July 23, 2009

Gertrude Ederle: First Woman to Swim the English Channel

I heard this story about Gertrude Ederle on NPR today. On August 6, 1926, at the age of 20, Ederle became the first woman to swim across the English Channel. Up to that point only 5 men had done it and she beat all of their times by a significant margin. Sounds like she was a great character, which made me wonder what I could find about her on Footnote.

I put her name in the search and at the top of the results list was her record in the 1930 Census. Here's her whole family. You'll notice that her mom was also named Gertrude:
Gertrude Ederle's Family in the 1930 Census

The second result was her Footnote Page created from the Social Security Death Index, to which I added some photos, a fact and a quote, mentioned in the NPR story, from New York Mayor Jimmy Walker who told Ederle, "When history records the greatest crossings, they will speak of Moses crossing the Red Sea, Caesar the Rubicon and Washington the Delaware, and, frankly, your crossing of the English Channel will take place alongside these."

Then there were several newspaper articles about her including these two from before her swim (Footnote only has the San Francisco Chronicle and Chicago Tribune through 1923):

And this one from The Roundup Record of Musselshell County, Montana defending her swim against criticism from "various English newspapers"
Montana Paper Defends Gertrude Ederle's Swim of the English Channel

July 14, 2009

Daniel Shays Draws a Pension

At the beginning of his book The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution, David O Stewart lays out some of the events that prepared the United States for the constitutional convention that would create a new and more robust system of government.

Stewart describes Shays Rebellion as one of those preparatory events and then mentions that after the rebellion was over, Daniel Shays, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, fled to Vermont, asked for and received a pardon and later drew a pension for his service in the Revolution.

That got me thinking, so I poked around the Footnote site to see what I could find on Mr. Shays.

I found several things related to his military service, including his Revolutionary War Service Record. Here's the first of 17 pages:
Page 1; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the...

He also appears several times in the Revolutionary War Rolls for the Massachusetts 5th Regiment. Here's a muster roll for his company from October of 1779:
Page 1; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the...

And here's a record from the Revolutionary War Pensions collection. After Daniel's death, his wife asked for and received a continuation of the pension he was so generously given despite the fact that he gave his name to Shays Rebellion:
Revolutionary War Pension for Daniel Shays of Shays Rebellion

The 58 page pension file even includes this 1945 letter, written in response to a request for information, which reviews details of Shays' service and pension:
Page 1; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the...

July 9, 2009

14th Amendment to the US Constitution

NARA's Document of the Day for July 9 is the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution which was ratified on July 9, 1868. The 14th Amendment "extended liberties and rights granted by the Bill of Rights to former slaves."

Here's NARA's write up:
Following the Civil War, Congress submitted to the states three amendments as part of its Reconstruction program to guarantee equal civil and legal rights to black citizens. The major provision of the 14th amendment was to grant citizenship to “All persons born or naturalized in the United States,” thereby granting citizenship to former slaves. Another equally important provision was the statement that “nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The right to due process of law and equal protection of the law now applied to both the Federal and state governments. On June 16, 1866, the House Joint Resolution proposing the 14th amendment to the Constitution was submitted to the states. On July 28, 1868, the 14th amendment was declared, in a certificate of the Secretary of State, ratified by the necessary 28 of the 37 States, and became part of the supreme law of the land.

Congressman John A. Bingham of Ohio, the primary author of the first section of the 14th amendment, intended that the amendment also nationalize the Federal Bill of Rights by making it binding upon the states. Senator Jacob Howard of Michigan, introducing the amendment, specifically stated that the privileges and immunities clause would extend to the states “the personal rights guaranteed and secured by the first eight amendments.” Historians disagree on how widely Bingham's and Howard's views were shared at the time in the Congress, or across the country in general. No one in Congress explicitly contradicted their view of the Amendment, but only a few members said anything at all about its meaning on this issue. For many years, the Supreme Court ruled that the Amendment did not extend the Bill of Rights to the states.

Not only did the 14th amendment fail to extend the Bill of Rights to the states; it also failed to protect the rights of black citizens. One legacy of Reconstruction was the determined struggle of black and white citizens to make the promise of the 14th amendment a reality. Citizens petitioned and initiated court cases, Congress enacted legislation, and the executive branch attempted to enforce measures that would guard all citizens’ rights. While these citizens did not succeed in empowering the 14th amendment during the Reconstruction, they effectively articulated arguments and offered dissenting opinions that would be the basis for change in the 20th century.

(Information excerpted from Teaching With Documents [Washington, DC: The National Archives and Records Administration and the National Council for the Social Studies, 1998] p. 40.)

Here's the 14th Amendment from Footnote's American Milestone's Collection:
14th Amendment Page 1

14th Amendment Page 2

Footnote also has an interesting collection called Ratified Amendments to the US Constitution that includes documents from the states related to their ratification of the various amendments to the constitution.

Here's an example from the collection. This is a resolution from 13 November 1866 in which "the Legislature of Georgia declines to ratify the" 14th amendment.

Georgia Legislature Declines to Ratify 14th Amendment to the Constitution

By 9 July 1868 two thirds of the states had ratified the amendment, so it became the law of the land. The Georgia legislature ratified the 14th amendment on 21 July 1868 and since that time, all 50 states have ratified the amendment.
Georgia ratifies the 14th Amendment