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Prairie State Wire

Thursday, November 21, 2019

This week in Illinois history: March 19-25


By Robert Hadley | Mar 5, 2018

Bickerdyke memorial
Memorial for Mary Ann Bickerdyke

March 19, 1860 - Salem. Birthdate of William Jennings Bryan. In addition to his long career as an attorney, a congressional representative and a colonel in the 1898 Spanish-American War, Bryan launched a newspaper, The Commoner, according to his congressional biography. This weekly paper published between 1901 and 1923, according to, and echoed his own nickname as a politician, “The Great Commoner,” as Bryan College states on its website.

March 19, 1848 - Monmouth. Birthdate of Wyatt Earp. The 1957 movie “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” was based on Wyatt Earp’s story, according to his online bio. It happened when the lawman relocated to Tombstone, Ariz., and took on the local power baron. Earp survived the fight, which is considered perhaps the most famous gunfight in history.

March 20, 1920 - Decatur. George Stanley “Papa Bear” Halas becomes the Chicago Bears coach. Halas’ early sports career had been in basketball and baseball, rather than in the sport that would make him famous, according to an article on the Staley Museum’s website. Halas took up football briefly in college and returned to the sport after pursuing a baseball career. He and a partner established the Bears with money pledged from a baseball backer.

March 21, 1866 - Galesburg. Resignation date of Mary Ann Bickerdyke. The noted Civil War nurse took up the medical profession after becoming a widow, according to the website Civil War Women. A practitioner of botanical medicine, Bickerdyke is credited with improving the care and survival rate of soldiers in an Army hospital in Cairo.

March 22, 1868 - Morrison. Birthdate of Nobel Prize winner Robert A. Millikan. The descendant of pre-Revolutionary War immigrants, Millikan became a physics teacher in 1891, says the Nobel Prize website. His research in the 1910s and 1920s into molecular physics and the nature of electricity won him the Nobel Prize in 1923.

March 22, 1952 - Hebron. Hebron High School team is crowned state boys basketball champions. Though the team was known as the Green Giants, they hold the record for being the smallest Illinois high school (less than 100 students at the time) to ever take the state title in basketball, the city’s website proclaims.

March 22, 1933 - Chicago. Teachers organize a protest over low pay and poor conditions. It was the dawn of the Great Depression, and corporations had been dodging their share of property taxes, which largely funded the school system. Once the teachers learned that school janitors got a raise while they endured a pay cut, they marched on city hall and boycotted tax-dodging businesses, according to The Daily Kos.

March 22, 1872 - Illinois. State passes pioneering gender-equity law. A full 92 years before the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Illinois passed legislation requiring “equal treatment of men and women in hiring,” as the website History & Headlines reports.

March 23, 1901- Chicago. The city holds its first auto show at the Chicago Coliseum. Although cars displayed at this historic weeklong exhibition predated the venerable Ford Model T, the photos on have a certain charm.  In fact, many of these models resembled the horse-drawn carriages they were replacing.

March 24, 1924 - Chicago. Cardinalhood bestowed on Catholic Archbishop George William Mundelein. Mudelein was the first Midwestern cardinal, according to a report in The Chicago Tribune. The New York native served as a feisty cardinal, taking on anti-Catholic bigotry, “oversexed pop culture” and Nazis.

March 25, 1864 - Princeton. Anti-slavery activist Owen Lovejoy dies. The New York Times called Lovejoy “a self-made man,” and the characterization seems apt. The Maine farmboy studied theology and pastored for 16 years the Congregational Church in Princeton before serving in the General Assembly from 1854 until his death from an infection.

March 25, 1947 - Centralia. Deadly coal mine explosion claims 111 lives. It was near the end of the shift for nearly 150 “men working 540 feet below ground,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, when fires and poison gas were released by a coal-dust blast. In a heartbreaking twist, many of the men stayed alive long enough to pen farewell notes to their loved ones, discovered post-mortem.

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