May 17, 1998

Women Have Loved Before As I Love Now

by Edna St. Vincent Millay


by William Butler Yeats


Today's Reading: "Politics" by William Butler Yeats. "Women Have Loved Before" by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

It's SYTTENDE MAI, NORWEGIAN CONSTITUTION DAY, when Norwegians celebrate their independence from Sweden in 1814. For years, Norway had been ruled by Denmark, but Sweden defeated the Danes in a war in late 1813 and laid claim to Norway which didn't please the Norwegians much because the Swedes had been their enemies for centuries. The Swedish king knew a union with Norway would be trouble, so he let the country go.

It's the anniversary of the 1954 Supreme Court decision known as BROWN VS. BOARD OF EDUCATION, in which the judges overturned an 1896 decision that had allowed "separate but equal" public facilities. They ruled unanimously that it was unconstitutional for the public schools of Topeka to be segregated by race, and this eventually led to public facilities of all kinds being integrated.

BIRGIT NILSSON, the finest Wagnerian soprano of her time, was born in the little coastal town of West Karup, Sweden, on this day in 1918. She made her first public performance at the age of five in a Christmas concert at school, accompanying herself on the organ while her mother lay on the floor under her pumping the pedals that the girl couldn't reach. She was raised on a farm and worked in the barn and in the fields beside her father who forbid that she'd have a music career. But they discovered that she had perfect pitch, a big voice that could sail over an orchestra and chorus, and she began winning prizes and scholarships. He couldn't hold her on the farm. She made her debut at Bayreuth in 1954 and was a regular there, singing Wagner, until 1970, famous for her portrayals of the heroines Isolde, Sieglinde, and Brunnhilde.

It's the birthday in Starkville, Mississippi, 1903, of JAMES "COOL PAPA" BELL, regarded as probably the fastest base-runner ever to play the game of baseball. He broke into the game in 1922, and in 24 seasons stole 173 bases, had a batting average of .338, including two seasons when he finished over .400. But he never played in the majors; he spent his career in the Negro Leagues, playing for teams in St. Louis, Detroit, Kansas City and Pittsburgh, and retired in 1946, one year before Jackie Robinson broke the major leagues' color barrier.

THE NEW YORK STOCK EXCHANGE opened on this day in 1792. After the Revolutionary War, stockbrokers who'd traditionally been governed by London were free to set their prices wherever they wanted, so they undercut the big firms by a couple percentage points. There was chaos in the stocks and bonds business until 24 brokers met under a buttonwood tree on May 17, 1792 on what is now Wall Street in New York City. It was formally constituted as the New York Stock and Exchange Board in 1817.

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