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

June 28 is Monday Holiday Law Day

monday holiday law dayToday is Monday Holiday Law Day. Call it the mother of all holidays about holidays and Lyndon B. Johnson the father of the long weekend.

On June 28, 1968, President Johnson signed a bill moving the official celebration of Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day from their traditional dates to Mondays. The change was meant to give employees the opportunity to travel and spend more leisure time with their families, while making the workweek more efficient by removing the interruption of mid-week holidays.

Johnson also established a holiday to recognize Christopher Columbus and his voyage to the New World. According to the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress, “By commemorating Christopher Columbus’s remarkable voyage, the nation honored the courage and determination of generation after generation of immigrants seeking freedom and opportunity in America.”

The law did not merge Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays into a generic Presidents’ Day. This myth, perpetuated by sales hawking everything from automobiles to mattresses, may have its root in an early draft which recommended it. Congress rejected it on the grounds that a holiday for all presidents would diminish Washington’s place in history. His birthday, February 22, 1732, is now officially celebrated on the third Monday in February.

Memorial Day began for the purpose of tending to the neglected graves of Union soldiers in Confederate cemeteries. (A similar tradition in the North was called Decoration Day.) Eventually, the two merged and May 30 was chosen by a group of veterans because, according to an address by President Barack Obama, “it coincided with the time when flowers were in bloom.”

The holiday wasn’t officially named Memorial Day until 1967. The following year, President Johnson moved its observance to the last Monday in May. Some veterans have complained that moving the date just to create a long weekend cheapens its meaning.

Columbus Day was scheduled the second Monday in October. Some states had already enacted their own commemorative holidays occurring on October 12, the anniversary of Columbus’ landing in 1492; they were required to jettison them and conform to federal law.

Veterans Day, called Armistice Day until 1954, was observed on November 11, to mark the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when Germany agreed to an armistice with the Allies, effectively ending World War I. President Johnson changed it to the fourth Monday in October. In 1975, Congress voted to revert to November 11 in recognition of the importance of the date. The law went into effect in 1978.

(The spelling of Veterans Day is no mistake: While the holiday is commonly printed as Veteran’s Day or Veterans’ Day, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs website states, “Veterans Day does not include an apostrophe but does include an ‘s’ at the end of ‘veterans’ because it is not a day that ‘belongs’ to veterans, it is a day for honoring all veterans.)

Happy Monday Holiday Law Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

June 4 is Old Maid’s Day

old maid's day

Miss Dorothy Babb

Today is Old Maid’s Day. It all began in Denton, TX, when Dorothy Babb, a Latin professor at North Texas State College (NTSC) jokingly complained she was sick of spending money on gifts for weddings, baby showers and Mother’s Day when, as a single woman, she only received presents at Christmas.

The school’s news director wrote an article seeking recognition for women who either couldn’t or wouldn’t get married. The story was picked up by the Associated Press and appeared throughout the country. Denton Mayor Mark Hannah designated August 15th, 1950, as a day to honor unmarried women.

Although more flattering names such as glamor girls, unclaimed jewels or career girls were suggested,  Miss Babb said she preferred to be called an old maid. She added that anybody who didn’t like the name could “just go and get married.”

The first year’s event included tea at the Denton Country Club, admission to a musical performance and a screening of The Three Stooges film, “The Brideless Groom.” Gifts were distributed to any unmarried woman who admitted to being an old maid.

By 1953, the famous old maids had received so many gifts from all over the country that they asked folks to send them instead to Girlstown in Whiteface, TX. Knowing they might never have children of their own, the ladies chose to help homeless girls.

In 1954, the celebration included a screening of Gone with the Wind and a telegram from Clark Gable. Pat Boone performed. Babb flew to Chicago to appear on a television show called “Welcome Travelers.” She’d been escorted by motorcade to Love Field where the college’s saber drill team formed an honor guard as she got on the plane.

The following year, Governor Allan Shivers issued a proclamation affirming August 15th as Old Maid’s Day. Over time, the celebrations grew smaller. The last documented event took place in 1965.  In recent years, the practice has been revived by fans of odd holidays and moved to June 4th.

In our research, we have been unable to determine why Old Maid’s Day returned. Perhaps it’s because the expectations of women that the holiday poked fun at 66 years ago haven’t changed much. Maybe the date has been moved forward so single teachers can clean up on gifts before the school year ends. Whatever the reason, have a happy Old Maid’s Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

April 28 is National Cubicle Day

national cubicle dayToday is National Cubicle Day. Technically, it isn’t a “national” holiday, having never been decreed by Congress and the president. Then again, none of them work in cubicles, so what do they know?

The first cubicle was introduced by furniture company Herman Miller in 1968. Robert Propst designed the “Action Office” as an alternative to working in open areas, often called bullpens.  It had flexible configurations with partitions to pin up current projects and provide privacy, lots of desk space and varying desk heights so people could spend some of their time standing up to keep their circulation flowing.

In the real world, Propst’s partitions, meant as building blocks for various layouts, were used to reduce each workspace to the smallest footprint possible to cram even more people into a room. The standing desk detail was abandoned, although it sounds like a good way for a boss to keep an eye out for any slackers trying to take a walk on the company’s dime.

If it ever becomes legal to catheterize a workforce, we’re confident that proximity fences and shock collars will become standard employee retention features of “systems furniture” design. (Eventually, someone will realize folks need to be hydrated and add a hamster-style water bottle to one corner.) Maybe Jon Sanderson had that in mind when he pulled this incredible April Fool’s Day prank on his coworker:

national cubicle day

photo: the Chive

Here are a few more cubicles that almost make us want to work in one. Almost. This one is great, but you can’t see that the key to the restroom is attached to the rim:

Check out the chair on the left. It has an alien face hugger in it!

This one is pretty sweet, right down to the tiki gods.

National cubicle day

If you’re worried that you’d get the boot if you jazzed up your office space, you can always splash out on this  inflatable Instant Window:

national cubicle day

Happy National Cubicle Day, everybody!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays