October 25: Father Coughlin
Charles Coughlin, a priest whose weekly anti-Semitic broadcasts had a radio listening audience of up to thirty million Americans during the 1930s, was born in Hamilton, Canada on this date in 1891. Based in a Royal Oak, Michigan church, the National Shrine of the Little Flower, Father Coughlin began his broadcasting career as a supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal, but soon became a harsh critic of Roosevelt and began denouncing the “Jewish bankers” as well as “Jewish Bolsheviks” in terms that eventually landed him in the fascist camp. In 1934, he launched a political organization, the National Union for Social Justice, and a newspaper, Social Justice, in which he mixed populist calls for financial reform, nationalization of major industries, and protection of the rights of labor with anti-communism, anti-Semitism, isolationism, and quirky economic explanations for the Great Depression. This fetched him more than 10,000 letters a week in 1934, and gave him tremendous influence among his millions of suffering working-class listeners. It was this influence that prompted the federal government to require regular radio broadcasters to seek operating permits — which was denied to Coughlin, forcing him to purchase weekly air-time on individual stations to have his speeches read. Finally, once World War II broke out in Europe and Coughlin continued to urge U.S. neutrality and to express some ideological sympathy with Nazi and fascist views, he was driven off the air and had his mailing permits yanked, and Detroit Bishop Edward Mooney ordered him to cease his public activities or face being defrocked. Coughlin remained in his parish until 1966, and died at 88 in 1979. To see a newsreel documentary about Coughlin, look below. To hear Coughlin speaking about Jews and other matters, look below that.
“I have dedicated my life to fight against the heinous rottenness of modern capitalism because it robs the laborer of this world’s goods. But blow for blow I shall strike against Communism, because it robs us of the next world’s happiness.” —Father Charles Coughlin
October 24: Hyman Minsky and Financial Stability
Economist Hyman Minsky, who analyzed the links between financial instability and speculative bubbles and presciently opposed government deregulation of financial markets, died at 77 on this date in 1996. Minsky was born in Chicago and studied at the University of Chicago and at Harvard. From 1957 to 1965 he was an associate professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, where he developed his major theories, as explained in John Maynard Keynes (1975) and Stabilizing an Unstable Economy (1986). From 1965 until his retirement in 1990, Minsky was professor of economics at Washington University in St. Louis, and for the final six years of his life he was a distinguished scholar at the Levy Institute at Bard College. “Many of Minsky’s colleagues regarded his ‘financial-instability hypothesis,’ which he first developed in the 1960s, as radical, if not crackpot,” wrote John Cassidy in the New Yorker in 2008, but “with the subprime crisis seemingly on the verge of metamorphosing into a recession, references to [the hypothesis] have become commonplace on financial Web sites and in the reports of Wall Street analysts.”
“As a boom leads to euphoria, Minsky said, banks and other commercial lenders extend credit to ever more dubious borrowers, often creating new financial instruments to do the job. During the 1980s, junk bonds played that role. More recently, it was the securitization of mortgages.” —John Cassidy
October 23: The Holocaust in Odessa
On this date in 1941, only a week after the German and Romanian armies had seized control of Odessa, some 5,000 Jews in the city were publicly hanged and shot, and more than 19,000 Jews in the city were assembled in nine gunpowder warehouses at the port and shot dead before the warehouses were set on fire. Following that, an additional 20,000 Jews were led out of the city and massacred in ditches and buildings. The 40,000 Jews who remained in Odessa were moved into a compact ghetto in which most buildings were destroyed. Left outdoors for ten days, many died of exposure to wintry conditions. On October 28th, additional massacres took 5,000 more Jewish lives, and by the end of December, 50,000 Jews imported from concentration camps were killed. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum determines that “Romanian and German forces killed almost 100,000 Jews in Odessa during the occupation of the city,” which came about after a two-month siege. Some 15,000 Roma people were also killed.
“When the first Jews reached Dalnik, they were bound to one another’s arms in groups of between forty and fifty, thrown into an anti-tank ditch and shot dead. When this method proved too slow, they were pressed into four large warehouses, which had holes in the walls. Machine gun nozzles were pushed into the holes, and in this manner, mass murder was committed in one warehouse after the other.” —The Nizkor Project
October 22: The Duel
Jules Rosenberg, described by the Paris Figaro as “one of the lights of the Hungarian Bar,” killed Count Etienne de Battyani in a duel on this date in 1883. The duel was fought over the affections of young Mlle. Ilona de Schosberger, “the daughter of a rich manufacturer.” She had spent the past year courting with Rosenberg, but Baron Bornemisza, described as “a poor Hungarian nobleman” who served as tax collector, had married Mlle. Schosberger’s elder sister and then “did everything in his power to break the relations that his new family kept up with the plebian Rosenberg.” Ilona and Jules secretly married, however, and were preparing for a public wedding when Rosenberg was “warned that the Baron repeated everywhere that ‘he would never have a Jew lawyer for a brother-in-law.’ Singular disgust,” the Figaro writer continued, “on the part of a man who had accepted as father-in-law a Jewish millionaire!” Nevertheless, Ilona was virtually kidnapped off to Paris and baptized at Notre Dame. Her marriage was nullified, and then she was married off to Comte de Battyani, a member of the Hungarian Chamber of Lords. Rosenberg challenged the count to a duel with pistols and shot him dead. Rosenberg was sentenced to nine months in prison, which was shortened to three by royal clemency. Ilona, in the interim, was married off by her father to Baron Victor Offerman. According to Kevin MacAleer’s Dueling: The Cult of Honor in Fin-de-Siecle Germany, while Jews were “banished from the major dueling societies, Jews formed their own fraternities, and on the eve of World War I, in an undoubted attempt to obliterate the ‘coffee house Jew’ stereotype, they had carved out a ferocious reputation as duelists.”
“Cher Ami: My kindred are as powerful as they are wealthy. Fear everything. They wish to separate me from you, and I know that they will try to make you break off by force of intrigue… I know that I shall be disinherited if I persist in loving you, but I am happy in sacrificing riches to your love.” —Ilona de Schosberger to Jules Rosenberg
October 21: Designer of the Trimline Phone
Industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss’ Trimline telephone was put into service (in Michigan) for the first time on this date in 1963. The Trimline moved the dial and a hang-up button away from the phone’s base and onto the handpiece, which made it possible to make calls without hovering near the phone. In 1977, Fortune magazine selected it as one of the country’s 25 best-designed products. Dreyfuss, born in Brooklyn in 1902, was responsible for the Big Ben alarm clock by Westclox (1939), the Twentieth Century Limited train (1938), the John Deere Model A and Model B tractors (1938), the Honeywell T87 circular wall thermostat (1953), two American steamships, and various telephones, vacuum cleaners, typewriters, cameras, and other appliances of the mid-20th century. He was also the first president of the Industrial Designers Society of America. In 1972, after his wife, Doris Marks, was diagnosed with a terminal illness, the couple committed suicide through carbon monoxide poisoning in their car.
“I have washed clothes, cooked, driven a tractor, run a Diesel locomotive, spread manure, vacuumed rugs, and ridden in an armored tank. I have operated a sewing machine, a telephone switchboard, a corn picker, a lift truck, a turret lathe, and a linotype machine…. I wore a hearing aid for a day and almost went deaf.” —Henry Dreyfuss
October 20: The African Explorer
Mehmet Emin Pasha, born Eduard Schnitzer to German Jewish parents who baptized him in the Catholic Church at the age of 2, died on this date in 1892, age 52, after a career as a physician, explorer, and colonial governor of Turkish-controlled northern Albania and British-controlled Equatoria (now South Sudan). He “contributed vastly to the knowledge of African geography, natural history, ethnology, and languages,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “… made extensive and valuable surveys, and also brought an end to slavery in the region.” During the Islamic jihadi uprising known as the Mahdi (in the 1880s), Emin was “rescued” by Henry (“Dr. Livingstone, I presume”) Stanley, whose expedition went up the Congo River and through the Ituri Forest, an arduous journey that resulted in the loss of two-thirds of Stanley’s expedition. According to the New York Times, however, “Emin Pasha didn’t actually want to be rescued at all. Remote as his situation was, he was much better equipped than Stanley, who more or less had to force him to come out.” Emin spoke Turkish, Albanian, and Greek as well as other European languages, and was widely regarded as a Muslim, although his actual conversion is in doubt. His death came at the hands of Arab slave-raiders in the Congo.
“Though Emin Pasha published no books, he wrote many valuable papers on Africa for German journals and forwarded rich and varied collections of animals and plants to Europe.” —Encyclopedia Brittanica
October 19: Workman Publishing
Peter Workman, founder of one of America’s last successful independent publishers, Workman Publishing, was born in Great Neck, New York on this date in 1938. He founded Workman as a book packager and promoter in 1967, and built it into a company that launched about forty titles per year, with one of every three achieving sales figures of over 100,000 copies — and with two-thirds of its books still in print forty years after its founding. Among his bestsellers were The Silver Palate Cookbook, B. Kliban’s Cat, The Official Preppy Handbook, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Sandra Boynton’s series of children’s books, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, and its boxed Page-A-Day Calendar series. Peter Workman was also the founder of Artisan, a press that has produced expensive and enduring books such as The French Laundry Cookbook, and of several other imprints, including Algonquin, Black Dog & Leventhal, Storey, and Timber. He died at 74 in 2013.
“His whole philosophy boiled down to two simple but very radical ideas: Trust your instincts when it comes to telling the reader what he doesn’t yet realize what he wants, and don’t make the reader work too hard to get the message. Peter was a master marketer — he knew how to sell books at all levels: to the readers, to the booksellers, to the salesmen who sold to the booksellers.” —Helen Rosner
October 18: Queen of the Oldies
Brill Building lyricist Cynthia Weil, whose collaboration with her husband Barry Mann produced such hits songs as “Blame It on the Bossa Nova” (Eydie Gormé), “Hungry” (Paul Revere and the Raiders), “Looking Through the Eyes of Love” (Gene Pitney), “On Broadway” and “Saturday Night at the Movies” (The Drifters), “Only in America” (Jay and the Americans), “Walking in the Rain” (The Ronettes), “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” (The Animals), “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” (The Righteous Brothers), and many, many others, was born in New York on this date in 1940. In 1987, she and Mann were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 2011 they received the Johnny Mercer Songwriting Award. “Weil’s lyrics helped shape the rebellious attitude that came to characterize the decade” of the 1960s, writes a reviewer at Biography.com. “She wrote about real people with real problems and wasn’t afraid to tackle hot-button topics like racism, war, and urban decay. She was also one of the most emotionally honest and provocative lyricists of her time, writing love songs that resonated widely.”
“In this dirty old part of the city/where the sun refuses to shine/people tell me there ain’t no use in trying…” —”We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” Cynthia Weil
October 17: The Creator of Norplant
Sheldon Segal, a biochemist who in 1991 developed Norplant, a progestin-based, slow-release subcutaneous birth control treatment, died at 83 on this date in 2009. Norplant proved to be a controversial medical device and was ultimately removed from the market twelve years after it was approved by the FDA. By then, several judges had ordered its implantation into poor or mentally incompetent women, which Segal vociferously protested: “I am,” he wrote to the New York Times, “totally and unalterably opposed to the use of Norplant for any coercive or involuntary purpose. It was developed to improve reproductive freedom, not to restrict it.” Segal also developed intrauterine devices and spent five decades improving women’s birth control; according to James Sailer of the Population Council, which first hired Segal as assistant medical director in 1956, “We estimate that something like 120 million women around the world have used a contraceptive device developed under Shelly’s leadership.” In 1970, he founded the International Committee for Contraception Research, an international clearinghouse to promote contraceptives that could be used around the world. Segal argued in the late1990s that a monthly menstrual cycle is not “natural” or beneficial to women, who through most of human history would menstruate infrequently because of frequent pregnancies, child nursing, and physical demands.
‘Birth control that really works: Every night before we go to bed we spend an hour with our kids.” —Roseanne Barr
October 16: A Living Heart
The first film of the inside of a living heart was shown at the New York Academy of Medicine on this date in 1951, the product of two Jewish surgeons, Dr. Adrian Kantrowitz and Dr. Elliott Hurwitt, and Antol Herskovitz, a medical photographer. A Cinematographic Study of the Function of the Mitral Valve in Situ showed the opening and closing of the mitral valve in a dog’s heart, a part of the heart often affected by rheumatic fever. Dr. Kantrowitz supervised the creation of the film as he was developing an artificial left heart for use as a component in a heart-lung machine for use during open-heart surgery. He also developed an implantable artificial pacemaker, performed the first heart transplant in the U.S., in 1967, and was the first doctor to enable paraplegic patients to move their limbs by electronically triggering their muscles.
“My mother [a costume designer for the Ziegfeld Follies] told me from the age of 3 that I wanted to be a doctor.” —Adrian Kantrowitz