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10 Famous Birthdays to Celebrate in February

Joshua Moore // Getty Images
Joshua Moore // Getty Images

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

1. FEBRUARY 1, 1902: LANGSTON HUGHES

Hughes knew how to network: The poet was discovered after sneaking one of his works under the dinner plate of artist Vachel Lindsay, and went on to become one of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance. This month, the I, Too Arts Collective, a non-profit that supports artists, will open in Hughes's former Harlem brownstone. Visitors to the new cultural center can attend talks and see Hughes's typewriter and piano.

2. FEBRUARY 3, 1874: GERTRUDE STEIN

Stein is considered one of the great American authors of the 20th century, and a key figure in the Modernism movement—but not everyone adored her. In 1912, she sent a manuscript to a London publisher who challenged the work’s unconventional grammar and style with a mocking rejection letter. It’s fine though—Stein probably shrugged it off by spending some quality time driving around town in her Model T.

3. FEBRUARY 4, 1913: ROSA PARKS

The "mother of the freedom movement" became a Civil Rights icon when she refused to move to the back of an Alabama bus in 1955. And while her activism might’ve had the biggest and longest-lasting impact, she wasn’t actually the first to protest on public transportation. Nine months prior to Parks’s arrest, a 15-year-old named Claudette Colvin was arrested after declining to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, and a handful of other protests followed. A total of four women (Colvin included) served as plaintiffs in the Browder v. Gayle 1956 lawsuit that led to the desegregation of Montgomery buses. And long before them, activists like Bayard Rustin (in 1942), Irene Morgan (in 1946) and Sarah Louise Keys (in 1952) all demonstrated on public buses. But Parks's arrest became a catalyst that spurred the Civil Rights movement forward, and she continued with activism for the rest of her life.

4. FEBRUARY 7, 1867: LAURA INGALLS WILDER

Wilder has been a hero to young readers since her Little House on the Prairie series started being published in 1932, but older readers can also look to the author for inspiration. Wilder didn’t publish her first work until she was 65 years old (though she did have some help from daughter Rose Wilder Lane), and wrote a dozen more after that. Not bad for a third act.

5. FEBRUARY 11, 1846: THOMAS EDISON

Edison was a pioneer in innumerable ways. He invented the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the light bulb, ran a successful business and research laboratory, was a tough (and eccentric) job interviewer, had his last breath collected by pal Henry Ford, and—perhaps most notably—recorded the world’s first cat video. The world is forever indebted.

6. FEBRUARY 12, 1809: CHARLES DARWIN

On The Origin of Species—the work for which Charles Darwin is best known—is an expansive text on evolutionary biology. But the naturalist also had a penchant for the nitty gritty. Like barnacle penises. He was fascinated by the little crustaceans’ very large members, which are admittedly pretty amazing. They are highly adaptable, able to change their shape and size depending on the environment, and barnacles themselves are fully functional hermaphrodites, so they can participate in procreation no matter the circumstance.

7. FEBRUARY 15, 1564: GALILEO GALILEI

Galileo’s work in the field of physics was groundbreaking for its time and forever helped to shape our image of the cosmos, but the mythology of his earthbound work is probably the stuff of hyperbole. In all likelihood, the polymath probably never dropped anything off the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There’s only one written account of him doing an experiment involving dropping different objects of different weights to test his theories of motion, and historians believe that if Galileo had taken those investigations to the Pisa tower, it would have been a more widely reported display.

8. FEBRUARY 21, 1933: NINA SIMONE

 

Simone was born as Eunice Waymon but had already adopted her stage moniker by the time she was 21. It wasn’t just about a persona—Simone used the tactic to keep her mother from finding out about her budding performance career. "Nina" was what her boyfriend at the time called her, and "Simone" came from actress and singer Simone Signoret. But despite finding fame and success (and still being widely played and sampled some 50 years after her heyday), Simone never had a number one hit. Her highest-charting song was "I Loves You, Porgy," which topped out at No. 2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959.

9. FEBRUARY 22, 1732: GEORGE WASHINGTON

Washington is one of the towering figures in U.S. history, but there’s probably still a lot you don’t know about him. For example: He didn’t have a middle name, was made an honorary citizen of France in 1792, was posthumously awarded the highest rank in the U.S. military (so that no one will ever outrank him), forgot to bring a Bible to one of his two inaugurations, and was an early pioneer of the self-help genre. His "Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation" contains 110 rules for living, copied down from an etiquette manual composed by Jesuits in 1595. While some are high-minded, others are quite practical: "Spit not into the fire, nor stoop low before it, neither put your hands into the flames to warm them, nor set your feet upon the fire, especially if there be meat before it."

10. FEBRUARY 27, 1932: ELIZABETH TAYLOR

One of Taylor’s best-known roles is that of Martha—half of the toxic, warring couple at the center of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?—but the star didn’t initially want the role, and playwright Edward Albee didn't want her to have it either. When approached about the part, Taylor (quite rightly) told screenwriter Ernest Lehman that she was too young for the role, though she was eventually convinced to take it by Richard Burton—and a sizable paycheck. As for Albee, he later said: "I was a little upset by the casting. I understood the commercial reasons behind it. I mean, Elizabeth and Richard were getting married and divorced a lot, and yelling at each other a great deal. So I suppose they thought it was perfect casting, even though Elizabeth was 20 years too young for the role and Richard was about five years too old."

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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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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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