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This Month in History Around the World - MAY




May 5, 1893 - US Stock Market Tumble Triggers Panic By the end of the year, 600 banks closed and several big railroads were in receivership. Another 15,000 businesses went bankrupt amid 20 percent unemployment. It was the worst economic crisis in U.S. history up to that time. Like most major financial downturns, the depression of the 1890s was preceded by a series of shocks that undermined public confidence and weakened the economy. The Panic of 1893 provided a spectacular financial crisis the contributed to the economic recession. In the last days of the Benjamin Harrison administration, the Reading Railroad, a major eastern line, went into receivership. That collapse was soon magnified by the failures of hundreds of banks and businesses dependent upon the Reading and other railroads. The stock market reacted with a dramatic plunge. Fearing further collapse, European investors pulled their funds from the United States, but depression soon gripped the other side of the Atlantic as well. An ongoing agricultural depression in the West and South deepened, spreading the misery to those regions. Although thousands of businesses were ruined and more than four million were left unemployed, the new President Grover Cleveland did little. He believed, like most people of both major parties, that the business cycle was a natural occurrence and should not be tampered with by politicians. One economic matter, however, did concern the president deeply. The nation’s gold reserve had been steadily declining during the last years of the Harrison administration. The lavish spending of the “Billion Dollar Congress” and the gold drain caused by the Sherman Silver Purchase Act were the prime factors of the surplus reduction. A few weeks after Cleveland was sworn in, the nation’s reserves dipped below $100 million, a psychological barrier whose breaching further weakened public trust. The president acted to rescue the gold standard, but in the process divided the Democratic Party and alienated the silver forces of the South and West. When Congress adjourned at the end of June 1893, President Cleveland – fearing a possible adverse impact on the markets – secretly dealt with a major health problem. The Panic of 1893 and other factors had a lasting impact. The depression of the 1890s did not fully abate until 1897. One response to the series of failures and bankruptcies was an upsurge in business consolidations. The poorer elements of society believed they had been ignored during the hard times and then were left at the mercy of the trusts. The reform efforts of the last quarter of the 19th century had not been sufficient; new leadership was needed for the next century.

3 May 1897 - New Zealand’s first woman doctor registered On 3 May 1897 Margaret Cruickshank became the first New Zealand woman to register as a doctor and subsequently to engage in general medical practice. Margaret and her twin Christina were the eldest of seven children to George Cruickshank and Margaret Taggart who had immigrated to New Zealand from Scotland. George was originally a farmer from Aberdeen and when farming took a downturn in the 1850s, he left the United Kingdom with high hopes of finding better luck in the “promising colonies” of Australia and New Zealand

Her early education had been hard; after their mother’s death, when they were only 10 years old, Margaret and her twin, Christina, attended school on alternate days. One stayed home to care for the five younger children in the family, and in the evening the other one taught her twin what she had learned at school during the day. This plan ensured that they were not missing out despite their extenuating circumstances at home At Otago Girls High School, Margaret and her sister were joint dux. Christina followed a path into Education whilst Margaret was accepted to Otago Medical School. Although initially was unsure about her intended career direction she completed the course and in 1897 became only the second woman in New Zealand to complete a medical course and in May of that year became the first registered woman doctor in New Zealand.

Apart from a year’s study in Britain in 1913, she worked in the town of Waimate for the rest of her life, eventually becoming a partner in a doctors’ practice there. The head of the private practice was Dr H. C. Barclay, and Margaret boarded with him and his wife when she first moved to Waimate Her first record at the practice is on 03 March 1897, where she acted as the anaesthetist for a surgery Dr Barclay was performing. She continued in this position until 20 March 1898 where she performed her first surgery as the operator while Dr Barclay administered the anaesthetics. By 1908 she was performing the majority of the surgeries at the clinic. When the 1918 influenza pandemic struck she began working day and night; she not only gave medical care to her patients but attended to any urgent domestic tasks, which at times included feeding babies and milking cows. Unfortunately, Margaret Cruickshank caught influenza herself and died of pneumonia at Waimate on 28 November 1918. Due to the epidemic, Margaret did not want people congregating together and therefore the funeral was not advertised. However, her popularity was too great and during her funeral procession, the streets were lined with people honouring her memory.

On 25 January 1922, five years after her death, the town erected a marble statue in her name. The residents of Waimate had commissioned the sculptor, William Trethewey, to design and craft the statue based on photographs. The statue was unveiled by Mrs Barclay in the town’s central park and still stands there today. The inscription reads: Margaret B. Cruickshank M.D. The beloved physician, faithful unto death. This statue was the first erected to a woman in New Zealand.

May 1, 1835 – The Penny Black The first postage stamp in history; which due to its colour and that it cost a sender one penny became known as the Penny Black. It became available to the public on May 1, 1835 for use from May 6th. Introduced by Sir Rowland Hill who had been tasked with the overhaul of the British postal system it revolutionized the sending of mail. Up until then, postage was expensive and cumbersome with the recipient rather than the sender having to pay by the number of sheets sent and distance travelled. This meant that a letter of two pages travelling one hundred miles would cost 18 pence or one shilling and six pence. From 1840 the same letter if it weighed under half an ounce cost the sender just one penny. The introduction of uniform penny postage resulted in increased trade and prosperity, with more people sending letters, postcards and Christmas cards than ever before. Before 1839, it was estimated that the number of letters sent was 76 million. During 1850, it increased five times to about 350 million, and it continued to grow substantially afterwards, up until the end of the 20th century when more modern methods of implying postage-paid considerably lowered the use of delivery systems that require the presence of postage stamps.

The stamp was a simple design, a cameo head of the current monarch, Queen Victoria. Chosen by Hill because it would not be easy to copy despite him running a competition for a design that attracted over 2600 entries. The portrait of Victoria was engraved by Charles Heath and his son Frederick, based on a sketch provided by Henry Corbould. Corbould’s sketch was in turn based on the 1834 cameo-like head by William Wyon, which was used on a medal to commemorate the Queen’s visit to the City of London in 1837. This portrait of Victoria remained on British stamps until her death in 1901, although by then she was 81 years old.

Within three years postage stamps were introduced in Switzerland and Brazil, a little later in the United States, and by 1860, they were in 90 countries around the world. There was no requirement for the country name of origin to appear on the stamps but gradually countries did add them. However, the United Kingdom remains the only country in the world to still omit its name on postage stamps; the monarch’s image sufficient to signify the United Kingdom as the country of origin.


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