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10 Famous Birthdays to Celebrate in January

Rebecca O'Connell / iStock, Getty Images
Rebecca O'Connell / iStock, Getty Images

Some of our favorite historical figures were born in the first month of the year. We couldn't possibly name them all, so here are just a handful of lives we'll be celebrating.

1. JOAN OF ARC: JANUARY 6, CIRCA 1412

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Joan d'Arc, who lived just 19 years, packed a lot into her short life. When she was 13, Joan began to have visions of herself leading France to victory over England—and though she was just a peasant girl who couldn't read or write, she had complete faith in her visions. At 16, Joan rejected an arranged marriage to carry out her mission to depose the English King Henry VI and install the French prince Charles as its rightful king. She gathered followers, cut her hair, put on warrior's armor, and led several successful assaults against the English in 1429. (Though she was in charge of troops and strategy, she didn't actively participate in combat.) Joan became a hero, Charles took the crown, and her forces grew. But she was captured by Anglo-Burgundians in 1430 and charged with 70 crimes, including witchcraft and cross-dressing. She was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431. On July 6, 1456, Joan d'Arc was declared innocent of heresy, and more than 460 years later, she was declared a saint.

2. ZORA NEALE HURSTON: JANUARY 7, 1891

U.S. Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Evidence points to Zora Neale Hurston being born in 1891, but she lied about her age in order to get an education after having to work for years. She stuck to her story of being 10 years younger the rest of her life. Hurston became one of the literary stars of the Harlem Renaissance, even as she refused to imbue her works with political goals. She produced novels, nonfiction, and stage plays, usually with great reception and meager profits. Hurston died broke in 1960. Hurston, who had once written to activist W.E.B. Du Bois proposing the creation of "a cemetery for the illustrious Negro dead," was buried in an unmarked grave in Florida. But in 1973, Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, put a marker on Hurston's grave that read "Zora Neale Hurston, A Genius of the South. Novelist, folklorist, anthropologist."

3. DAVID BOWIE: JANUARY 8, 1947

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Born David Robert Jones, the performer known as David Bowie started playing saxophone at age 13. He assumed his stage name in 1966 and released his first album the next year. He continued to be a trend-setting presence in music and fashion until his death last year at the age of 69, two days after the release of his final album, Blackstar.

4. ELVIS PRESLEY: JANUARY 8, 1935

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Before he became a worldwide superstar in the 1950s, Elvis—who was born in 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi—was a shy teenager trying to find his place. At his senior prom in Memphis, he told his date he couldn't dance. He got over that shyness, and danced his way through two episodes of The Milton Berle Show in 1956 with moves that scandalized some viewers.

5. SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR: JANUARY 9, 1908

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As a child, the French writer and existentialist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir attended school at a convent and wanted to become a nun. But at 14, she renounced religion and became an atheist; in 1926, she headed to the Sorbonne to study philosophy. In 1929, she became the ninth woman to take the agrégation in philosophy, a competitive exam that landed those who passed coveted teaching jobs. She came in second to her future partner, John-Paul Sartre—who was taking the test for a second time after failing the first—and, at 21, was the youngest person to pass the exam.

Over the course of her lifetime, De Beauvoir published works of fiction, did some travel writing, authored autobiographies, and penned pieces about ethics and politics. And in her most famous work, The Second Sex (1949), she tackled the patriarchy and the female's place in society. "She is nothing other than what man decides; she is thus called 'the sex,' meaning that the male sees her essentially as a sexed being; for him she is sex, so she is it in the absolute," De Beauvoir wrote. "She determines and differentiates herself in relation to man, and he does not in relation to her; she is the inessential in front of the essential. He is the Subject; he is the Absolute. She is the Other."

6. ALEXANDER HAMILTON: JANUARY 11, 1755

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Alexander Hamilton was a Revolutionary War hero, wrote many of the Federalist Papers, founded the Bank of New York, created the federal banking system, became the first Secretary of the Treasury, and founded the U.S. Mint. He was famously shot and killed by Vice President Aaron Burr during a duel in 1804. Today, Hamilton is still on the $10 bill and is the subject of today's hottest Broadway musical.

7. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: JANUARY 15, 1929

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On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed "I Have A Dream" on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Standing guard was George Raveling, a former basketball player who had been asked to provide extra security at the event. Raveling watched King fold up the speech and, as the Civil Rights leader stepped down from the podium, asked if he could have it. Not realizing how historic the document was, Raveling stashed the pages in a Truman biography for two decades. (It has since been professionally framed and placed in a bank vault.)

8. MUHAMMAD ALI: JANUARY 17, 1942

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Born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky, Muhammad Ali took the name we know when he converted to Islam. The Olympic gold medalist and World Heavyweight Champion's career encompassed a wide range of activities outside of boxing, including exhibition matches with wrestlers and recording albums that taught kids to prevent tooth decay.

9. VIRGINIA WOOLF: JANUARY 25, 1882

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The very quotable British author Virginia Woolf was educated at home with her sisters, and as a child created a newspaper to write about the antics of the eight children in her family. Later, she became involved in the Bloomsbury Group, through which she met her husband, essayist Leonard Woolf. The circle of friends were great pranksters. In 1910, Woolf and two others dressed in turbans and caftans and identified themselves to officers of the Royal Navy as the Emperor of Abyssinia and his entourage. They asked for a tour of the HMS Dreadnought—and they got away with it. When the story made the papers, the two men were sentenced to caning, but Virginia was spared punishment.

10. BESSIE COLEMAN: JANUARY 26, 1892

National Air and Space Museum via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

One of 13 children born to two Texas sharecroppers, Bessie Coleman had a long way to go to become an aviator, but she worked hard to fulfill her dream. When no one in the U.S. would teach a black woman to fly, she learned French and trained at the Somme in 1920. She was not only the first black American woman and the first Native American woman to earn a pilot's license, she was also the first person of African American descent or Native American descent to hold an international pilot's license. With further training, she became a barnstormer and gained stardom, all to fuel her dream of opening an aviation school. Sadly, she died when an engine problem in her plane caused her to fall to her death in 1926.

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15 Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Julie Andrews Quotes
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20th Century Fox/Getty Images

With her saccharine movies and sugary voice, it would be easy for Julie Andrews to cross the line from sweet to cloying. Yet for more than 60 years, the Oscar-winning actress/singer/author has managed to enchant audiences of all ages with her iconic roles in everything from Mary Poppins to The Sound of Music to The Princess Diaries.

Yet just because she sings about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens doesn’t mean that Andrews doesn’t have an edge. “I hate the word wholesome,” she once declared. In celebration of the beloved movie star’s 82nd birthday, we’ve assembled some of Andrews’s most memorable quotes on everything from being typecast to Mary Poppins's personal habits.

1. ON MAKING THE TRANSITION FROM STAGE TO SCREEN

Mary Poppins was the first movie I made and The Sound of Music was the third. I was as raw as I could be. God knows I did not have the right or the ability in those days to say anything like a mentor. The only thing I did feel was that I could contribute to helping the kids feel natural, making them laugh off the set so that they were easy with me on the set. We had some good times." — From a 2015 interview with HitFix

2. ON THE FRIGHTFUL NATURE OF SUCCESS

“Success is terrifying. Like happiness, it is often appreciated in retrospect. It’s only later that you place it in perspective. Years from now, I’ll look back and say, ‘God, wasn’t it wonderful?” — From a 1966 interview with This Week

3. ON SMILING THROUGH CHALLENGING TIMES

“I was raised never to carp about things and never to moan, because in vaudeville, which is my background, you just got on with it through all kinds of adversities.” — From a 2010 interview with The Telegraph

4. ON AVOIDING TYPECASTING

“I think the hardest thing in a career even as lovely as I’ve had is not to go on being typecast, to keep trying new things. As much as possible, I do try to do that.” — From a 2015 interview with HitFix

5. ON BEING A BADASS

“I’ve got a good right hook.” — From Julie Andrews: An Intimate Biography, by Richard Stirling

6. ON BEING GRATEFUL

“A lot of my life happened in great, wonderful bursts of good fortune, and then I would race to be worthy of it.” — From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

7. ON THE CHANGING DEFINITION OF “SUCCESS”

“You never set out to make a bad movie. You always hope that you’re making a good one. We’re sad about them, inasmuch as they damage the career. In those days it was important, but not as important as it is today, to keep making success after success after success. It’s terrifying today. You can maybe have one so-so movie but you’ve got to come back with another that’s huge, if possible, and that must be very, very difficult for young talent.” — From a 2004 interview with the Academy of Achievement

8. ON THE COLLABORATIVE NATURE OF FILMMAKING

“It is a collaborative medium. If you’re lucky, everyone wants to do just that. You never set out to make a failure; you want a success. In the case of The Sound of Music, everyone was willing to bond and make it work. That is the best kind of working conditions. You don’t want to go in feeling that something’s wrong or that you’re not connecting. Thus far I’ve been really blessed.” — From a 2015 interview with HitFix

9. ON HOW THE PROS DO IT

“Remember: the amateur works until he can get it right. The professional works until he cannot go wrong.” — From Julie Andrews’s autobiography, Home: A Memoir of My Early Years

10. ON BELIEVING IN MIRACLES

“I do think that’s true [that miracles are happening every day]. If you can take the time to look. It took me a while to learn that, though some children know it instinctively and they do have wonder when they are kids. But the trouble is, as we grow older, we lose it.” — Interview with American Libraries Magazine

11. ON LOSING CONTROL

“I can’t drink too much without getting absolutely silly. And drugs have, mercifully, never worked, so I think I’m far more frightened of being out of control.” — From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

12. ON FINDING INSPIRATION

"It comes from anyplace. Truthfully, once the antennae are kind of up I’m always thinking or looking or feeling." — From an interview with American Libraries Magazine

13. ON THE REALITY OF “HAPPILY EVERY AFTER”

"As you become older, you become less judgmental and take offense less. But marriage is hard work; the illusion that you get married and live happily ever after is absolute rubbish." — From a 1982 interview with The New York Times

14. ON LUCK AND LONGEVITY

“When careers last as long as mine—and it’s been a lot of years now—I’m very fortunate that I’m still around. All careers go up and down like friendships, like marriages, like anything else, and you can’t bat a thousand all the time. So I think I’ve been very, very lucky.” — From a 2010 interview with The Telegraph

15. ON HOW MARY POPPINS IS JUST LIKE US

“Does Mary Poppins have an orgasm? Does she go to the bathroom? I assure you, she does." — From a 1982 interview with The New York Times

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6 Memorable Letters From Neil Armstrong
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NASA/Getty Images

Neil Armstrong, who would have turned 87 years old today, is remembered as both a "reluctant American hero" and "the spiritual repository of spacefaring dreams and ambitions." He was a man of few words, but those he chose to share were significant and, occasionally, tongue-in-cheek. Here are some notable letters and notes written by the first man on the moon.

1. ITS TRUE BEAUTY, HOWEVER, WAS THAT IT WORKED.

There was little certainty about what to expect once Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left the relative safety of the Apollo 11 spacecraft. This was not lost on Armstrong, who sent a letter of thanks to the crew who designed his spacesuit.

2. AMERICA MUST DECIDE IF IT WISHES TO REMAIN A LEADER IN SPACE.

It's no secret that NASA's budget has all but disappeared in recent years. Neil, along with James Lovell and Eugene Cernan, had a few things to say about that. The three wrote an open letter to President Obama, urging him not to forfeit the United States' progress in space exploration and technology. It ends with a sobering prediction, and some advice:

For The United States, the leading space faring nation for nearly half a century, to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit for an indeterminate time into the future, destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature. While the President’s plan envisages humans traveling away from Earth and perhaps toward Mars at some time in the future, the lack of developed rockets and spacecraft will assure that ability will not be available for many years.

Without the skill and experience that actual spacecraft operation provides, the USA is far too likely to be on a long downhill slide to mediocrity. America must decide if it wishes to remain a leader in space. If it does, we should institute a program which will give us the very best chance of achieving that goal.

(Here's the letter in full.)

3. ALL OF THIS KNOWLEDGE IS YOURS FOR THE TAKING.

In 1971, the children's librarian of Troy, Michigan's new public library wrote dozens of letters to notable figures across the globe, asking them to address the children of Troy and speak about the importance of libraries, books, and reading. Among the replies was this note from Armstrong:

Through books you will meet poets and novelists whose creations will fire your imagination. You will meet the great thinkers who will share with you their philosophies, their concepts of the world, of humanity and of creation. You will learn about events that have shaped our history, of deeds both noble and ignoble. All of this knowledge is yours for the taking… Your library is a storehouse for mind and spirit. Use it well.

4. I FIND THAT MYSTIFYING.

After NPR's Robert Krulwich wondered aloud on-air why the astronauts stayed so close to the landing site (less than 100 yards from their lander), a helpful Armstrong sent over a lengthy letter of explanation, which ended with a little insight about the importance of space exploration (emphasis added):

Later Apollo flights were able to do more and move further in order to cover larger areas, particularly when the Lunar Rover vehicle became available in 1971. But in KRULWICH WONDERS, you make an important point, which I emphasized to the House Science and Technology Committee. During my testimony in May I said, "Some question why Americans should return to the Moon. "After all," they say "we have already been there." I find that mystifying. It would be as if 16th century monarchs proclaimed that "we need not go to the New World, we have already been there." Or as if President Thomas Jefferson announced in 1803 that Americans "need not go west of the Mississippi, the Lewis and Clark Expedition has already been there." Americans have visited and examined 6 locations on Luna, varying in size from a suburban lot to a small township. That leaves more than 14 million square miles yet to explore.

I have tried to give a small insight into your question “Who knew?”

I hope it is helpful.

(Read the full transcript here.)

5. IT CERTAINLY WAS EXCITING FOR ME.

On the 40th anniversary of the Apollo landing, Armstrong wrote a personal letter of tribute to the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex, which provided the communications between Apollo 11 and mission control. In part, it reads:

We were involved in doing what many thought to be impossible, putting humans on Earth’s moon.

Science fiction writers thought it would be possible. H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and other authors found ways to get people to the moon. But none of those writers foresaw any possibility of the lunar explorers being able to communicate with Earth, transmit data, position information, or transmit moving pictures of what they saw back to Earth. The authors foresaw my part of the adventure, but your part was beyond their comprehension.

All the Apollo people were working hard, working long hours, and were dedicated to making certain everything they did, they were doing to the very best of their ability. And I am confident that those of you who were working with us forty years ago, were working at least that hard. It would be impossible to overstate the appreciation that we on the crew feel for your dedication and the quality of your work.

The full text is available on the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station website.

6. NEXT TIME, BUTT OUT OF OUR BUSINESS!

After a surprise appearance in "Mystery On the Moon," issue #98 of The Fantastic Four, wherein our intrepid explorers are saved by four mutants in space, this brief note arrived in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's mailbox. Was it real? Who knows. But the sentiment remains: We don't need your superheroes to get to the moon—we have science

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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