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5 Things You Didn't Know About Margaret Thatcher

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Margaret Thatcher was the tough-talking Conservative face of British politics throughout the 1980s. You may know about her policies, but how well do you know the woman who was nicknamed "The Iron Lady"?

1. She Started Out as a Chemist

In 1943, an 18-year-old Margaret Roberts headed to Oxford on a scholarship and began studying natural sciences. The future prime minister specialized in chemistry, and she was particularly interested in crystallography. She had good teachers, too. Her tutor, Dorothy Hodgkin, would go on to win the Nobel Prize in 1964 for her work in x-ray crystallography.

After earning a postgraduate BSc degree and an MA, Margaret Roberts took a research chemist job with BX Plastics in Essex. However, chemistry quickly took a back seat to politics. When she was in her mid-twenties, she twice ran as the Conservative candidate for the Parliament seat of the Labour stronghold of Dartford. Although she lost both times, she gained a great deal of publicity as the country's youngest female candidate, and her political career started to gain steam.

2. Her Voice Didn't Come Easy

Thatcher's resonant voice may be memorable, but it wasn't exactly natural. Her rise from Member of Parliament to 10 Downing Street might not have happened if she'd maintained her original pipes. Thatcher felt her natural speaking voice was too high to be truly authoritative, so she worked with a voice coach from the National Theater to lower it. After intensive training, Thatcher lowered her pitch by a full 46 hertz, which put her voice at the halfway point between the typical male and female vocal ranges.

3. She Didn't Need Any "Karate Ladies"

thatcher-timeIn 1979, Thatcher attended an economic summit in Japan. She was still a fairly new prime minister when she headed to Tokyo, and her hosts were a bit apprehensive about how a female PM would be received. To ensure Thatcher's safety, they came up with a novel plan: they would offer her a detail of 20 "karate ladies" for protection.

There was only one hitch in this bizarre plan: Thatcher wanted no part of it. Recently released records quote Thatcher's cabinet secretary Sir John Hunt as saying, "Mrs. Thatcher will attend the summit as Prime Minister and not as a woman per se"¦the Prime Minister would like to be treated in exactly the same manner as the other visiting Heads of Delegation...If other delegation leaders, for example, are each being assigned 20 karate gentlemen, the Prime Minister would have no objection to this; but she does not wish to be singled out."

4. Her Husband Was a Bit of a Character

denis-thatThis one's no surprise to British readers, as the domestic press had a field day with Denis Thatcher and depicted him as the U.K.'s more sophisticated answer Billy Carter. For his part, Denis offered this bit of advice on dealing with the press: "'Avoid telling them to sod off. It makes them cross.''

Denis never gave interviews and rarely made public speeches, but when he did, they had a tendency to end poorly. In 1979, he decried the effect the sporting boycott of apartheid-era South Africa was having on English rugby, saying, "We are a free people, playing an amateur game, and we have the right to play where the hell we like." The remark understandably caused a bit of a furor.

During Margaret's term in office, Denis actually played to the public's perception of him as a heavy-smoking golf nut with a penchant for tippling, even referring to himself as "the most shadowy husband of all time." However, Margaret wrote in her autobiography that her husband was "a fund of shrewd advice and penetrating comment. And he very sensibly saved these for me rather than the outside world.''

In 1990 he was made a baronet and became Sir Denis, and he accepted the honor with his usual good humor, saying, 'Thanks. But more important than that, I have just been elected a member of Sunningdale golf club.''

5. Her Son Isn't Quite as Diplomatic

Although she was known for her tough talk, Thatcher understood the benefits of using diplomacy and the political process to prompt change. Her son Mark, on the other hand, may not be quite as easygoing. He ran into trouble for his part in a 2004 coup d'etat attempt in Equatorial Guinea. The convoluted scheme involved a mercenary attack to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and replace him with exiled politician Severo Moto. Financing allegedly came from British backers who wanted to get at Equatorial Guinea's reserves of oil and natural gas.

thatchersSir Mark Thatcher gave the mercenary plot a little over $250,000 to charter various helicopters. In 2005, he plead guilty to breaking anti-mercenary laws in a South African court and received a four-year suspended sentence a $500,000 fine. Sir Mark has maintained that he thought he was funding the helicopters for a mining project, not a mercenary-led coup, but the guilty plea has haunted him. In 2005, the U.S. rejected his application for a visa even though his American wife (they have since divorced) and their children were living in the States.

Sir Mark's twin sister, Carol, made news of her own in 2005. She won the British version of I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here by sticking out two weeks in the Australian jungle. The Guardian described Carol as "jaunty, decent, self-deprecating and, when she remembers to brush her hair, oddly sexy."

5 Things You Didn't Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs, but there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams' mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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5 Things You Should Know About Robert Todd Lincoln
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Robert Todd Lincoln was Abraham Lincoln's oldest son and the only Lincoln child to survive into adulthood. While he didn't make quite the mark on history that his father did, Robert Lincoln had a pretty interesting life himself. Let's take a look at five things you might not know about him:

1. He Was on Ulysses S. Grant's Personal Staff

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Part of Abraham Lincoln's mystique lies in his humble roots as a self-made man who found education where he could. His eldest son didn't have to go through quite as many trials and tribulations to do some learning, though. Robert left Springfield, Illinois, to attend boarding school at New Hampshire's elite Phillips Exeter Academy when he was a young man, and he later graduated from Harvard during his father's presidency.

After completing his undergrad degree, Robert stuck around Cambridge to go to Harvard Law School, but that arrangement didn't last very long. After studying law for just a few months, Lincoln received a commission as a captain in the army. Lincoln's assignment put him on Ulysses S. Grant's personal staff, so he didn't see much fighting. He did get a nice view of history, though; Lincoln was present as part of Grant's junior staff at Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.

After the war ended, Lincoln moved to Chicago with his mother and brother and wrapped up his legal studies.

2. The Booth Family Did Him a Favor

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In 1863 or 1864, young Robert Lincoln was traveling by train from New York to Washington during a break from his studies at Harvard. He hopped off the train during a stop at Jersey City, only to find himself on an extremely crowded platform. To be polite, Lincoln stepped back to wait his turn to walk across the platform, his back pressed to one of the train's cars.

This situation probably seemed harmless enough until the train started moving, which whipped Lincoln around and dropped him into the space between the platform and train, an incredibly dangerous place to be.

Lincoln probably would have been dead meat if a stranger hadn't yanked him out of the hole by his collar. That stranger? None other than Edwin Booth, one of the most celebrated actors of the 19th century and brother of eventual Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth.

Lincoln immediately recognized the famous thespian "“ this was sort of like if George Clooney pulled you from a burning car today "“ and thanked him effusively. The actor had no idea whose life he had saved until he received a letter commending him for his bravery in saving the President's son a few months later.

3. He Had a Strange Knack for Being Near Assassinations

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Lee's surrender wasn't the only history Lincoln ended up witnessing, although things got a bit grislier for him after Appomattox. As he arrived back in Washington in April 1865 Lincoln's parents invited him to go see Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater with them. The young officer was so exhausted after his journey that he begged off so he could get a good night's sleep. That night, of course, John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln's father, and Robert Todd was with the celebrated president when he passed away the next morning.

By 1881, Lincoln's political lineage and prominence as a lawyer qualified him for a national office, and he became Secretary of War under the newly inaugurated James A. Garfield. That July, Lincoln was scheduled to travel to Elberon, New Jersey, by train with the President, but the trip never took off. Before Lincoln and Garfield's train could leave the station, Charles Guiteau shot the Garfield, who died of complications from the wound two months later.

Oddly, that wasn't all for Lincoln, though. Two decades passed without a presidential assassination, but Lincoln's strange luck reared its head again in 1901. Lincoln traveled to Buffalo at the invitation of President William McKinley to attend the Pan-American Exposition. Although he arrived a bit late to the even, Lincoln was on his way to meet McKinley when anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot the president twice at close range.

Following these three bits of bad luck Lincoln refused to attend any presidential functions. He dryly noted that there was "a certain fatality about the presidential function when I am present."

4. He Realized His Mom Was a Little Nutty

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Mary Todd Lincoln is fairly widely renowned today for being mentally ill, but it wasn't quite such an open secret when she was still alive. Robert, however, realized that his mother needed psychiatric help so she didn't become a danger to herself or an embarrassment to her family, so he had her involuntarily committed to a mental hospital in 1875 following a hearing that declared her insane.

Mary Todd was none too pleased about this plan. She not only snuck letters to her lawyer to help her escape from the institution, she also wrote newspaper editors in an effort to convince the public of her sanity. Mary Todd's ploy worked; at a second sanity hearing in 1876 she was declared sane and released from the Batavia, Illinois, sanatorium to which she'd been confined. However, by this point she'd been publicly humiliated and never really patched up her relationship with Robert before her death in 1882.

5. He Made Some Serious Dough on the Railroads

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Once he got his legal practice up and running, Lincoln found a particularly lucrative clientele in the booming railroad industry. He spent most of his career working as a corporate lawyer for various railroads and train-related companies; the only breaks were his four-year stint as Secretary of War under Garfield and successor Chester A. Arthur and a four-year hitch as a minister to Britain under President Benjamin Harrison.

One of Lincoln's major clients was the Pullman Palace Car Company, for which he served as general counsel. When founder George Pullman died in 1897, Lincoln became president of the company, and in 1911 he became chairman of the Pullman Company's board. His lofty position in one of the country's most lucrative companies made him a millionaire and enabled Lincoln to build a sprawling estate, Hildene, in Manchester, Vermont.

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