July 7 is Nettie Stevens Day

nettie stevens day

Nettie Stevens

Nettie Stevens Day celebrates the scientist who discovered that sex is determined by XX and XY chromosomes. On July 7, 2016, the 155th anniversary of her birth, the only reason many people learned her name was by clicking on that day’s Google doodle.

She studied mealworms and found that a male’s sperm carried both X and Y chromosomes, while a female’s eggs contained only X chromosomes. She concluded that sex determination must come from fertilization of the egg by the sperm. In 1905, she submitted for publication a paper reporting her results.

Meanwhile, Columbia University scientist Edmund Beecher Wilson had reached the same conclusion. He was asked to review Stevens’ paper prior to its publication; his own paper had reportedly already gone to press, negating any possibility of dishonesty.

Historian Stephen Brush disputes the timeline in The History of Science Society, “It is generally stated that E. B. Wilson obtained the same results as Stevens, at the same time,” he writes. But “Wilson probably did not arrive at his conclusion on sex determination until after he had seen Stevens’ results.”

In fact, Wilson wrongly asserted that environmental factors could influence sex. Stevens insisted it was all due to chromosomes. At the time, there was no way to prove either theory. But it’s been known for decades that Stevens got it right. It renders the question of who published first irrelevant.

In spite of that, Wilson and Stevens were credited with making the fully correct discovery independently.  Wilson received the lion’s share of accolades while Stevens was often mistakenly referred to as a “lab technician.”  Brush states, “Because of Wilson’s more substantial contributions in other areas, he tends to be given most of the credit for this discovery.”

The fact that Nettie Stevens had two X chromosomes certainly contributed to the lack of recognition. Her accomplishments put the lie to Brush’s assertion. She published 40 papers and was about to attain full research status at Bryn Mawr when she died of breast cancer on May 4, 1912, at the age of 50.

She—and Wilson, too—have been all but forgotten since then. In 1933, fellow scientist Thomas H. Morgan received the Nobel Prize for his pioneering work in chromosomal research even though he didn’t espouse the theory until years after Stevens and Wilson published their papers.

Stevens once remarked to her students that their questions were always welcome “so long as I keep my enthusiasm for biology; and that, I hope, will be as long as I live.”

Let’s remember Nettie Stevens today. And tomorrow and the next day….

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

July 6 is Umbrella Cover Day

Umbrella Cover DayToday is Umbrella Cover Day. Although the holiday got its official start in 2014, its roots reach back to 1996, when Maine native Nancy 3. Hoffman founded the Umbrella Cover Museum, dedicating it to “the appreciation of the mundane in everyday life” and “finding wonder and beauty in the simplest of things.”

Hoffman changed her middle name from Arlene to Three in 1992 after a typographical error on a form gave her the idea; she likes that “3” is universal to every language and needs no translation. She heads up an accordion band known as The Maine Squeeze. Her one-woman performance of “The Mikado” by Gilbert and Sullivan was once produced at Scotland’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Many years ago, Hoffman explained her inspiration for the museum in her book Uncovered and Exposed:

I was cleaning out my house one day, and discovered that I still had all of the covers from all the umbrellas I’d ever bought (Seven or so.) That got me thinking. Then one day, around 1992, I was in a dime store and I stole a cover off of an umbrella…just the cover. Then I knew I was hooked. After that I started planning the Museum and soliciting donations for the exhibits.

In 1996, the Umbrella Cover Museum opened its doors—more specifically the door to her kitchen, where the covers were displayed.  Eventually, the collection grew so large she moved it to its current two-room location on Peaks Island, Maine.

The museum is open during summer months. (Hoffman winters in Key West, Florida.) Guided tours are available. The curator/director serenades lucky visitors with her rendition of “Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella” while accompanying herself on accordion.

For several years, Hoffman petitioned the Guinness Book of World Records to add a new category for umbrella sleeves. Guinness finally acquiesced, scheduling an official count on July 7, 2012. News of the upcoming event brought donations from around the world.

By the day of the event, the museum housed covers hailing from forty-eight countries. According to Guinness rules, to attain a record for highest number of an object, the total must exceed 500. Handmade covers and duplicates were not allowed in the tally. Hoffman sailed into the record books with 730.

Hoffman is always happy to accept umbrella covers. She is currently soliciting monetary donations to “send the museum to England.” (Per the site, contributions are not tax-deductible at this time.) As a matter of national pride, we hope she intends to do a temporary installation over there and returns to Maine.

On a scale from “Honey, get the pitchfork” to “She’s not hurting anyone,” Hoffman occupies the “lovable eccentric” zone. Maybe we shouldn’t need her Umbrella Cover Museum to make us see the beauty of simple, seemingly worthless things, but don’t we?

Happy Umbrella Cover Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

Bikini Day

Today is Bikini Day. On July 5, 1946, French designer Louis Réard unveiled a two-piece swimsuit at a swimming pool in Paris.

He named it the “bikini” after the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, where the U.S. had conducted an atomic bomb test only five days earlier. He believed his swimsuit would cause an “explosive commercial and cultural reaction.”

Two-piece outfits were not new. In 1960, while excavating the ruins of a fourth-century Roman villa, archaeologists discovered a mural depicting ten women they are informally referred to as “the bikini girls.” There’s no evidence to suggest the clothing was used for swimming.

bikini day

Villa Romana del Casale – “the bikini girls”

In the 1930s, European women began wearing two-piece bathing suits—a halter top and shorts—that bared a small bit of midriff and covered the navel entirely. During World War II, fabric rationing led to similar designs in the U.S.

In 1946, Réard wasn’t the only French designer determined to capitalize on jubilant postwar feelings of liberation. Jacques Heim re-introduced the “Atome,” a suit he’d designed in 1932, when exposing the belly button was still considered scandalous. He released it in June 1946, advertising it as “the world’s smallest bathing suit.”

bikini day

Jacques Heim’s “Atome”

Réard’s swimsuit was smaller, constructed of a little bra top, two triangular pieces of fabric and string. He planned to unveil it on July 5 at the Piscine Molitor pool, promoting it as “smaller than the world’s smallest bathing suit.”

One issue threatened to derail Réard’s plan: He couldn’t find a professional model who would agree to wear the skimpy bikini. His solution turned out to be a stroke of marketing genius. He hired exotic dancer Micheline Bernardini, who had no problem with appearing nearly nude in public.

bikini day

Réard’s “bikini”

To show how confident he was of the headlines his bikini would generate, he printed newspaper type across the suit’s material. The bikini was a hit and so was Bernardini, who reportedly received 50,000 fan letters.

In less than ten years, the bikini became a familiar sight on beaches all over Europe. By the 1960s, it was popping up everywhere in the U.S. as well. Seventy years after its introduction, the design continues to dominate the market. Réard summed up its sexy allure when he stated: “A bikini is not a bikini unless it can be pulled through a wedding ring.”

Happy Bikini Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

June 16 is Ladies’ Day

ladies' day

It’s a good thing they changed the logo.

Today is Ladies’ Day, devised to attract more women to baseball games and convert them to fans.

The New York Gothams’ management held the first Ladies’ Day on Tuesday, June 16, 1883, at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan. All women, both escorted and unescorted, were admitted free. The Gothams beat the Cleveland Spiders 5-2 that day. (The team later changed its name to the New York Giants.)

Ladies’ Day proved so popular, it was made a weekly tradition by many ball clubs. More women began to fill the grandstands and over time, baseball games became more of a family affair.

Happy Ladies’ Day to one and all!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays