August 31 - Happy Birthday, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin

Posted on August 31, 2018

Woman's Era was the first newspaper published by and for African American women.

And today's famous birthday, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, was the woman who founded and edited it!

Ruffin, born in Boston, Massachusetts, on this date in 1842, was a civil rights leader and suffragist as well as a journalist and publisher. She helped start the American Woman Suffrage Association with prominent suffragists Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone, and she joined several other women's clubs, too. Eventually she started or helped start organizations for black women, including the Women's Era Club. 

Although she was probably treated as black by most people, including many Boston schools that were segregated during some of her schooling (and so she ended up going to schools in Salem and even far-away New York City!), Ruffin was biracial. Her father was from the Caribbean island of Martinique and had French and African roots. Her mother was white and from England.

When the General Federation of Women's Clubs met in 1900, Ruffin planned to go as representative of three different clubs, two that were made up of mostly white members, and the Women's Era Club, which had mostly black members and was considered a black club. The organizers of the General Federation said that Ruffin could be seated as a representative of the mostly-white clubs, but not of the black one. So...

So, of course, Ruffin refused on principle to be seated at all, and she was excluded from the meeting. There was a lot of publicity about this incident, and most of it was complimentary toward Ruffin.

And she continued to organize and write and publish and work...

Ruffin married a man who became the first African American graduate of Harvard Law School, AND the the first African American person elected to the Boston City Council AND the first African American municipal judge! They had five kids.

Also on this date:

August 30 – Victory Day in Turkey

Posted on August 30, 2018

There once was an empire called the Ottoman Empire. Another name for the empire was the Turkish Empire - just Turkey. 

Under some rulers, this empire grew in size and power. Like, way back when, in the late 1600s, the Ottoman Empire included a lot of Southeastern Europe, much of Mideastern Asia, and narrow strips of Northern Africa! 

In the early 1900s, things fell apart. The Ottoman Empire joined in on World War I, fighting with the Central Powers (alongside the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria), and the Ottoman government committed genocides against the Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek peoples within the empire! The Central Powers lost the war, and with that loss, the Ottoman Empire was no more.

The empire was carved up (or partitioned) into bits ruled by Britain, France, and Italy. Not long after the partitioning, the Turkish National Movement rose up to combat those three powers and Greece, and Armenia. 

Victory Day is the commemoration of the end of the last battle of the war between Greece and Turkey, on this date in 1922, and it ushered in independence for Turkey.

Turkey is very near the "cradle of Western civilization" - including the Egyptian, Mesopotamian (including Sumerian and Assyrian), Babylonian, and Phoenician  civilizations, and later the Ancient Greek civilization. 

Turkey's largest (most populous) city is Istanbul. It used to be called Byzantium and then Constantinople. Turkey is pretty much a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by seas - the Aegean, the Black Sea, and the Mediterranean. 

Check out some of the wonders of Turkey:

Ruins, including Ephesus and Mount Nemrut

Kurşunlu Waterfall

"Three Beauties" at Cappadocia

Maiden's Tower at Istanbul

The chimeras (naturally occurring "eternal flame" from methane gas coming out of the rocks)

The natural hot springs and terraces of Pamukkale

Hagia Sophia, a beautiful mosque in Istanbul

The upside-down head of Medusa at the Basilica Cistern

Surprising bits of color in Istanbul!

August 29 – Copper Coins, Way Back When!

Posted on August 29, 2018

Japan's first coins were officially minted on this date in 708.
They were made of copper and had a square hole in the middle, not unlike the coins minted by the Chinese in the 600s. 

We know that China was making golden coins in the 200s, and there is some evidence that both China and India were creating coins way back in the 7th Century B.C.E.

Note that I said "some evidence" - apparently we don't have any oh-so-ancient coins from these earliest Chinese and Indian coins. But we DO have actual coins that were created by the Lydians way-way-way back in about 600 B.C.E. Because of this direct evidence, some scholars don't mention the probability that China and India separately, at around the same time, invented coins - and instead they simply state the Lydians invented coinage!

This map shows three probably origins of coins.
Lydia, on the leftmost (westernmost) side of the map,
is where Turkey is today. India and China are the two
other places where coins are thought to have been
independently invented.

The earliest Lydian coins we know about were made of electrum, which is a naturally-occurring combination of gold and silver. The coins were not of standardized shapes and sizes but were standardized according to weight, so they may have been weighed rather than counted. Of course, having standardized shapes and sizes - and having flat coins - makes it possible to stack them, sort them with machines, and (in the case of round, flat coins, invent coin slots and vending machines)...

Here are some questions I had about coins...

Are all coins round?

No. In addition to many different roundish-shaped - but not perfectly circular - ancient coins...

...There were ancient coins that were of radically different shapes, like these spade- and spear-shaped coins.

And, in more modern times, there have been squarish, flower-shaped, 6-sided hexagonal, 12-sided (almost round) dodecagonal, and other shapes of coins. 

And how about these right-now Chinese fan-shaped collectible coins?They're designed to encourage you to buy "the complete set," since all of the fan-shaped coins fit together to make - you guessed it! - a circle!

Why did Chinese and Japanese coins have those central holes? And why were the holes square?

Apparently, after the coins were cast and cooled, coin makers would string the coins on square rods and then were able to use a rasp to smooth the edges of many coins at once. If the holes and rods were round, the coins wouldn't stay in place for scraping and smoothing.

Even though this practical reason probably tells the entire story, there is also a theory that, inChinese mythology, the round shape of the coin represents the universe, and the square shape of the hole represents the Earth (then believed to be a square) or China (the Chinese character for "country" is surrounded by a square).

I don't know why EVERYBODY doesn't put holes in their coins!