Monday, July 5, 2010

Famous Birthday - July 6 - Nancy Davis Reagan

Nancy Davis Reagan (born Anne Frances Robbins on July 6, 1921) is the widow of former United States President Ronald Reagan. Nancy Reagan served as First Lady of the United States from 1981 to 1989.

Anne Frances Robbins was born on July 6, 1921 in New York. Her parents divorced not long after her birth and she was raised by an aunt and uncle in Maryland while her mother was busy pursuing an acting career. Her mother married a neurosurgeon (Loyal Davis) in 1929 who legally adopted Anne Frances Robbins in 1935 and her name was legally changed to Nancy Davis. Nancy Davis got along quite well with her stepfather and spoke highly of him. After going through school, Nancy attended Smith College in Massachusetts where she majored in English Drama and graduated in 1943. She later quoted ‘I must say acting was good training for the political life which lay ahead for us.’

Nancy pursued an acting career in Hollywood in 1940's and 50's and in 1952 she married Ronald Reagan, then the president of the Screen Actors Guild. They had two children together. Her husband was Governor of California from 1967 to 1975.

Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the 40th President of the United States of America in 1981. Shortly after arriving at their new residence Nancy Reagan went about repairing and updating the somewhat threadbare White House and brought back a sense of glamour and formality to her new residence. While she was criticized for some of her methods (replacing the china for instance apparently ruffled a lot of feathers), it also attracted a great deal of attention.

Nancy Reagan wasn’t content to only bring back high end fashion to the White House. One of her most notable contributions as the First Lady was the founding of the "Just Say No" drug awareness campaign.

Nancy and Ronald Reagan retired to their home in Bel Air, Los Angeles, California in 1989 where Nancy devoted most of her time to caring for her ailing husband who in 1994 was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He passed away in 2004 but Nancy Reagan remained active within the Reagan Library and in politics, particularly in support of stem-cell research.

You can read a lot more in detail about Nancy Reagan on Wikipedia and other sites on the Internet. Please make sure to have your parents’ permission before you do so.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Famous Birthday - July 5 - P.T. Barnum

If you have been to see a circus performance, chances are you saw a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Do you know who started that show? It was a man known as Phineas Taylor Barnum, born on July 5, 1810. It was a time before the Civil War. There were no cars, television, radio or any of the other modern forms of entertainment we enjoy today. Sideshows, carnival shows etc were very popular back then. These consisted of the usual suspects such as  the ubiquitous bearded ladies, contortionists, snake wranglers etc. Little people were quite popular next to individuals of very large stature. Also people with birth defects such as microcephalics and macrocephalics. Unfortunately in those days people with such defects had very little say in how their relatives farmed them out. Life was hard and people who ran these sideshows weren’t exactly known for their scruples. The other much loved spectacle one could enjoy at these shows were exhibits of curiosities.  Some were real but many were fake. The Fiji Mermaid is a famous example. P.T. Barnum was quite unapologetic about that. He claimed that he did so not because he wanted to deceive the public but because he felt that this was great advertising and brought people to the show. Of course there also were singers, and performers of small plays, there were acrobats, clowns, dancing bears etc. Barnum was the man who did this better and grander than anyone else. He wasn’t above using elaborate hoaxes to bring attention to his show. But he didn’t start of that way. He started his career as a small business owner in his early twenties and then in the mid 1830's moved to New York City where he went into the entertainment business. In the mid 1860's Barnum embarked on a brief political career. With the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution over slavery and African-American suffrage, Barnum spoke before the legislature and said, "A human soul is not to be trifled with. It may inhabit the body of a Chinaman, a Turk, an Arab or a Hotentot - it is still an immortal spirit! (From Wikipedia). After an exciting life filled with adventure, controversy and success Barnum died in his sleep at home on April 7, 1891. You can read a lot more in detail about PT Barnum and his amazing life on Wikipedia and other sites on the Internet. Please make sure to have your parents’ permission before you do so.