October 8, 1807 – Birthdate of Harriet Hardy Taylor Mill

Many Americans have heard of John Stuart Mill, known for his contributions to the social, economic, and political issues of the ninetieth century. But how many know the name of his wife, Harriet Hardy Taylor Mill? Born on this day in history, she has been called “one of the most overlooked philosophers of her time.”

Harriet Hardy was born in Walworth, South London, the daughter of a surgeon. She was educated at home, and at age 21, she married John Taylor, a prosperous merchant, with whom she had three children. The Taylors became active in the Unitarian Church and in 1830 a Unitarian minister introduced Harriet to the philosopher John Stuart Mill. They began an affair lasting for more than 20 years before they eventually married.

Harriet Hardy Taylor Mill

Harriet Hardy Taylor Mill

In 1833 Harriet moved to a separate residence from her husband, keeping her daughter with her while John Taylor raised the two older boys. John Taylor agreed to Harriet’s friendship with Mill in exchange for the “external formality” of her residing “as his wife in his house.”

Harriet wrote articles advocating for women’s rights, lamenting the lack of formal education for women and the restrictions on women’s social experience. Her 1851 essay on women’s suffrage, “Enfranchisement of Women” (credited to “John Stuart Mill & Harriet Taylor Mill”), makes a case not merely for giving women the ballot but for “equality in all rights, political, civil, and social, with the male citizens of the community.” (Like many others decrying the actual lack of equality in the United States, the book cites the American Declaration of Independence.)

Many of Harriet’s arguments in this essay would be expanded in John’s The Subjection of Women, published eleven years after her death. But while John’s book suggests that the best arrangement for most married couples would be for the wife to concentrate on the care of the house and the children, Harriet’s book instead argued for the desirability of married women’s working outside the home:

Even if every woman, as matters now stand, had a claim on some man for support, how infinitely preferable is it that part of the income should be of the woman’s earning, even if the aggregate sum were but little increased by it, rather than that she should be compelled to stand aside in order that men may be the sole earners, and sole dispensers of what is earned! Even under the present laws respecting the property of women, a woman who contributes materially to the support of the family cannot be treated in the same contemptuously tyrannical manner as one who, however she may toil as a domestic drudge, is a dependent on the man for subsistence.”

Harriet’s first husband died in 1849, and in 1851 she and Mill were finally married. Harriet suffered from various health problems however, and contracted tuberculosis. She died of respiratory failure on November 3, 1858. John Stuart Mills’ most famous work On Liberty, which they had worked on together, was published in 1859 and was dedicated to Harriet.

John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill

Except for a few articles in the Unitarian journal “Monthly Repository,” Taylor published little of her own work during her lifetime. In his autobiography, Mill claimed Harriet was the joint author of most of the books and articles published under his name. He wrote:

Were I but capable of interpreting to the world one half the great thoughts and noble feelings which are buried in her grave, I should be the medium of a greater benefit to it, than is ever likely to arise from anything that I can write, unprompted and unassisted by her all but unrivaled wisdom.”

He added, “when two persons have their thoughts and speculations completely in common it is of little consequence, in respect of the question of originality, which of them holds the pen.”

In particular, regarding his most famous book, On Liberty, he recalled in his autobiography:

The ‘Liberty’ was more directly and literally our joint production than anything else which bears my name, for there was not a sentence of it that was not several times gone through by us together, turned over in many ways, and carefully weeded of any faults, either in thought or expression, that we detected in it…. With regard to the thoughts, it is difficult to identify any particular part or element as being more hers than all the rest. The whole mode of thinking of which the book was the expression, was emphatically hers…. The ‘Liberty’ is likely to survive longer than anything else that I have written (with the possible exception of the ‘Logic’), because the conjunction of her mind with mine has rendered it a kind of philosophic text-book of a single truth…. “

Today, history remembers only John Stuart Mill, and Taylor Mill’s contributions have faded from memory, if indeed, they were ever acknowledged at all.

October 6, 1917 – Birthdate of Fannie Lou Hamer

On this day in history, Fannie Lou Hamer (nee Townsend) was born in Mississippi. She came from a family of poor sharecroppers, often wearing rags tied around her feet instead of shoes.

In the 1940s she met her husband, Perry “Pap” Hamer, who worked on the W. D. Marlow plantation, where they worked together for eighteen years until she was fired for trying to vote.

In 1961 she went into a hospital to have a small uterine tumor removed; without her knowledge or consent, she was sterilized by a white doctor as a part of the state of Mississippi’s plan to reduce the number of poor blacks in the state. (Forced sterilization was so common among African-American women in those days that it became known as a “Mississippi appendectomy.”)

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer

On August 23, 1962, Hamer attended a sermon by Rev. James Bevel, an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), who ended his talk with an appeal to those assembled to register to vote.

At the time, only 6 percent of eligible black citizens in Mississippi were registered. They knew that to register was to place at risk to their job security, personal safety and even their lives.

Nevertheless, Hamer was the first volunteer to register. She later said:

I guess if I’d had any sense, I’d have been a little scared – but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do was kill me, and it kinda seemed like they’d been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember.”

On August 31, she traveled on a rented bus with other attendees of Bevel’s sermon to Indianola, Mississippi, to register. People in the group were scared, and Hamer began to sing hymns to boost their morale. But none of it was to any avail. As Peter Dreier reported in his book The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012):

Before they could register, they had to take one of the infamous literacy tests designed to disenfranchise black people. Among other questions, they were required to write down the names of their employers, information that would promptly be used against them. They were also required to interpret a section of the state constitution to the satisfaction of local white officials. For Hamer, the clerk pointed to a section of the Mississippi Constitution dealing with de facto laws. As she later explained, ‘I knowed as much about a facto law as a horse knows about Christmas Day.’

She failed the test. By the time she returned home, she had lost her job, but she had discovered her passion. She became a leader and public figure in the civil rights movement.”

(She passed the test the next year, making her one of 28,000 blacks registered in Mississippi out of a total of $22,256 eligible black voters.)

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer

Hamer came to the attention of SNCC organizer Bob Moses, who dispatched Charles McLaurin from the organization with instructions to find “the lady who sings the hymns.” Hamer was recruited by SNCC, and she began traveling around the South doing activist work for the organization.

On June 9, 1963, Hamer was on her way back from Charleston, South Carolina with other activists from a literacy workshop, and the group was stopped in Winona, Mississippi and arrested on a false charge. In jail, Hamer and her colleagues were beaten savagely by the police, almost to the point of death. It took Hamer over a month to recover from the beating.

Again, she was not deterred. She returned to Mississippi to organize voter registration drives. In the summer of 1964 she helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, or MFDP, organized to challenge Mississippi’s all-white and anti-civil rights delegation to the Democratic National Convention. Hamer was elected Vice-Chair.

Fannie Lou Hamer, 1964

Fannie Lou Hamer, 1964

MDFP sent an integrated delegation of sixty-eight members, including Hamer, to represent Mississippi at the 1964 Democratic Party convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in August. This was a direct challenge to the official all-white delegation, which excluded blacks from voting. When they arrived in Atlantic City, the MFDP demanded that the national Democratic Party seat them rather than the segregated official delegation.

In Washington, D.C., President Johnson, fearful of the power of Hamer’s testimony on live television, called an emergency press conference in an effort to divert press coverage. The television networks switched to the White House from their coverage of Hamer’s address, in the belief that Johnson would announce his vice-presidential candidate for the forthcoming November election. Instead, he arbitrarily announced the nine-month anniversary of the shooting of Texas governor, John Connally, during the assassination of John F. Kennedy. But many television networks ran Hamer’s unedited speech on their late news programs. The Credentials Committee received thousands of calls and letters in support of the “Freedom Democrats.”

Johnson then dispatched several Democratic Party operatives to negotiate with the Freedom Democrats, including Senator Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Walter Reuther, and J. Edgar Hoover. They suggested a compromise which would give the MFDP two non-voting seats in exchange for other concessions, and secured the endorsement of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for the plan. But when Humphrey outlined the compromise to the Credentials Committee, saying that his position on the ticket was at stake, Hamer sharply rebuked him:

Do you mean to tell me that your position is more important than four hundred thousand black people’s lives? Senator Humphrey, I know lots of people in Mississippi who have lost their jobs trying to register to vote. I had to leave the plantation where I worked in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Now if you lose this job of Vice-President because you do what is right, because you help the MFDP, everything will be all right. God will take care of you. But if you take [the nomination] this way, why, you will never be able to do any good for civil rights, for poor people, for peace, or any of those things you talk about. Senator Humphrey, I’m going to pray to Jesus for you.”

Hamer’s speech to the Committee brought many to tears, and gained her national attention.

Fannie Lou Hamer testifying at the Democratic Party convention in Atlantic City in 1964

Fannie Lou Hamer testifying at the Democratic Party convention in Atlantic City in 1964

While the MFDP rejected the compromise, they had managed to put the issue to the forefront; the Democratic Party adopted a clause that year which demanded equality of representation from their states’ delegations in 1968. At that convention, Hamer became the first African American delegate since the post-Civil War Reconstruction period and the first-ever woman delegate from Mississippi. She was seated to a thunderous ovation as part of Mississippi’s official delegation to the convention.

Hamer continued to work for Civil Rights until she died of complications of heart disease and breast cancer on March 14, 1977. She is buried in her hometown of Ruleville, Mississippi, where her tombstone reads one of her famous quotes, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

You can listen to her testimony to the 1964 Democratic Convention Credentials Committee here:

October 4, 1830 – Belgium Proclaims Its Independence

On this day in history, the Provisional Government of Belgium, a committee of revolutionaries, proclaimed Belgium independent from the Netherlands.


On December 20, 1830 a conference in London brought together the major European powers who recognized the success of the Belgian revolution and permanently guaranteed Belgian independence. On February 7, 1831, the Belgian Constitution was proclaimed. On July 21, 1831, the date now celebrated as Belgian Independence Day, Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg swore allegiance to the new Belgian constitution, thus becoming the first King of the Belgians. The king’s vow marked the start of the independent state of Belgium under a constitutional monarchy and parliament.

Belgium, officially called the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal monarchy of some 11 million people in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU’s headquarters as well as those of several other major international organizations such as NATO.

Belgium is unusual in many ways. First, it is home to two main linguistic groups: the Dutch-speaking, mostly Flemish community, which makes up about 59% of the population, and the French-speaking, mostly Walloon population and Brussels inhabitants, comprising 41% of all Belgians. Additionally, there is a small group of German-speakers who are officially recognized.

The Dutch-speaking region of Flanders is in the north of Belgium and the French-speakers are in the southern region of Wallonia. The Brussels-Capital Region, officially bilingual, is a mostly French-speaking enclave within the Dutch-speaking Flemish Region. The German-speaking Community is primarily in eastern Wallonia.


Historically, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg (also called “Benelux”) were known as the Low Countries. In the Belgian Revolution of 1830, Belgium seceded from the Netherlands. (Although there were a number of reasons the revolution occurred, the immediate precipitating event was a performance of Auber’s La Muette de Portici at the Brussels opera house of La Monnaie. The crowds spilled out onto the streets singing patriotic songs, and violent street fighting broke out.)

Belgium continues to have internal differences between the north and the south. However, there is one area in which Belgians are in agreement. Currently, Belgium ranks 18th globally on the list of beer consumption by country per capita. On average, each Belgian drinks 19.5 gallons of beer every year. (In 1900, that total was closer to 53 gallons each a year, but with the advent of soft drinks, the numbers dropped.)

Belgium has more individual styles of beer per capita than any other country in the world. In 2011, they produced 1,132 distinct types of beer. In 2013, that number rose to 3,043 different beers brewed throughout the ten provinces of Belgium. The Flemish province of Brabant alone makes 457 of those beers.

Beer making began in earnest in the 10th Century when the Catholic Church sanctioned the use of abbeys to brew and distribute beer to generate funds for their upkeep. There are only 10 authentic Trappist breweries in the world, and six of those are in Belgium. Westvleteren XII, a Trappist beer brewed not far from the city of Ypres, is often called the best beer in the world. It has a perfect 100 rating on both beeradvocate.com and ratebeer.com and has been voted as the #1 beer by several beer and consumer polls.

Westvleteren 12

Belgium is also known for “lambic” beer, which is a spontaneously fermented beer. In spontaneous fermentation, the malt and hops are left to cool in the open air. This introduces wild yeast into the mixture, giving the brew a quality that is unique to the region where it was brewed, since it depends on the natural yeasts in the air to start the fermentation. Lambic is made exclusively in Belgium’s Zenne valley, where the wild yeasts Brettanomyces bruxellensis and Brettanomyces lambicus thrive. The result is a unique beer type known as Geuze (pronounced like “goose”).

In Bruges, the De Halve Maan brewery is separated from its bottling plant, opened in 2010 in the outskirts of Bruges. So many trucks are used to transport the beer from one place to the other than the brewery’s truck fleet accounts for 85 percent of Bruges’s current commercial traffic. This will change soon, however, with the construction of an underground beer pipeline that will run 1.8 miles under the city and pump 26 gallons of freshly brewed beer every minute.


The current holder of the Guinness World Record for most available beers on the menu is Delirium Cafe, located in Belgium’s capital city of Brussels. They have 3,162 beers available on their shelves. You’d have to drink 8.5 beers every day for a year just to taste them all.

Perhaps they drink to forget their less than laudatory past.

At the end of the 19th Century, the race was on by Europe to colonize Africa. A conference was convened in Berlin in 1884-1885 to divvy up the spoils. The Congo basin was designated as a free-trade zone, but Belgium’s King Leopold II and his single-shareholder “philanthropic” organization received a large share of territory to be organized as a corporate entity called the Congo Free State. The state included the entire area of the present Democratic Republic of the Congo and existed from 1885 to 1908. It was privately controlled by Leopold II through a non-governmental organization, the Association Internationale Africaine. Leopold directed the extraction of ivory, rubber, and minerals in the upper Congo basin for sale on the world market.

Leopold’s control of the Congo is notorious for the large number of atrocities committed against the natives.

King Leopold II

King Leopold II

To enforce the rubber quotas, a military force was created. Their techniques included imprisonment, executions, and severing of limbs. During the period between 1885 and 1908, as many as ten million Congolese are believed to have died through exploitation and disease in addition to outright murder. One view is that the forced labor system directly and indirectly eliminated 20% of the population. In addition, women were systematically raped, and the local populace subjected to kidnapping, looting and village burnings.

Following reports from missionaries a moral outrage campaign emerged, particularly in Britain and the United States. The loss of life and atrocities inspired literature such as Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and The Crime of the Congo by Arthur Conan Doyle.

By 1908, public pressure led to the end of Leopold II’s rule and to the annexation of the Congo as a colony of Belgium, known as the Belgian Congo. Executive power rested with the Belgian Minister of Colonial Affairs, and the Belgian parliament exercised legislative authority over the Belgian Congo. While the most brutal practices in the Congo were curbed, forced labor continued, and many of Leopold’s administrators in the Congo remained in their jobs. The Congo was not officially separated from Belgium until 1960.

Additionally, there then ensued the “Great Forgetting” as Adam Hochschild wrote in King Leopold’s Ghost. Many Belgians in the 20th and 21st centuries remember Leopold II as the “Builder King” for his extensive public works projects, and many remain unaware of his role in the atrocities in the Congo.

There is also chocolate for forgetting. Jean Neuhaus invented the pralines chocolate in Brussels in 1912. Belgium produces the equivalent of 48.5 pounds of chocolate per inhabitant annually. The world’s biggest chocolate selling point is Brussels National Airport.


October 2, 1452 – Birthdate of Richard III

On this day in history Richard III, future King of England, was born in Northamptonshire, England. Richard was the fourth and youngest son of his family, but through the usual array of murders and machinations common to royalty, he ascended to the throne in 1483. (When Richard’s father had tried to claim the throne, for example, he ended up as a severed head adorned with a paper crown.) Richard was at the last king of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet royal dynasty. His defeat and death at age 32 at Bosworth Field (the last decisive battle of the War of the Roses) by Henry Tudor (who became the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty) in 1485 ushered in a new era of English history (and literature).

The battered crown which had fallen from Richard's helmet was found in a hawthorn bush, where it had probably been hidden by a plunderer, and set on the head of Richmond by Lord Stanley, while all the victorious army hailed the earl by his new title of Henry VII. (Detail from the Bosworth Tapestry)

The battered crown which had fallen from Richard’s helmet was found in a hawthorn bush, where it had probably been hidden by a plunderer, and set on the head of Richmond by Lord Stanley, while all the victorious army hailed the earl by his new title of Henry VII. (Detail from the Bosworth Tapestry)

In 2012, an archaeological excavation of a car park in Leicester uncovered a skeleton showing scoliosis of the spine that indicated it might be that of Richard III. Carbon dating and mitochondrial DNA analysis confirmed this suspicion in February, 2013.

In early 2014, the same University of Leicester researchers who discovered Richard III’s remains announced plans to sequence the entire genome of the deceased monarch.

The life of Richard III has become well-known mostly because of the magnificent play by Shakespeare, Richard III, in which a number of speeches have remained in popular knowledge, such as these excerpts show:

Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this son of York…

Was ever woman in this humour woo’d?

Was ever woman in this humour won?

I’ll have her; — but I will not keep her long.

I cannot tell: the world is grown so bad,

That wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch:

Since every Jack became a gentleman,

There’s many a gentle person made a Jack.

Conscience is but a word that cowards use,

Devis’d at first to keep the strong in awe;

Our strong arms be our conscience,
swords our law.

A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!

True hope is swift, and flies with swallow’s wings;

Kings it makes gods, and meaner creatures kings. 

Grim-visaged War hath smoothed his wrinkled front.

Soon, it seems, thanks to genetic sequencing, we will know Richard III better than any other famous historical figure.


September 29, 1789 – The U.S. Congress Legalizes a U.S. Army

On this day in history, Congress, on its final day of its first session, passed “An act to recognize and adapt to the Constitution of the United States, the establishment of the troops raised under the resolves of the United States in Congress assembled and for other purposes, 29 September 1789.” The act legalized the existing U.S. Army, a small force inherited from the Continental Congress that had been created under the Articles of Confederation.

Section 3 of the act set forth an oath to be taken by members of the Army:

That all commissioned and non-commissioned officers, and privates, who are, or shall be, in the service of the United States, shall take the following oaths or affirmations, to wit: “I, A. B., do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) that I will support the constitution of the United States.” “I, A. B., do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) to bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully, against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and to observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States of America, and the orders of the officers appointed over me.”

Section 5 added a provision for additional troops as necessary:

That, for the purpose of protecting the inhabitants of the frontiers of the United States from the hostile incursions of the Indians, the President is hereby authorized to call into service, from time to time, such part of the militia of the states, respectively, as he may judge necessary for the purpose aforesaid; and that their pay and subsistence, while in service, be the same as the pay and subsistence of the troops above mentioned.”

The full text of the Act can be accessed here.

President George Washington here seen as Major General and Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army

President George Washington here seen as Major General and Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army

September 27, 1940 – Tripartite Pact Signed, Forming the WWII Axis

On this day in history, Chancellor Adolf Hitler of Germany, Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano of Italy and Ambassador Saburo Kurusu of Japan signed the Tripartite Pact, creating the World War II alliance of the Axis Powers. The Pact was later adopted by other members of the Axis, including Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

In the Pact, the Axis powers declared it was their “prime purpose to establish and maintain a new order of things calculated to promote the mutual prosperity and welfare of the peoples concerned.”

You can read the complete text of the pact here.

The signing of the Tripartite Pact by Germany, Japan, and Italy on 27 September 1940 in Berlin. Seated from left to right are the Japanese ambassador to Germany Saburō Kurusu, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Galeazzo Ciano, and Adolf Hitler.

The signing of the Tripartite Pact by Germany, Japan, and Italy on 27 September 1940 in Berlin. Seated from left to right are the Japanese ambassador to Germany Saburō Kurusu, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Galeazzo Ciano, and Adolf Hitler.

September 24, 1957 – Eisenhower Declares Mob Rule Cannot be Allowed to Override Decisions of the Courts

On this day in history, President Dwight D. Eisenhower addressed the nation about his decision to send troops under Federal authority to Little Rock, Arkansas in order to ensure the safe admission of blacks to schools, pursuant to the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown vs. Board of Education (347 U.S. 483, 1954). In that decision, the Court declared that, as Eisenhower summarized, “separate public educational facilities for the races are inherently unequal and therefore compulsory school segregation laws are unconstitutional.”

However, in Little Rock, “[c]ertain misguided persons, many of them imported into Little Rock by agitators, have insisted upon defying the law and have sought to bring it into disrepute. The orders of the court have thus been frustrated.”

Arkansas National Guard troops and large crowd outside of Little Rock's Central High School, September 5, 1957

Arkansas National Guard troops and large crowd outside of Little Rock’s Central High School, September 5, 1957

Eisenhower declared:

The very basis of our individual fights and freedoms rests upon the certainty that the President and the Executive Branch of Government will support and insure the carrying out of the decisions of the Federal Courts, even, when necessary with all the means at the President’s command.

Unless the President did so, anarchy would result.

There would be no security for any except that which each one of us could provide for himself.

The interest of the nation in the proper fulfillment of the law’s requirements cannot yield to opposition and demonstrations by some few persons.

Mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of our courts.”

You can read the full text of his explanation of Executive Order 10730 “Providing Assistance for the Removal of an Obstruction of Justice Within the State of Arkansas” here. (It was published in the Federal Register at 22 F.R. 7628). You can watch Eisenhower’s address on video here:


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