This Day in History

Gary Jenneke
4 min readDec 12, 2022

December 12th

1878 — Joseph Pulitzer begins publishing St. Louis Dispatch. Pulitzer, an immigrant from Budapest, spoke both French and German better than English, got his start in journalism by observing and then kibitzing on a chess match in a library in St. Louis. The two players were editors of a failing German newspaper. They offered him a job and through hard work made his way upward until he was publisher. Expanding the business he acquired the Dispatch. He was a tireless worker, to the detriment of his health. Attacking trusts and monopolies, supporting labor and exposing political corruption, he was committed to raising the standards of journalism. Pulitzer was the founder of the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for excellence in American journalism. His competition with Wm. Randolph Hearst however did not bring out the best in either man. What resulted was Yellow Journalism featuring speculation, sensationalism and even fabrication of the news.

From what I’ve read, he was mostly a credit to his profession other than in his competition with Hearst. Their “sensationalism” in trying to sell papers helped push the U.S. into war with Spain over Cuba and the suspicious sinking of the USS Maine.

1903 — Roger Casement completes report about abuses in Congo. As a young man Casement works for the British Colonial Service in Africa. During this time he met writer Joseph Conrad and both initially believed colonization would be beneficial for the people of the continent. They both later changed their minds. King Leopold of Belgium was reaping huge rewards from the Congo and Casement wrote of the brutal treatment of the natives including child slave labor. His book caused a sensation and garnered him a knighthood in 1911 for his humanitarianism. T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), contemplated writing a book about him. They did have some things in common in that both spoke out on behalf of dark-skinned men, and both were suspected of having sex with those same dark-skinned men.

Five years after he was knighted he was hanged for treason and his body thrown naked into a pit of lime. At the outbreak of the First World War he was arrested smuggling weapons from Germany to Ireland for the Irish Rebellion.. Also captured were his diaries depicting homosexual acts. The diaries were used to silence pleas of leniency from such notables as George Bernard Shaw and Arthur Conan Doyle. Association with such a man could prove embarrassing for them.

A gay, Irish, gun-running, humanitarian diplomat…seems like somebody I should read more about. Only one book has been written about him however and it has yet to be translated into English.

1917 — Boys Town founded. The orphanage for boys was founded by Father Edward Flanagan. He borrowed ninety dollars from a friend and rented a house for wayward, homeless and orphaned boys in Omaha. So many boys showed up he borrowed more money and bought a farm. Funded by charitable gifts the facility grew with the addition of dormitories, a school and admin buildings. It now encompasses 935 acres in Nebraska. It gained a national reputation with the 1938 “Boys Town” movie starring Spenser Tracy and Mickey Rooney. From www.omaha.com: “Father Flanagan took advantage of Boys Town’s fame to advocate for changes in America’s system of care for children. Through his own fiery speeches and in partnerships with other social advocates, he was able to shut down nearly every reform school, where children were often abused and used as free labor. He also shamed faith-based orphanages into adopting his more-compassionate model care, where youth received an education through enrichment music, the arts and religion. In doing so, Father Flanagan showed the country that even the most troubled kid could become a good citizen.”

I had a friend in the Navy who grew up in an orphanage in Philadelphia. Judging from his bitter asides, little of Father Flanagan’s compassion resided there.

Birthdays:

1745 — John Jay — Founding Father. Jay was a delegate to both the 1st and 2nd Continental Congress. Along with Hamilton and Madison, he argued for a more centralized form of government. Along with Benjamin Franklin Jay was a negotiator on the Treaty of Paris in which Britain recognized America’s independence. He was selected as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In Chisholm v. Georgia (1793), Jay’s court ruled that the federal government ultimately has power over the states. Jay also served as Governor of New York and as an early abolitionist helped abolish slavery in that state.

Although he was imperfect, being a slaveholder, I’ll go out on a limb and say that as a nation we are better off because of John Jay.

1821 — Gustave Flaubert — French writer. His most famous work is “Madame Bovary”. The publication of the novel brought him a charge of immorality by the French government, from which he barely escaped conviction. A perfectionist, he sometimes spent a week working on one page as he searched for the best phrase or most perfect adjective. (Wow) Flaubert was also a noted cynic as this observation of his proves: “To be stupid, and selfish, and to have good health are the three requirements for happiness; though if stupidity is lacking, the others are useless.”

Hmm, so that’s why people in Wisconsin seem so happy.

1925 — Cora Lee Johnson — Civil Rights Activist. I think this excerpt from a speech she gave tells us what we need to know about her.

“I want to tell you about Black people and work in America. Black people do nothing but work in America but we do not get paid, so they do not call it work. There is this myth that Black people are lazy, do not like to work, and only want to have babies and live on welfare. Black people cannot find jobs in America. It is hard to get a job even if you have an education. And there are no jobs for uneducated people. There is a sign at the factory that states “Help Wanted. Experienced Operators Only” Where are Black people going to get experience? Of course white folks do not need experience.

This speech was made back when America was still great.

Sources:

www.pulitzer.org

wikipedia.org

/www.britannica.com

onthisday.com

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Gary Jenneke

Writer, traveler, veteran, miscast accountant except for one interesting stint at a Communist cafe, retiree and blogger.