1776 – Betsy Ross sews the first flag of the United States of America

It is a matter of some debate as to whether or not Betsy Ross actually created the first flag of the USA. While it is clear that she did create a design of her own which was widely used thereafter (the distinguishing feature of the Betsy Ross Flag is the arrangement of the 13 stars (or mullets, to use the heraldic term) in a circle). But the story of her creation of the flag seems to have been created from whole cloth a generation or so after the event, and there are enough loose threads in the story to make it clear that it is at least partially false (for example, Betsy Ross never met George Washington, and the records of Continental Congress show no committee to design a flag at that time).

The story of Betsy Ross seems to have been embroidered in order to address the lack of female representation in stories of the revolution, while still being an acceptably feminine role model (by the standards of the day) who would not threaten the nation’s social fabric. And for over a century, it had that role sewn up, appearing in history books as fact. It is only more recently that a generation of historians needled by the inconsistencies have cut truth from fiction.

Referenced in:
Sufferin’ ’til Suffrage — Schoolhouse Rock

1919 – The US Congress ratifies the 19th Amendment

As in many countries, the struggle of women for equality under law in the United States of America was a long and difficult one. The passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919 was a major step in this process, granting women the right to vote at a federal level. Although a majority of states in the union had already granted suffrage to a greater or lesser degree, the 19 Amendment granted the franchise to women across the entire nation.

The bill passed only after having been rejected once already earlier that year – on this second occasion, its passage was widely atrributed to the passionate appeals made to Congress and the Senate by President Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat and a staunch supporter of the suffragist cause.

The move towards suffrage was led by a number of women who are now renowned as the heroes of both feminism and democracy they truly are. Although the woman most closely associated with the passage of the Amendment was Susan B. Anthony, the roles of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, who founded what would become the primary suffragist movement, the National Women’s Party, should not be overlooked either.

Women voted for the first time in the Presidential elections of 1920, at which the Republican Warren G. Harding was elected President.

Referenced in:

The Right To Vote — Laura Nyro
Sufferin’ ’til Suffrage — Schoolhouse Rock

1879 — Thomas Edison invents the light bulb

Technically, he’d been in the process of inventing it for a while. October 22, 1879 is simply the day on which he first successfully tested a practical incandescent electric light bulb.

Reliable electric light is one of those inventions that changes the world. Sure, we aleady had candles and gaslight, but electric light was both brighter and more reliable than its predecessors. Edison changed the world with it. He changed the hours of our work and leisure, and the way we think about both.

And being Thomas Edison, he went on to invent still more stuff, many of which also changed the world, but none so much as the humble light bulb.

Referenced in:

Black Man — Stevie Wonder
Mother Necessity — Schoolhouse Rock
It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World — James Brown