King of Ragtime: The Life of Scott Joplin

Black and white portrait of Scott Joplin, circa 1907, in formal attire with a bow tie and a focused expression.
Scott Joplin, 1907

People called Scott Joplin the “King of Ragtime.” It was a well-deserved nickname. For he was exceptional, gifted in playing and composing the music, and able to bring people together with his craft.

Scott was born in east Texas in either 1867 or 1868 and grew up in Texarkana, Arkansas. He was part of the first generation of black Americans post enslavement, who believed that with hard work and dedication, they could fulfill their dreams. His parents felt similar about their children’s prospects for life and, wanting him to be educated, sent him to tutoring from local literate black neighbors, as there were no schools in his area for black students. Alongside his schooling, Scott also learned music, as his parents had musical interests. And it was there that he shined.

People quickly realized that Scott was special in his musical abilities. There was a unique beauty in how he played and the music he composed, which he began doing in his early years. Music teachers volunteered to work with him for free.

Scott took his talent and, coupled with hard work and discipline, turned it into a career. In some ways, it was also opportune timing, at least in matching talent and American audience interest. In Scott’s day, the piano was the most popular musical instrument. Americans wanted to hear it played live in saloons, restaurants, pool halls, stores, and theaters. As such, musicians were in high demand.

In those early years of his career, he followed the money, playing wherever someone would pay him. In the words of one biographer writing about Scott, “For him, music was music. It did not matter to him whether his audience was made up of gamblers or socialites.”

But Scott’s breakthrough came with his composition of “Maple Leaf Rag” in 1899. Ragtime was still in its infancy as a mainstream genre but had been part of the African-American experience long before. Scott’s work helped reach new audiences and cemented his reputation as a leading ragtime composer.

In addition to his work making ragtime music, Scott also composed two operas, including “Treemonisha” in 1911, which was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1976.

Scott passed away in 1917.

Notes

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King of Ragtime: The Life of Scott Joplin Sources

  • Berlin, Edward A.. King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era. United States, Oxford University Press, 2016.
  • Scott Joplin. United States, Facts On File, Incorporated, 1989.

Booker T. Washington Quote on Emancipation

“As the great day drew nearer, there was more singing in the slave quarters than usual. It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted later into the night. Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom…. [S]ome man who seemed to be a stranger (a United States officer, I presume) made a little speech and then read a rather long paper—the Emancipation Proclamation, I think. After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing that she would never live to see.”

– Booker T. Washington

Black-and-white portrait of Booker T. Washington sitting with his body slightly turned to the right. He is wearing a formal three-piece suit with a vest, white shirt, and bow tie. His expression is serious and contemplative, and he looks directly at the camera with clear eyes. The background is plain and dark, focusing all attention on his visage and attire.
Booker T. Washington

Notes

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Booker T. Washington Quote on Emancipation Sources

Washington, Booker T. Up from Slavery: An Autobiography. New York: Doubleday, Page, 1901 / Portrait taken circa 1905 – Johnston, Frances Benjamin, photographer. Booker T. Washington, half-length portrait, seated. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2010645746/>. / Wikimedia Commons

William Lloyd Garrison Quote

“In attacking the system of slavery, I clearly foresaw all that has happened to me. I knew, at the commencement, that my motives would be impeached, my warnings ridiculed, my person persecuted, my sanity doubted, my life jeoparded : but the clank of the prisoner’s chains broke upon my ear — it entered deeply into my soul — I looked up to Heaven for strength to sustain me in the perilous work of emancipation — and my resolution was taken.”

– William Lloyd Garrison

Black and white photograph of William Lloyd Garrison sitting with his hands folded, wearing a dark coat, waistcoat, and bow tie, circa 1870.
William Lloyd Garrison, 1870

Notes:

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William Lloyd Garrison Quote Sources:

  • William Lloyd Garrison, abolitionist, journalist, and editor of The Liberator. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2017660623/>.

 

Wilma Rudolph quote: “Winning is great…

“Winning is great, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose…If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”

– Wilma Rudolph

Black-and-white photograph of Wilma Rudolph holding an umbrella, standing in profile. She is wearing a dark blazer with a badge that reads 'USA' over a light-colored shirt with a dark tie. She appears to be smiling slightly and looking off to the side, with a candid expression, holding a booklet in her other hand. There are indistinct figures and what appears to be an airplane in the blurred background, suggesting a busy setting.
Wilma Rudolph

Notes

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“Wilma Rudolph quote: ‘Winning is great…” sources

Claudine Gay resigns from role as President of Harvard University

Background

Claudine Gay resigned from her position as President of Harvard University yesterday. Her decision came after months of public outcry over how she handled communications after the October 7th attacks, her Congressional hearing testimony, and plagiarism accusations. She will stay on as a faculty member at the University.

What are the facts?

  • President Gay published a letter on October 9, 2023, about the October 7 attack in Israel. President Gay published a follow-up note on October 10, 2023, after criticism for the lack of condemnation of Hamas and the student groups on campus who put all the blame on Israel. Both communications can be read here
  • At a Congressional Testimony on December 5, 2023 with President Magill of UPenn and President Kornbluth at MIT, President Gay responded, “It can be. Depending on the context,” to Congresswoman Stafanik’s question, “The answer is yes. And Dr. Gay, at Harvard, does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s rules of bullying and harassment, yes or no?” The “context” part of her response was shared across social media, leading to much public outrage over the answer. The full transcript of the hearing can be found here.
  • President Magill resigned from her position on December 9, 2023.
  • President Kornbluth is still in her position.
  • Over 40 accusations of plagiarism in her academic work have been made against President Gay. In one response from Harvard about the allegations – “While the analysis found no violation of Harvard’s standards for research misconduct, President Gay is proactively requesting four corrections in two articles to insert citations and quotation marks that were omitted from the original publications.”
  • President Gay is the first black president at Harvard University.

What are the feelings and opinions?

  • On one side, people are arguing that:
    • President Gay showed bias. In the Congressional hearing, had the question been about calling for the genocide of a different minority group, she would have answered differently. 
    • President Gay’s words and actions represent the failings of the DEI movement. 
  • On the other side:
    • President Gay’s response at the Congressional hearing was accurate. That it is a context-dependent decision and that the hearing is being weaponized by the Republicans against both Democrats and the DEI movement. 
    • Racism is the reason behind demands for her resignation. 

Notes

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Sources

Marie Marvingt: The Bride of Danger

Black and white historical photo of Marie Marvingt, a pioneering aviator, standing beside an early model airplane. She is dressed in a leather flight jacket and skirt, with a cloth cap and goggles on her head, posing with one hand on the aircraft, conveying a sense of adventure and determination. The setting appears to be an open field, indicative of early aviation grounds.
Marie Marvingt

The French called Marie Marvingt “The Bride of Danger.” They also said she was the greatest female athlete in the world. It was arguable, of course. Yet, they certainly had a point. Marie excelled in swimming, cycling, mountain climbing, ballooning, flying, riding, gymnastics, athletics, fencing, and others, setting many firsts and many records amongst them.

Born in 1875 in Aurillac, France, Marie found love in sport through her father. Even in her early years, she’d go with him on adventures into the countryside or on mountain climbs. “As a little girl, my father turned me into his enthusiastic companion and the two of us spent his vacations mountain climbing together. I followed him with lighthearted eagerness wherever he agreed to take me.” Marie’s father challenged his daughter, pushing her to keep up with him and constantly encouraging her to improve.

Growing up in such an environment, Marie lived unafraid. Just as her father encouraged, Marie constantly challenged herself. In school, kids called her “Daredevil Marie.”

By her adult years, Marie was becoming a sports star. She set records in multiple sports and often was the first woman to accomplish some new feat in a sport. As one man remarked about Marie, “There is surely no other woman in the world with the athletic credentials of Marie Marvingt, and I wouldn’t like to bet there is even a man who has done as well.”

But sport was just one part of Marie’s life. Marie also took up aviation. First, she became a balloon pilot and, soon after, an airplane pilot. These skills became important in helping France during World War I.

When the War began, Marie wanted to contribute to her country. She first dressed as a man to serve in the French Army. A few weeks later, she was discovered and sent home. Still committed to contributing to the war effort, Marie took on a role as a pilot, flying over Germany in bombing campaigns. This work made her one of the first female pilots to participate in combat missions.

Arguably, though, Marie’s most significant contribution to the world was making airplanes an important part of medical care. “If we have given wings to the world, we have the obligation to ensure that they are the wings of the dove of peace,” Marie would say. She advocated for creating airplane ambulances, presenting her ideas in thousands of conferences and seminars, and helping to establish civil air ambulance services in various countries around the world.

Marie passed away in 1963.

Notes

Click here to read a snapshot biography of aviator Bessie Coleman.

Please consider supporting Historical Snapshots with a donation if you enjoyed this Marie Marvingt snapshot biography. Visit our Patreon page to donate. Thank you for supporting us.

Sources

 

The Great Blunder of Karl Marx

Karl Marx wrote in a time of many labor abuses. He saw the ills, critiqued them, and offered alternatives. In that regard, we should be grateful for his thoughts, for one could argue that Marx provided an insightful perspective on how to be a caring manager.

But where Marx blundered tragically is that he made violent revolution a core tenet. You cannot be a Marxist, Socialist, or Communist without believing that violence is necessary. So, who then do these theories attract? People who desire violent revolution.

History has shown the results of such thinking. Look at the Soviet Union. Look at China. How many died in the violence of revolution? And then what happened after? Many more were killed. Revolutionaries generally aren’t experienced in all the challenges of operating a healthy economy. They put their own inexperienced, unqualified people in charge. So often, the economy fails. The failure leads these leaders who believe in violence as an answer to problems to then, of course, proceed with more violence.

Some examples can be brought up to counter this argument. But what is common in counter-examples is that those countries or movements tend to be much more democratic and less socialist in nature. By being democratic, they are movements for all the people instead of an oppressed/oppressor class struggle position.

Why is this all important? Because there are rising voices and movements around the world, particularly in the United States, that espouse these theories. We can disagree on the strength and momentum of each movement. Its existence and increasing prominence, however, seem clear. And while no two movements perfectly mirror each other, reasonable outcomes can be predicted for present movements using a historical lens. And the prediction, given the destruction history shows us, is not one to aspire towards.

Notes

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Click here to read a historical fiction short story from the Russian Revolution.

Greta Garbo: Story of a Movie Star

“A great star with a rare power to charm.”

“She could make the character come alive and live before your very eyes.”

“Greta works almost to the point of exhaustion, and her capacity for work is contagious.”

These were some comments about Greta Garbo. Indeed, she was special.

Black and white portrait of Greta Garbo, featuring her with wavy hair, a pensive expression, and her chin resting on her hand.
Greta Garbo, circa 1930

Greta was born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1905, where her early years came with much struggle, particularly with life in poverty. About the experience, Greta said,

“It was eternally grey—those long winter’s nights. My father would be sitting in a corner, scribbling figures on a newspaper. On the other side of the room, my mother is repairing ragged old clothes, sighing. We children would be talking in very low voices, or just sitting silently. We were filled with anxiety, as if there were danger in the air. Such evenings are unforgettable for a sensitive girl, but also for a girl like me. Where we lived, all the houses and apartments looked alike, their ugliness matched by everything surrounding us.”

Yet, amidst the challenges, she also spoke positively and lovingly about her parents. “My father had a sense of humour and always used to cheer people up. His motto was: ‘things will be better tomorrow,'” she said. And about her mother, “My mother was almost always in a good mood. She used to sing as well.”

From her earliest years, Greta was shy and spent much time alone. She wandered the streets searching for theatres, where she’d stand at the stage entrances to watch actors come and go. She, too, wanted to act.

At fifteen, Greta took a job in a department store to help support her family, as her father had recently passed away. The work she found fine. But it would change her life.

Greta received an opportunity to appear in a short advertising film for the department store where she worked. Small acting roles came after. Then, she met a film director who gave her a small part in a movie in 1922. This experience led to her enrollment at the Royal Dramatic Theatre’s Acting School in Stockholm, which was a significant step in honing her acting skills.

While studying at the Royal Dramatic Theatre, Greta caught the attention of the prominent Swedish director Mauritz Stiller. Impressed by her natural acting ability, Mauritz cast her in a major role in “The Saga of Gösta Berling” in 1924. This film was her first significant role and established her as a promising actress in Swedish cinema.

That performance caught the attention of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer chief executive Louis B. Meyer. He brought her to Hollywood the following year, signing her to a short deal. For Greta, this meant much pressure to have great results immediately. Greta did just that. Making her Hollywood debut the year after, the film was a hit. One publication wrote about her acting in the debut: “She is not so much an actress as she is endowed with individuality and magnetism.”

Greta became a star and a huge box office draw. But besides being able to help her family financially, Greta wasn’t happy in her new life in America and with being a celebrity. In 1941, after a remarkable acting career that included many hits, much fame, and four Academy Award nominations, Greta retired. She lived out the rest of her years out of the spotlight, spending much time alone, taking walks, and being with some close friends. Greta passed away in 1990.

Notes:

  • Please consider supporting Historical Snapshots with a donation if you enjoyed this snapshot biography of Greta Garbo. Visit our Patreon page to donate. Thank you for supporting us.

Sources:

  • Broman, Sven, and Garbo, Greta. Conversations with Greta Garbo. United States, G.K. Hall, 1992.
  • Genthe, Arnold, photographer. Portrait photograph of Greta Garbo. Between 1925 and 1942; from a negative taken 1925 july. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2018704280/>.

Greta Garbo quote: “I’m like my father…

“I’m like my father in one way: he loved walking and he often went for long walks all on his own. My father had a sense of humour and always used to cheer people up. His motto was: ‘Things will be better tomorrow.’ But he used to complain sometimes about not having been able to go to school and study.”

– Greta Garbo

Black and white portrait of Greta Garbo, featuring her with wavy hair, a pensive expression, and her chin resting on her hand.
Greta Garbo, circa 1930

Notes

  • Please consider supporting Historical Snapshots with a donation if you enjoyed this Greta Garbo quote. Visit our Patreon page to donate. Thank you for supporting us.

Sources

  • Genthe, Arnold, photographer. Portrait photograph of Greta Garbo. Between 1925 and 1942; from a negative taken 1925 july. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2018704280/>.
  • Broman, Sven, and Garbo, Greta. Conversations with Greta Garbo. United States, G.K. Hall, 1992.

Louisa May Alcott: a snapshot biography

Antique sepia-toned photograph of Louisa May Alcott, a 19th-century American author. She is depicted in a Victorian-era dress with ruffled trim and buttons, her hair parted in the middle and pulled back. The expression on her face is serious and contemplative, with her eyes gazing slightly off to the side. The photograph exudes a sense of historical significance and portrays the classic fashion and photography style of the time.
Louisa May Alcott, circa 1870

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

“We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.”

So begins Little Women, Louisa May Alcott’s most famous book. Written in a semi-autobiographical style, in many ways this beginning encapsulates much of Louisa’s upbringing and some of her deep-rooted values.


Louisa was born on November 29, 1832, and grew up in a family that lived in poverty, moving frequently – 22 times in 30 years – seeking work and affordable housing while often relying on support from others. This constant state of financial problems required Louisa and her sisters to contribute to the family’s finances from a young age. Louisa’s various jobs included seamstress, governess, and teacher roles. “I will do something by-and-by. Don’t care what, teach, sew, act, write, anything to help the family,” Louisa would say.

But through this hardship, the kids learned to live simple lives and care deeply for people. And while their father didn’t provide financial stability, he was a pioneering educator who emphasized learning for his girls, an atypical decision for the time. His teachings and mentoring from family and friends, such as famous writers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, gave Louisa a unique and particularly literary upbringing. She called Emerson “the man who has me most by his life, his books, his society.”


Louisa’s writing life started in her early years. She kept diaries and wrote poems, beginning around age ten. In one of her earlier entries written around this time, Louisa wrote…

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“Louisa May Alcott: a snapshot biography” Sources:

“Louisa May Alcott: a snapshot biography” Notes:

Click here to read another snapshot biography of a writer, Harriet Beecher Stowe.