1741 George Friedrich Handel completed The Messiah. (See August 22nd entry.)
1814 Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star Spangled Banner.”
1849 Ivan Pavlov was born.
1883 Margaret Sanger was born.
Very early in the morning on this day in 1814 at Baltimore Harbor, Francis Scott Key wrote the words to a song as he watched and waited to see whether the American flag was still flying. It was a signal that the United States had turned away the British invaders in the War of 1812. “Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,” Francis Scott Key wrote, asking whether the flag was still there. When those lines were written, the British had burned government buildings and the White House in our nation’s capital. Francis Scott Key wrote of the rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air. If the British had succeeded in taking Baltimore, it would have been the end. Luckily, they didn’t.
The German composer George Friedrich Handel had held his “farewell concert” in the spring of 1741. But somehow, toward the end of summer he was inspired to write anoth
Er work. Many consider it to be his greatest achievement. He started writing on August 22nd, and finished on this day. Handel’s Messiah wasn’t given its first performance until the next spring, but this was the day that Handel himself sang a Hallelujah chorus.
Many reactions are the result of what we call conditioned reflexes. Some people’s hearts beat faster when the flag goes marching by. Some people get hungry when they hear the dinner bell ring. Some products have a particular odor deliberately applied to trigger a craving or an appreciation. The scientist who pioneered the study of conditioned reflexes was Ivan Pavlov, born on this day in 1849 in Ryazan, Russia. Pavlov showed the world how a dog could be trained to react one way or another to two distinctly different stimuli.
Margaret Higgins Sanger, who was born on this day in 1883, was trained as a nurse. But she devoted her life to birth control, until her death in 1966. When Sanger began championing her cause, birth control was a dirty word. Contraceptive information was classified as obscene and censored by the post office. She was arrested on obscenity charges—although the case never went to trial. The dispute continued even after her death, but at least the issue was discussed with a freedom that had been previously denied. Thanks to Sanger’s single-minded efforts, people can speak more freely today about birth control.