honor Indians. On December 14, 1915, he presented the endorsements of 24 state governments at the White House. There is no record, however, of such a national day being proclaimed.

The first American Indian Day in a state was declared in May 1916 by the governor of New York. Several states celebrate the fourth Friday in September.

In 1990 President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 as “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Similar proclamations, under variants names (including “Native American Heritage Month” and “National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month”) have been issued each year since 1994.


“About National Native American Heritage Month.” Library of Congress.  (accessed on November 16, 2017).


A Brief History of Halloween

While the origins of Halloween are not entirely clear, is definitely intertwined with religious practices and celebrations of the past. Wiccan and Pagan groups are amongst largest groups who celebrate the holiday, while some Christian groups fear that demonic activity increases around this time of the year. A pre-Christian Celtic holiday called Samhain is thought by many to be the precursor to the holiday, Halloween, we celebrate today. It is difficult to completely trace its origins, as it was Christianized in the fourth or fifth century; we are unsure today what traditions and ideologies were added on because of this. Samhain was a day of heightened spiritual activity, and they believed that fairies, spirits, and souls of the dead could pass through their world to ours much easier that day. To protect themselves from these spirits and possible demons, the Celts would build massive bonfires, they would burn crops, and they wore costumes to ward off the spirits.

giphy[2]However, the Halloween we know today is a concoction of several different, borrowed traditions; many rituals of Halloween we see today are derived from times later than that of Samhain. In the 600s, Pope Boniface IV named November 1st All Saints’ Day to honor saints and martyrs. Some believe that picking that day was deliberately meant; they wanted to Christianize Samhain, which happened just the day before. Despite this coincidence, it is not clear if this was the intention. On All Saints’ Day, people would dress up, possibly to ward off spirits they thought were coming back from the dead. At this time, people in England went around and practiced “souling”, a practice in which they would ask for food and in return would give them a prayer for the dead. This is a possible precursor for trick-or-treating, especially because as time progressed, people would give out the soulers sweet “soul cakes”, mimicking the candy we get today. These are only possible origins for Halloween, as its true ones are not entirely certain or uncovered yet.

Works Cited:

Giphy. “Vintage Halloween.” (accessed October 30, 2017).

Henry, Andrew. “History of Halloween.” ReligionForBreakfast. (accessed October 30, 2017).

Jabaji, Rawan. “Halloween.” Public Broadcasting System. (accessed October 30, 2017).

Word of the Week: Lacunae

Word of the Week:  Lacunae

As in: “Every society, big or little, misses out on ‘obvious’ technologies. The lacunae have enormous impact on people’s lives—imagine Europe with efficient plows or the Maya with iron tools—but not much effect on the scale of a civilizations endeavors, as shown by both European and Maya history ” (Mann, 2005, p.254).bookcover1491

Mann, C. C. (2005). 1491: New revelations of the Americas before Columbus (2nd ed.). New York: Vintage Books.

Bombing of Hiroshima: Seventy-Six Years Later

In 1945, the World War II Allies, the Soviet Union, United Kingdom and the United States met at Potsdam, Germany where they discussed the political order of Europe and issued a declaration for the unconditional surrender of Japan. Due to the fact that Japan had not surrendered, the belief that a direct invasion of Japan would cause high numbers of casualties for the United States and as a show of resolve to the Soviet Union, President Harry S. Truman ordered the launch of an atomic bomb.  On August 6, 1945, the bomb carried in B-29 plane, was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. The combined heat and blast generated fires that burned 4.4 square miles and immediately killed some 70,000 people, with a death toll that would pass 100,000 by the end of the year. A second bomb, dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945 led to a Japanese surrender and the end of the Second World War.


Clement Attlee, Harry Truman, and Joseph Stalin. August 1, 1945.

Works Cited:

Library of Congress. “Clement Attlee, Harry Truman, and Joseph Stalin.  August 1, 1945.”Retrieved on: August 4, 2016. Retrieved from:

World War II. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved August 2, 2016 from 


On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 lands on the Moon

On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 lands on the Moon.  Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first two humans on another planetary body. Upon setting foot upon the Moon Armstrong utter the phrase “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” See him say this at 3:30 minutes in the below video entitled Restored Apollo 11 EVA.

To learn more visit:
Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

Stonewall Rebellion – June 28, 1969

Today marks the 47th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, also referred to as the Stonewall Uprising, a watershed event in the history of LGBT civil rights in the United States. “In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar located in Greenwich Village, New York City.” [1] Rather than dispersing as was the usual course of action after all too frequent police raids, the patrons defied the police, and a large crowd of neighbors and allies grew around the bar, forcing the police to remain in the Stonewall Inn until reinforcements arrived. The following night, the crowd outside the Stonewall Inn grew and continued the clash with police for six day before the riots ended in early July.

Commemoration of the Stonewall Rebellion is the reason June is currently proclaimed Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month; for more details from see the Library of Congress post.

To learn more about this seminal event and its significance please consult a variety of these resources used to prepare the above summary. 

Carter, D., Dolkart, A. S., Harris, G., & Shockley, J. (1999).  National Historic Landmark Nomination – Stonewall (USDI/NPS NRHP Registration Form 10-900).  Washington, D.C.: National Park Service. Retrieved from   See pages 7 – 27 for concise and documented summary of events and significance, followed by an ample bibliography.

Frank, W.  (2014).   Law and the gay rights story: The long search for equal justice in a divided democracy.   New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.  See chapter 2: Stonewall (1969). E-book:

[1] Mucciaroni, G. (2013). Stonewall Rebellion. In R. Chapman & J. Ciment (Eds.), Culture wars in America: An encyclopedia of issues, viewpoints, and voices. London, United Kingdom: Routledge. Retrieved from  Brief overview.

Office of the Press Secretary. (2016). President Obama Designates Stonewall National Monument. Washington, D.C.: The White House. Retrieved from:

For fuller treatments, consult the following: 

Carter, D. (2004). Stonewall: The riots that sparked the gay revolution. New York: St. Martin’s Press.  Print: (On Display)

Corporation of Public Broadcasting. (n.d.). American Experience Online: Stonewall Uprising.  Retrieved from .  See timelines, photo gallery, biographies, documents etc. associated with Stonewall Uprising DVD.

Rosenberg, R., Scagliotti, J. & Schiller, G. (1985).  Before Stonewall: The making of a gay and lesbian community [DVD].  New York, N.Y.: First Run Features.

Scagliotti, J.  (2005). After Stonewall: From the riots to the millennium [DVD].  New York, N.Y.: First Run Features.

March is Women’s History Month

Unsatisfied with the state of representation of women in history, five women gathered together and founded the National Women’s History Project in 1980. Their first act was to form and lead a coalition to lobby Congress to designate the month of March as Women’s History Month. They achieved this goal seven years later, in 1987, and have remained a powerful force in the observance and promotion of women’s history ever since.[1]

Each year, the organization selects a theme for the month, as well as several honorees. This year’s theme honors women in public service and government, and there are sixteen honorees, ranging from Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, the First Woman Chairman of the Seminole Tribe, to Nadine Smith, a LGBT Civil Rights Activist. For a complete list of nominees, visit the National Women’s History Project website, and check out the graphic below featuring a selection of e-books by and about four of the nominees.

Women's History Month

Stop by the Library display table in the Reading Room to view the books selected, which include biographies and autobiographies of notable women in public service & government, volumes on women in politics and government in general, women & leadership, and historical movements involving women in public service & government. Additionally, President Obama’s 2016 Proclamation of Women’s History Month has been posted online, and a printout is on display as well. As always, the Reference Librarians are happy to assist you with any questions.

[1] National Women’s History Project. “Our History.” National Women’s History Project. 2016.

Black History Month, February 2016

Spurred by the desire to promote the “scientific study of black life and history,”[1] African American historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson formed the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) in 1915. Several years later, he decided that the Association should bear the responsibility of publicizing knowledge about black history, and in February 1926 a press release was sent out announcing “Negro History Week.” The weeklong celebration of the advances and accomplishments achieved by African Americans has since grown to encompass the entire month of February, and the annual theme set forth by the Association has been endorsed by presidential proclamation from every American president across party lines since the mid-1970s. Released last week, this year’s Presidential Proclamation for National African American History Month is available in full online.

BookDisplay_Black History Month

Book Display in the Library Reading Room

Join the Cardinal Cushing Library in celebrating the 2016 theme, “Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories,” by checking out the materials on display in the Reading Room. Reference Librarians have also put together a Black History Month 2016 guide, which features a walking tour of significant African American cultural sites in Boston and the United States. The executive proclamation of the month’s theme is also on display, and can be found online through ASALH. As always, the Reference Librarians are happy to assist with any research needs or questions that you may have.

[1] Daryl Michael Scott. “Origins of Black History Month.” Association for the Study of African American Life and History.