Reference Blog Entries

Rewind 75 Years: April 1940

Katie's picture

Public domain photo of Booker T. WashingtonWhen we think of 1940, World War II may be one of the first events to come to our minds, but that's not all that was happening in the world at that time. Our reference materials make it easy for you to dig back into our past and, not only learn about the war, but see what else was happening in April 1940. Here are just a few highlights:

  • On April 7, 1940 Booker T. Washington (pictured above) became the first African American to be featured on a U.S. postage stamp.
  • Dr. John Enders announced the isolation of the mumps virus in April 1940, which made serums and vaccines possible. See what else was going on with health and medicine in the 1940's.
  • In the months before Germany's blitzkrieg in May 1940, WWII in Europe came to a standstill which became known as the Phony War. This lull gave Germany the opportunity to replenish their supplies and equipment and prepare for their next strike.
  • Back in the United States, students at University of California, Berkeley held a strike for peace.
  • The first electron microscope, which weighed almost 700 pounds, was demonstrated in Philadelphia, PA
  • April 29, 1940 was the first broadcast of The Bell Telephone Hour on NBC Radio. This program featured a variety of musicians and entertainment and ran for 18 years.
  • This month marked the first time Robin appeared as Batman's sidekick in an issue of Detective Comic.

Our world has come a long way in just 75 years. It makes you wonder what discoveries and developments are in store for us in 2090, only 75 years from now. 

The Bard of Avon

Laura's picture

April 23 marks the birthday of William Shakespeare.  We don’t know if that is the correct date, but it is the most likely possibility. 

There is, in fact, much we don’t know about the bard, but there are many amusing things that we can learn about the time in which he lived as found in the library’s database Daily Life thCover of Shakespeare's First Foliorough History.

For instance, we know that some of the insults that Englishmen hurled at each other during Shakespeare’s time were “gorbellied [fat-bellied] knave” and “fat chuff” [miser] as well as the more familiar wretch, villain, simpleton and blockhead.  The database does not shy away from even cruder insults.

We also know that Shakespeare’s plays would have been staged in theatres or great halls in schools, and mansions or in open-air quadrangles in large inns.  A ranting style of acting was prevalent at the time (but not for Shakespeare’s plays) and sometimes actors would laugh at their own jokes.  

We learn that the English observed holidays in ways very different from the way that we do.  On Black Monday the queen, Elizabeth I, would wash the feet of a pre-selected group of paupers and give them a purse with a penny in it for every year that she had reigned.  Hocktide, another interesting holiday, was celebrated on Black Monday and the Tuesday that followed it.  On Black Monday men would seize any women that they found on the street, tie them up and release them only after they had paid a ransom to the church.  On Tuesday women did the same thing to men. 

We know a bit about English Poetry of the period.  Sonnets were the preferred mode of love poems.  Poetic meter was termed “numbers” by Shakespeare. Some of the more venerated poems were composed of complex meter structure.

Headgear was a very popular form of personal expression in England in the 16th century.  Anyone over the age of seven was required by law to wear a hat.  A hat called a biggin was worn to bed. 

The women of Shakespeare’s time liked to wear bodkins which were clusters of gems or pearls placed in the hair on long pins.  The most popular sort of jewelry was rings worn by both men and women.  Usually the rings had an inscription carved inside.  A fashionable type of ring was the gimmal, that is, a ring that was actually two interlocking rings worn as one.  Another fashion for women and some men of the time was to use white lead or borax powder to lighten the skin on their face.  They would then redden their cheeks with ochre or mercury sulfide.  However, Shakespeare disdained the practice of wearing cosmetics in at least one of his plays calling it “painting” and citing it as evidence of deceit.

So drink a toast to one of the most admired authors of all time and consider the fact that although the way of life was much different than our own the people that he wrote about and the feelings that they expressed are not very different at all.

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