On this day: the Irish government stands up to the Catholic Church

On the 12th of March, 1985, the government of the Republic of Ireland finally stood up to the powerful Catholic Church and legalised contraception.

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Women leave Dublin on their protest journey to Belfast.

The 1970s saw feminists travelling to Belfast in Northern Ireland and returning home with contraceptives, risking arrest for importing illegal products. They were met by protestors upon their arrival home.

Illegal in the Republic in all circumstances until 1980, a new law allowed some contraception to be dispensed by a pharmacist to people with a doctor’s prescription.

This highly restrictive law was finally changed five years later, despite conservative opposition.

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Some Americans were so outraged that “Holy Ireland” now allowed contraception, they wrote to the Prime Minister to complain.

Even so, advertising of contraceptives was still banned, and Ireland continued to have one of the highest birth rates in the developed world.

On this day: the death of Martina von Trapp

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Martina von Trapp, the inspiration for the character of Gretl in The Sound of Music, died giving birth to her first child on the 25th of February, 1951. She was thirty at the time.

Martina was not particularly similar to her movie version, as she had dark hair and eyes, and was in her late teens when she left Austria, not five, as she is in the movie.

She was buried in Vermont, holding her stillborn daughter.

On this day: the plane crash that killed an entire sporting team

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Found in the wreckage X

On the 15th of February, 1961 the plane transporting the entire US figure skating team to the World Championships crashed in Belgium, killing everyone on board.

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Two days earlier, national ladies’ champion Laurence Owen, aged sixteen, had been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. There is a common myth that appearing on the cover of the magazine curses athletes, as she is not the only person to have something terrible happen soon afterwards.

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The Owen family. X

Owen’s sister Maribel, also a member of the team, and her mother, a coach and former champion herself, were also on the flight.

In addition to the seventy-two people on the plane, a farmer was also killed by flying debris.

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The team boards the plane the day before the crash. X

Once news of the crash got out, the Championships, scheduled to be held in Prague, were cancelled to honour the victims.

On this day: the murder of Hulda Stumpf

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American missionary Hulda Stumpf was murdered in Kijabe, Kenya on the 3rd of January, 1930.

Stumpf, who had spoken out in opposition of Female Genital Mutilation, a widespread and often life-threatening tradition performed across Africa to this day, and practiced in the region of Kenya where she lived, was found dead in her home on the morning of Friday the 3rd. She had been brutally beaten, and then strangled.

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Stumpf sits on the bottom left of this 1917 photograph

In the end, no strong conclusions could be drawn about her death.

 

Wartime Christmas

This photograph is from a Christmas party at a home for evacuees in Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire, England in 1941.

As Britain had been at war for more than two years at this point, a woman is playing Father Christmas.

Here is another image from the same event.

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Evangeline Booth at Christmastime

Evangeline Booth, the first female “General” (international leader) of the Salvation Army, at Christmastime during the First World War. As – according to the sign – the picture was taken in the United States, it must be from 1917, as America joined the conflict one Christmas before the end of the war.

Booth, an Englishwoman who was born in Sneinton, Nottingham on Christmas Day in 1865, took the position of “General” in 1934, and held it until the end of October of 1939.

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On this day: the Brooklyn Theatre fire

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The destroyed theatre. X

One of the worst building fires in US history occurred in New York on the 5th of December, 1876. At least 278 – but possibly more than 300 – people were killed when a fire broke out at the Brooklyn Theatre during the final act of The Two Orphans.

The blaze began on the prompt side of the stage (the side where the stage manager sits). It was noticed part of the set had caught fire. Sets for more than one production were backstage at the time, meaning it was impossible to get the fire hose to extinguish the blaze.

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Harper’s Weekly cover reporting on the fire. X

The performers onstage were made aware of the fire, but continued with the show for a short time, worried about causing a panic. Stagehands tried to extinguish the flames, but the fire continued to gain ground.

Despite being close to the flames, several members of the performing company took to the stage to call for the audience to be calm, so that people could escape the theatre safely.

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One of those performers was Kate Claxton, who was later described as:

‘the nerviest woman I ever saw … [She] came out with J. B. Studley, and said the fire would be out in a few moments. She was white as a sheet, but she stood up full of nerve.’ X

Most of the deaths occurred in the highest, cheapest seats, where several hundred people sat, and where the narrow exit became blocked and people trampled each other. Many succumbed to smoke inhalation.

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Floor plan of the theatre, published two days after the fire. X

By the time firemen arrived at the scene nobody responded to their calls, and cracks had begun to appear in the building.

Less than half an hour after the first flames were spotted, much of the theatre collapsed.

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The theatre in ruins. X

Several years after the disaster, Kate Claxton reflected that it had been a mistake to continue the play, and that the curtain should have been kept down and the performance cancelled so the audience could have evacuated before they were made aware of the fire.